The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Shaka, when the walls fell

I have tons of experience working from home, but historically I've balanced that by going out in the evenings. The pandemic has obviously cut that practice down to zero. Moreover, the village of Oak Park will start shelter-in-place measures tomorrow, so I expect Chicago to do the same in the next couple of days. The Oak Park order seems reasonable: stay home except for essentials like food and medicine, stay two meters away from other people, it's OK to walk your dog, and so on. Since I'm already doing all of those things, a Chicago order would only affect my friends who, for example, own book shops and can't work remotely for other reasons.

In other pandemic news:

  • As of yesterday a record 41,000 Illinois residents filed for unemployment benefits in a 48-hour period.
  • Two luxury hotels have closed in Chicago with others expected to follow.
  • Bruce Schneier calls attention to a work-from-home security awareness kit and worries about how the pandemic will increase overall infosec vulnerability because people don't actually know how to secure their home offices.
  • Josh Marshall worries we're flying totally blind, because we haven't collected vital data about the pandemic's spread.
  • The pub where citizens took refuge in the Zombie apocalypse comedy Sean of the Dead has shut because of the pandemic. “We stayed open during a zombie plague, ISIS attacks on London, an alien invasion and the news that Genesis were reforming, but we’ve had to take expert advice and close our doors this time”, said landlord Simon Williams.
  • Republican US Senator Richard Burr briefed "a small group of well-connected constituents" about COVID-19 three weeks ago, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR. Another Republican asshat, US Representative Don Young (R-AK), joked about the "beer virus" and suggested people continue going out as normal. (Even if I hadn't specified the party affiliations of these tools, you'd know which party, wouldn't you?)
  • Former US Senator Al Franken calls Trump's response "the last straw."
  • Peter Nicholas writes in the Atlantic that "this is how Donald Trump will be remembered."

Also, today is the 92nd anniversary of the debut of "Amos 'n' Andy" on Chicago's WMAQ radio.

We now return to your pandemic, already in progress

Today's news:

President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.

Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."

Today in your apocalypse

Actually, things seem to have quieted down. Bars and restaurants in Illinois closed last night at 9pm, and my company has moved to mandatory work-from-home, so things could not be quieter for me. I'm also an introvert with a dog and gigabit Internet, meaning I have a need to leave my house several times a day and something to do inside. (I'm also working, and in fact cracked a difficult nut yesterday that made today very productive.)

Outside of my house:

Finally, I was able to get everyone on board with a new date for Apollo After Hours. That only took five days...and 80 emails...

It's worse...

The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.

Related stories, just from today:

I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

What an exciting 24 hours.

President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.

But let's not question the virologist-in-chief at this moment, who has so far refused to heed his experts' advice to issue an emergency declaration until Jared Kushner signs off on it. And wouldn't you guess? Republicans in the Senate have balked at an emergency spending bill because it has the potential to demonstrate that government can help in a crisis, which is why they blocked prevention measures earlier.

A few minutes after trading started today, the New York Stock Exchange hit the brakes to hold the plunge in equities values to 8% for 15 minutes while traders pissed themselves. Trading seems to have stabilized as it resumed, but the markets have now fallen about 25% from their February records.

The National Basketball Association has suspended its season and the National College Athletic Association played the first few games of March Madness without audiences.

In Chicago, PepsiCo became the first company to close its headquarters building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has halted in-person trading entirely. Following California's ban on assemblies of more than 250 persons, Illinois is considering a similar measure. (Scotland has banned groups of 500, and Ireland has cancelled St Patrick's Day events.) And local colleges have moved their spring classes online.

Finally, as a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago Board of Directors and as the co-chair of our annual benefit, I am in the position of having to make some of these decisions myself. In another post I'll talk about that. For now, I can say we've sent a few hundred emails around the organization in the past 24 hours because we have concerts scheduled for this weekend and a dress rehearsal scheduled for tonight.

And, of course, I'm working from home again, and I think I should vote today instead of Tuesday.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Updates

I spent an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to track down a monitor to replace the one that sparked, popped, and went black on me this morning. That's going to set me back $150 for a replacement, which isn't so bad, considering.

Less personally, the following also happened in the last 24 hours:

I don't have a virus, by the way. I'm just working from home because the rest of my team are also out of the office.

Rainy Monday readings

After yesterday's perfect spring weather (18°C and sunny), today's gloom and rain reminds us we live in Chicago.

Also, it's eerily quiet at work...so maybe I'll also work from home the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, these crossed my (virtual) desk for reading later on:

  • Two days before testifying at a House hearing called "Holding Wells-Fargo Accountable," two of the bank's board members resigned.
  • A young woman in India who received two hand transplants from a darker-skinned person has baffled doctors as the new hands have changed color to match her native skin.
  • The Washington Post helpfully describes what smoke point means and how cooks needn't fear it.
  • Lakefront towns in Northern Indiana have sued the National Park Service for contributing to beach erosion as the Lake Michigan-Huron system goes into its third straight month of record levels.
  • And finally, the New York Times examines how the Trump Campaign took over the Republican Party in 2016.

Now back to making an app send status emails...

That time when the CIA made encryption products

For about 50 years, the CIA and its (West-) German equivalent, the BND, owned Crypto AG in Switzerland, giving them access to the secrets of dozens of countries:

From 1970 on, the CIA and its code-breaking sibling, the National Security Agency, controlled nearly every aspect of Crypto’s operations — presiding with their German partners over hiring decisions, designing its technology, sabotaging its algorithms and directing its sales targets.

Then, the U.S. and West German spies sat back and listened.

They monitored Iran’s mullahs during the 1979 hostage crisis, fed intelligence about Argentina’s military to Britain during the Falklands War, tracked the assassination campaigns of South American dictators and caught Libyan officials congratulating themselves on the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.

Greg Miller, the Washington Post reporter who broke the story in the US, followed up today with some insight into the bureaucratic bullshit that nearly scuttled the deal, and would go on to help our intelligence services miss that 9/11 was about to happen:

The CIA comes across as an overbearing elder, impatient with its more timid counterpart, dismissive of its intermittent objections. CIA officials “made the rules as they went along,” according to the history, “and were much more inclined to ask forgiveness than permission.”

The NSA was full of people who were technically brilliant but struggled to grasp the potential of the operation, impeded efforts to expand its scope and at times put the program’s secrecy in jeopardy with sloppy tradecraft.

“NSA people traveled in true name, and sent far more people to meetings than CIA felt was advisable from a security standpoint,” the CIA history says. “One of the continuing irritants on the CIA side was this apparent lack of appreciation for traditional [agency] clandestine operational procedures.”

“Between the CIA and the NSA there were always disputes about which of these services had the say,” a senior BND official said in that agency’s history of the operation. “CIA saw itself as the one in charge and emphasized this by having a CIA man posted at the operation in Munich,” the location of a CIA base for overseeing Crypto.

Yesterday, NPR's Fresh Air broadcast an extensive interview with Miller, that ended with this chilling thought:

When you learn something, when you learn about something terrible that's happening - in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns. Thousands of people were being disappeared, killed. And I mean, they're using Crypto machines, which suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it's hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or even expose it.

To me, the history of the Crypto operation helps to explain how U.S. spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance. This program went on for more than 50 years, monitoring the communications of more than 100 countries. I mean, the United States came to expect that kind of penetration, that kind of global surveillance capability. And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that. And the Snowden documents tell us a lot about how they did that. Instead of working through this company in Switzerland, they turned their sights to companies like Google and Apple and Microsoft and found ways to exploit their global penetration. And so I think it tells us a lot about the mindset and the personalities of spy agencies as well as the global surveillance apparatus that followed the Crypto operation.

Think about Crypto AG when you install Kaspersky Anti-Virus or install a Huwei device on your network. Just think about it.

Four old white dudes (and one un-serious woman)

My preferred candidate for president, Elizabeth Warren, dropped out of the race earlier this morning after depressing results in Tuesday's elections. This leaves three serious candidates for the 2020 presidential election: the 73-year-old white male incumbent, 78-year-old white male US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and 77-year-old white male former US Vice President Joe Biden (D).

(Apparently US Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is clinging to her one delegate and refuses to go away, and 74-year-old white male former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (R) also seems determined to stay in the race.)

As the New York Times points out:

Ms. Warren struggled to win over voters beyond college-educated white people, in particular white women. She was above the 15 percent threshold to win delegates, as of Thursday, in only a handful of highly educated liberal strongholds: places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.

Yeah. It's almost as if some people believe competence, intelligence, and humanity should determine who governs us. Weird, right?

This also means that a 70-something white male will almost certainly take the Oath of Office in 321 days.

I really, really wish the Boomers would get out of the way already.

Lunchtime links

Even when I work from home, I have a lot to do. At least I don't have a commute today, giving me extra time to catch up later:

And now, back to work.