The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

You don't have to be a super-spy to know this

I found myself actually shocked at one piece of testimony in yesterday's impeachment hearing:

A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said.

The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed Wednesday by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr.

“The security ramifications are insane — using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.”

Republicans, who used to bang the drum on security issues so loudly you could barely make out the words they were actually saying, do not seem to have noticed this event. Which shocks me even more.

Just a couple of things to note

And it's not even lunchtime yet:

  • A storm has left Venice flooded under 187 cm of water, the second highest flood since records began in 1923. Four of the five largest floods in Venice history have occurred in the last 20 years; the record flood (193 cm) occurred in 1966.
  • As our third impeachment inquiry in 50 years begins public hearings, Josh Marshall explains what the Democrats have to prove.
  • Yoni Appelbaum wonders if the country can hold together. He's not optimistic.
  • Via Bruce Schneier, the NTSB has released a report on the autonomous car accident in 2018 that killed Elaine Herzberg. A notable detail: "Police investigators later established that the driver had likely been streaming a television show on her personal smartphone."
  • Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel lists his 50 favorite restaurants in the area. I have a mission.

And you should see Sir Rod Stewart's model railroad. Jaw-dropping.

Thirty years ago

I remember the early evening of 9 November 1989. A bunch of us were hanging out on our floor in my college dorm when my roommate told us to come in and watch what was on TV. We saw Germans atop the Berlin Wall waving the Federal (West German) flag, and not getting shot.

Today's Times has a good set of photos from the wall's construction in 1961 to its destruction in 1989. as does CNNBerliner Zeitung has an interview with Andrei Gratchev, Mikhail Gorbachev's spokesman from then, about the relationship between East Germany and the USSR. The Beeb explains how illegal raves brought the younger generation together and helped precipitate the East's collapse.

Germany reunified less than a year later.

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.

What's Ukraine got to do with it?

Hard to believe that I visited Ukraine more than 10 years ago, but not hard to believe that it keeps coming up in US politics. Julia Ioffe explains why:

Whenever Ukraine appears in our news cycle, it is talked about as if it’s a simpler place than it is. The political dynamic gets reduced to neat binaries—the forces there are either pro-Russia or pro-West; leaders are either corrupt actors or laudable reformers; the good guys versus the bad guys. But that framework belies the moral complexity of the place, which is why it pops up in our domestic political scandals in the first place.

Ukraine would like America and Europe to think of it as a promising young democracy, the good little country struggling to fend off the gravitational pull of evil Russia. There is a lot of truth in that. But it is also an oligarchy where a very small number of people control the country’s natural resources, a legacy of its Soviet past. Around each of these people is a clan vying for influence, resources, and political power. They sponsor media outlets and politicians. Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, has promised to fight corruption but is also closely linked with one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs.

Ukraine pops up in our domestic political scandals because it is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, and because Westerners go there to enrich themselves doing questionable work. But in our minds, it is a small country somewhere over the horizon, full of people with funny Slavic names. Ukraine is much easier to think about if we cram it into our own political dichotomies, even if that distorts what’s really happening on the ground. The problem in doing so, however, is that we become unwitting participants in someone else’s games.

Julia Ioffe is one of our best reporters on post-Soviet countries. She's right: the more private American citizens muck about in Ukraine, the more we're going to get sucked into post-Soviet politics.

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.

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.

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."

It's the future! Our flying cars are nigh!

French inventor Franky Zapata piloted a jet-powered hoverboard across the English Channel yesterday, covering 32 km in 22 minutes, including a refueling stop on a boat:

Mr. Zapata’s first attempt to cross the English Channel had been intended to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the first flight between continental Europe and Britain, made by the French pilot Louis Blériot.

“What I have done is a lot smaller, but I followed my dream, and that’s huge,” Mr. Zapata told the BFM TV channel.

His device, a gas turbine-powered contraption fueled by five small jets, can theoretically fly up to 175 km/h at an altitude of 15 m to 20 m for about 10 minutes.

Last year, the French Defense Ministry pledged nearly $1.5 million to his company, Zapata Industries, to develop the device, which was featured at a military-sponsored convention.

Oh, right. So I don't get a flying car, but the French Army gets a bunch of them...

Still, this is a very cool achievement. And civilians will get jet-powered hoverboards someday.

Requiem for a glacier

Researchers from Rice University and residents of Iceland have put up a memorial to a glacier that disappeared in 2014:

The memorial is “a letter to the future.” It describes what we lost: the Okjokull glacier — and how we lost it: human-caused climate change. And yet it is hopeful, acknowledging “what is happening and what needs to be done.”

“Only you,” future visitor, “know if we did it.”

It’s a reminder of geologic times gone by, like a Mount Rushmore but for the natural landmarks we’ve lost. The plaque, dedicated to Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change, will be installed next month in Borgarfjordur.

[A]ll of Iceland’s glaciers are projected to melt in the next two centuries. The Rice University researchers say they hope this small memorial helps create a path forward for thinking about climate change and its impact.

It was an ice thing to do as well.