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October 21st, 2018:

Weekend link dump for October 21

“The rules of being a conservative woman in politics require you to never consider yourself the victim of sexual assault. Victimhood, according to this principle, is a liberal complex.”

Yeah, there’s no way I’d trust Facebook to provide a secure home assistant gadget.

“Two weeks ago, Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm became the first all-female broadcast team to call an NFL game. It was a boundary-breaking moment, but also served as a reminder that few women ever get the chance to be the voice of a game.”

“About 90 million Americans believe aliens exist. Some 66 million of us think aliens landed at Roswell in 1948. These are the things you learn when there’s a lull in political news and pollsters get to ask whatever questions they want.”

“But of course the status quo isn’t apolitical. It’s both a consequence of and a condition for politics.”

“Rogue killers” are the 400-pound hackers in a basement of 2018.

“Archaeologists have discovered a Viking ship burial in Norway using ground-penetrating radar that suggests the 20-metre keel and many of its timbers remain well preserved just half a metre below the topsoil.”

RIP, Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder.

“How did misinformation spread during the 2016 presidential election and has anything changed since? A new study of more than 10 million tweets from 700,000 Twitter accounts that linked to more than 600 misinformation and conspiracy news outlets answers this question.”

“It makes me angry to think of altar boys who found in priests not an inspiring example of sacrificial dedication (as I did), but instead horrible betrayal and abuse. And it makes me angry that bishops and popes were not angrier when they heard about these abuses. These are men who celebrate the Mass every day. How could they fail to boil over with righteous anger at these evil priests who perverted their priesthood into its opposite?”

I don’t spend as much time on Fat Bear Week as I should.

“But, at its core, the lawsuit reflects the American conservative movement’s legal and political assault on people of color, which has been endorsed and abetted by President Trump. The Trump Administration has sought to limit voting rights, backing voter-suppression efforts; it has demonized immigrants; the President himself has repeatedly targeted prominent African-Americans for abuse. The Trump Administration is also supporting the Harvard lawsuit.”

How is it that National Pug Day isn’t an actual holiday?

Make Trump supporters’ personal data secure again!

“It’s a spectacularly remarkable story, both about Nicole and her father, and her entire family. For me, it’s another lesson in how not to judge a book by its cover.”

Carroll Spinney, the man behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, is retiring after nearly 50 years on the job.

“If there’s a human being on the entire planet who’s earned the right to spout off about the need to crush the Republican leadership into Soylent Green and then distribute it in sacks to the poor, Hillary Clinton is it. After three decades of calmly putting up with an Augean stable’s worth of lies and attacks and assorted other forms of vicious bullshit, if she says it’s time to fight back, maybe we should listen.”

“Singer/actress Rihanna has reportedly turned down a chance to headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LIII because she supports former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has a collusion lawsuit against the National Football League.”

Yeah, we’re still talking about the risk to our elections

And when we talk about these things, we talk to Dan Wallach.

When we think about those who defend the territorial integrity of our nation and state, we tend to imagine well-equipped members of the U.S. armed forces, or perhaps a square-jawed detachment of Texas Rangers. Increasingly, however, the twenty-first century battle for control of the American homeland is being fought in the computerized elections systems overseen by our humble county clerks.

Here in Texas, votes in federal and state elections are tallied independently by 254 local officials, one in each county seat, from big cities like Houston and Dallas to tiny courthouse towns like Tahoka and Floydada. If a hostile country decides to hack an election in Texas, that means pitting Russia’s (or Iran’s or North Korea’s or China’s) most skilled hackers against a group of officials and volunteers who may not even know their way around an iPhone.

“We’re asking county clerks, and for that matter local poll workers, to defend against a nation-state adversary,” says Dan Wallach, computer science professor at Rice and expert on election security issues. “That’s not a fair fight.”

Wallach, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson as well as U.C. Berkeley and Princeton, has made it his mission to assist local election administrators by helping to develop and advocate for the adoption of foolproof, verifiable election systems and policies in Texas. From 2011 to 2015, Wallach served on the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; before that he led the National Science Foundation–funded ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections). Most recently, he’s been seen testifying before the Texas Senate on issues related to election security.

“From a security perspective, the systems that we use, these electronic voting systems, were never engineered with the threat model of foreign nation-state actors,” Wallach says of the status quo in Texas. “I have no idea if anybody’s planning to exploit them, but there’s no question that the vulnerabilities are present.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that remedies are within reach, if Texas is willing to invest money and other state-level resources to improve election security. Experts like Wallach have identified best practices that can make elections reliably secure for the current threat horizon. Wallach proposes what amounts to a three-step plan for improved election security: better machines, better oversight, and better contingency planning.

The rest of the story delves into those three steps; it begins of course with auditable voting machines that include printed ballots. Speaking from my perspective in the IT security field, I can confirm that every big company that wants to stay in business past tomorrow zealously captures, indexes, and monitors its systems’ log files, both to look for real-time anomalies and to provide a written record of what happened in the event of a breach or other failure. It’s just standard practice in the real world. Why our state government is so resistant to it for our election systems is a question for which they really need to be held accountable. I would also note that the $350 million price tag to replace every obsolete voting machine in the state, which apparently we can’t do unless the feds pick up the tab, is something we could easily afford if we wanted to do it. For now, assuming we don’t get a state government that’s willing to do this, our best bet is to work towards a federal government that will do it, presumably after 2020. And hope like hell in the meantime that nothing goes horribly wrong.

Babygate, 25 years later

Boy, I remember this.

Remember Babygate?

Scot Cooper Williams came into this world Oct. 16, 1993 and was the center of a firestorm 24 hours later. His father David, an offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, had missed the team’s game in New England to be with his wife when he was born.

The coaches were livid. Some of his teammates were upset and angry. A combination of timing of Scot’s birth, fog in New England and David not being able to catch the last flight out of Houston that Saturday night forced David to make a decision that cost him a $111,000 fine.

The story went viral – 1990s style. National headlines. Network television. Talk shows around the country. Everybody had an opinion, especially when the macho culture of pro football collided with changing times around the country (the Family and Medical Leave Act had passed in February 1993).

“It took me a while,” David said of the media frenzy, “to get over it.”

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Babygate and the men in the center of that moment can chuckle a little about it now.

[…]

A quarter of a century ago, then-27-year-old David, who wasn’t one to miss a game for any reason, just wanted to be with his wife when she delivered. Debi had suffered a miscarriage the year before after a tubal pregnancy and he wasn’t leaving her side. They had planned to have a C-section the Monday after the game, but Scot had a mind of his own and Debi went into labor at 4 a.m. Saturday, and David missed the team charter.

David figured Scot would be born, mom and baby would get checked out and he’d have time to catch the last flight to Boston on Saturday night.

But that didn’t happen.

While Debi was in labor, David was on the delivery room phone with coaches and team officials. Time was running out to catch that last flight and the conversation wasn’t pretty.

“It was hard on her at the time … She could hear them screaming over the phone at me,” David said. “Finally the doctor just yanked the phone plug, took the phone off the wall and said ‘We’re not taking any more calls.’ ”

Scot didn’t arrive until almost 6:25 p.m. and, by then, it was too late for Williams to catch the 6:54 p.m. flight from either airport.

“Even if I had left the second after he was born, I still never would have made that plane,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking for me. I’d never been through anything like that. It was tough.”

He said teammates Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews tried to arrange a private plane through a third party, but when David left the hospital around 11:30 p.m., he hadn’t heard back.

“I had been up with Deb since 4 o’clock that morning and going through that emotional roller coaster of getting screamed at and yelled at by coaches and general manager as I’m in the delivery room,” he said. “My wife’s giving birth and I’m getting screamed at. Man, it isn’t supposed to feel like this.”

David went home, showered and was sound asleep when the person called back. The voice on the other end of the phone said there were no guarantees he would get to the stadium in time. The pilot might be able to get him into one of the New York airports, but then he would have to drive to Foxborough, Mass.

“They were diverting planes everywhere,” David said. “At that point, I said, if he can’t fly me to Boston, just tell him to forget it. I made that decision on my own. I was absolutely exhausted.”

He paused.

“I was just (thinking), ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be fired.’ I knew it. I just knew I was going to be without a job the next day. It was crazy, but that was the decision I made.”

Read the whole thing, and marvel at it whether it’s the first you’ve ever heard of this or it takes you down memory lane, as it did with me. Sure seems hard to believe, here in 2018, that a father-to-be missing work to be at the birth of a child would even raise an eyebrow, but it did a lot more than that in 1993. However far we still have to go, we really have come a long way. All the best to the Williams family, for their unwitting role as trailblazers.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 3

Remember when Land Commissioner George P. Bush was considered a rising star? The Chronicle does.

Miguel Suazo

Four years ago we enthusiastically endorsed George P. Bush for land commissioner. We said he was “the real deal.” Turns out, we were really off.

You don’t have to take our word for it.

Bush’s predecessor in the office, Republican Jerry Patterson, not only has refused to endorse Bush. He is actually reaching across the aisle to endorse Democratic candidate Miguel Suazo.

The defection from the party line is more widespread than a single Republican activist: Bush’s other Republican primary opponents — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — all signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

In these divisive times, when allegiance to political parties has become tribal, the bipartisan objection to Bush says a lot.

Suazo has our endorsement as well.

In contrast to so many politicians who like to play a hardscrabble cowboy in campaign ads, Suazo, 37, has lived that role. He grew up on a cattle ranch and labored as a janitor to put himself through the University of New Mexico. He has experience working as a staffer on Capitol Hill for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who retired in 2013.

Today, Suazo works as an Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney and has an expert’s knowledge of oil and gas law, and water law. These are key issues for the man in charge of Texas’ oldest state agency. The position’s most important job involves the massive oil and gas reserves under state soil. Revenues from those mineral rights serve as a core asset for the state’s Permanent School Fund.

See here for more on the Patterson endorsement, and read the rest for the Chron’s list of grievances against Bush. Bush was one of the top votegetters in 2014, and it’s a little hard to envision him losing even in a great Democratic year, but he’s not only been bad at his job, he’s also had his own share of headlines about questionable decisions and ethical morasses. In a state without Sid Miller and Ken Paxton, he might seem to be the most vulnerable statewide incumbent running. The fact that this is all barely a ripple says a lot about the Republican slate.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses more judges, and unlike the theme of these last three endorsement posts, they generally like the Republican incumbents. If it weren’t for the bail lawsuit, they would have endorsed an overwhelming number of them by now, with nearly all of the star-system ties going to the office-holder. Keep that in mind if you hear anyone grumble about bias.