The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tweaking the environment

If all goes as planned, in about half an hour a Comcast technician will make a change to my service here at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters that will, in turn, result in Cassie experiencing some anxiety. I don't want to cause doggy angina, but if Comcast moves my primary cable connection from the room it's in now to the room I want it in, then I'm going to spend the subsequent two or three hours moving furniture.

Updates and art as conditions warrant.

Corny ball games

Chicago's minor-league White Sox will play the New York Yankees tomorrow at a temporary 8,000-seat ballpark adjacent to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa:

The Sox and Yankees begin a three-game series in the most unusual of locations. Thursday’s game will be played at a temporary 8,000-seat ballpark on the Dyersville farm where the Academy Award-nominated 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed.

“I was raised to embrace the history of the game,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday. “Too often we lose parts of it. We should do a better job and we should do that.

“ ‘Field of Dreams’ is a great movie, embraces all about family and (what) the game is all about. A very special opportunity. Our guys are really excited to be there. I’ve seen some of the comments already. Should be a great day for the White Sox.”

This will be the first major-league game ever played in Iowa.

Two big wins for all of us

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation this morning:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.

Mr. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said from his office in Manhattan. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”

The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came a week after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments. The 165-page report also found that Mr. Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.

Good. He needs to go. And yes, I am happy that my party threw the book at one of our own. We hold ourselves accountable, unlike the other guys.

But that's not all the Democratic Party did today. We also passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in the Senate with the support of nine Republicans:

The 69-to-30 vote follows weeks of turbulent private talks and fierce public debates that sometimes teetered on collapse, as the White House labored alongside Democrats and Republicans to achieve the sort of deal that had eluded them for years. Even though the proposal must still clear the House, where some Democrats recently have raised concerns the measure falls short of what they seek, the Senate outcome moves the bill one step closer to delivering President Biden his first major bipartisan win.

The bill proposes more than $110 billion to replace and repair roads, bridges and highways, and $66 billion to boost passenger and freight rail. That transit investment marks the most significant infusion of cash in the country’s railways since the creation of Amtrak about half a century ago, the White House said.

The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.

If this bill becomes law, it's possible that within my lifetime the United States could have the same quality of roads, bridges, and trains that Western Europe has today. (NB: I expect to live at least another 50 years.)

Meanwhile, as if to underscore this week's IPCC report, the dewpoint outside my window right now has almost reached 26°C, giving us a delightful heat index of 38.7°C. Even Cassie didn't want to be outside for her lunchtime walk.

Update: the 2pm readings at O'Hare show even lovelier weather: temperature 33°, dewpoint 25°C, heat index 40.4°C. Bleah.

Vaccines, climate change, and trains

Those topics led this afternoon's news roundup:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th periodic report on the state of the planet, and it's pretty grim. But as Josh Marshall points out, "Worried about life on earth? Don’t be. Life’s resilient and has a many hundreds of millions of years track record robust enough to handle and adapt to anything we throw at it. But the player at the top of the heap is the first to go."
  • Charles Blow has almost run out of empathy for people who haven't gotten a Covid-19 jab. Author John Scalzi takes a more nuanced view, at least distinguishing between the people who peddle the lie and those who merely buy it.
  • A research group has discovered how they can own your locked-down computer in about 30 minutes with a few tools, but at least they also tell you how to lock it down better.
  • Almost half of Amtrak's $66 billion cash infusion will go to making New York City more navigable. I want my HSR to Milwaukee, dammit!
  • Sometime last week, a Russian capsule accidentally fired a thruster, sending the International Space Station into a 540-degree roll.

Finally, long-time police reporter Radley Balko exposes the lie that keeps innocent people in jail.

Sacrifices for our loved ones

Cassie last got a bath (I think) sometime in April. So, wow, did she need one today. And she was a trooper. Before:

After:

She actually likes water, so she just let me spray her down, shampoo her up, and spray her down again. Once inside and toweled off, she got the zoomies but good.

After two hours she's dry and doesn't smell like a wet dog. And she's so soft again, without the sheen of whatever she rolled in at day camp for the past few weeks.

BLM mural, one year later

Last August 6th I took some drone photos and video of the Black Lives Matter mural on Clifton Street in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Here is 6 August 2020:

And here is today:

It's had some weathering, but overall, it looks OK.

My primary goal of today's flights was to document the CTA RPM Project. Crews have removed the two east-side tracks between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr, and have started removing the embankment as well. As the project goes on, I'll document more of it, and assemble a video. This is what the Lawrence El station looked like today:

Facing limitations of security software

Via Bruce Schneier, researchers have developed software that can bamboozle facial-recognition software up to 60% of the time:

The work suggests that it’s possible to generate such ‘master keys’ for more than 40% of the population using only 9 faces synthesized by the StyleGAN Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), via three leading face recognition systems.

The paper is a collaboration between the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the school of Electrical Engineering, both at Tel Aviv.

StyleGAN is initially used in this approach under a black box optimization method focusing (unsurprisingly) on high dimensional data, since it’s important to find the broadest and most generalized facial features that will satisfy an authentication system.

This process is then repeated iteratively to encompass identities that were not encoded in the initial pass. In varying test conditions, the researchers found that it was possible to obtain authentication for 40-60% with only nine generated images.

The paper contends that ‘face based authentication is extremely vulnerable, even if there is no information on the target identity’, and the researchers consider their initiative a valid approach to a security incursion methodology for facial recognition systems.

Hey, humans have evolved for 20,000 years or longer to recognize faces, and we make mistakes all the time. Maybe security software just needs more time?

Sanctions in Big Lie case

United States Magistrate Judge Reid Neureiter has ordered that the attorneys who filed a ridiculous case against (I am not kidding) over 10,000 people allegedly involved in a massive conspiracy to steal the 2020 election, must pay the defendants' legal fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11:

Attorneys Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker filed a “frivolous” case and “did not conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the factual contentions had evidentiary support,” Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter wrote in a sharp 68-page opinion against the pair. 

As several other high-profile pro-Trump attorneys — including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood — face potential sanctions for a separate lawsuit in Michigan, the ruling against Fielder and Walker shows one instance of the courts penalizing lawyers for a “Big Lie” lawsuit. 

Rule 11 exists exactly for this purpose. It makes attorneys who sign representations to a Federal court liable for whatever appears above their signature. Specifically,

(b) By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper—whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it—an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

   (1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

   (2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;

   (3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

   (4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.

Judge Neureiter's order is a joy to read (citations removed):

I use the words “vast conspiracy” purposefully. The Complaint is one enormous conspiracy theory. And a conspiracy is what the original Complaint, all 84 pages and 409-plus paragraphs, alleged: that “the Defendants engaged in concerted action to interfere with the 2020 presidential election through a coordinated effort to, among other things, change voting laws without legislative approval, use unreliable voting machines, alter votes through an illegitimate adjudication process, provide illegal methods of voting, count illegal votes, suppress the speech of opposing voices, disproportionally and privately fund only certain municipalities and counties, and other methods, all prohibited by the Constitution."

So, this was not a normal case in any sense. Plaintiffs purported to represent 160 million American registered voters and came seeking a determination from a federal court in Colorado that the actions of multiple state legislatures, municipalities, and state courts in the conduct of the 2020 election should be declared legal nullities.

In short, this was no slip-and-fall at the local grocery store. Albeit disorganized and fantastical, the Complaint’s allegations are extraordinarily serious and, if accepted as true by large numbers of people, are the stuff of which violent insurrections are made.

The main focus of the suit, at least as emphasized by Plaintiffs’ counsel in argument, was a demand for a massive amount of money, likely greater than any money damage award in American history. Seeking a “nominal amount of $1,000 per registered voter,” Plaintiffs asked for a total $160 billion for the putative 160-million-person Plaintiff class. This figure is greater than the annual GDP of Hungary.

Even better, guess who appointed Judge Neureiter? Hint: Neureiter took office in 2018.

As TPM Media reminds us, Sidney Powell and Lin Wood face a similar Rule 11 motion in Michigan. Can't wait to read that one.

Journalism error on NPR

Yesterday, Boston University clinical journalism instructor and WGBH-Boston reporter Jenifer McKim presented a story on NPR's Morning Edition about Grindr, the gay dating app. NPR's Steve Inskeep introduced the story by saying "the dating app Grindr is a popular site for men seeking other men. It's also used by underage boys, which can put them at risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking."

Between that introduction and the body of the story, I got pretty steamed. This morning I sent the following comment to NPR:

I have serious problems with the way Jenifer McKim presented this story. Principally, despite the quote from Jack Turban that "gay people aren't more likely to be sexual predators than straight people," the story heavily implies the opposite. McKim's bookending the story with quotes from assault victim German Chavez sets it up as a story about abused children, strongly implying that gay dating app Grindr is to blame (and also implying that gay men are to blame). Yet Chavez admitted that he lied about his age to circumvent Grindr's age policy, and Kathryn Macpagal even says "there aren't a lot of spaces for LGBT teens online to make friends." It seems that the problem is a lack of safe spaces for gay teens, not an app explicitly marketed to adults with strictly enforced age policies.

Further, in the graf immediately following that quote from Macpagal, McKim blows all the homophobic dog whistles, saying "over 100 men...includ[ing] police officers, priests and teachers" have "faced charges...related to sexually assaulting or attempting to meet minors for sex on Grindr." This is exactly the language that conservative groups use to vilify gays and dating apps in general.

Of course I am not downplaying the harms of sexual assault and predation on minors. But I think McKim had an obligation to put the incidence of those harms in proper context. Start with the proportion of one hundred men out of millions of Grindr users. Of the 100, how many were "police officers, priests and teachers?" How many were journalists or BU professors? How many were convicted? In how many cases was it determined that the minors in question lied about their ages? Did Grindr cooperate with the investigations? What proportion of the cases were assaults, and what proportion were "attempt[s] to meet minors?" And what proportion of Tinder users, or OKCupid users, or FarmersD users for that matter, were police, priests, or teachers (assuming McKim meant "or" and meant to include the Oxford comma) accused of crimes against children directly related to their use of the app?

I applaud McKim's ongoing efforts to protect children. But the structure, presentation, and tone of her story yesterday did not live up to the standards for accuracy and against sensationalism that I expect from NPR or WGBH-Boston.

I'll post any reply from NPR, WGBH, or McKim that I receive.