The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Saturday morning on NPR

...brings us Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz hosted by actor and playwright Peter Sagal. Last week, one of the panelists presented an extended joke about Poland. Never mind that the panelist is probably of Polish descent; the piece annoyed the Polish consulate:

Peter Grosz, an actor and TV writer who has appeared as a panelist and guest host on "Wait Wait," offered a supposed news item referencing a joke asking how many Poles it takes to screw in a light bulb.

Host Peter Sagal revealed the light bulb tale wasn't true, but instead another item about road-crossing chickens was the real news. Listeners later called "Wait Wait" and the Polish Consulate to complain that the joke was in poor taste.

In a letter to Danforth, Paulina Kapuscinska, consul general of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, said the joke played up false stereotypes of Poles and Poland. It presented National Public Radio, which distributes the show, as "promoters of prejudice," and such jokes "are some of the most unsophisticated of jokes, which offend the intellect of NPR listeners," Kapuscinska wrote.

[Show producer Mike] Danforth replied with an apology, which the Polish Consulate posted on its website Thursday.

"I can't disagree with your judgment that the content of our October 26th show was unsophisticated and insulting to the intellect of NPR listeners. I'm afraid just about everything we do on 'Wait Wait' offends the intellect of the NPR audience," Danforth wrote.

People. Please. Danforth is right; it's a comedy show. The volume of Jewish jokes that Jewish host Sagal tells every week should have been sufficient notice that maybe, just maybe, they might make fun of other stereotypes. Get over it.

AP: Syria to join UN Convention on Chemical Weapons

If the AP report is true, this is a complete win for the President:

Assad is now agreeing to preserve and strengthen that norm. He’s agreeing to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons — a treaty Syria has been one of the lone holdouts against. He’s creating a situation in which it would be almost impossible for him to use chemical weapons in the future, as doing so would break his promises to the global community, invite an immediate American response, and embarrass Russia.

This is, in many ways, a better outcome than the White House could have hoped for. Punishing Syria may or may not have actually reinforced the norm against chemical weapons — particularly if the strikes went bad and the American people punished members of Congress who voted for them. But Syria joining the treaty against chemical weapons definitely, almost definitionally, reinforces the ban.

This we call "diplomacy." And it's good to see when it works.

Institutional failure in Internet security

Security guru Bruce Schneier has two essays in the Guardian this week. The first explains how the US government betrayed the Internet:

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the US has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The UK is no better. The NSA's actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others. We need to figure out new means of internet governance, ones that makes it harder for powerful tech countries to monitor everything. For example, we need to demand transparency, oversight, and accountability from our governments and corporations.

Unfortunately, this is going play directly into the hands of totalitarian governments that want to control their country's internet for even more extreme forms of surveillance. We need to figure out how to prevent that, too. We need to avoid the mistakes of the International Telecommunications Union, which has become a forum to legitimize bad government behavior, and create truly international governance that can't be dominated or abused by any one country.

He followed up today with a guide to staying secure against the NSA:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

There are three other points, all pretty simple.

The national security state

Security guru Bruce Schneier warns about the lack of trust resulting from revelations about NSA domestic spying:

Both government agencies and corporations have cloaked themselves in so much secrecy that it's impossible to verify anything they say; revelation after revelation demonstrates that they've been lying to us regularly and tell the truth only when there's no alternative.

There's much more to come. Right now, the press has published only a tiny percentage of the documents Snowden took with him. And Snowden's files are only a tiny percentage of the number of secrets our government is keeping, awaiting the next whistle-blower.

Ronald Reagan once said "trust but verify." That works only if we can verify. In a world where everyone lies to us all the time, we have no choice but to trust blindly, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is worthy of blind trust. It's no wonder that most people are ignoring the story; it's just too much cognitive dissonance to try to cope with it.

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal, Ted Koppel has an op-ed warning about our over-reactions to terrorism:

[O]nly 18 months [after 9/11], with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, ... the U.S. began to inflict upon itself a degree of damage that no external power could have achieved. Even bin Laden must have been astounded. He had, it has been reported, hoped that the U.S. would be drawn into a ground war in Afghanistan, that graveyard to so many foreign armies. But Iraq! In the end, the war left 4,500 American soldiers dead and 32,000 wounded. It cost well in excess of a trillion dollars—every penny of which was borrowed money.

Saddam was killed, it's true, and the world is a better place for it. What prior U.S. administrations understood, however, was Saddam's value as a regional counterweight to Iran. It is hard to look at Iraq today and find that the U.S. gained much for its sacrifices there. Nor, as we seek to untangle ourselves from Afghanistan, can U.S. achievements there be seen as much of a bargain for the price paid in blood and treasure.

At home, the U.S. has constructed an antiterrorism enterprise so immense, so costly and so inexorably interwoven with the defense establishment, police and intelligence agencies, communications systems, and with social media, travel networks and their attendant security apparatus, that the idea of downsizing, let alone disbanding such a construct, is an exercise in futility.

Do you feel safer now?

The world's tallest slum

Via Sullivan, a look at a 45-story abandoned tower in Caracas that now houses 2,500 people:

Welcome to the world’s tallest slum: poverty-ridden Venezuela’s Tower of David. Squatters took over this very unfinished 45-story skyscraper in the early 1990s, and they’ve been there ever since. The tower was originally intended to be a symbol of Caracas’ bright financial future, complete with a rooftop helipad, but construction stopped because of a banking crisis and the sudden death of the tower’s namesake, David Brillembourg.

Today, as the government is grappling with a citywide housing shortage, the tower is a stark monument to what could have been in the country’s crime-plagued capital. The tower is dogged by accusations of being a hotbed of crime, drugs and corruption. But to residents, many of whom have spent their entire lives there, it’s just home.

More from Wikipedia, the New York Times, and the Beeb.

How U.S. government over-reach may kill the Inernet

Observer columnist John Naughton explains how the practices Edward Snowden revealed have hurt us:

[H]ere are some of the things we should be thinking about as a result of what we have learned so far.

The first is that the days of the internet as a truly global network are numbered. It was always a possibility that the system would eventually be Balkanised, ie divided into a number of geographical or jurisdiction-determined subnets as societies such as China, Russia, Iran and other Islamic states decided that they needed to control how their citizens communicated. Now, Balkanisation is a certainty.

Second, the issue of internet governance is about to become very contentious. Given what we now know about how the US and its satraps have been abusing their privileged position in the global infrastructure, the idea that the western powers can be allowed to continue to control it has become untenable.

His conclusion: "The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system." And no European country wants to deal with that.

So, great. United States paranoia and brute-force problem-solving may have destroyed the Cloud.

Edward Snowden's dead-man's switch

Security guru Bruce Schneier suggests Snowden might not have considered all the likely outcomes:

Edward Snowden has set up a dead man's switch. He's distributed encrypted copies of his document trove to various people, and has set up some sort of automatic system to distribute the key, should something happen to him.

Dead man's switches have a long history, both for safety (the machinery automatically stops if the operator's hand goes slack) and security reasons. WikiLeaks did the same thing with the State Department cables.

I'm not sure he's thought this through, though. I would be more worried that someone would kill me in order to get the documents released than I would be that someone would kill me to prevent the documents from being released. Any real-world situation involves multiple adversaries, and it's important to keep all of them in mind when designing a security system.

Possibly spending a few years at the Moscow airport might be his safest option. But then again, his whole strategy seemed flawed from the start.

Big story out of Britain

The Met issues a heat warning as London experiences its fifth consecutive day of 30°C weather? Nope.

Heathrow will finally get a third runway, with new plans submitted this week? Nope.

The Queen has given her assent to a law making same-sex marriage legal in England and Wales? Yep:

The Queen's approval of the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill was a formality, and now clears the way for the first gay marriages, the first of which are expected to be conducted by Summer 2014.

The bill enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales. It also will allow couples who had previously entered into a civil partnership to convert their relationship to a marriage.

However, religious organisations will have to 'opt in' on performing gay marriages.

Nice map (from Wikipedia). I hope it gets filled in a lot more over the next few years.

Morsi's government falls apart

Josh Marshall summarizes the surprising and imminent collapse of Egypt's government and why the U.S. is in a strange position:

The big movement over the last day or so has been the slow motion - or perhaps not so slow motion - collapse of the Morsi civilian administration. Not ‘the state’ in the broader sense, but Morsi’s government. The scale of the demonstrations over the last two days seemed to catch everyone by surprise, leading to the pivotal ultimatum issued by the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, giving the political players 48 hours to come to some sort of consensus and respond to the ‘will of the people’ expressed through the protests or have the military step in. At least 10 ministers from Morsi’s government have resigned, including the overnight resignation of the Foreign Minister.

Overnight (US time) the Brotherhood started trying to organize counter-demonstrations with what seemed to be the pretty explicit aim of physically confronting the anti-Morsi protesters - not an idle threat since the Brotherhood spent decades as an underground group with a significant paramilitary component, though pictures like this don’t inspire a lot of confidence in their current ability to engage sustained action. And just moments ago, one leaders of the Brotherhood called for ‘martyrdom’ to stop the protests. So here we have the perhaps novel instance of Islamist calling for martyrdom on behalf of electoral legitimacy. Or something like that.

So here you have Morsi, clearly no friend of the US or the administration, in the perilous position of counting on the US to keep them in power. It’s no less curious a position for the White House. They’re no fans of Morsi because they do perceive a significant stake for electoral legitimacy.

The next two days will be critical. And they may add evidence to support the strong hypothesis that religious parties simply can't govern. (Take note, GOP.)