The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How to combat influence operations

Bruce Schneier has an eight-step plan—though he recognizes Step 1 might not be possible:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, there have been an endless series of ideas about how countries can defend themselves. It's time to pull those together into a comprehensive approach to defending the public sphere and the institutions of democracy.

Influence operations don't come out of nowhere. They exploit a series of predictable weaknesses -- and fixing those holes should be the first step in fighting them. In cybersecurity, this is known as a "kill chain." That can work in fighting influence operations, too­ -- laying out the steps of an attack and building the taxonomy of countermeasures.

Step 1: Find the cracks in the fabric of society­ -- the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions. For campaigns that just try to weaken collective trust in government's institutions, lots of cracks will do. But for influence operations that are more directly focused on a particular policy outcome, only those related to that issue will be effective.

Countermeasures: There will always be open disagreements in a democratic society, but one defense is to shore up the institutions that make that society possible. Elsewhere I have written about the "common political knowledge" necessary for democracies to function. That shared knowledge has to be strengthened, thereby making it harder to exploit the inevitable cracks. It needs to be made unacceptable -- or at least costly -- for domestic actors to use these same disinformation techniques in their own rhetoric and political maneuvering, and to highlight and encourage cooperation when politicians honestly work across party lines. The public must learn to become reflexively suspicious of information that makes them angry at fellow citizens. These cracks can't be entirely sealed, as they emerge from the diversity that makes democracies strong, but they can be made harder to exploit. Much of the work in "norms" falls here, although this is essentially an unfixable problem. This makes the countermeasures in the later steps even more important.

Also unfortunately, most of the countermeasures require informed and conscientious political leaders. Good luck with that.

Anti-daylight saving time article is early this year

Apparently the morning people haven't let up in their assault on us night people:

[S]o far, legislation to go on year-round daylight saving time has passed in at least seven states, including Delaware, Maine and Tennessee this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon was the most recent, approving year-round daylight saving on June 17.

“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy,” Oregon state Rep. Bill Post, a Republican who sponsored the bill, toldthe Oregon Public Broadcasting network.

The grouchiness is not just in Oregon. A month earlier, Washington legislators adopted year-round daylight saving time. California voters have approved the same, and sometime as early as next month, the California state Senate is expected to review the matter, according to state Assemblyman Kansen Chu, a Democrat and the bill’s author.

OK, let's review: clock time is completely arbitrary. It has no relation to the iron-clad astronomical motion that determines when the sun comes up and when it sets.

I think the permanent DST idea attacks the problem from the wrong side. Maybe the problem is that so much of our life requires people to get up and go to sleep when their bodies don't want to. Changing wall-clock time twice a year just shuffles the furniture.

But, hey, let's apply our energy to this anyway. It's easier than fixing real problems.

What are you really asking?

Time for another logical fallacy, this time one commonly felt but not always understood.

Plurium interrogationum

"Many questions" or "complex question" means that a sentence appears to contain a single question but really rests on implicit assumptions that may obviate it. Put more simply, someone asks you a question that assumes something else as if you've already agreed to it.

The classic example, "when did you stop beating your wife?", contains two distinct parts requiring two distinct answers. First, "Have you ever beaten your wife?" Second, "If so, when did you stop?"

This fallacy comes in half a dozen flavors, which goes beyond the scope of The Daily Parker, as my goal is simply to summarize and list them. The Philosophy Department at South Carolina's Lander University has an excellent description of all the permutations of plurium interrogationum.

Chaotic mind, chaotic world

In another example of how President Trump's incompetence and disordered thinking has real-world consequences, Michelle Goldberg lays out the connection between the president's lies to one leader have caused another country to take a frightening rightward turn:

n July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmir, even suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

We have, at minimum, 522 more days of this clown. What more damage can he do? I'm not looking forward to finding out.

Why do we have to take this seriously?

When your stupid, racist, age-befuddled uncle says something dumb at Thanksgiving dinner, the best course of action might be to ignore him. Unfortunately, when your stupid, racist, age-befuddled president says something dumb, you have to respond in some way. Which is how the U.S. has now ended up in a diplomatic tiff with, of all places, Denmark:

President Trump faced a fierce European backlash to his reported interest in acquiring Greenland from Denmark, as some lawmakers compared the idea to colonialism on Friday while officials on the island said they welcome investment but not a new owner.

“Of course, Greenland is not for sale,” Greenland’s government said in a statement, echoing earlier remarks by Greenland’s Foreign Minister Ane Lone Bagger.

In its statement, the government said it viewed the reports “as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer.”

The news of Trump’s interest in purchasing Greenland comes ahead of a planned visit to the Danish capital of Copenhagen next month. Danes are worried this will derail the agenda of Trump’s trip.

“It will suck the oxygen out of the room and it will take over everything,” said Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, a professor at the Institute for Military Operations at the Royal Danish Defence College.

Meanwhile, a Fox News (!) poll shows the four Democratic front-runners easily trouncing the president in 2020. Let's hope so.

Latter-day horoscopes

Today's Washington Post takes up the world-bending news that people put their Myers-Briggs types into their dating profiles:

The Myers-Briggs assessment categorizes people into one of 16 personality types, using an extensive questionnaire of nearly 100 questions such as, “Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?” and “Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?”

Many critics argue that people’s personalities exist on a spectrum — people possess varying degrees of both introversion and extroversion, logic and sentimentality — and therefore the Myers-Briggs test is an oversimplification.

Despite its shortcomings, the test has persisted with professional team buildingemployment recruiting and, now, for love.

Crafting an online dating profile is an art: Singles must whittle their most impressive yet personable characteristics into a few hundred characters. In an attempt to give a tl;dr on one’s entire essence, some daters display their Myers-Briggs personality type as a way of disclosing their essential selves.

As it turns out, people aren’t that great at figuring out to whom we’ll actually be attracted. In a study published in 2017, researchers asked singles to describe their ideal qualities in a partner. After examining daters’ stated romantic preferences, researchers created an algorithm to match participants based on their self-reported personality tastes. The machine could not predict who ended up pairing off. The researchers concluded that “compatibility elements of human mating are challenging to predict before two people meet.”

So I wonder, what's the MBTI equivalent of telling someone your sign is "Neon?"

If only I had a flight coming up this week

...I might have time to read all of these:

And now, back to work.

Afternoon articles

Just a few for my commute home:

  • New York Times reporter James Stewart interviewed Jeffrey Epstein on background a year ago, and it was weird.
  • The Post analyzes temperature records to find which parts of the US have warmed faster than others.
  • Chemist Caitlin Cornell may have discovered an important clue about the origin of life on Earth.
  • The site of the city's first Treasure Island store, just two blocks from where I lived in Lakeview from 1994-1996, might become an ugly apartment tower unless residents can block it.
  • Seva Safris digs into the differences (for good and ill) between JSON and XML.
  • Timothy Kreider delivers a stinging rant against gun-rights advocates: "The dead in El Paso and Dayton, whether they were shopping for back-to-school backpacks or just out having beers and hoping to get laid on a Saturday night, gave their lives so that you might continue to enjoy those freedoms."

I will now return to my crash-course in matrix maths.

How was Anne Frank found?

A former FBI agent is using "cold-case" techniques to figure it out:

Gertjan Broek, a lead researcher with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, believes that the search for an informant might prevent researchers from discovering what really happened. “By asking ‘Who betrayed Anne Frank?’ you actually assume tunnel vision already. You leave out other options,” he says.

It’s possible, Broek says, the Franks weren’t betrayed at all—instead they might have been discovered by accident. There’s a chance that those in hiding were discovered during a search regarding fraudulent ration coupons, he says after a two-year research project.

Another group of more than 20 forensic, criminology, and data researchers hope to narrow the margins to a single culprit. The team, led by retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke, is treating the investigation like a modern cold case. For years they’ve been combing through archives and interviewing sources around the world while also using 21st-century technology to crosscheck leads. The team has created a 3-D scan of Frank’s hiding place to see how sounds might have traveled to nearby buildings.

Regardless, it's fairly certain that Anne Frank was not a "Belieber."