The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Feminist thought on smart-phone use

Via Bruce Schneier, Irish writer Maria Farrell explains how a feminist perspective leads to some creepy realizations about smart phones:

Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

  • They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact – ‘user engagement’ – that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.
  • They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.
  • They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

Feminists are often the canary in the coalmine, warning us years in advance of coming threats. Feminist analysis of Gamergate first exposed the online radicalization of legions of angry young men for whom misogyny was a gateway drug to far-right politics. More practically, when the US military finally realised the enemy could use running app, Strava, to track the habits and route-maps of soldiers based in hostile environments, domestic violence activists collectively sighed. They’d been pointing out for years that the app is used by stalkers and aggrieved exes to track women. I’m not the first person to notice that in cyber-security, feminism is a secret super-power. Checking every app, data-set and shiny new use-case for how men will use it to endanger women and girls is a great way to expose novel flaws and vulnerabilities the designers almost certainly missed. So, while looking at our relationship with our phones through a feminist lens may be disconcerting, it’s incredibly useful, and in a deliciously counter-intuitive way.

I'll be mulling her thoughts over for a while.

Trudeau might be toast

Yesterday, a photograph of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup prompted a quick apology and an excellent reply from New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh. Today, the New York Times reported that Trudeau appears in three—count 'em, three—photos showing him racially-insensitive outfits:

A Liberal Party spokesman confirmed that the young man in blackface in the video published Thursday morning by Global News was Trudeau, and said it was “from the early 1990s." Trudeau turned 20 in 1991.

The succession of revelations Wednesday evening and Thursday morning has rocked Trudeau’s campaign as he faces a tough battle for a second term. Trudeau, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thursday, canceled his morning events.

This all happened a week into a general election campaign. Canada votes on October 12th.

A friend of mine who lives (and votes) in Montreal suggested that the Liberals may be about to ditch Trudeau in favor of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. She writes, "Would she have enough time though? It could be a strong move on the party's part, though I don't know if they have it in them. the Liberals are pretty wishy-washy establishment in my opinion. I guess that's what they are discussing this morning during the cancelled appointments."

Canadians are generally more sensitive to racism than Americans. It'll be very interesting to see what happens.

Lunchtime must-reads

Just a few today:

That's all for this afternoon. Check back tomorrow to see if Israel has a government, if Saudi Arabia decides to take its $67 bn defense budget out for a spin, or if President Trump succeeds in putting homeless people in concentration camps.

Why two 737-MAX airplanes crashed a year ago

Pilot and journalist William Langewische, well known to Daily Parker readers, has a long essay in the New York Times Magazine this week examining the problems with Boeing's 737-MAX airplane—and the pilots who crashed them:

From 2003 to 2007, the Indonesian accident rate as measured by fatal flights per million departures had grown to be 15 times as high as the global average. The United States Embassy in Jakarta advised Americans to avoid travel on Indonesian airlines, though within Indonesia that was practically impossible to do.

In 2007, the European Union and the United States permanently banned all Indonesian airlines from their national territories. This was done for reasons of safety. The ban was largely symbolic, because the Indonesians were focused on their expanding regional markets and had no immediate plans to open such long-distance routes, but it signaled official disapproval of Indonesia’s regulatory capabilities and served as a public critique of a group of airlines, some of which were out of control.

Lion Air had been contributing to the casualties almost since its inception. By the time of the signing ceremony in Bali, it was responsible for 25 deaths, a larger number of injuries, five total hull losses and an unreported number of damaged airplanes. An old truth in aviation is that no pilot crashes an airplane who has not previously dinged an airplane somehow. Scratches and scrapes count. They are signs of a mind-set, and Lion Air had plenty of them, generally caused by rushed pushbacks from the gates in the company’s hurry to slap airplanes into the air.

He doesn't exonerate Boeing, and he makes it clear that Airbus's automation brings problems of its own. He makes it clear, however, that the lack of pilot training, lack of pilot experience, and lack of an innate safety culture, made the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes much more likely. (His description of pilot training at Indonesia's Lion Air is terrifying.)

Meanwhile, in Israel

Israelis go to the polls tomorrow for the second time in six months. It's going to be brutal:

Benjamin Netanyahu was the silver-tongued, M.I.T.-educated sophisticate. Avigdor Liberman was a penniless former bar bouncer from Moldova, happy to be the hatchet man.

Now they are barreling toward a climactic denouement, as Israel votes in a national election on Tuesday that could reshape the country’s political landscape and determine whether Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, will be sent into retirement, and whether Mr. Liberman, his former deputy, is launched on a path to one day replace him or into political oblivion.

Mr. Liberman is not popular enough to replace Mr. Netanyahu himself but his party is expected to win enough seats to make him a kingmaker, capable of throwing the premiership to someone else.

While there is a rough consensus in Israel on the vital issues of national security and relations with the Palestinians, Mr. Liberman has exposed a fault line on the role of religion, appealing to secular Israelis fed up with the special benefits and subsidies accorded the ultra-Orthodox.

The high stakes and extraordinarily personal rivalry have turned what might have been a tedious midsummer campaign into a thrilling cage match.

The stakes couldn't be higher. Writing for the Washington Post last week, Robert Kagan calls tomorrow's election a referendum on liberalism in Israel:

[T]here is broad agreement among Israeli conservatives that the central institutions of the liberal world order created since the end of World War II — the European Union and the United Nations, and perhaps even the transatlantic alliance NATO — are hostile toward Israel and should be taken down a peg. A united Europe, regarded by many on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the great accomplishments of the post-Cold War era, “hasn’t been a blessing for this country,” Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, has argued. “The less united Europe is, the better.” The emerging nationalist forces in Europe have provided Israel new allies in its struggle with liberal Europe. “Major changes are happening in Europe,” one senior Israeli diplomat told Haaretz a year ago. “It is becoming less liberal and more nationalist.” Hungary’s Orban is “leading this change,” and that is why “Netanyahu has identified him as a key ally.”

What makes Israelis think if the United States were to cease supporting the liberal world order and began shedding the alliances it created after World War II, that the only ally it would not shed would be Israel? (Amusingly, many Poles these days also seem to believe that if the United States pulled out of NATO, it would still maintain the security relationship with Poland.) And how would Israel fare in the kind of world that would emerge if the United States stopped trying to uphold the liberal order? Such a world would once again be a multipolar struggle for power and advantage, pitting Russia, China, India, Japan, Iran, the stronger European powers and the United States against one another — all with large populations, significant territories and vast economies. What would be the fate of tiny nations such as Israel in such a world, no matter how well they might be armed and no matter how advanced their economies?

Could Israel, with its few million citizens, surrounded by enemies on all sides, and no longer living under the umbrella of the United States’ global hegemony, rely on the support of European nations ruled by right-wing nationalists? Is a divided, renationalized Europe good for Israel, or for anyone else? Would Israelis look to Hungary and Poland, to Britain, or to Russia and China for support?

There is a certain shortsighted selfishness to the current Israeli approach to the world. The price Israel paid for being born into the liberal world order was that it would have to suffer liberal criticisms and be held to liberal standards. This might have been difficult and even, from Israelis’ perspective, unfair, but Israeli leaders have borne this burden for 70 years because they knew Israel had no choice, that there was no home for Israel except within the liberal world order. That many Israelis now believe they have a choice is a reflection of our times, but it is a dangerous illusion. Those Netanyahu campaign posters showing him shaking hands with Putin, Modi and Trump carry the tagline “A Different League.” Indeed, it is. Good luck.

Good luck indeed. Polls open in just a few hours.

It's hot and wet

Two articles on current consequences of climate change. First, the Post has a long-form description of how global temperature rise is lumpy, causing localized hot spots such as the one off the coast of Uruguay:

The mysterious blob covers 130,000 square miles of ocean, an area nearly twice as big as this small country. And it has been heating up extremely rapidly — by over 2 degrees Celsius — or 2C — over the past century, double the global average. At its center, it's grown even hotter, warming by as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to one analysis.

The entire global ocean is warming, but some parts are changing much faster than others — and the hot spot off Uruguay is one of the fastest. It was first identified by scientists in 2012, but it is still poorly understood and has received virtually no public attention.

The South Atlantic blob is part of a global trend: Around the planet, enormous ocean currents are traveling to new locations. As these currents relocate, waters are growing warmer. Scientists have found similar hot spots along the western stretches of four other oceans — the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Indian.

Barring some dramatic event like a major volcanic eruption — which can cause temporary global cooling by spewing ash that blocks the sun — scientists expect this to continue and steadily worsen.

Climate change has also driven a policy shift in Canada:

Unlike the United States, which will repeatedly help pay for people to rebuild in place, Canada has responded to the escalating costs of climate change by limiting aid after disasters, and even telling people to leave their homes. It is an experiment that has exposed a complex mix of relief, anger and loss as entire neighborhoods are removed, house by house.

The real-world consequences of that philosophy are playing out in Gatineau, a city across the river from Ottawa that has been hit by two 100-year-floods since 2017. Residents here are waiting for officials to tell them if the damage from the latest flood, in April, exceeded 50 percent of the value of those homes. Those who get that notice will be offered some money and told to leave.

Canada doesn't have the constitutional protections for private property that we have in the US. But the approach works; they spend a lot less on clearances than on rebuilding, especially since they only need to clear once.

Lunchtime link roundup

Of note or interest:

And now, back to work.

Loose lips sink ships

Remember back in May 2017, barely a couple of months in office, when the president bragged to the Russian Foreign Secretary about some intelligence we'd developed on ISIS in Syria? That disclosure resulted in a dangerous and expensive mission to exfiltrate one of our highest-level assets within the Russian government:

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset. An extraction, or "exfiltration" as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when US intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.

Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter's notes. Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community's response to the Trump-Putin meeting.

Knowledge of the Russian covert source's existence was highly restricted within the US government and intelligence agencies. According to one source, there was "no equal alternative" inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on Putin.

So is he a Russian asset or just a useful idiot? What difference does that make, anyway?

Funny things

First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:

And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"

OK, that's too much funny for this morning.

The myth of "consumer" security systems

Bruce Schneier takes apart Attorney General Bill Barr's proposal to weaken civilian computer security:

The Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure. Yet that's not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices. Consumer devices are critical infrastructure. They affect national security. And it would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement.

The thing is, that distinction between military and consumer products largely doesn't exist. All of those "consumer products" Barr wants access to are used by government officials -- heads of state, legislators, judges, military commanders and everyone else -- worldwide. They're used by election officials, police at all levels, nuclear power plant operators, CEOs and human rights activists. They're critical to national security as well as personal security.

Barr can't weaken consumer systems without also weakening commercial, government, and military systems. There's one world, one network, and one answer. As a matter of policy, the nation has to decide which takes precedence: offense or defense. If security is deliberately weakened, it will be weakened for everybody. And if security is strengthened, it is strengthened for everybody. It's time to accept the fact that these systems are too critical to society to weaken. Everyone will be more secure with stronger encryption, even if it means the bad guys get to use that encryption as well.

Schneier doesn't say it explicitly, but this is one more example of how Barr and other Republicans of his generation haven't caught up to the rest of the world.