The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

About that iOS "flaw"

Security guru Bruce Schneier wonders if the iOS security flaw recently reported was deliberate:

Last October, I speculated on the best ways to go about designing and implementing a software backdoor. I suggested three characteristics of a good backdoor: low chance of discovery, high deniability if discovered, and minimal conspiracy to implement.

The critical iOS vulnerability that Apple patched last week is an excellent example. Look at the code. What caused the vulnerability is a single line of code: a second "goto fail;" statement. Since that statement isn't a conditional, it causes the whole procedure to terminate.

If the Apple auditing system is any good, they would be able to trace this errant goto line not just to the source-code check-in details, but to the specific login that made the change. And they would quickly know whether this was just an error, or a deliberate change by a bad actor. Does anyone know what's going on inside Apple?

Schneier has argued previously that the NSA's biggest mistake was dishonesty. Because we don't know what they're up to, and because they've lied so often about it, people start to believe the worst about technology flaws. This Apple error could have been a stupid programmer error, merge conflict, or something in that category. But we no longer trust Apple to work in our best interests.

This is a sad state of affairs.

Unnecessary roughness? Asymmetric warfare? Just stupid?

I shouldn't have done it, but I just smacked someone down on Facebook. The exchange started when a college friend posted this photo (click for full size):

You will recall that Connecticut passed a firearms law about a year ago in response to the horrific mass-murder of children at Newtown in December 2012. Connecticut's law prohibits certain assault weapons and larger magazines in an effort to make it harder to kill 26 children with one weapon at one sitting.

I happen to think this law doesn't go far enough, preferring Australia's response to a similar event. Unfortunately, too many Americans prefer more guns and more murders to fewer guns and "less liberty."

So, after I posted a gently sarcastic response to someone's line about Connecticut's "tyranny," the guy fired back, and then I unloaded in a six-point, well-reasoned response. I know, it was a futile waste of time. It's just that I have a right to stand my ground and defend myself with everything in my intellectual arsenal, because FIRST AMENDMENT FUCK YEAH!

Here's the full exchange:

Jennifer (O.P., sharing the photo): Don't let anyone tell you "no one's coming to take your guns" because it's happening. -

Sherman Kearns: Agreed Motherfuckers!

Wilson E Cuevas: Let's just pray that they take a stand against this tyranny.

David Braverman: Yeah, it's awful. Now in Connecticut, you can only kill 10 people at a time instead of 50. Tyranny, indeed. A democratically-elected state legislature passed a popular bill limiting the destructive power of individual weapons, to the great relief of an overwhelming majority of the state's residents.

Looked at another way: the line between permissible and impermissible firepower in Connecticut shifted in the direction of less firepower. If you argue that's tyranny, you'll have to discuss whether you think nuclear weapons should be permissible in Connecticut. Or tanks. Or armed fighter jets.

Wilson E Cuevas: David Braverman,you seen to be confused or your a democrat. Our constitution gives the same equal fire power as the government when it comes to tyranny. So better explained so you can understand it,in 1776 our founding father fought the king of England who in todays world would be considered the government. When they won the battle they knew that the only way to defeat the gov was weapon for weapon. In time the gov,weapon has gotten advanced. And as theirs did so did ours. As for your dumm remark about tanks and nuclear,those are weapon of war against foreign enemies not for our soul. Which is why we have a law in our constitution against our own military on our streets. But don't get me and the real American citizens,in time of a civil war,it will be weapon for weapon. As for the American people possessing 100 rnds or 500 guns it's our business not the government. We all have the rights to defend our selves and our loved ones. And with the very same guns that will be used in war. If a criminal brakes into a house then that's the criminals problem which weapon the home owner decides to defend himself with. But if you have a problem with our rights to near arms,then you need to get in contact with pierce Morgan and leave America. And why your even on this page beats the heck out of me. How can you confuse Michael Bloomberg jenniferwarewolves?

David Braverman: Some quibbles:

1. The Constitution says, "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." In other words, the *states* have the right to have *state* militias. "The people" in this case is ambiguous, and there are valid arguments today (and there were in 1791, when the amendment passed) on both sides whether it meant "the people" as a group (i.e., states), or "the people" as individuals. We've been having this argument for 223 years. You're not dumb, and neither am I; it's just you want an absolute rule that says "all guns are fine" and I want a compromise that most people can accept.

2. George Washington, John Adams, and everyone else leading our revolution were very, very clear that they were engaged in treason, and had they lost, they knew they'd be hauled back to London and beheaded on the Mall. The only reason New York is part of the US instead of Canada is that the Patriots won. And the UK didn't accept our independence until 1815, which is why we fought a second war against them in 1812.

3. Jennifer is far better looking than Michael Bloomberg.

4. There is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting the U.S. military from acting domestically. The Posse Comitatus Act is a simple law, and can be repealed, and has been broken more than once. For example, did you know that the governor of Illinois called out the U.S. Army, complete with tanks, against the Chicago mob in the 1920s? Or that the U.S. Navy shelled New York City in 1863?

5. Even though the likelihood of another civil war in the U.S. is lower than the likelihood of Sarah Palin seeing Russia from her front window, do you honestly believe a few people with assault weapons would slow down the U.S. army? A quarter-million Iraqis with assault weapons didn't make a dent in our forces.

Our best defense against a civil war is a set of strong political institutions backed up by an educated, reasonable populace. Once the shooting starts, we've all lost. To think otherwise is dangerous fantasy.

6. Getting back to #3, I'm here because I've known Jennifer for many years, since we were kids in college, and I respect her opinions even while I disagree with them. We met when I was president of the Young Democrats and she was in the College Republicans. Which goes back to #5, I'd bet money that she and I both agree on having a political argument without firing blindly into the rhetorical crowd. Which brings me back to my main point: unregulated firearms with unlimited firepower, like ill-informed opinions, sometimes wind up in the hands of people without the skills or sanity to deploy them without hurting themselves and others.

No response yet from either Jennifer or Wilson, except he liked point #3.

Update, 14:00 CST: Cuevas responds:

I must admit,you had me laughing with #3. I so much agree. And I respect your feelings about who and what a person can and should have. But I am sure that when our founding fathers write the second amendment,they did not mean only a state militia. You have to keep in mind that not only was the king on a power trip,so is a state. And they we're aware of this and knew that the people will one day have to raise up again. As for #4,it's very true,it's also true that at this moment the government has candles it again. Which is why we have foreign troops trying to disarm us. The constitution was written to protect the people. It wasn't written to be suspended when ever they chose too. And yes our founding fathers knew they we're breaking the law,and they also knew that it was an unconstitutional law. So in reality the laws they broke we're laws that was wrong and illegal. We can go on and on till the lights go out,but in the end it all books down to one thing,and that's that their coming and their not coming for coffee. And no matter how you feel about the 2nd amendment,I know your not an idiot and you yourself are or need to be prepared.

And to give you a little bit of info about me,I was a gang banger. I robbed,stole,pumped,sold and took. Today I am 44 yrs old who opened his eyes to the other side of the world. Today I am a public servant,I pay my unconstitutional taxes,and I help those that people like you refuse to help because of fear of the consequences. I am a very strong supporter of my constitution. I believe in freedom liberty and God. If I was to see you getting hurt I would be that stranger who would stop and defend your life. If I saw you being abused by a crooked law enforcement,I would help you. If you ran out of bullets I would give you mine. But what I wouldn't do is let someone trample on my constitution,bill of rights and our freedom to privacy and especially my guns and God. So no matter what you believe in,you need to prepare yourself for what's coming. Because no matter what you believe in it's not going to feed you,protect you. So go hear up,and if you think we're all crazy,I would to be there to see you fight with a kitchen knife or screaming while they beat you down.

No response from me, I think.

Go home, Arctic. You're drunk

Mother Jones' Climate Desk takes a look at the (actually scientific) argument between climatologists Jennifer Francis and Kevin Trenberth over whether the mid-latitude jet stream is changing permanently, making winters more intense:

Jennifer Francis, of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory suggesting that winters like this one may be growing more likely to occur. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream—in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we've all been experiencing. "There is a lot of pretty tantalizing evidence that our hypothesis seems to be bearing some fruit," Francis explained on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The current winter is a "perfect example" of the kind of jet stream pattern that her research predicts, Francis added (although she emphasized that no one atmospheric event can be directly blamed on climate change).

Francis's idea has gained rapid celebrity, no doubt because it seems to make sense of our mind-boggling weather. After all, it isn't often that an idea first published less than two years is strongly embraced by the president's science adviser in a widely watched YouTube video. And yet in a letter to the journal Science last week, five leading climate scientists—mainstream researchers who accept a number of other ideas about how global warming is changing the weather, from worsening heat waves to driving heavier rainfall—strongly contested Francis's jet stream claim, calling it "interesting" but contending that "alternative observational analyses and simulations have not confirmed the hypothesis." One of the authors was the highly influential climate researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who also appeared on Inquiring Minds this week alongside Francis to debate the matter.

What's going on here? In climate science, too many of the "debates" that we hear about are fake, trumped up affairs generated by climate skeptics who aim to sow doubt. But that's not the case here: The argument over Francis's work is real, legitimate, and damn interesting to boot. There is, quite simply, a massive amount at stake. The weather touches all of us personally and immediately. Indeed, social scientists have shown that our recent weather experience is a powerful determinant of whether we believe in global warming in the first place. If Francis is right, the very way that we experience global warming will be vastly different than scientists had, until now, foreseen—and perhaps will stay that way for our entire lives.

Skepticism underpins scientific inquiry, so this should be a great and healthy debate. We'll also get more data in the next few years that may support or dispute Francis' position.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, the temperature plunged overnight to -17°C (also know as "minus fuckall"), and will stay down there at least through next week. This means that for the entire meterological winter season, from December 1 to February 28, Chicago will have had only six low temperatures above freezing, and since January 1st only 5 days above freezing.

Go home, Arctic. You're an asshole.

Ukraine and Venezuela

The Economist on Ukraine:

While politicians in Kiev are scared to mention federalisation because of its separatist undertones, in reality it is already happening. The biggest danger for Ukraine’s integrity is not federalisation, but that Russian interferes and exploits it. That could involve an attempt to annex Crimea, carelessly given to Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. Over the weekend 20,000 people were out on the streets in Crimea, welcoming back riot police from Kiev as heroes. Russian armoured vehicles have already been spotted around Sevastopol, home to the large Russian naval base.

Mr Putin clearly has no interest in defending Mr Yanukovych. He may have also decided that since Ukraine’s shift towards Europe now looks all but inevitable, grabbing Crimea quickly is the best Russia can do.

But don't forget Venezuela:

This degradation was years in the making. First, the opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections, which ended with a meager 25 percent voter turnout. This broke not only the checks and balances, but the opposition walked out of a space of dialogue. A culture of imposition was created inside the halls of the National Assembly, one we really haven’t shaken off yet. For five years the opposition was not to be represented in the central government, and no alternative outlet for discontent was provided.

The 2010 reforms, just weeks prior to a new legislature taking office, left the Parliament an institutional husk. This was exacerbated with every Enabling Law that gave the President the power to legislate by decree, of which we have had two since 2010. Add to that aggressive nationwide gerrymandering in 2009, which ensured the government ended up with 49 percent of the votes and 59 percent of the seats, and the Parliament’s emasculation was complete.

Still watching both stories.

Jeff Atwood won't install your app

Who can blame him? People using iOS and Android have millions of apps to choose from. It's worse than just having too many apps:

Nothing terrifies me more than an app with no moral conscience in the desperate pursuit of revenue that has full access to everything on my phone: contacts, address book, pictures, email, auth tokens, you name it. I'm not excited by the prospect of installing an app on my phone these days. It's more like a vague sense of impending dread, with my finger shakily hovering over the uninstall button the whole time. All I can think is what shitty thing is this "free" app going to do to me so they can satisfy their investors?

For the sake of argument, let's say the app is free, and the developers are ethical, so you trust that they won't do anything sketchy with the personal information on your device to make ends meet. Great! But they still have to make a living, don't they? Which means doing anything useful in the app requires buying three "optional" add-ons that cost $2.99 each. Or there are special fees for performing certain actions. Isn't this stuff you would want to know before installing the app? You betcha. Maybe the app is properly tagged as "offering in-app purchases" but the entire burden of discovering exactly what "in-app purchases" means, and how much the app will ultimately cost you, is placed completely on your shoulders. You, the poor, bedraggled user.

Fortunately, I have a Windows phone, so this is not a problem for me.


Not the usual way to take the train

A person was removed from a commuter train this morning and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Why? It could have to do with where he was standing:

Passengers on the Metra Union Pacific North line train heading out of the city witnessed a person jumping from the top of the outbound train to the inbound train that was headed to downtown Chicago.

"We can see his shadow," passenger Mike Pastore told RedEye. "There's a building next to the train and we can see the shadow of the man on top of the train. We can't see him directly, but we can hear him running back and forth on top of the train."

In another story about a man being removed from somewhere he should never have been, CNN has fired Piers Morgan. Don't let the door hit your ass, Piers.

On the ground in Kyiv

My friend in Ukraine gave me an update overnight:

It's not the opposition that has taken over president's residence; [Yanukovich] has abandoned it, and it was available for public to see. The Maidan guys are actually guarding it so it does not get burnt down.

The Opposition is not "controlling" the city. We have a fully-legitimate parliament that is working, and yes, patrols from Maidan are around to prevent crime as thousands of "titushkies" (thugs) are in Kiev, paid by the government.

Another very important point: the opposition for us is basically three guys who have their own political agenda. When it was starting peacefully back in November, they had their political rallies next door to Maidan, which is the main place. Soon they agreed to join efforts if they each of them stopped individually using the "Maidan," as the place represents every party. The protests were first for EU, and then changed into anti-Yanukovich issues once students's blood was shed in November. So our "opposition" is not the driving force. It's a bit of a façade. But they're not the power, and they get kicked by Maidan, too.

But the guys who were the majority of the Parliament, the Party of Regions, are gradually leaving the party. So there is no one "controlling" the parliament. They are simply scared for their future, so they change colors, and they vote vote vote with the majority.

The capital is quieter today, and Russia, preoccupied with the closing ceremonies in Sochi, haven't turned their attention back to their old province. That, I expect, will happen tomorrow.

Look everyone, Yulia's back. Great.

It's coming up on midnight in Ukraine, and former prime minister (and convicted felon) Yulia Tymoshenko is out of jail, addressing the crowds. The Beeb and Times are reporting that she's surrounded by ecstatic crowds, but other sources, including my friend in Kyiv, are not so enthusiastic. As political as Tymoshenko's trial was, there was enough truth to it that Ukrainians believe she deserved jail. I haven't got a strong opinion on that if for no other reason than Illinois' last governor is also in jail for corruption.

In fact, the exact phrase my friend used was "на воды СРОЧНО," which translates roughly to "get thee to a nunnery." She reports further that Ukrainians have moved past both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, and are ready for a real government now, thank you. Tymoshenko is a modern-day Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, shouting "there go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

Yanukovich, for his part, has fled the capital, though without actually reading the histories of Louis XVI or Nicolae Ceaușescu. So he got caught, and now he appears to be in the eastern city of Kharkiv, waiting desperately for the Olympics to finish so he can once again get Russian help. Only, like Ceaușescu before him, it looks unlikely Russia will do anything at all as long as Ukraine doesn't slip into total chaos.

Wait, let me revise and extend those comments. My non-expert bet would be that Russia announces new sanctions against Ukraine on Monday, and then shuts off their gas. Europe simply doesn't have enough to send east to Ukraine, so I expect people in Kyiv will be awfully cold for a few weeks.

Still, Yanukovich's plight brings Oscar Wilde's Lady Bricknell to mind: "To lose one's country to a popular uprising, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose it twice looks like carelessness."

Update, Sunday, 10:49am: Julia Ioffe agrees.

From Russia with loathing

While things go from scary to stunning in Ukraine, the New Republic's Julia Ioffe has kept me riveted with her series of posts about Russia.

Yesterday, for example. "The Kremlin, the Russian Liberals, and the West All See What They Want to See in Ukraine:"

[T]he battle unfolding in the streets of Kiev today is proving to be yet another geopolitical blank slate, projected onto the shields and helmets and backs of the scurrying warriors on both sides. The storming of the Maidan of Independence, the rapidly mounting casualties, the guns, the bullets—all are subject to highly politicized debate. Because the details matter, and, flipped this way or that, plucked this way or that, totally change the story, and the message. And through the people on the streets, everyone else, near and far, is fighting their own fight.

The Russian Government: Most of the coverage coming from Kremlin-controlled media in Russia is about the mounting casualties ... among police officers.

Tuesday: "Russian Team Eliminated in Hockey, Surprising Only the Russians."

Monday: "What's Happening in Kiev Right Now Is Vladimir Putin's Worst Nightmare."

According to her Facebook page, she's in Kyiv right now. I'm looking forward to her dispatches.

What the hell just happened in Ukraine?

NPR reported earlier this morning that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich has fled Kyiv and his supporters in Parliament have started resigning. Things are changing quickly on the ground, however. Here's the New York Times half an hour ago:

An opposition unit took control of the presidential palace outside Kiev on Saturday, as leaders in Parliament said Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, had fled the capital a day after a deal was reached aimed at ending the country’s spiral of violence.

Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning. And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had “left the capital” but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine.

The BBC has a different story as of 10 minutes ago:

Ukrainian President Yanukovych has said he has no intention of quitting and has described events in the capital Kiev events as a "coup".

The opposition is effectively in control of the city and parliament.

NPR, just now:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has reportedly left the capital Kiev, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying events in the country amounted to a coup.

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he was quoted as saying.

If true, it may constitute a coup, which is troubling. But the Parliament—now in control of the opposition—appears to be trying to keep the institutions of government functioning, with elections apparently scheduled for May 25th.

I'm hedging, because obviously no one knows what's going on there. My friend in Kyiv is still online, but doesn't have a direct view of the Maidan at the moment.

I'll be watching this closely today.