EDITED TO ADD (4/13): Details of what happened.via Bruce Schneier’s long-running “Cryptogram” newsletter.
At first brush, this looks stupid—a 3d-printing solution for a cardboard-and-scotch-tape problem—but watch the video; this is fucking brilliant (given my general skepticism and snarkery about 3D printing, that constitutes high praise indeed):
This is a really fascinating video for anyone interested in the emergent complexities (and edge/corner-case failures) that inevitably arise when folks start fixing social problem with technology. It’s absolutely mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks they have a “simple” gun-control/gun-safety solution, especially one that involves “smart gun technology” (SPOILER ALERT: such solutions are not solutions at all).
Just as an aside, it seems a little over-cautious for WIRED to call these “potentially dangerous flaws” in the gun’s design: The gun can be fired by an unauthorized person in possession of the firearm (using magnets available at any hardware store), and it can also be disabled at a distance by an attacker with some minor soldering skills. Both of these hacks require very little skill (and not even all that much money) to execute now that the flaw is known. As such, the gun fails at both things it’s supposed to do (i.e., work in an an emergency and prevent unauthorized folks from making it work). The existence of these flaws guarantees that large agencies (military, law enforcement, etc.) will never use these unreliable solutions, and thus the price won’t come down due to economies of scale.
This smart gun is, at best, a novelty—and there is no reason to believe that any of the other early generation technologies will be any better until there is a fundamental change in how these are designed and engineered (e.g., the design needs to be open and companies need to start offering very high bounties for finding hacks, so that guys like the fella in the video have an incentive to buy these things as soon as they hit the market and start tearing them down).
Listen: There is going to be a major attack on U.S. soil between now and, I dunno, probably the end of January 2018. (I personally think it’ll be earlier—possibly by mid-October—but depending on who is attacking, I think they might wait as late as Xmas/New Year’s in order to maximize mayhem).
I’ve been saying this for months, but I think most folks thought I was kidding. I’m not.
REMINDER: We’re likely 2 to 4 months from a major US soil attack. PotUS will use it to consolidate power. https://t.co/wiy1XddbSC
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) August 10, 2017
REMINDER: We’re probably not more than 4 months from a major US soil attack. My money’s on N Korea, but whoever it is, it’s a win for PotUS.
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) August 1, 2017
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) July 21, 2017
Hard to believe it’s just six months until a major foreign attack on U.S. soil!🇺🇸🔥 https://t.co/0nPayGb4Pd
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 16, 2017
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 13, 2017
Hard to believe it’s just nine months until a major attack on US soil! https://t.co/GZu9RG0Ynw
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 1, 2017
A disorganized defender cannot defend. When your opponent is disoriented, you strike. It’s elementary, and holds in many fields: In business negotiations, in chess, in Go,in court, in bar fights and boxing matches, in battlefields and hardened bunkers.
Readers of a certain age will recall that the success of the 9/11 attacks was widely attributed to a “failure to connect the dots” within the Executive Branch (especially within intelligence and foreign affairs agencies). Why did we fail to connect the dots? Because there were empty seats throughout the administration, and the folks in many of the filled seats were still coming up to speed.
Rewind 11 months from 9/11, and you’ll recall we had an insanely close presidential election that ultimately needed to be decided by the Supreme Court. As a result, when G.W.Bush took office, his team had significantly less time to pull together their nominations than was the modern norm. 100 days in, he was still behind, with only about 35 confirmed nominees (there are several thousand positions that need to be filled by any incoming president, of which about 577 are considered vital by experts). 200 days in GWB had 294 nominations confirmed, roughly half of the most vital positions. In other words, on day 200 in office, G.W.Bush still had 283 empty seats in vital parts of the Executive Branch, and many of the seats that were filled had folks sitting in them who’d only had a couple months—maybe just weeks—to digest, consider, and route huge amounts of intel. About a month after that we notably “failed to connect the dots” and 19 dudes crashed four airplanes with the net result of 3,000 humans being cooked and crushed in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania farm field.
I was teaching school that day, back in my old life. I stood in a room with a bunch of troubled teens and watched folks jump out of the World Trade Center towers rather than burn inside. I walked outside with a coworker. Our school was under several flight paths, but the sky was perfectly clear above us, no clouds, no contrails, no planes, because every plane in the nation was grounded.
But, man, that sky, so blue. So clear.
Within a year I was on a “selectee list.” For the next eight years every time I flew I was pulled out of line, searched, patted down, swabbed for explosives, questioned, stripped down to socks, pants, and undershirt. But, you know, whatevs, right? Terror. Safety. Patriotism. #America.
But my mind wanders. All apologies. More to the point:
How’s Trump Doing?
How’s Trump doing, in terms of getting the right folks in the right seats, and thus preventing another major attack and loss of life on U.S. soil?
Not great. In fact, he’s doing cataclysmically poorly. He was behind Bush on Day 100, and he’s now even further behind:
As of August 4, when the Senate left town for its August recess, Trump has nominated 277 people for key posts, has had 124 confirmed, and has withdrawn eight of the nominations, according to CNN’s tracker.
The Partnership for Public Service has identified 577 executive branch positions as being particularly essential — and Trump has only successfully filled about a fifth of them.
We got smashed in the mouth in 2001 because we only had 294 folks in 577 vital seats. Today we have about 124 folks on deck. Among those seats that remain empty: Most of the undersecretaries of state, assistant secretaries of state, assistant secretaries of defense, an undersecretaries of defense, and most of our ambassadors.
So Who is Coming to Hurt Us?
It’s a three-way coin toss, in my humble:
- North Korea
- Actual International Terrorists (like 9/11)
- Domestic Terrorists (I group someone like the Tsarnaev brothers or the Pulse Nightclub Shooter alongside Timothy McVeigh and Buford O. Furrow, Jr. as “domestic terrorists” for the reasons outlined in this very enlightening interview over on Slate: “Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism“)
If I were a gambling man (and we all are now, here in the Zone of Maximum Mayhem) I’d put my money on #3.
Yeah, North Korea seems like an obvious choice: They can hit the U.S. mainland with any number of missiles, and they have a nuke small enough to mount on such an ICBM. They probably don’t have the reentry ballistics quite right just yet, which means the nuclear device won’t detonate properly, but a goddamn intercontinental ballistic dirty bomb plowing into D.C. or NYC is 1) well within N.K.’s capabilities and 2) not something you walk off.
But launching such an attack is actual suicide for that country—especially with our current PotUS—and regardless of what we say about the Kim regime, he’s not an actual lunatic; he has a country to run and a dynasty to maintain. Given how he’s behaving now, and in the absence of us launching a pre-emptive strike, I don’t see N.K. nuking us before Xmas. (See also North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem, minimal blowback)
(All of that, of course, assumes the tests they’ve been firing have indeed been tests, and not a killdeer-like misdirection. If N.K. can cripple us in a first strike—say, by nuking LA, NYC, and DC in a single salvo—well, then I imagine they will, and probably sometime this fall.)
As for actual International Terror, believe it or not that’s on the wane in the Western world. When you stop calling everything involving a Muslim “international” and actually look at the facts of the recent attacks in the U.S. and Europe, you see that the last several “Islamist” terror events in the U.S. have a lot more in common with White Power hate crimes than 9/11. (Pulse Nightclub is a solid example of this.)
So that leaves us with Domestic Terror. I’m thinking it’ll be White Supremacists. The PotUS has done a lot lately to make them feel empowered, and those among them with basic arithmetic and reading comprehension skills absolutely understand that there will never again be a White Majority in this country. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be “Islamists” born in Newark or Peoria, or Antifa/Black Blocers looking to head off the impending pogroms, or good ole Militia/Sovereign Citizen folks (who despise the PotUS just as much as the Antifa folks do). They’re all in the same gang, at heart.
But who fucking cares, right? People are going to die—your friends and neighbors—at the hands of your other friends and neighbors, and a lot more are going to suffer, and we are locked in on those rails now, inextricable. These are how these dots connect, and it is far too late to do anything about it before it happens.
(Alternately, listen to and consider this: Episode 790: Rough Translation in Ukraine ’cause maybe I’m wrong, and we’ll go with a whimper, not a bang. And maybe we’re already gone—or, hell, maybe I’m the misinformation that stumbles out of Bethlehem to be born. Your call.)
Jesus! Dave, What Should I Do!?
I have no clue. Stay safe. Don’t hurt any one.
This is a commercial/charitable fundraising situation. The Humble Bundle folks and No Starch Press have bundled together a bunch of awesome books. Pay as little as $1 to get a few, $8 to get a bunch, and $15 to get them all. If you go in at the $15 level, you get ~$300 in books (all digital, all in multiple formats, all totally DRM-free, so you can read them however and wherever you like). It’s a really awesome deal (I bought plenty of Humble Bundles way before I ever was part of one—and, I’ll be straight with you: Being part of one as an author is a really big boon for me, too; my last Humble Bundle put an additional 30,000 copies of my book in front of eager makers, and helped me make enough money to stay afloat that year).
Even if you only drop a buck for the first five books, you’re getting some great stuff—Medieval LEGO is fun, the Scratch book is solid, and my son loved Lauren Ipsum (which is sort of a modern computer-science take on Phantom Tollbooth; he’s easily read it a half dozen times). Moving up to the $8 tier doesn’t just get you my book (which regularly sets you back ~$20), but also two of my favorite intro programming books (I learned Python from Teach Your Kids to Code, and Scratch Programming Playground is what taught my kid to code) and a really great manga book that’ll explain electricity to anyone. And, of course, going whole hog just piles on the awesomeness (again, I’m especially pleased to see a couple DIY hands-on electronics books here, especially since Arduino has gotten so dirt-cheap to get into). Every purchase doesn’t just benefit my publisher and me, but also Teach for America.
Today is a great day to call your reps and leave a message! Wish them a Happy Independence Day and tell them what you’d like them to focus on when they get back to the office tomorrow. If I may, I’d suggest they focus on White House conflicts-of-interest—perhaps by taking action on the following bills:
In the House of Representatives:
- H.R. 371: Require the President and Vice President be included under current law that prohibits federal office holders from engaging in government business when they stand to profit (guess who the only two Executive Branch members currently exempt are?). Also requires the PotUS and VP put their assets in a certified blind trust and disclose to the Office of Government Ethics when the make decisions that impact their personal finances.
- H.R. 305: Amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to require the disclosure of some tax returns by presidential candidates. Requires sitting presidents to disclose three prior years of federal tax returns.
- H.Res. 186: Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to provide President Trump’s tax returns and other financial info to Congress post haste.
In the senate:
- S.65: Requires the President, Vice President, their spouses, and any minor children to divest of any potential financial conflicts of interest by transferring assets to a qualified blind trust.
- S.Con.Res. 8: Calls on the PotUS to “follow the precedent established by prior Presidents and convert his assets to conflict-free holdings, adopt blind trusts,” etc. and not take actions that favor the Trump Organization. Also declares that, lacking an “express affirmative authorization by Congress,” the PotUS’s financial dealings with foreign governments or their agents are indeed violations of the Emoluments Clause.
My personal view is that, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you should support these bills—they’re just common sense in the modern age, where anyone with even the simplest 401k, tiniest nest-egg socked away in an IRA, or humblest mortgage has a vested interest in myriad domestic and foreign policy issues.
But even if you think all of these bills are total BS, call your reps. Please call your reps and tell them that. We should all be invested not in a system that has this or that policy outcome, but in a system where the vast majority of citizens actively participate to guide us toward whatever outcome may be. I totally accept that I’ll often be on the losing end, policy-wise, because my beliefs and experience just don’t match up with the majority—but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna gently and quietly acquiesce to a country molded around the manic delusions of a vocal, belligerent, ideologically extreme minority of the electorate.
…instead of a heart-numbing meditation on the difference between being a person and being a process.
‘course, when you think about it, this movie—even in its great compression and tongue-in-cheekiness—meditates on the very same thing, albeit shallowly (Hell, 2.5 minutes can only permit one to dive so deep, right?)
That said, Koja’s The Cipher (originally titled “The Funhole,” if that ain’t foreboding) is an awesome, awesome book, a must-read in the canon of Detroit literature.
Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:
- “President Trump has given at least 16 of his staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and adviser Kellyanne Conway, ethics waivers to work on issues they handled as lobbyists or in their former jobs.“
- “Analysts say China’s government has not hesitated to avail itself of the back channel to the White House provided by Ivanka Trump [who has her shoes and other fashion items manufactured in China] and her husband, Jared Kushner.”
- “President Donald Trump has exempted his entire senior staff from provisions of his own ethics rules to allow them to work with political and advocacy groups that support the administration. … The list provides the first official glimpse at the extent to which Trump has circumvented his own ethics rules by hiring former special interest advocates of the type that he railed against on the campaign trail.”
Giving your reps a call (click the link and scroll to “Power User Mode”) is quick, fun, and easy! Don’t miss this opportunity to prevent a violent uprising by Winter 2017!🇺🇸📞💻☝️
That thing where you call your Senator’s office and the receptionist expresses concern that they hadn’t heard from you in a while.🇺🇸📞
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 24, 2017
This argument strikes me as willfully obtuse (in the 20thC impeachment has been about a preponderance of wrongdoing, not a single gotcha), but I offer it to contrast most of what I’ve shared over the past few days:
For the record, over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that our representatives need to start saying the word “impeachment“—which is, recall, a formal Congressional statement of charges and investigation, not a fancy way of saying “removal from office.” Is it time for removal from office? I have no fucking clue. Is it time to formally level charges? It sure seems that way—but I don’t know, and am in no position to figure it out. It is certainly time for us to accept that we need to seriously talk about this, not just throw the word around in histrionic fits. It’s like the word “cancer” or the phrase “I’m dying”: We use these a lot as shorthands for things like “I feely sorta achy” or “I’m super-duper tired,” but there are also times when you do have cancer, when you are dying, and you need to actually start to talk about that with your loved ones.
And we’re in that place now, the place where we have to talk about cutting off our nose not to spite our face, but to save it before the cancer metastasizes.
This isn’t because the PotUS fired Comey for the stated reason that he was sick of “this Russia thing,” and it isn’t because he spilled the beans to that same hostile foreign power, and it isn’t because he tried to obstruct the early stages of the investigation into Trump-Russia ties back in February and it isn’t because he quite clearly benefited from—and plausible in some form, by action, inaction, or willful ignorance, colluded with—election meddling by that foreign power. It isn’t because he, his staff, and his family have very publicly sought to personally profit from holding the Office of the PotUS, and it isn’t because everyone in his inner circle seems to treat the very notion of “ethics” the way a dog treats an especially sexy throw-pillow, and it isn’t because of the breaking-strain bend he’s put in the Emoluments Clause, and it isn’t because of his stated seditious animosity to the rule of law as it is widely recognized in this country—especially as pertains to the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments. It is because of the preponderance of those things and more, taken all together, without pause, without recrimination, without apparent shame or the recognition that each of them is not simply Bad, but actually contemptuous of the very notion that governments are instituted among regular folks like us (not inflicted upon them) and derive their powers from the consent of the governed (which again, is us). His high crime, if nothing else, is that he acts with contempt for us and for our institutions.
“What is his impeachable offense?”
Dude, at this point, what isn’t?
If you haven’t called your reps yet today, may I suggest this topic: An independent investigation into Trump-Russia ties (both coordination during the campaign, back-channel collusion now, and business). Here’s the email I just sent to my reps:
subject:We need an independent investigation of Trump ties to Russia
Given the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey yesterday afternoon, I feel it is now abundantly clear that we need an entirely independent investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign (and current Trump White House advisors) and Russia.
The President has now established a pattern of suddenly dismissing executive appointees (e.g., former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and now Mr. Comey) seemingly because they either insist on upholding the Constitution, or because they are investigating him and his associates.
This is a very, very worrying trend. We desperately need to uncouple the Trump-Russia investigation from “politics,” or risk lasting damage to our democracy.
Thank you. Keep fighting the good fight!
David Erik Nelson . . .
Thanks! We shall defeat them one by one!🇺🇸☝️
FUN FACT: If you don’t do democracy with your phone and pen, you’re gonna end up having to do it with a gun.
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 9, 2017