The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Hell of a week

In the last seven days, these things have happened:


Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...

How to buy a gun (International edition)

The New York Times outlines what you need to do in various countries to obtain a firearm:

United States 1. Pass an instant background check that includes criminal convictions, domestic violence and immigration status. 2. Buy a gun.

Canada 1. To buy a handgun, prove that you practice at an approved shooting club or range, or show that you are a gun collector. 2. For any gun, complete a safety course and pass both a written and a practical test. 3. Ask for two references. 4. Apply for a permit, and wait 28 days before processing begins. 5. Pass a background check that considers your criminal record, mental health, addiction and domestic violence history. 6. Buy a gun. If you bought a handgun, register it with the police before taking it home.

Israel 1. Join a shooting club, or prove that you live or work in a dangerous area authorized for gun ownership, including certain settlements. 2. Get a doctor’s note saying you have no mental illness or history of drug abuse. 3. Install a gun safe. 4. Release your criminal and mental health history to the authorities. 5. Buy a gun and a limited supply of bullets, usually around 50. 6. Demonstrate that you can use your gun or a similar gun at a firing range before taking it home.

Actually, there is one place in the world where it's easier than in the U.S.: Yemen. But that's because they have no functioning government. We're in great company.

Similar origins, different outcomes

The Washington Post has a long biography of two men born into wealthy New York City families just after World War II but have arrived at different places:

They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead.

They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him. They dress more formally than most of those around them; both sport meticulously coiffed hair. They have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them. They attended elite all-male private schools, were accomplished high school athletes and went on to Ivy League colleges. As young men, each was deeply affected by the death of a man he admired greatly.

Yet Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.

At pivotal points in their lives, they made sharply divergent choices — as students, as draft-age men facing the dilemma of the Vietnam War, as ambitious alpha males deciding where to focus their energies.

It's a long read, but worth it for Mueller's story. You can't help respecting the guy, even if you've never seen him in person. As for the President...well, his story is better known, and instills in me a somewhat different reaction.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

American mobile phone customers, do this now

I got a weird text from T-Mobile a few minutes ago:

T-Mobile Alert: We have identified an industry-wide phone number port out scam and encourage you to add account security. Learn more:

Well, that does not sound good.

And it's not. Apparently thieves have found that American mobile phone providers are unusually helpful when it comes time to steal mobile phone numbers (called "SIM hijacking") or to port those numbers to third-party mobile providers. In both cases, the thieves now have a way to bypass any three-factor authentication (TFA) you may have set up with, for example, your bank.

T-Mobile at least offers a service called "Port Authentication" which lets you set up a 6- to 16-digit PIN that you must have to make any changes to your account—like, for example, getting a new SIM. After getting the text alert, and validating it with trusted online sources, I immediately called 611 and set up port authentication.

There are a couple of other things you should do:

  • Lock your phone all the time, with something very hard to subvert, like a strong password. If you must use a convenience feature like iris or fingerprint authentication, make sure the phone still requires a password on reboot.
  • Set your phone up so that it doesn't display the contents of texts or IMs when your phone is locked.
  • Encrypt your phone, so that even if all your other security is bypassed, you won't be stuck.

Seriously, this all costs you nothing and can save you a fortune.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The administration's insane attack on law enforcement

Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:

The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.

At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”

In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.

This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.

In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...