Culture

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Friday: There’s Always The Second Line

After the shock, denial, horror, anger, and grief of death, there’s always the second line. Seems fitting today in the wake of Brexit to observe the passing of an ideal — a United Kingdom, in harmony with its European neighbors and allies — that we have a second line.

You’re probably familiar with the imagery of the second line, a New Orleans tradition in which a jazz band plays for a funeral procession after the mourners have buried the dead. The history of the second line isn’t clear in no small part because it originated among the African diaspora and the creole community, whose cultural history is poorly documented because of race. The second line was the other face of death — the celebration of the departed’s arrival at better world beyond the reach of the living. Over the last hundred years, the second line became a community event not confined to funeral processions alone. Sunday afternoons revolved around street parties centered on the local Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Benevolent Societies from which many brass jazz bands emerged as a part of the services offered through their co-op funeral insurance.

The video embedded here is more of a traditional blues dirge among second line tunes, but it might be played before or after the funeral. This video, however, shares music with true second line spirit, recorded as an observation of the passing year. And this second line following the funeral of Ernest “Doc” Watson is the definitive example.

Best jazz I can do post-Brexit referendum.

Brexit Backwash

  • What’s next after the referendum?  (EU Law Analysis) — First snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, by Professor of EU and Human Rights Law at the University of Essex. More emphasis here on pertinent human rights issues.
  • What’s next after the referendum, redux? (Public Law for Everyone) — Second equally snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, this time by Mark Elliott, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution.
  • EU’s disintegration will still affect UK in spite of Brexit (The Guardian) — Cripes, did none of the UK’s Eton elites or the white nationalists think to listen to Yanis Varoufakis, former Finance Minister to Greece during Grexit? This op-ed is grim and frank — Varoufakis is plain-spoken. Reading it only makes me more certain the EU will utterly abandon comprehensive emissions controls for the region, and Volkswagen’s fraudulent passenger diesels will never leave the bloody roads.
  • Jo Cox’s death and Brexit (The New Yorker) — If aren’t already sickened by either Brexit or the murder of MP Jo Cox eight days ago, read this. Guess how her constituency voted.
  • Brexit’s future impact on British cuisine (Europa) — European cook Thom Eagle looks at the effect Brexit will have on what he does, from Spanish olive oil to French mushrooms. Hard to imagine the soft-handed elitist prats wanting to go back to Heinz canned beans on toast. Oh wait, UK doesn’t grow much of its own wheat. Beans it is…nuts, they import those from the U.S., many of them from Michigan.
  • Speaking of which, Brexit’s affect on Michigan (Detroit Free Press) — Michigan may well be one of the states Brexit affects most, given the existence of General Motors’ plants in the UK and the UK market for automobiles. UK bought more than Brazil or Germany from GM last year, but the cost to continue operations in UK…oy.

Legal and other la-la

  • SCOTUS ruling on Abigail “#BeckyWithTheBadGrades” Fisher and why it matters (The Establishment) — In SCOTUS ruling this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, UT-Austin had not only ensured true meritocracy by accepting the top 10% of students from each high school without regard for any other criteria, but they built a strong justification for selectivity of other students. Fisher, in spite of having the advantages that come from being white and adequately resourced, simply didn’t make the top 10% at her school in a year when admission was incredibly competitive, AND she brought nothing else to the school to benefit other students.
  • Split decision upholds lower court ruling reinforcing tribal sovereignty (Bitch Media) — If you commit a crime on tribal lands even if you’re not a Native American, expect an American Indian tribe to file civil suit. Simple as that. In this case, if s a child molester working for Dollar General molests a child on Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ tribal lands, the Choctaws can file against the perp and employer regardless of non-native status.
  • Marginalization of poor white Americans (Pacific Standard) — The U.S version of Brexit could be built on this segment of the population, which feels left out by efforts to increase equality for minorities. Point taken, but somebody’s going to have to write the bridge out of this pity party for people who constantly vote against their best interests, and discuss intersectionality in raising equality across the population.

Weekend long read
Governor Jerry Brown reviews a new book by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. My Journey at the Nuclear Brink is some eyebrow-raising stuff.

That’s a wrap on a particularly grueling week. Have a nice weekend.

There’s No [Easy] Exit

Not an European scholar or sage. Have tried to pay attention to the Brexit question across the pond, but unsure how well I have done so. Generally, however, it has struck me that, given real problems either way for the Brits, the best choice was to stay in the EU.

Really, there was a definitive majority to join then, so what is the plan now?

Tell me why the secrets have disappeared
cover up the traces of wasted years,
the traces of wasted years

build it up
alibies for the damned
hide away
don’t ever reveal your plan.

So, what is the plan now for the always diminished, but oh so egotistically adventurous Brits, given they are woefully short on empire and hegemonic power? Oh so much like the terminally behind the queue United States?

Isn’t that a lesson the US ought not heed? If not decades ago, maybe finally now?

The UK may be leaving the collective, but do they really have an exit plan? The number of modalities in which they simply cannot have a great and immediate plan are too number to plow through.

There is no easy exit. Despite the vote in the UK. Germany and France make it clear this is not easy.

Lock it up,
standing behind closed doors
give it up,
no hiding place anymore

The value of the British pound and stock prices in Asia plummeted as financial markets absorbed the news.

I don’t know how it is going to be in the UK going forward. But if the vote is what it looks, the Brexit has definitively occurred, the only question now is what happens.

On the whole, pretty scary proposition, and the effort to get there seems much like the brain dead Trumpian movement afoot here in the States; i.e. shortsighted, uninformed and stupid. Hope I am wrong.

But here we all are, on both sides of the pond, looking inordinately stupid and shortsighted.

The world is being consumed by Trumpalos and Juggalos.

There is no exit.

[If you don’t know this band in the video featured, you should. They are The Angels, and this song is perfectly prescient for today even if from long ago.]

Thursday: Rough Beast

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— excerpt, The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats, c. 1919

This lovely bit of atmospheric electronica by åpne sinn from the 2012 album entitled en seier is an odd fit for the anarchic theme. en seier is Norwegian for ‘one victory’, which is how åpne sinn‘s Steve Brand characterizes each day of life after surviving a heart attack, a personal apocalypse like Yeats’ rough beast of The Second Coming.

The last couple of weeks culminating in today’s Brexit referendum feel like the onset of a global heart attack. Hope we enjoy a victory after this strife, but it’s too soon for more than hope.

Still a little off, not up to any more reading today after staying up far too late watching the House Democrats’ sit-in protest last night. Here’s a few things worth looking at:

  • DIESELGATE: Fuzzy definition of ‘cold’ may have led to EU passenger diesel cars’ spewing more NOX than expected (Ars Technica) — This means ALL EU makers of passenger diesels, not just Volkswagen Group, are producing too much NOX at low temperatures within an unclear range of ‘cold’. We’ve already seen a lawsuit in the U.S. against Mercedes for this reason.
  • ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: ‘Concrete Risks in AI Safety’ (paper, PDF at arXiv.org) — Researchers from Google Brain, OpenAI, Stanford University and UCBerkeley looked at the potential risks of using AI. specifically

    …the problem of accidents in machine learning systems. We define accidents as unintended and harmful behavior that may emerge from machine learning systems when we specify the wrong objective function, are not careful about the learning process, or commit other machine learning-related implementation errors.

    Worthwhile read, but I see a problem already, though, a blindspot they come so close to resolving but fail to recognize. The research team is not particularly diverse, nor is the AI development community. They will program systems based on a world as they understand it, not as it is even though they believe they are programming for a rich and noisy environment. The results will be far worse than blue screens of death.

  • ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Siemens suggests trucks powered by catenary electric lines (QZ) — Interesting concept, using electricity a la late 1800s trolley cars versus expensive and weighty batteries. But the infrastructure required…I don’t know. But that’s a lot more potential profit for Siemens, eh?
  • ZIKA VIRUS: Lame Congress funding bill on Zika defense is lame (Jezebel) — Really can’t improve on Jezebel’s hed: ‘
    Amid Gun Control Protests, House Passes a Shitty, Ineffective Zika Virus Bill‘. Yeah, that, especially the part where religious fanatics put their personal faith ahead of suffering by ensuring no funds are used by Planned Parenthood for birth control to prevent conception by persons infected with Zika. Hey You Radical Fundamentalist Anti-Science Freaks In Congress: Get Ready To Pay For Many Microcephalic Babies’ Lifetimes And Guillain-Barré Syndrome Care. Pro-life my left arse cheek. More like pro-torture for women and babies.

That’s enough for today, I need to reserve my strength for the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Toodles.

Wednesday: Get Bach

Summer bug laid me up. I’m indulging in the audio equivalent of tea with honey, lemon, and a shot of something to scare away the bug. A little cello playing by Yo-Yo Ma never fails to make me feel better.

This sweet video is enlightening, didn’t realize Ma had an older sister who was an accomplished musician at a tender age. Worthwhile to watch this week considering the blizzard of arguments about immigrants and refugees here and abroad.

And then for good measure, a second favorite added in the mix — Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman together, performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto Fantasy.

There. I feel a little better already.

Probably better than frustrated House Democrats led by Rep. John Lewis who are engaging in a sit-in protest on House floor demanding a vote on No-Fly-No-Buy gun control. If you want to watch the action, you’ll have to check social media. It’s said House GOP leadership ensured CSPAN cameras were shut off.

Diesel do you

  • Volkswagen streamlining offerings to cut costs, 40 makes on the chopping block (Bloomberg) — This is the old General Motors play that eventually killed Oldsmobile and Pontiac to reduce costs related to duplicative brands. Makes sense, especially if this hatchet job kills passenger diesels. Note the story says a fix may come later — uh-huh, like never? Because VW can’t handle the volume of required repairs OR the lack of actual clean diesel technology, OR both?
  • Testimony in S Korea: VW’s upper management may have ordered regulatory cheats (The Hankyoreh) — Story is focused on emissions controls defeat and approval process, but sound controls were also an issue in South Korea. Were those likewise suppressed by order of VW’s German head office?
  • Former CEO under investigation for securities fraud (Reuters) — Big investors want to know why it took a year for Winterkorn to act after the emissions controls defeat were made public by researchers. Bet there’s a link between Winterkorn’s notification of researchers’ findings and the destruction of emails.

Sigh, cyber, sigh

Wait, what?
Did you know Led Zeppelin is being sued over Stairway to Heaven? Allegedly a key riff in the famous 40-year-old tune was stolen, violating copyright. Forty years. ~smh~

Going back to a recumbent position. Stay braced for the outcome of the sit-in and Brexit vote tomorrow.

Monday: Buckle up, Buttercup

After my Go-Team-Yay-Space post yesterday, it’s time for a Monday morning reality check. Going to Mars will not be a panacea to our ills, as this darkly humorous animated short, Fired on Mars by Nick and Nate, shows. On the other hand, SpaceX’s Elon Musk offers an upside while acknowledging the inherent risk of space travel and colonization: “If you’re going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably not a bad choice.”

Certainly beats an undiginified extinction by drowning on earth, eh?

We may not be leaving the planet today, but you’d best buckle up anyhow. This week’s going to be a doozy.

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit
Say that in your best Jan Brady voice — Brexit will suck all the oxygen out of this week’s market news. I’m afraid to look at the stock market at all because of it. Euronews has a roundup on the topic (though I warn you, it’s poorly formatted — keep scrolling down the page and increase print size). I’m not posting any other UK-based links here now because it’s quite obvious each media outlet has a position and their coverage reflects it. Most blatantly obvious are those owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Newsgroup, which has prompted some angry murmurs about an Aussie living in the U.S. telling the UK what to do.

Disturbing: Mexico’s federal police fire on teachers’ protest rally
I say disturbing for two reasons: first, that a democratic government’s federal would fire on protesters supporting the CNTE teachers’ union and actively deny it happened is appalling, and second, that its neighbor’s media would ignore that it happened. Teachers and supporters have been rallying in the state of Oaxaca, protesting the government’s education reform plan, characterized by some as neoliberal. It was clear from the outset that the government was in no mood to listen, given the number of riot police in place. The protests followed the detention/disappearance days earlier by police of CNTE union leaders Francisco Manuel Villalobos Ricardez and Ruben Nuñez. Conditions degraded over the course of the day, with federal police firing upon protesters. Early accounts claimed six were killed, of which one may have been a journalist and two teacher trainees. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government at first denied there was any violence, and then later claimed the Associated Press’ photos of the violence were false. There were enough social media reports documenting the violence on the ground to neutralize the government’s claim — and thank goodness for social media, or the U.S. would have heard very little if anything about this conflict. Not exactly the fiesta of democracy President Nieto promised when he took office in 2012. For more current information about the conflict, follow hashtags #Nochixtlan (district) and #Oaxaca in Twitter; already the death count is disputed as some claim more than eight died after yesterday’s attack by police on protesters.

It’s extremely important to remember the protesters’ anger and frustration are not merely about the ENP government’s reform plan. The 43 young men who disappeared in 2014 and are believed dead were students at a teachers’ college; the federal police have been implicated in the disappearance of these students. To date, the mass disappearance of these students has not been fully accounted for. Imagine the furor if such a mass disappearance were to happen in the U.S.

Cyber, cyber, cyber
LOL sorry, I’m on a Brady Bunch jag. Forgot to remind you last Tuesday was Patch Tuesday — make sure you’ve updated your Win-based systems if you do so manually. Can’t hurt to check all your other non-Win devices, too.

  • Adobe Flash zero day patch a higher priority than Microsoft’s monthly patch (TechTarget) — Again, if you manually patch, get to this one ASAP. I’m a manual Adobe patcher myself; I don’t automate patching because I want to know exactly how often Adobe must patch their products. It’s annoyingly often.
  • This is your brain on drugs: Too-smart identity thief busted (ABC3340-Birmingham) — Can’t tell if the drugs ate his intelligence, or if they deluded this dude. Read this, it’s like a bad episode of COPS mashed up with Monty Python.
  • SmartTVs not so smart, held ransom by Flocker (TrendLabs) — Leap of ransomware to Android smartTVs perfectly exemplifies the danger of connecting things to the internet. Interesting how this one deactivates based on select country locations. Yet another opportunity to sell protection software, too, as you’ll note in the article.

Your recommended long read: Apple’s Differential Privacy
Crytography expert Matthew Green reviews Apple’s announcement this past week regarding development of “differential privacy,” which Apple defined as:

Starting with iOS 10, Apple is using Differential Privacy technology to help discover the usage patterns of a large number of users without compromising individual privacy. To obscure an individual’s identity, Differential Privacy adds mathematical noise to a small sample of the individual’s usage pattern. As more people share the same pattern, general patterns begin to emerge, which can inform and enhance the user experience. In iOS 10, this technology will help improve QuickType and emoji suggestions, Spotlight deep link suggestions and Lookup Hints in Notes.

This is worth your time to read as differential privacy suggests new approaches to meeting the needs of marketers while preserving the privacy of consumers applying algorithmic solutions. Read it now before this stuff gets really convoluted.

Check your safety harness from time to time. Catch you tomorrow!

Other Priorities: Another Launch Today – Blue Origin Reusable Rocket

Hurry, we’re less than three minutes from launch, all systems go. I’ll add more remarks in a moment.

11:20 a.m. EDT — Wow. What a picture-perfect launch and landing. This is the most excitement out of West Texas since some lousy bird hunter shot his friend in the face a few years back. Today’s mission by Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, had several objectives. The reusable rocket’s fourth mission included testing of backup and safety systems intended for future manned flights as well as multiple scientific project payloads. At least one project required the microgravity conditions (video) this mission would realize as the ship approached, reached, and left apogee at 331,501 feet (roughly shy of 63 miles above earth).

I’ve replaced the live feed of the mission with a video summary of the same New Shepherd rocket’s third flight from April this year. Compare and contrast with Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s recent reusable rocket launches; I am completely in awe of SpaceX’s attempts to stick a landing repeatedly on a puny drone raft at sea. (Video embedded here is from SpaceX launch last Wednesday carrying Eutelsat/ABS telecommunications satellites.)

If we have to endure gross inequality and a siphoning plutocracy, this space race is the kind of crazy oligarchs’ spending I love to see. Granted, Bezos is probably checking out future warehousing for Amazon facilities in space, crewed by robots — there’s no rent in space, right? But the opportunities for aerospace development and accessibility to the public have increased greatly with these two companies working fast and hard on this implicit competition. They also offer opportunities for us to save costs on government-funded missions — SpaceX has already won contracts formerly awarded to companies with an oligopolistic hold on launches.

I still want NASA to do all this and more as well; space shouldn’t be the domain of corporations after all. But if NASA has to work with fewer resources thanks to anti-science GOP-led Congress, at least they have a much larger hiring pool of experts to drawn from when they look for aerospace folks to add to their team, thanks to Blue Origin and SpaceX.

Explaining his refusal to serve in the military, that aforementioned sloppy hunter who shot his friend in the face said he had other priorities. It’s amazing in contrast what other rich guys do with their other priorities.

Jeff Bezos had one helluva Father’s Day already. Hope yours is just as exciting.

Friday: How It Begins

I was half way through a post yesterday when a friend in the UK told me a member of Parliament had been killed by a fascist.

An assassination, I thought at that moment, unable to write another word for my post. How many times has an assassination kicked off a horrible chain of events?

I hoped and prayed as best a lapsed Catholic can that the murder of MP Jo Cox by a man shouting, “Britain First!” was not the beginning of something dreadful. Research says it’s less likely than if an autocratic figure had been killed, but who can really say with certainty?

We won’t know for some time if this was a trigger event for something else, though it did set off a cascade of stomach-turning crap. So many media outlets referred to politician Cox’s death by a political fanatic as something other than an assassination. Really? Would Cox have been targeted had she not been a pro-EU unity supporter? Would the assassin — characterized by so many euphemisms as mentally ill — have killed her had he not been rabidly anti-EU and racist, impelled by ramped-up anti-EU rhetoric in advance of the EU-Brexit referendum?

And the disparity in coverage between [lone white gunman suspected of mental illness] and [armed terrorist—labeled so because they’re not white]? Beyond disgusting. The racism is all the more obvious. The public is conditioned by media’s implicit bias to expect and accept the lone white gunman, but never the dark-skinned person bearing a weapon. The accused must have sympathized with white nationalism, irrespective of country, having bought his firearm components from U.S. neo-Nazis more than a decade ago. The description of his attack on Cox is chilling — it was a cold political execution, not just some wildly insane flailing without care for the outcome.

The world lost someone very special when Jo Cox died yesterday. Someone who lived progressive values out in the open, modeling a better way for us. Don’t kid yourself this was just a crazed man acting alone when white nationalist politicians like Nigel Farage believe “violence is the next step” if angry constituents feel they’ve lost control.

And don’t fool yourself into believing this was an isolated event occurring in a vacuum.

Today’s Friday jazz is a performance of She’s Crying for Me by the Yorkshire Jazz Band, in honor of Jo Cox’s home county.

A note on hacking stories
The breach of the DNC’s computers is one of a number of stories over the last several years following a pattern: the breach is attributed to one entity and then yet another entity, while the story itself has a rather interesting point of origin. Initial reports may say the hackers were affiliated with [nation/state X] and later reports attribute the hacking to [unaligned third party Y] — or a variation on this order — a key characteristic is the story’s immaculate birth.

Try looking for yourself for the earliest story reporting the hacking of the DNC. Who reported it and when? Who were the original sources? Did the story arise from a call to law enforcement or a police report, and a local beat reporter who gathered named eyewitnesses for quotes? Or did the story just pop out of thin air, perhaps simultaneously across multiple outlets all regurgitating the same thing at the same time?

My point: Be more skeptical. There’s an adage in reporting, drummed into journalism students’ heads: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Three examples of manipulated opinion
Speaking of being more skeptical, bias manifests itself in all manner of ways and can be easily used for good or ill.

  • U.S. government and military orgs tricked into running ‘imposter code’ (Ars Technica) — Suckers didn’t perform due diligence on packages of code hosted at developer communities before running them. Gee, I wonder if any political parties’ personnel might have done the same thing…
  • GOP-led House waffles on HR 5293 surveillance bill because Orlando (HuffPo) — Ugh. Would this vote have been different this time if a lone crazed white gunman had shot up a bar? Sadly, we can’t tell based on the bill’s approval last year because the vote took place one day before Dylan Roof’s mass shooting in a Charleston church. Nor can we tell from the bill’s 2014 approval by the House because the mass shootings the week of the vote were just plain old run-of-the-mill apolitical/non-racist with too few fatalities.
  • Send manuscripts out under a man’s name = agents and publishers notice (Jezebel) — If you’re a woman you can be a great writer and you won’t get any nibbles on your manuscript — unless you submit it under a male name. Hello, implicit bias, much? This isn’t the only example, either.

Worthwhile long read
This commentary at Tor.com looks at the movie V for Vendetta, saying it’s “more important than ever,” in spite of the adaptation’s rejection by Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel on which this film was based. The essay was published this past Tuesday; read it now in light of Jo Cox’s assassination Thursday. A single event can change perception. This line alone now means something very different to me:

It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place. But for three years I had roses, and apologized to no one.

If time permits, I may slap up a post this weekend to make up for yesterday’s writer’s block. Otherwise I’ll catch you on Monday.

Wednesday: Hills Have Eyes

Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes
Who are you to judge, who are you to judge?
Hide your lies, girl, hide your lies
Only you to trust, only you

— excerpt, The Hills by The Weeknd

That tune’s NSFW, by the way, as is much of The Weeknd’s oeuvre.

Today’s theme is stuff to watch — things that aren’t quite done, may have long-term impact, or don’t make sense just yet.

U.S. Senate gun control filibuster
Right now I’m keeping an eye on the filibuster under way, now 13-plus hours in progress on the Senate floor, begun by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) to support legislation for universal background checks and barring firearms sales to suspected terrorists. As of 11:15 p.m. EDT, 40 Senators had already spoken in participation; there were only two Republicans (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) and one Independent (Angus King of Maine) who joined Democrats so far. The Brady Campaign has been taking calls from constituents in support of the filibuster at (855) 331-8593 and redirecting calls to senators’ voicemail so that the Senate can hear the public’s demand for gun control.

If you want to watch the filibuster, you can catch it on cable at CSPAN-2 or this link.

I’m also keeping an eye on these issues:

Next on Net Neutrality
A rare bright spot over the last week is the FCC’s win over ISPs in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; you can bet this fight isn’t over, though the court found the FCC could regulate ISPs as it does common carriers. Worth brushing up on net neutrality, given Comcast’s support of candidate Trump by way of NBC coverage both as candidate and reality TV personality. Comcast could well parlay its support into demands for an end to net neutrality should Trump win the White House.

Brexit bonking bankers
Polling flipped over the last two weeks from Remain to Leave. Bankers are beginning to worry and are scheduling a very long night when polls close next week.

Microsoft and LinkedIn merger
Technology folks can’t make any sense out of this prospective marriage, which must yet be approved by the feds. I can’t make any sense out of it, either, given the losses several of LinkedIn’s largest investors must eat — they’re also Microsoft investors, which means the money merely changes pockets without actually increasing. The deal is massive in terms of cost, dwarfing previous acquisitions by Microsoft.

So why do this deal, apart from the obvious access to technology decisionmakers with high levels of discretionary income? Wouldn’t it simply be cheaper to buy ad space on LinkedIn or even invest a smaller amount rather than acquire the entire business?

Or has Microsoft changed its overall business model — does it intend to sell something other than software once it has closed the LinkedIn deal?

All I know is that I’m leaving LinkedIn as soon as the feds approve the deal. I don’t want Microsoft to have any more of my time and money than they have right now, and I’m sick of their highly intrusive habits. Imagine the persistent nagging of Microsoft combined with the icky annoyance of LinkedIn reminders, like ones I still get about long-deceased acquaintances. Clippy the Undead, nagging me about software updates…Gah.

Volatile Venezuela
Clearly candidate Trump is watching Venezuela closely, though I wonder if he would have noticed without being included in security briefings. With the latest El Nino now ended, the weather may change bringing relief from drought if not from political insecurity and volatility due to the collapse of oil prices over the last several years. Interesting op-ed on the violence in Venezuela suggests a new perspective must be considered: the violence suggests the end of the state apparatus.

Mongolia’s addresses
The country is migrating physical addresses to a three-word phrase to accommodate a spread-out nomadic population in country with few roads and little infrastructure. In some ways, this mirrors virtual addresses used in networked environments. Is this a model for other countries in the near future?

Zika virus and blood supply safety
Hadn’t even thought of this — if Zika can be transmitted by sex, it’s certainly transmitted by other bodily fluids like blood. We need to think about blood supply safety, especially once the virus is spread by domestic mosquitoes. Pregnant women, and persons intending to become parents within months of receiving a transfusion should not receive Zika-contaminated blood.

What are you watching?

Tuesday: Going Alone

I’ve been so damned angry I’ve had difficulty wrapping words around what I want to say. It’s still Tuesday somewhere, so I’ll grit this out.

Assault weapons should be banned for sale to civilians.

Spare me the crap about hunters and taking their guns. My freezer contains 25 to 100 pounds of venison at any time. This household lives off the results of hunting and respects the power of firearms. None of this meat required an assault weapon.

If an assault weapon had been used, it would have been a waste of a deer tag. There’d be no meat left.

The embedded video above shows the damage hunting ammo does at close range — approximately 15-20 feet — on meat. The next video shows the damage #4 and #8 birdshot can do at short range, even through multiple layers of denim and drywall. Imagine what an assault weapon would do to flesh at similar range.

Better yet, listen to what a combat vet says about assault weapons.

There’s nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest a prohibition on certain weapons is wrong; if anything, the framing of a ‘well regulated militia’ suggests limitations are in order.

There’s also nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest that gun manufacturers have an absolute right to an unrestrained business model, or to profits at the expense of the public’s general welfare.

Nor does the Second Amendment say a damned thing about catering to ‘gun enthusiasts’ who want guns for ‘pleasure’. A ‘well regulated militia’ doesn’t possess guns but as necessary for the ‘security of a free state’, not personal enjoyment.

And both embedded videos embedded make a bloody good case that arguments about assault weapons being necessary to stop a home invasion are trash. Birdshot at close range can do one hell of a lot of damage, as do 00 buckshot and a 1-oz slug.

Congress — more specifically, the GOP — needs to strap on its spine and draw the line on assault weapons. How many more dead Americans is it going to take before Congress clues in the terrorist threat is already here? It’s domestic, and it’s better armed than the police because GOP-led Congress is as weak as the GOP is against Trump.

Spare the empty moments of silence and prayers which might as well be to Moloch after another human sacrifice. Such fail at protecting the American public.

Speaking of which…

Information Security Fail

  • USAF database with records on ~100,000 investigations ‘lost’ (Defense One) — This is such bullshit, I can’t even…why is a CONTRACTOR, which may be the subject of any one of the 100K investigations, hosting and managing a database like this? What a massive conflict of interest. The database included constituent and congressional inquiries. Don’t even get me started on the fact this system relied on Microsoft Internet Explorer. Where have we seen this kind of massive loss of data including failed backups before? Hardly a surprise the data covers the period including most of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as the construction of the F-35. Somebody better lose their job for this crap, and there’d better be a respectable investigation instead of the usual fluffery hiding billions of lost dollars.
  • DNC database infiltrated by the Russians (WaPo) — DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz needs to be walked out the door for this bullshit, along with responsible IT management. As if anyone able to sit up and take nourishment couldn’t see the DNC computer systems would be a target for cybercrime and cyberwarfare. No excuses for this during the run-up to a general election season, especially when her favorite candidate is already floundering because of information security failures during her tenure as Secretary of State. This bit:

    The depth of the penetration reflects the skill and determination of the United States’ top cyber adversary as Russia goes after strategic targets, from the White House and State Department to political campaign organizations.

    Total blowjob for access. If the hackers got in by spearphishing as suggested in the article, there’s no finesse required. Just poorly trained/educated users and no firewall between email and database. The only thing that surprises me about this is that ransomware wasn’t deployed. Imagine it: a major U.S. political party ground to a halt by spearphish-delivered ransomware.

  • University of Calgary paid CDN$20K after ransomware attack (Calgary Herald) — First heard about this attack the end of May. Looks like the school had no choice but to offer the bitcoin equivalent of $20K to release their systems, which says a lot about backup systems and rebuild cost. Considering the broad range of users at universities and widely different levels of experience and training, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more ransomware attacks on schools. Though monetarily they’re less appetizing than other targets, and may have more resources to deal with the threat if they have a strong IS/IS program.
  • Chinese IBM employee arrested for trade secret theft (Reuters) — The indictment (pdf) says the now-former IBM employee stole proprietary software related to hyperscale storage clusters, or what most consumers would know as ‘cloud storage’. This is a technology segment in which the U.S. still has considerable clout in terms of marketshare, and in terms of global economic impact based on its use. Reporting on this indictment has been vague, referring to the technology at the heart of this case as ‘networking software’. It’s more complex than that; the proprietary software underpins storage and retrieval of data across networked large storage devices. (Hi blueba. Just checking to see if you missed me. Can’t let the Russians have all the fun.)

Basta. Enough. Let’s hope Wednesday is kinder than the last handful of days have been.

AQ to CIA: You Are the Empire, and We Are Luke and Han

I loathed Star Wars, The Force Awakens. Loathed it.

I hated it so much I made myself go back and watch 1 through 6 again, to try to understand what even Jar Jar Binks (in my admittedly lonely opinion, though I urge you to go back and watch those early ones again) had on Disney’s creation. Along the way, in addition to realizing that The Empire never thought to fix the vulnerability that allowed R2D2 to hack each new-and-improved Death Star instantaneously, I realized The Force Awakens should have, instead of replaying the same Star Wars story over again, talked about what went wrong with the Rebel Alliance, which after all shouldn’t have remained the rebels for long. Why couldn’t, didn’t, our noble heroes set up a sound society to replace The Empire? Instead, somehow, The Empire gets rebooted once again, without dealing with the fact that The Empire this time should have been the rebels in charge.

I realized, as I was watching over the movies again, how for some of the same time the US was celebrating Luke and Han on the wide screen, we were secretly backing our own group of theocratic rebels in the desert as they fought an evil empire (I assume our Hollywood President enjoyed the parallel). I’m the generation of Star Wars. I was raised believing in our scrappy victory over Evil. But it’s all too clear, now, that we’re not the rebels, if we ever were. The theocratic rebels we helped blow up a Death Star in 1977 went on to blow up our Death Star, and the endless series of sequels against these rebels is bleeding us dry.

The Force Awakens didn’t deal with the fact that the US has become (if it wasn’t already, in 1977) The Empire; the movie shied away from contemplating that fact.

Of course, that made the observation from this video — from an al Qaeda fighter (presumably captured) — all the more striking to me.

An al Qaeda fighter made a point once in a debriefing. He said, all these movies that America makes, like Independence Day and Hunger Games and Star Wars, they’re all about a small scrappy band of rebels who will do anything in their power with the limited resources available to them to expel an outside, technologically advanced invader. And what you don’t realize, he said, is that to us, the rest of the world, you are The Empire, and we are Luke and Han. You are the aliens and we are Will Smith.

Hollywood is still making movies that cover up this fact.

But it’s not fooling much of the rest of the world.

Update: As happened with Syed Rizwan Farook, the tabloid press managed to get into the culprit’s home. Both his 3-year old kid’s bedroom and the bathroom are completed decked out in Star Wars gear.

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