The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Unprecedented numbers

The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.

Once you've absorbed that, there's more:

Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.

Not all horrible news

Yes, yes, the world has most of the Biblical plagues going on right now, including apparently 40 mm–long hornets, but I can see some bright spots, despite (or because of) all this:

Alas, the rest of the news isn't as benign:

And finally, I mentioned a shooting in my neighborhood last week that hadn't yet made the papers. It took a couple of days, but CWB Chicago now has the story.

Cari Lightner died 40 years ago today

Clarence Busch, a man with multiple arrests for intoxication including a hit-and-run drunk-driving charge from less than a week earlier, killed 13-year-old Cari Lightner on a quiet road in Fair Oaks, California, on 3 May 1980. In response, Cari's mother Candace founded MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which in just four years got the Federal Government and most of the states to crack down on drunk driving. The organization and the legislation they got passed reduced drunk-driving deaths 40% by 2000.

My dad met Candy Lightner in 1982, and wrote an Emmy-nominated TV movie about her and her success in saving other people from drunk drivers, for which he received a Writers Guild award in 1984. (He would have won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special as well but for the truly groundbreaking Special Bulletin.)

You can watch the trailer for MADD on Video Detective, and the entire movie Special Bulletin on YouTube.

Back to your regularly-scheduled horror movie

Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.

So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:

Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)

It all just keeps coming, you know?

Welcome to day 31 of the Illinois shelter-in-place regime, which also turns out to be day 36 of my own working-from-home regime (or day 43 if you ignore that I had to go into the office on March 16th). So what's new?

Oy:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, the Dutch intelligence service had an unintentional back door into several other countries' communications. (Scheier says, "It seems to be clever cryptanalysis rather than a backdoor.")

How crude

Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)

Meanwhile, in other horrific news:

Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.

Life on Mars

At some point, we will probably settle on the red planet. In a fascinating article from 2018, The Atlantic wondered how we'll police it:

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, [UC-Davis archaeologist Christyann] Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside. If police fire a gun or even a Taser, they risk damaging key components of the base itself, endangering potentially thousands of innocent bystanders. Other forms of hand-to-hand combat learned on Earth might have adverse effects; even a simple punch could send both the criminal and the cop flying apart as they collide in the reduced Martian gravity. How can police overpower the fugitive without making things worse for everyone?

And then there's the surveillance....

Updates

I spent an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to track down a monitor to replace the one that sparked, popped, and went black on me this morning. That's going to set me back $150 for a replacement, which isn't so bad, considering.

Less personally, the following also happened in the last 24 hours:

I don't have a virus, by the way. I'm just working from home because the rest of my team are also out of the office.

Great security, guys

Via Schneier, it seems that our security services have not done a great job at, you know, security:

[J]ust how bad is the CIA’s security that it wasn’t able to keep [accused leaker and former CIA sysadmin Joshua] Schulte out, even accounting for the fact that he is a hacking and computer specialist? And the answer is: absolutely terrible.

The password for the Confluence virtual machine that held all the hacking tools that were stolen and leaked? That’ll be 123ABCdef. And the root login for the main DevLAN server? mysweetsummer.

It actually gets worse than that. Those passwords were shared by the entire team and posted on the group’s intranet. IRC chats published during the trial even revealed team members talking about how terrible their infosec practices were, and joked that CIA internal security would go nuts if they knew. Their justification? The intranet was restricted to members of the Operational Support Branch (OSB): the elite programming unit that makes the CIA’s hacking tools.

Oh dear. We used to have the best tools and people in the world. Now it just looks like we have a bunch of tools.

So much corruption! We're going to do corruption like you've never seen it

President Trump's list of felons to whom he granted clemency yesterday seems to have a common element. First, Rod Blagojevich, possibly the most corrupt governor Illinois has ever had, which is saying something in a state that sent 4 of its last 8 to prison, and who seems less than contrite about his crimes:

“I had a unique opportunity to represent Congress and be (Illinois’) governor for six years and fight for things I truly believe is good for people,” he said, adding “the fight” now was against the “people that did this to me” and to regain the public’s trust.

“That if I were to give in to the pressure and give in to the shakedown that was done to me, that I would be violating my oath of office to fight for the Constitution and fight for the rule of law and keep my promises to (the public),” he said. “ ’Cause I didn’t do the things they said I did. And they lied on me.”

And the president also pardoned Michael Milken, who has his own glorious history of malfeasance:

Lest history be entirely rewritten, it’s worth considering what Judge Kimba M. Wood told Mr. Milken at his sentencing on Nov. 21, 1990, on charges including conspiracy and fraud:

“When a man of your power in the financial world, at the head of the most important department of one of the most important investment banking houses in this country, repeatedly conspires to violate, and violates, securities and tax laws in order to achieve more power and wealth for himself and his wealthy clients, and commits financial crimes that are particularly hard to detect, a significant prison term is required in order to deter others.”

[I]t’s not hard to fathom why Mr. Milken’s saga would resonate with Mr. Trump.

Like the president, Mr. Milken studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but was largely shunned by New York’s elite.

Mr. Milken’s early clients were corporate raiders who, like Mr. Trump, were disdained by establishment firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Mr. Milken and his junk-bond-fueled takeovers were seen as disruptive forces, threats to a complacent status quo on Wall Street and in corporate America, just as Mr. Trump has upended Washington.

And of course Mr. Milken underwent years of distracting investigations and related bad publicity.

NPR interviewed NYU law professor Rachel Barkow this morning, who summed it up nicely. (I'll edit this post later today to add her comments when the transcript comes out.)

I really hope whoever gets the Democratic nomination hammers the president on this stuff. The corruption! Such corruption! It's the one thing Donald Trump does best.