The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Today is slightly longer than yesterday

The December solstice happened about 8 hours ago, which means we'll have slightly more daylight today than we had yesterday. Today is also the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's meeting with Richard Nixon in the White House.

More odd things of note:

Finally, it's very likely you've made out with a drowning victim from the 19th century.

The longest night of 2020

If you live in the northern hemisphere, tonight will last longer than any of the 365 others in 2020. Sunsets have gotten later by a few seconds a day since the 8th, but sunrises have also gotten later and will continue to do so until just before perihelion on January 4th.

We're also only a month from Joe Biden's inauguration. Almost everyone in the Western world and quite a few outside it have felt more relaxed and less stressed in the last six weeks, and will feel even better once the STBXPOTUS loses his public-interest protections on Twitter.

Meanwhile, we've only got a few hours before the Federal Government shuts down, because Republicans in the US Senate didn't really care about Covid-19 relief until the January 5th runoff elections in Georgia got too tight for comfort. Help Doug Perdue, yes; help 30 million Americans, no. That's today's GOP. Even if we manage to get the bill through, the STBXPOTUS has lost all connection to reality and may not sign it.

The bill as it stands calls for about $900 billion in "stimulus," even though we can't actually spend money where we need to spend it to save our restaurants and restaurant workers. As economist Paul Krugman points out, giving people $600 or $1200 checks won't help; we need enhanced unemployment benefits, which puts the money in the most needful hands. He also asks, "why is there a limit on the amount of aid?" He explains:

Republicans appear willing to make a deal because they fear that complete stonewalling will hurt them in the Georgia Senate runoffs. But they are determined to keep the deal under a trillion dollars, hence the reported $900 billion price tag.

That trillion-dollar cap, however, makes no sense. The amount we spend on emergency relief should be determined by how much aid is needed, not by the sense that $1 trillion is a scary number.

For affordability isn’t a real issue right now. The U.S. government borrowed more than $3 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year; investors were happy to lend it that money, at remarkably low interest rates. In fact, the real interest rate on U.S. debt — the rate adjusted for inflation — has lately been consistently negative, which means that the additional debt won’t even create a major future burden.

And even economists who worry about deficits normally agree that it’s appropriate to run big deficits in the face of national emergencies. If a pandemic that is still keeping around 10 million workers unemployed isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is.

So, yes, the longest night of the year might also see yet another Republican-sponsored government shutdown. But the longest night of the year means tomorrow night will be a few seconds shorter, and 9 nights later, 2020 will end.

Two weeks left in 2020

We're in the home stretch. We have 14 days until 2021 starts, and 32 days until the Biden Administration takes office. As Andrew Sullivan said in his column today, 2021 is going to be epic. Meanwhile:

And watch this blog for information about the Apollo Chorus of Chicago's final performance of 2020.

Stupid is as stupid does

Welcome to the (abbreviated) lunchtime roundup:

Finally, Julie Nolke for the fourth time explains the pandemic to her past self.

Major, ongoing network penetration

FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, revealed last week that unknown parties had penetrated its network and that its clients, including the US Government, were at risk. Bruce Schneier has technical details about the attack. Former Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert lays out the scope of it:

The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software, which included a hidden back door that gave hackers access to the victim’s network.

This is what is called a supply-chain attack, meaning the pathway into the target networks relies on access to a supplier. Supply-chain attacks require significant resources and sometimes years to execute. They are almost always the product of a nation-state. Evidence in the SolarWinds attack points to the Russian intelligence agency known as the S.V.R., whose tradecraft is among the most advanced in the world.

According to SolarWinds S.E.C. filings, the malware was on the software from March to June. The number of organizations that downloaded the corrupted update could be as many as 18,000, which includes most federal government unclassified networks and more than 425 Fortune 500 companies.

The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate.

The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months. The Russian S.V.R. will surely have used its access to further exploit and gain administrative control over the networks it considered priority targets. For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.

The logical conclusion is that we must act as if the Russian government has control of all the networks it has penetrated.

Now, if only we had an administration that believed its experts and a majority party in the Senate that would pass a Defense Reauthorization Bill...

First snow in Chicago

I'm looking out my office window at the light dusting of snow on my neighbors' cars, wondering how (or whether) I'll get my 10,000 steps today. My commute to work got me 3,000 each way, making the job tons easier before lockdown. Easier psychologically, anyway; nothing prevents me from going for a 45-minute walk except that I really don't want to.

Instead of a lunchtime hike, I'll probably just read these articles:

And just as a side note for posterity, we should remember that the President of Russia congratulated Joe Biden on his win before the Majority Leader of the US Senate did. The Republican Party must really not like democracy.

Other things to read this evening

Happy Hanukkah! Now read these:

I will now have some very yummy Szechuan leftovers.

President-Elect of the United States Joe Biden

The Electoral College has voted, and with no surprises, as of 16:37 Chicago time Joe Biden has received the requisite 270 votes to be elected President of the United States. And yet, we had a few surprises today:

Finally, John le Carré died at 89 yesterday. Time to revisit Josephine Livingstone's review of "the glorious return of George Smiley," le Carré's 2017 novel A Legacy of Spies.

 

Counting up to 270

The Electoral College started voting early this morning. Each state delegation casts its votes separately, usually in the respective state capitol buildings. The New York just voted a few minutes ago, bringing the totals so far today to Biden 161, STBXPOTUS 158. California votes late in the day, so once again it may seem like it's close but it really isn't.

In just a few hours, Joe Biden will officially be the President-Elect of the United States. The House and Senate will count the votes in a joint session on January 6th, and Joe Biden will take office as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th.

Now, if we can just get the STBXPOTUS to shut up, we might have a happier transition.

How to talk to irrational people

I'm not good at it, personally. But NBC News has some advice they've titled "How to talk to your friends and family about Covid, vaccines and wearing masks:"

“You always want to offer your empathy first,” said Amy Pisani, executive director of Vaccinate Your Family, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to vaccine advocacy. “If they have a personal story, start with your shared values.”

Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said that confrontation is particularly doomed to failure when talking to people who have fallen down conspiracy rabbit holes.

“Many conspiracy theorists score high in a trait called psychological reactance, which, to put it simply, is like an allergic reaction to being told what to do,” Taylor said. “We have to think of messages that don’t trigger that psychological reactance.”

Rather, it may be more effective to find non-confrontational ways to appeal to people that don’t overtly challenge their sense of self or freedom — a concept that Taylor refers to as introducing “behavioral nudges.” Instead of harping on the scientifically proven benefits of wearing a mask, for instance, people could try to convince friends and family to don face coverings for the good of their community.

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., said the emergence of conspiracy theories in times of upheaval has been well-documented throughout history.

“What you often see is that in times of uncertainty — whether it’s political uncertainty, economic uncertainty or social uncertainty — there’s a surge in conspiracy theories,” van der Linden said.

And that’s cause for real concern. Van der Linden’s research has shown that people who believe misinformation about the coronavirus are less likely to wear masks or get vaccinated, which makes it critical at this juncture of the pandemic to try to engage, rather than ignore, skeptical loved ones.

In times of extreme stress, we become apes, in other words. Yet somehow, we'll get through this.