That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.
Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.
Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:
- Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
- Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
- That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
- Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
- An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
- Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
- The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.
Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.
While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:
- Boris Johnson has asked MPs to dissolve Parliament on Monday, which, if 2/3 of Commons agrees, means there would be an election on December 12th. The EU will vote tomorrow on whether to accept the UK's Brexit extension request, which is the Labour Party's condition for agreeing to new elections.
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a good position to win the award for Worst Cabinet Secretary of 2019, may end up costing President Trump re-election (beyond what he's doing to ensure a Democratic victory). It turns out people in Michigan do not want their tax money to go to private education companies like hers. The cherry on top of that is she might actually go to jail in the next few days.
- Josh Marshall argues that the goal of the interrupted-by-being-arrested-at-the-airport plan of Rudy Giuliani's friends might have been simply to get Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to go on TV and say Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden. Just having a head of state say that could tank the Biden nomination on its own, even if everyone knows there really is nothing to see.
- A group of 30 Republican House members burst into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the Capitol building yesterday to hold up the testimony of Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper. Ordinarily, if you violate a SCIF, the intelligence services quickly remove your security clearance. I wonder if that'll be the case here.
- With Lake Michigan water levels consistently over 100 cm above average this year, the city will need billions of dollars to prevent and correct significant erosion of the shoreline.
- Finally, scientists have taught rats how to drive little cars. Seriously. It's adorable.
The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.
I'm surprised I ate anything today, after this past weekend. I'm less surprised I haven't yet consumed all of these:
Is it nap time yet?
A few good reads today:
Haven't decided what to eat for lunch yet...
Let's see, where to begin?
Finally, RawStory has a collection of responses to the President's Sharpie-altered weather map. (This is not, however, the first time the Administration has tried to make one of its Dear Leader's errors be true.) Enjoy.
Bruce Schneier takes apart Attorney General Bill Barr's proposal to weaken civilian computer security:
The Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure. Yet that's not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices. Consumer devices are critical infrastructure. They affect national security. And it would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement.
The thing is, that distinction between military and consumer products largely doesn't exist. All of those "consumer products" Barr wants access to are used by government officials -- heads of state, legislators, judges, military commanders and everyone else -- worldwide. They're used by election officials, police at all levels, nuclear power plant operators, CEOs and human rights activists. They're critical to national security as well as personal security.
Barr can't weaken consumer systems without also weakening commercial, government, and military systems. There's one world, one network, and one answer. As a matter of policy, the nation has to decide which takes precedence: offense or defense. If security is deliberately weakened, it will be weakened for everybody. And if security is strengthened, it is strengthened for everybody. It's time to accept the fact that these systems are too critical to society to weaken. Everyone will be more secure with stronger encryption, even if it means the bad guys get to use that encryption as well.
Schneier doesn't say it explicitly, but this is one more example of how Barr and other Republicans of his generation haven't caught up to the rest of the world.
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.
Via Bruce Schneier, this is literally* a thing:
The book opens with Massimo working in his combination laboratory and server farm; we know it's ironclad because of the required thumbprint and biometrics scan, but we also know it's classy because it's in an old wine cellar beneath his family villa outside Milan. Plus, he has three screens, so you know he's a serious cybersecurity hacker man.
Nat is a 20-something who lives a poverty-driven boho life. Massimo—who is Mr. Cyber—is, in her eyes, a "sleek, lean, sex-on-legs stud" who looks nothing like the stereotypical tech billionaire. And the chemistry between them ignites as he drags her back to his server room and tells her to do some... penetration testing.
Six chapters in. I am convinced that this book was written by a Harlequin Markov bot.
I may not add this to my book list just now. But at least I know it's out there...
*Yah, sorry. That's "literally" twice.
Just a few head-to-desk articles this afternoon:
I'm going to continue writing code and trying not to think about any of this.
Via Bruce Schneier, San Francisco-based "computer guy" Maciej Cegłowski put up a cogent, clear blog post last week showing how we might better regulate privacy:
Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. Even police states like East Germany, where one in seven citizens was an informer, were not able to keep tabs on their entire population. Today computers have given us that power. Authoritarian states like China and Saudi Arabia are using this newfound capacity as a tool of social control. Here in the United States, we’re using it to show ads. But the infrastructure of total surveillance is everywhere the same, and everywhere being deployed at scale.
Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can’t drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can’t opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not.
All of this leads me to see a parallel between privacy law and environmental law, another area where a technological shift forced us to protect a dwindling resource that earlier generations could take for granted.
The idea of passing laws to protect the natural world was not one that came naturally to early Americans. In their experience, the wilderness was something that hungry bears came out of, not an endangered resource that required lawyers to defend. Our mastery over nature was the very measure of our civilization.
But as the balance of power between humans and nature shifted, it became clear that wild spaces could not survive without some kind of protection.
Read the whole thing. He makes a compelling case for regulating privacy the same way we regulated the environment.