The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Links before packing resumes

I'm about to go home to take Parker to the vet (he's getting two stitches out after she removed a fatty cyst from his eyelid), and then to resume panicking packing. I might have time to read these three articles:

Moving tomorrow. I just want this to be over...

Lunchtime reading list

While trying to debug an ancient application that has been the undoing of just about everyone on my team, I've put these articles aside for later:

Back to the mouldering pile of fetid dingo kidneys that is this application...

When you think it can't get stupider...

President Trump, after hearing a report on Fox News that Google search results on his name aren't totally flattering, now believes that Google is part of the conspiracy against him:

The Trump administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government, Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s economic adviser, said Tuesday outside the White House.

“We’ll let you know,” Kudlow said. “We’re taking a look at it.”

The announcement puts the search giant squarely in the White House’s crosshairs amid wider allegations against the tech industry that it systematically discriminates against conservatives on social media and other platforms.

Greg Sargent sees this as Trump once again, by instinct or design, trying to inflame his rump supporters:

Trump’s claim is, of course, absurd: As Daniel Dale explains, this is based on a bogus right wing media claim, and all it really means is that when you google about Trump, you are likely to initially see stories from major news organizations that are legitimately reporting aggressively on Trump, rather than from conservative opinion sites that are putting out propaganda on his behalf.

But while this might seem like typical Trumpian buffoonery, at its core is some deadly serious business. These attacks on the media — which are now spreading to extensive conspiracy-mongering about social media’s role in spreading information — form one part of an interlocking, two-piece Trumpian strategy (whether by instinct or design is unclear) that serves to underscore the urgency of this fall’s elections.

Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.

At the same time, that campaign of lies is designed to get Republican voters out for the purpose of keeping in place the mechanism of accountability that is not functioning right now — the GOP-led Congress — preventing a Democratic takeover of the House, which would impose genuine accountability.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress have circulated a list of all the scandals Democrats want to hold hearings on as soon as they win a majority in either legislative house:

The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.

Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.

The most predominant theme of the list is corruption.

In other words, the Republican Party has completely abandoned its previously-held beliefs in the rule of law, and are now openly running on a platform of supporting the rule of Donald Trump.

We have 70 days until the Mid-Terms. Can't wait to see how bad it will get before then.

More sad but true news about politicians

Shocking, I know, but politicians seem comically unaware of how technology works:

We’re now a dozen years past the infamous “series of tubes” speech. Yet our political leaders still don’t seem to have learned much about those “tubes” or the cyber-sewage that frequently flows through them.

Consider a recent, noncomprehensive history.

These days Trump lashes out at private companies that suspend nut jobs and neo-Nazis, decrying that “censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police.” But in what feels like a million years of crazy ago, then-candidate Trump said he planned to hobble recruiting by the terrorist Islamic State by asking Bill Gates to “clos[e] that Internet up in some way.”

This was a baffling proposal, not only because Chinese-style, government-enforced Internet censorship would run afoul of the First Amendment. The other problem was that the Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist does not, uh, “control” the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some politicians out there who seem to know their way around the information superhighway. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley but has called for stronger privacy rights, is among them. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), as Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair, respectively, have shown an inclination to ask tougher questions of tech companies on Russian interference.

But the problems infecting the tech sector go well beyond those limited areas, alas. And, generally speaking, our policymakers are ill prepared to protect the public from those who wish us harm — or even from companies willing to profit off that harm.

None of this is really new. Politicians typically know less than most people about the daily lives of the people they represent. What's different, at least as far as the governing party in the U.S. goes, is that they're proud of their ignorance. That is what we should be afraid of.

Policies are changing work, not technologies

Economic historian Louis Hyman describes how the choices people in government and business make actually lead technological change, for some pretty obvious reasons:

The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.

This insight is crucial for anyone concerned about the insecurity and other shortcomings of the gig economy. For it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.

In the last 10 years, 94 percent of net new jobs have appeared outside of traditional employment. Already approximately one-third of workers, and half of young workers, participate in this alternative world of work, either as a primary or a supplementary source of income.

Internet technologies have certainly intensified this development (even though most freelancers remain offline). But services like Uber and online freelance markets like TaskRabbit were created to take advantage of an already independent work force; they are not creating it. Their technology is solving the business and consumer problems of an already insecure work world. Uber is a symptom, not a cause.

Policies, of course, can be changed.

Morning links

I didn't have a chance to read these yesterday:

Now I'm off to work. The heat wave of the last few days has finally broken!

Three items, implicitly related

Item the first: Bruce Schneier discusses how Russian censors have tried to shut down Telegram, an encrypted communications app:

Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender's phone and decrypted on the receiver's phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages.

Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn't a fixed website, it doesn't need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all.

A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking 19 million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.

Whatever its current frustrations, Russia might well win in the long term. By demonstrating its willingness to suffer the temporary collateral damage of blocking major cloud providers, it prompted cloud providers to block another and more effective anti-censorship tactic, or at least accelerated the process. In April, Google and Amazon banned—and technically blocked—the practice of “domain fronting,” a trick anti-censorship tools use to get around Internet censors by pretending to be other kinds of traffic. Developers would use popular websites as a proxy, routing traffic to their own servers through another website—in this case Google.com—to fool censors into believing the traffic was intended for Google.com. The anonymous web-browsing tool Tor has used domain fronting since 2014. Signal, since 2016. Eliminating the capability is a boon to censors worldwide.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a Federal judge has cleared the path for AT&T to purchase Time Warner, which will create one of the largest companies the world has ever seen.

All of this is scary to a lot of people. Which is why charlatans are on the rise once again.

We live in interesting times.

New Chicago gang map released

The Associated Press has obtained the latest edition of the Chicago Crime Commission's "Gang Book." It shows the turfs claimed by 59 gangs, including many small areas formed as groups split off from other groups after top leaders go to jail. The book also highlights how social media make gang disputes worse:

Gangs put a premium on retaliation for perceived disrespect. In the past, insults rarely spread beyond the block. Now, they’re broadcast via social media to thousands in an instant.

“If you’re disrespected on that level, you feel you have to act,” said [Rodney] Phillips, employed with Target Area, a nonprofit group that seeks to defuse gang conflicts.

Police say there was a gang connection to most of the 650 homicides in Chicago recorded in 2017 — more than in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Homicides so far in 2018 are down around 20 percent. Police partly credit better intelligence and the deployment of officers to neighborhoods on the anniversaries of gang killings.

So integral is social media to gang dynamics that when Englewood-area pastor Corey Brooks brokered a truce between factions of the Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples in 2016, he insisted they agree to refrain from posting taunts. The gang truce lasted longer than most — 18 months.

Some gangs provoke enemy gangs by streaming live video showing them walking through rival turf. Others face off using a split-screen function on Facebook Live and hurl abuse at each other.

I kind of want to see that map. And I kind of don't. Chicago Public Media has an online, interactive map that doesn't reflect the 2018 changes.

Why no one answers the phone anymore

Alexis Madrigal, closer to an X-er than a Millennial, rhapsodizes on how the telephone ring, once imperative, now repulses:

Before ubiquitous caller ID or even *69 (which allowed you to call back the last person who’d called you), if you didn’t get to the phone in time, that was that. You’d have to wait until they called back. And what if the person calling had something really important to tell you or ask you? Missing a phone call was awful. Hurry!

Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?

There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously.

But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone’s ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. Now, if I hear my phone buzzing from across the room, at first I’m excited if I think it’s a text, but when it keeps going, and I realize it’s a call, I won’t even bother to walk over. My phone only rings one or two times a day, which means that I can go a whole week without a single phone call coming in that I (or Apple’s software) can even identify, let alone want to pick up.

Meanwhile, robocalling continues to surge, with a record 3.4 billion of them sent in April—approximately 40% of all calls placed that month by some reckonings.

Welcome to the 21st century, where your 19th-century technologies do more harm than good.

Your mouse knows when you're lying

Via Bruce Schneier, interesting research into how to use mouse movements to detect lying:

Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have long noted a big "tell" in human behavior: Crafting a lie takes more mental work than telling the truth. So one way to spot lies is to check someone's reaction time.

If they're telling a lie, they'll respond fractionally more slowly than if they're telling the truth. Similarly, if you're asked to elaborate on your lie, you have to think for a second to generate new, additional lies. "You're from Texas, eh? What city? What neighborhood in that city?" You can craft those lies on the fly, but it takes a bit more mental effort, resulting in micro hesitations.

In essence, the scientists wanted to see whether they could detect -- in the mouse movements -- the hesitation of someone concocting a lie.

Turns out ... they could. The truth-tellers moved the mouse quickly and precisely to the true answer. The folks who were lying jiggered around the screen for a bit, in a sort of hemming-and-hawing adaptation of Fitts' Law.

That's kind of cool. And kind of scary.