The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Consumers really have gotten worse to service workers

Amanda Mull examines why.

Because consumer identities are constructed by external forces, [historian Susan Strasser, the author of Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market] said, they are uniquely vulnerable, and the people who hold them are uniquely insecure. If your self-perception is predicated on how you spend your money, then you have to keep spending it, especially if your overall class status has become precarious, as it has for millions of middle-class people in the past few decades. At some point, one of those transactions will be acutely unsatisfying. Those instances, instead of being minor and routine inconveniences, destabilize something inside people, Strasser told me. Although Americans at pretty much every income level have now been socialized into this behavior by the pervasiveness of consumer life, its breakdown can be a reminder of the psychological trap of middle-classness, the one that service-worker deference to consumers allows people to forget temporarily: You know, deep down, that you’re not as rich or as powerful as you’ve been made to feel by the people who want something from you. Your station in life is much more similar to that of the cashier or the receptionist than to the person who signs their paychecks.

There are endless ways to make sense of the situation America is in now, in which new horror stories from retail hell make national news every few days, and stores and restaurants all over the country complain that no one wants to work for them. Perhaps the most obvious one is simply how damaging this whole arrangement is for service workers. Although underpaid, poorly treated service workers certainly exist around the world, American expectations on their behavior are particularly extreme and widespread, according to Nancy Wong, a consumer psychologist and the chair of the consumer-science department at the University of Wisconsin. “Business is at fault here,” Wong told me. “This whole industry has profited from exploitation of a class of workers that clearly should not be sustainable.”

When I was a kid, I read Robert Heinlein's novel Friday, which contained this observation: “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named...but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

Andrew Cuomo facing impeachment, criminal charges: reports

New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a report yesterday that alleges New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women, including a New York State Police trooper assigned to his protective detail:

The report, released by the attorney general, Letitia James, and the announcement from the Albany County prosecutor, Kevin Soares, endangered Mr. Cuomo’s political future while also placing him in legal jeopardy.

“Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws,” Ms. James said, adding that the governor’s administration had “fostered a toxic workplace” in which staffers suppressed complaints because of a “climate of fear.”

Shortly after the report was released, Mr. Soares issued a statement saying that his office was conducting an investigation into Mr. Cuomo’s behavior and that it would be requesting investigative materials that the attorney general’s office had obtained. Mr. Soares encouraged other victims to come forward to aid in the inquiry.

President Biden has called on Cuomo to resign, as has US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The State Assembly Speaker has opened an impeachment inquiry. I don't expect Cuomo to remain in office past the end of this month, but like other malignant narcissists I could mention, he may not understand that he's done.

Note that all the people I mentioned in this post are Democrats, from the President on down. I'm glad that my party finally wants to get rid of this asshole, and frustrated it took so long. But at least we ultimately do the right thing.

About that Cubs fire sale

As of June 11th, the Cubs were tied for first place. That turned out to have been the high point of 2021. The nadir arrived over the weekend when the organization perpetrated the "biggest 24-hour roster dump in franchise history," according to the Chicago Tribune:

The Cubs entered the Brewers series hitting .186 in June, the fourth-lowest average of any team in any calendar month.

After beating the Cubs 13-2 in the opening game of the homestand, again with Sogard pitching in relief, the Philadelphia Phillies knocked out Arrieta in the second inning of Game 2, taking a 7-0 lead in a 15-10 win.

The Cubs lost 11 straight, their longest skid since a 12-game streak in 2012, the first year of the rebuild. They finally ended the streak on July 7, and one day later Hoyer announced his plans had changed in the previous 11 days.

Joc Pederson was dealt to the Atlanta Braves before the opening game of the second half, igniting the sell-off. Tepera was traded to the Chicago White Sox on July 29, and Rizzo was sent to the New York Yankees after that day’s game with the Reds. 

Bryant, Báez and Kimbrel were all gone in the final hours before the July 30 trade deadline — and the last hurrah was over. TV cameras caught Bryant in the dugout of Nationals Park in an emotional embrace with hitting coach Anthony Iapoce.

It took only 11 days for the Cubs to destroy a season that seemed to have so much promise and less than 24 hours for Hoyer to dismantle the core.

I remember the San Diego Padres having a similar purge in the 1990s. It took them a very long time to recover.

Oh well. It's just business, right?