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.

Because life wasn't interesting enough right now

Two forest fires near Vladimirovka, Ukraine, have caused radiation levels in the region to spike:

A fire covering around 20 hectares broke out on Saturday afternoon near the village of Vladimirovka, within the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone, and responders were still fighting two blazes on Monday morning, Ukrainian emergency services said in a statement.

"There is bad news -- in the center of the fire, radiation is above normal," Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, wrote in a Facebook post alongside a video of a Geiger counter. "As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14. But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak."

His measurements refer to the microsievert per hour (μSv/h) reading; the maximum allowable amount of natural background radiation is 0.5 μSv/h, the emergency services said, but Firsov's reported amount was nearly five times that.

Vladimirovka sits within the deserted 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, which was evacuated after the devastating 1986 blast at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that sent radioactive fallout billowing across Europe and exposed millions to dangerous levels of radiation.

The region has since been taken over by nature, and forest fires are not uncommon.

While researching this post, I discovered that Google has Street View photos of Pripyat and Chernobyl. How did they get permission to do that?

Back when we sabotaged an empire

People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.

One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:

This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”

Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”

Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.

High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”

The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”

I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?

More ridiculousness in the world

Did someone get trapped in a closed time loop on Sunday? Did I? Because this week just brought all kinds of insanity:

Well, one of those is good news...

Same job, new title

For the past seven months I've worked as a contract development lead in Milliman's Cyber Risk Solutions group. Today I officially convert to a new full-time role as Director of Product Development for Cyber Risk Solutions.

We have a lot to do in 2020, and I'll post about it what I can. So far we've started building "a new generation risk platform which uses an ensemble of cutting edge techniques to integrate what is known, knowable and imaginable about complex risks in order help risk managers identify, assess and monitor dynamic, high velocity, complex risk such as cyber," as the partner in charge of my practice says. It's cool shit, I say. And I'm happy to make Milliman my permanent home.

The role now shifts a little bit from building out the minimum-viable product to building out the team. I'll still have to write a lot of software, but I'll also expand our partnerships with teams in London, Sydney, and Lyon, and will probably have to visit at least two of those places more than once in 2020. In fact, at minimum I'll be in the London office four times, probably six. The only one sad about this is Parker.

And as an example of how great the management team is, they're starting me today so that my benefits kick in tomorrow. That was a very cool gesture.

Watch this blog for more updates.

Parisian unions throw a tantrum

Paris has essentially shut down for the past 12 days as transport unions protest pension reform:

Au onzième jour de mobilisation contre la réforme des retraites, le trafic restait fortement perturbé dans les transports publics, dimanche 15 décembre. A Paris, le trafic des métros était particulièrement compliqué, avec quatorze lignes complètement fermées.

Dans le métro parisien, les lignes automatiques 1 et 14 fonctionnaient normalement, avec un risque de saturation, de même que les lignes Orlyval, RoissyBus (deux bus sur trois) et OrlyBus (quatre bus sur cinq), qui desservent les aéroports. En revanche, les lignes 2, 3 bis, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7 bis, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 et 13 sont totalement fermées.

Translation: Most of the Metro is closed, most trains aren't running, most buses aren't running, and Paris can barely function.

NPR's Paris-based Eleanor Beardsley has a first-person account on today's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Why is this happening? Here is the Times:

While France’s official retirement age may be 62, the actual age varies widely across the country’s labyrinthine system. Train drivers can retire at 52, public electric and gas workers at 57, and members of the national ballet, who start dancing at a very young age, as early as age 42. That is to name just a few of the stark differences.

It is this sheer complexity that [French President Emmanuel] Macron has vowed to untangle, aiming to standardize 42 different public and private pension schemes into one state-managed plan.

The system is staring at a potential deficit of 19 billion euros by 2025 if no action is taken, according to a landmark report issued by France’s pension czar, Jean-Paul Delevoye.

So Mr. Macron says he wants to merge the disparate systems, public and private, into one state-managed system by 2025.

He also wants to keep the deficit from growing, which Patrick Artus, chief economist of Paris-based Natixis bank, said could be achieved if every worker works at least another six months before retiring.

France isn't the US or the UK, and French unions have tremendous power that unions in the Anglo-American world never had. But years of strikes in the UK during the 1970s drove British voters to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party and the heavy-handed anti-labour policies she enacted.

I don't think France will ever see that kind of anti-union governance. But I do suggest that perhaps this tantrum needs to end so that the government and the unions can work to fix the structural problems that everyone knows exist.

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.