Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Unauthorized history of America's Centennial

We are coming up on America's Independence Day celebration, which has me thinking about the difference between the red, white, and blue cardboard history that is pushed on the public, and the real history of the period.  The real history is, of course, a lot more interesting.  And it is never taught in school, and history professors rarely write books about it.

The most plausible explanation for this is that the American Narrative as taught is a morality play, one that leads to ever more progress.  Indeed, to look at the motto of New York State is to see this emblazoned on the very flag: excelsior, ever onward and upward.

History, of course - even American history - does not work that way.  I've written before that the history of what is vulgarly known as the "Civil War"* is nothing that would be recognized by those who lived through it.  The interesting actual history has been twisted, pulled into an excelsior upward arc of morality play.  Twisted beyond recognition, actually.

Because you can't know where you are without knowing where you came from, and so the 1865-1890 gap in American History as taught today is an interesting puzzle.  There's actually a lot that's important that happened then, a lot that historians of today don't really want to dwell on.  And the midpoint of this "there be dragons" region on our historical map was the first centennial, 1876.

There was a lot that was going wrong in the American Republic.  Reconstruction was a failure, and seen as such by both its supporters and opponents.  Corruption in government was the norm - you hear vague echoes of this in the standard history (typically a brief passage about scandals in the Grant Administration), but the whole age (and basically each administration) was mired in this.  Boom times rapidly alternated with recessions or depressions as the great transcontinental railroads repeatedly went out of business.

I highly recommend the following podcast which goes into a lot of detail - detail that you very likely never were taught - about all these topics.  The only dispute that I have is the brief mention of the lack of a Grover Cleveland fan club.  He's the only post-war President who actually took a run at governmental corruption.  This is an extended interview, so you might want to find it on your podcast app and listen in the car or some such.  Podcast aficionados will recognize Patrick Wyman from the excellent Fall Of Rome Podcast, now hosting the very interesting Tides of History.

Tides of History: The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Gilded Age: An Interview with Stanford's Professor Richard White

1876 was interesting because of the Indian Wars.  Most famous is the disaster of Custer's 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn - which started on this day in 1876.  The news of the disaster arrived just as the Centennial celebrations were starting.  The American public was shocked that hundreds of US Cavalry troopers were killed by "naked savages".  More bad news followed in 1877, when the Nez Perce stood toe to toe with the Army at the Big Hole and bloodied the Army's nose.  These setbacks would not have been a surprise to anyone paying attention: way back in 1866, Crazy Horse and nine other braves completely wiped out a force of 81 soldiers at the Fetterman Fight.

While Phil Sheridan may or may not have said "The only good indian is a dead indian", it's a True Fact that William T. Sherman ended the Indian Wars in the good old fashioned Roman way, making a desert and calling it "peace".  His December 18, 1890 letter to the New York Times makes it clear that Congressional interference was the only reason he didn't kill every indian, down to women and children.  Par for the course for American's first War Criminal.

None of this is taught in history class.  It is violently anti-excelsior.

So why bring this up, especially at this time of the year?  It's not to harsh your Independence Day celebration**, it's because all of this is still relevant to events of our day.  Crony capitalism has still corrupted government beyond recognition (just look at the Trillion dollar "stimulus" that built nothing, or the F-35 program).  Congressmen are still handsomely compensated for sponsoring the right legislation.  The Progressive era (approvingly referenced in the podcast above in one of the few mistakes in their discussion) co-opted the segregationist Democrats for seven decades - today's Democrats simply don't seem to know that it was their party (and not the Republicans) who kept the Coloreds in their place.  Gun control continues to be pushed to get firearms away from minorities.

Excelsior isn't how things happened, but that sure is how teachers want you to think.  If you don't understand the past, there's a very good chance that you'll keep making the same mistakes.  Dad (who was a history professor) liked to say that history keeps repeating itself because nobody listened the first time.  I mean, how can we excelsior if we keep making the same dumb mistakes?

Like I said, I highly recommend the podcast.  Listen to that, and read the links and you'll know more about how America became how it is than just about anyone.

 * It wasn't a Civil War because the Confederate States did not want to take over the north. "War Between the States" is ambiguous, losing the underlying motivations. "The War of Yankee Aggression" misses the point that a lot of folks on both sides were spoiling for a fight in 1860. I like the term "American War of Southern Independence" because it describes the rationale for the conflict precisely.

** Indeed, the Queen Of The World and I are quite looking forward to the celebration.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Harley will build motorcycles in China

This seems like brand damage:
Harley-Davidson has found a new partner in China as it ramps up efforts to sell more motorcycles abroad.

The company said Wednesday that it’s teaming up with Qianjiang Motorcycle Company to make a small motorcycle that will go on sale in the country next year. Qianjiang is a subsidiary of Geely, which owns Volvo and has a joint venture to assemble cars in China with Mercedes Benz parent company Daimler.
The tariff war with the EU is hurting them, so I can see how they might look for a non-US manufacturing facility.  I can also see how they would want a lower cost, smaller bike than the typical hog (which generally starts at nearly 1000 cc's and goes up to almost double that.  This makes their bikes expensive, and so they are crowded out of the emerging markets.

But so much of their brand is caught up in the idea of Milwaukee Iron that I hope they introduce a different brand for these motorcycles.  East is East, and West is West, and all that.

Ten years ago on this blog

Ya know, some things never change.  And other things do change, by getting a lot worse.  This is an example from a decade back.

Kids vs. Adults

Power grid compromised

I've been writing about the risk to the power grid for a long, long time.  Here's one example from 2010:
1. The Grid is a high-value target to foreign Intelligence Agencies. It's been said - correctly, IMHO - that while there are friendly foreign governments, there are no friendly foreign Intelligence Agencies.

2. The computer systems that run the Grid (called SCADA systems) are based on old technology, and are difficult to patch. This means that it's quite likely that the computers running the grid are riddled with security holes.

3. While these systems are not supposed to be connected to the Internet, the incentive to do so is very, very high. For example, it's a lot easier to reset something by remotely connecting to it from home than getting up, getting dressed, and driving 20 miles in a storm at 3:00 AM.

4. Nobody has accurate maps of precisely what their network looks like. Network aren't so much designed as grow, almost organically. The Power Company networks are no exception.

Taken together, this paints the picture of high-value, low-risk for an adversary.
Well, reality has caught up to Borepatch 2010:
In a new troubling escalation, hackers behind at least two potentially fatal intrusions on industrial facilities have expanded their activities to probing dozens of power grids in the US and elsewhere, researchers with security firm Dragos reported Friday.

The group, now dubbed Xenotime by Dragos, quickly gained international attention in 2017 when researchers from Dragos and the Mandiant division of security firm FireEye independently reported Xenotime had recently triggered a dangerous operational outage at a critical-infrastructure site in the Middle East. Researchers from Dragos have labeled the group the world's most dangerous cyber threat ever since.

The most alarming thing about this attack was its use of never-before-seen malware that targeted the facility’s safety processes. Such safety instrumented systems are a combination of hardware and software that many critical infrastructure sites use to prevent unsafe conditions from arising. When gas fuel pressures or reactor temperatures rise to potentially unsafe thresholds, for instance, an SIS will automatically close valves or initiate cooling processes to prevent health- or life-threatening accidents.

In April, FireEye reported that the SIS-tampering malware, known alternately as Triton and Trisis, was used in an attack on another industrial facility.
It looks like the only plausible explanation is that someone doesn't want to be able to shut down the US power grid, they want to be able to wreck it.

It's certain that the Powers That Be are not treating this with the urgency it demands.  While the Department of Energy has been at least awake for the last 4 or 5 years about this, this country needs a crash course on making the grid more robust.  Not hardening it - that's likely a fool's errand in these days.  Rather, the grid needs to become more survivable in the face of attack:

  1. Safety systems need to be isolated from network compromise.  This means direct servo connection rather than commands sent via the network (what happens when the network router gets disabled by a Bad Guy?).
  2. The grid needs to better handle portions of it going off-line, and then coming back online.  This seems to be where the first experimental hacking was concentrated, and it's key that surviving parts of the grid do not get damaged by high voltage surges during these events.
  3. There needs to be a lot more stocking of spare components than there is.  A large scale grid shutdown will mean there is no chance of "just in time" component resupply.
  4. Manufacturing of things like high voltage transformers needs to come back to the United States from China.  If the grid is down there's no time to wait the 6 weeks to get the darn things shipped from Shanghai.
All of this costs money, and so nobody wants to do it.  But we pay people at DoE (and Homeland Security) to think about this, and to convince the policy makers that this is an existential threat.  If the grid is damaged, a lot of people will die as gas stations run out of gasoline, hospital generators fail, etc.

Sadly, confidence is not high in the Powers That Be.  I recommend a generator, with two weeks' fuel. A diesel generator will be more expensive, but it will last longer.  More importantly, the fuel won't go bad.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ten years ago on this blog

Because they're idiots, that's why

Why would a bank put WiFi in their ATM machines?
BT Openzone is set to expand further with a deal to put hotspots in cashpoints, forgetting for a moment that it's not a mobile phone network, and making maximum use of the unlicensed spectrum available to Wi-Fi.
The latest deal is with cashpoint specialist Cashbox - suppliers of those stand-alone machines found lurking in the back of late-night shops and increasingly in the corners of pubs. These cashpoints, which are connected via the Link network, already have a broadband connection; so slipping a Wi-Fi access point into the box is not a great technical challenge.
You might think they did it because it was easy, but you'd be forgetting the title of this post.

Sure, technology exists to separate the banking network from the guest WiFi traffic. The problem is that this is software configurable. So how do ATMs get reconfigured to mix this traffic? The same way they get malware:
Both Svajcer and Zacheroff stressed the trojan could only be installed by someone who had physical access to an ATM, since the devices, obviously, don't have floppy drives and typically run only on private isolated networks. That means the malware could most likely be installed only with help of an insider or in the event passwords weren't managed properly.
OK, so maybe Cashbox makes so much money with these things that they can afford the inevitable breach. What does it mean to you?

1. If the ATM gets compromised, you can't tell if its safe to use your card there. If you can't tell if it's been compromised, you shouldn't use your card there. Hint: you can't tell.

2. If the ATM gets compromised, you can't trust the WiFi. Something could easily read all the traffic you send, or receive. It could redirect you to sites of its choice. Unless you are using a VPN to encrypt everything, it's not safe.

Other than that, it's perfectly safe.

Filed under "pwned" because while it hasn't happened yet, it's a lock. About the only lock on this sad, sad story.

Ancient Roman snark

The Romans had a custom that seems strange to modern eyes - after the death of an Emperor, the Senate would (usually) pass a decree that the late Imperator was a god.  The Roman state religion was a tool of public order, and so while this seems strange to our eyes, it was considered perfectly normal to them.  After all, there was an ancient tradition of God Kings in the middle east, so it isn't really surprising that they imported an idea they thought useful to the State.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the Senate thought that the Emperor had actually turned into a god.  Or most other educated people, either.  And so on this day in 79 A.D., the Emperor Vespasian was on his death bed and felt the end approaching.  The historian Suetonius tells us that he said, "I feel myself becoming a god" (Vae, puto deus fio.)  That's some quality snark right there, particularly from someone speaking their last words.

Haec est imago ab Wikipedia

He was succeeded to the Imperial throne by his son Titus, who had the Senate deify his father.  Titus, by the way, has left a  big architectural imprint on the city of Rome: not only is the arch in his name one of the must-see sights, but he completed and dedicated the Coliseum.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

This is why you have backup pitchers

On this day in 1917, Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore retired 26 Washington Senators batters in a row to win the game.  He replaced the starting pitcher, who had retired one batter.  The starting pitcher?  Babe Ruth.

Image via Wikipedia
The reason that the Bambino only retired one batter?  He was thrown out of the game for punching an Umpire.  Different time, different game.

Ten Years ago on this blog

It was census time, and since a fellow with a (D) after his name occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue it was the GOP freaking out.  Now that's all swapped but the song remains the same.

On advise of Counsel, I respectfully decline to answer ...

Seems that the Census folks will be asking a lot of questions this time around. Some folks are planning on telling them how many people live in the house, and then telling them to clear off:
Outspoken Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann says she's so worried that information from next year's national census will be abused that she will refuse to fill out anything more than the number of people in her household. 
In an interview Wednesday morning with The Washington Times "America's Morning News," Mrs. Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, said the questions have become "very intricate, very personal" and she also fears ACORN, the community organizing group that came under fire for its voter registration efforts last year, will be part of the Census Bureau's door-to-door information collection efforts. 
"I know for my family the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home," she said. "We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that." 
Seems that the good folks at Census don't much like this:
Shelly Lowe, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau, said Mrs. Bachmann is "misreading" the law.

She sent a portion of the U.S. legal code that says anyone over 18 years of age who refuses to answer "any of the questions" on the census can be fined up to $5,000.
Well now. I wonder if you have to sign the Census form, under penalty of perjury?

One of the unanticipated consequences of the left's statist agenda is that people end up trusting the government less over time. The government needs that trust, or a lot of things simply break down.

Me? I wonder if the expression Come back with a warrant would make them unhappy?

Bobby Cash - What Would You Do

Via The Tamworth Rage Page
They call him "the Indian Cowboy", and therein lies the story.  "Indian" as in "dot, not feather".

Bal Kishore Das Loiwal was born in Dehradun, India in 1961.  His aunt liven in Nashville, and would send him the latest Country records as they came out, so he grew up listening to the Country classics.  There were no music teachers who knew guitar, and so he taught himself.

The 1990s saw him performing in New Delhi at the Rodeo nightclub.  A chance encounter with an Australian film producer led to an invitation to perform at Australia's Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2003.  He became a media celebrity there - a documentary "The Indian Cowboy ... One In A Billion" recorded his appearance and story and aired on the Discovery Channel in Australia.  A rich Aussie bankrolled his first album, which got him nominated for the 2005 CMA Global Artist Of TheYear.

That's a long, unusual journey, one of the many things I love about country music.  The Tamworth page about him struck me as both funny and down home in a West-meets-subcontinent way:
Bobby is descended from a princely Indian family, grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas – "You can be a cowboy anywhere" – and lives a comfortable middle-class existence in India, even if his leather outfits turn heads. His style is down-home – there are no airs or graces: when his guitar-picking thumb-nail breaks just before departure for Australia, he finds the missing piece and super-glues it on. "Sometimes I cut off my wife's nail . . . I tell her I need it more than she does."

I usually include the lyrics and who wrote the song in these posts, but Bobby Cash seems pretty obscure on these shores, and even Amazon doesn't have a track listing for his 2004 album Cowboy At Heart which has this track.

Friday, June 21, 2019


That pup's yawning because there's no coffee.  Just sayin'.

Happy Solstice!

I've been re-posting items from ten years back, and since the Solstice is almost always on June 21, this is a twofer.

Cycles of Time

The mystery of life - birth, growth, death, is almost certainly behind the ancient efforts to precisely know the seasons. They knew when to plant, and when to harvest - they didn't need any help there, and only a professor who never spent a day on a farm could think that.

And so the "ancient observatories" like Stonehenge aren't observatories at all. They're Cathedrals.

Happy Solstice. Grill something with your dad to celebrate. Photo from the always amazing NASA Astronomy Picture Of The Day.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

F-35 news roundup

There's a great selection of F-35 news over at Lawrence's place.  Not all is well with the F-35 program.

Ten years ago on this blog

When is an emergency not an emergency?

When the liberal press (redundancy alert) writes a story about something that they don't like.

Consider today's Washington Post.  The lede:
The D.C. government released emergency regulations yesterday that greatly expand the models of handguns that District residents can own, a shift designed to stave off another lawsuit over its compliance with the Second Amendment. 
Emergency, get it? Pretty serious, I'd think, especially when you read into the story to find this:
Several council members who voted to implement the District's gun policies declined to comment yesterday, saying they had not reviewed the changes. 
Wow. It was so much of an emergency, that the city council voted for it without even reading it.

So what was the emergency? Well, the story talks about (and even quotes - points for fairness there) Tracey Hanson, the DC resident who lawyered up with Alan Gura. But again, why the emergency nature? The usual suspects at the Brady Crowd are out talking about "Common Sense" gun controls, so where's the coverage of the non common sense controls that DC just ditched? All we get is a hint:
It's the second time in less than a year that city leaders have had to back away from some of the restrictions they put into place immediately after the Heller decision. Initially, the council permitted residents to register only revolvers, not semiautomatic pistols. But the ban on semiautomatics was lifted in September because of pressure from Congress and gun rights groups.
The only explanation that makes sense is that the reporter (Tim Craig) is so clueless about guns that he is simply incapable of writing a coherent story. Emergency legislation passed without the council even reading it - why did they think they were going to lose in court? What, in other words, constitutes non-common sense gun controls, per the Washington DC city council?

If you want to know, don't bother reading the Washington Post. They can't figure it out. I'm sure glad they have all those layers of editors and fact checkers, though.

DC gun control - falling to pieces. Fortunately, there's a country song for that.

Catholic Charities are housing illegal immigrants

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Glock vs. 1911

I guess the debate is over.

Ten years ago on this blog


Actually, this explains a lot.

Postscript: It seems that on this day ten years ago, I posted six times.  Crazy kid ...

Rasputin sings Beyonce

DeepFake creates fake videos.  Now the 3.0 version makes videos out of a single photograph.  Here's Rasputin getting jiggy:

It's fun, but not convincing.  But that's not really the point:
When the researchers asked 66 people to watch 24 videos – 12 are real, and 12 deepfakes – people could only label them as real or fake correctly about 52 per cent of the time. “This model has shown promising results in generating lifelike videos, which produce facial expressions that reflect the speakers tone. The inability of users to distinguish the synthesized videos from the real ones in the Turing test verifies that the videos produced look natural,” the researchers concluded.
They are getting better.  Whether they will get better enough to be able to fool experts - Joe Off The Street is notoriously bad at detecting stuff like this - remains to be seen.