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Guest Post - You might actually need a new service for this one

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.19.18

Mossy Character writes: Shockingly, the US military isn't so great at managing its coders.

Cyber retention bonuses never amount to more than a few hundred dollars a month.
[...]
The intersection of people who can run a 15-minute two mile and dissect a Windows kernel memory dump is vanishingly small.
[...]
Cyber Command partitions leadership into two chains of command: those with operational control (OPCON) and those with administrative control (ADCON). Every servicemember has both an ADCON commander and an OPCON commander. The ADCON commander makes sure a member is compliant with onerous mandatory training, urinalysis screenings, and physical fitness tests. The OPCON commander employs the servicemember in achieving real-world mission.
[...]
the ADCON chain generates all of a servicemember's evaluation reports. If a hacker wants to avoid the substantial promotion risk, they absolutely must serve in the required, service-specific ADCON job to check the box.
[...]
the military's most talented hackers are caught squarely in an identity crisis: Buck the promotion system and continue being a contributor who is "50 to 100 times better than their peers" fighting adversaries in cyberspace or take a year or two off mission to collate push-up scores in Excel spreadsheets.

Heebie's take: Ooof. (The article offers some solutions).


 

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Don't have kids.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.18.18

I'm just going to write more on lice even though no one wants to talk about it except me. Around the time Hawaii started first grade, our schools ended their no-nit policy. In other words, lice is not a medical condition and absenteeism is a much bigger problem than head lice. This is in line with the nationwide trend, and also (at least here) funding is very closely tied to daily attendance, so schools have a financial incentive towards this policy.

Here is an EPA powerpoint touting this line. I think it's mostly right, except I'm strongly suspicious about their claims about prevalence and overdiagnosis. (Most likely there's regional variation.) In central Texas, we are talking about seeing the actual live bugs, not hyperventilating over scalp flakes and stray fibers in the hair. (Although I've also done just that.)

Talking to professional nit combers in this area, the lice population has absolutely exploded since the end of no-nit policies. OF COURSE IT HAS. It's a chronic, unsolvable problem. That the no-nit policy, for all its problems, did put parents under the gun to treat the lice, and it's real easy to be in denial about the persistence of the infestation.

It's not a medical problem, but it's still a community-norm ick-factor, and the only solutions are to either 1) hire a nit comber to work for the school district and discreetly call kids out of class for treatment during the school day, or 2) for individual parents to check their kids weekly to nip infestations in the bud. (I finally have a weekly routine that is not too onerous that I think I can stick to. Basically briskly combing them out in the bath when their hair is loaded up with tons of conditioner and checking for bugs.) Or 3) to develop full-fledged infestations 2-3 times a year, I'd estimate, based on our friend group. Or 4) to have a chronic, low-lying lice infestation until your kid turns 18 and moves out of your house that flares up to a monstrous infestation now and then, which you respond to. Or 5) which you don't respond to.

The whole thing drives me batty. Also, adult men are basically immune because lice apparently don't like testosterone. If I were immune, I'd be a bit more relaxed, but the idea of me personally getting infested gives me, well, the heebie-geebies.


 

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Reading Group: The Big Sort

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.17.18

Cyrus writes: The fourth quarter, where hopefully Bishop will get to a point.

Much of this section was familiar to me. I hadn't heard of Kanawha County before, as far as I can remember, or boardinghouses in early Congress, or many of the details about religion or marketing. But as a relatively good reader of the liberal blogosphere I have heard of ALEC, and many of the bloggers and writers mentioned, and the trend of moderate politicians losing their seats in primaries. I've seen Figure 10.1 before on one of those blogs. I assume most people around here could say the same. It mentions Drinking Liberally - that's where I met my wife. At many parts of this book I've been annoyed or skeptical. When I've had that feeling about this section it's based on contemporaneous experience, sometimes personal. Not sure if that's better or worse.

Chapter 10 focuses on the growth of conservative political organization. This chapter seems to explain our current polarization and political plight more than any other. In the 1960s, traditional social organizations from churches to bowling clubs were disintegrating due to greater social mobility and similar factors. In the 1970s, the right-wing, conservative movement in America was at its lowest ebb, according to numerous right-wingers (although on second thought I'm not sure how well that holds up). This rough confluence created a more coherent partisan movement than ever before and the rest is history. Right-wingers were able to jump into the post- Bowling Alone America with two feet. 30 years or so later, left-wingers noticed it had worked well for them and decided to try the same thing. Bishop cites Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and others admiring the methods of ALEC, if not the goals.

Bishop attended an ALEC convention. He describes it in an innocuous and matter-of-fact way, or even positively, and later describes the Southwestern Landowner Conference similarly, while every detail of it is objectively bonkers. One line jumped out at me:

The spirit was western friendly and big-hearted. These people came from Sonora, Fort Davis, and Cortez because they wanted to learn, as one speaker put it, "how private property is being abolished in America."

This isn't technically wrong. Technically, it's perfectly possible for someone to be friendly, big-hearted, and insane. It's just that when describing someone, it's wildly misleading to present those traits in that order.

I stand by my use of "objectively" above. This is not someone who lives in the same world and shares the same values as the average Democrat and disagrees about how best to advance them, this is a view of an alternate reality. I've often wondered whether my annoyance at this book is just defensiveness. After all, if increasing partisanship is bad, I'm guilty of it. I feel more confident of annoyance at this section. If you're writing a book about politics and you mention someone who believes in 2005 that private property is being abolished in America, lead with that.

Bishop goes on to a long list of issues where people and the parties have sorted themselves, even though there's no apparent reason for philosophical consistency. It's mildly interesting but oversold and redundant by now.

He moves on to moderate politicians commiserating about how they are unwelcome in their parties. I want to give Bishop a little credit for this, because if anything he was prescient. He interviewed mostly state legislators and a random Representative to Congress or two. Since the book was published, Eric Cantor and many more national figures have been booted out of office in primaries. It mentions Arlen Specter's narrow primary victory in 2004 against conservative challenger Pat Toomey. After The Big Sort was published, Specter switched to the Democratic Party, lost the primary to a more longtime Democrat, and he lost the election to Pat Toomey. This trend is much stronger evidence of increasing partisanship than a correlation between views on guns and abortion.

Chapter 11 focuses on the election of 2004, how the sorting trends had affected it, and how the two campaigns tried to use recent trends. Kerry did better in exit polls than in the election, partly because Republicans wouldn't talk to pollsters who had all the cultural markers of being Democrats. Both campaigns overestimated their performance, partly because get-out-the-vote had become a bigger part of the campaign than persuading fence-sitters and they had targeted their GOTV campaigns so well they didn't even notice the other campaign. Bishop applies the missionary and marketing theories from previous chapters to two chains of eateries, Applebee's and Starbucks. In a discussion of religion in politics, Bishop points out that while the Bush campaign didn't coordinate directly with preachers, they relied a lot on church membership rolls and social networks and used an evangelical approach to a political campaign.

This discussion of religion is one of the annoying parts. The confluence between religion and politics and the fact that one major party is essentially the same as fundamentalist Christianity is bad. Sometimes it's concerning when a specific politician meets with a specific preacher, like Falwell or Dobson. Bishop tries to refute any top-down theory of coordination while pointing out that the Republican campaign really did target "rosters of church members, just as they collected the membership lists of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited (a hunters' group), the names of people who had signed petitions seeking to outlaw gay marriage, and the names of conservative homeschoolers." There's a difference, but does it really matter?

Bishop handles religion in politics the way he handles many things: dismissing the spirit of left-wing concerns or priorities while presenting facts that still make them look pretty reasonable. Bishop seems to have the impression that partisanship is relatively evenly distributed while discussing ALEC, Weyrich, Matt Dowd, the winner of the 2004 campaign, Specter's primary, and the Southwestern Landowner Convention. I read this book on an e-reader. I wouldn't recommend that for nonfiction, in general. It's harder to make notes or flip back and forth between pages. It had a few advantages, though. I can search for exact words and phrases. The word "conspiracy" or variations occurs 16 times in the book, not counting notes. Every instance is critical of the idea of it.

Chapters 11 and 12 examine a new kind of church, a post-megachurch. I found this vaguely hopeful. If megachurches go the way of broadcast network TV, then maybe what follows them will be less political, or at least less one-sidedly political. Maybe, but these days, any social benefit of it isn't apparent.

Bishop examines a lot of data points about group interactions and social theories. One, a 1954 experiment by a Muzafer Sherif, stands out. The researcher picked a dozen teenage boys as demographically similar and average as possible, took them on a camping trip, divided them into teams, gave them a few team-building exercises, arranged encounters between them, and examined the in-group and out-group dynamics. I started out skeptical of this. A dozen totally average boys on a camping trip seems like a setup for a bad joke or movie or horror story about scientific ethics. It reminded me of the Zimbardo prison experiment, which is well-known but has basically been debunked. I was waiting for the forest fire. But as it turns out, Sherif and this study are well respected, except for the ethical concerns, and Bishop isn't the only person to link it to modern politics.

Bishop quotes Alexander Hamilton about the importance of a "jarring of parties." I found this topical. Hamilton has become better known since the musical about him, which opened in 2015. I saw it two weeks ago. Maybe this is just selection bias, of course, Bishop quotes a lot of people. I found another bit in this chapter eerily (or depressingly) prescient. About America's willingness to discuss politics, Bishop says that Americans are unusually unlikely to discuss politics with people holding an opposing view. Instead,

They love other people's confrontations in sports brawls, on badgering cable news shows, and on "you're fired" reality TV.

Bishop ends with a discussion of the decline of the machine politician, the deal-maker no one likes but everyone can work with, the unprincipled villain of lots of fiction. He focuses on LBJ and a fictional character based on LBJ. He's correct that people like that are rarer than they used to be, but overstates by how much and how good they were for the country. This is one of the less rigorous parts of the book, and doesn't hold up well in hindsight. Obama was an aisle-crossing deal-maker, opinions about him are strikingly partisan, and he was only effective when he had a Congressional supermajority. Trump has worked with both parties in the past and adheres to no consistent ideology except plutocracy and racism, he is awful about other things too.

Conspicuously absent: race. The word occurs 53 times, but many times in the context of a race for an office, and many more times discussing the demographic splits of polls. I said early on that I was concerned whether he was going to ignore the Southern Strategy but I'd reserve judgement on the book until I got to the end. He did.

On a personal note, I've been open about annoyance or skepticism about a lot of it, but I can't bring myself to completely dismiss it because it describes my life a lot. In my 20s I moved from Vermont to Washington DC. I moved here because I wanted to live in a bigger city, Boston was too close to home, and New York was too big. Other facts - friends, the job market - were more minor influences. I found one of the few places in the country that was even more solidly Democratic than where I grew up. I mentioned meeting Cassandane at Drinking Liberally. She works for a Congressman from Northern California. She grew up in a rural farming community. As my father-in-law tells us and I'm sure our Californians could confirm, there are plenty of right-wingers there. Over the past 12 years, his district has gone from purple to D+15.

Based on the Broderism , the whitewashing, and the boring but unserious approach to an important topic, I might have liked to be more critical of this book. I might have liked to pick out one particularly bad chapter and nitpick every objectionable line and call the author a hack. Or just to take 3 weeks to write a half-assed-or-even-quarter-assed summary, instead of a week and a half to write a summary that mixes in a lot of editorializing. I didn't because it hits too close to home. We really have sorted ourselves, "we" in this case applying to me and my wife and in-laws if nothing else.


 

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So so fucked.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.16.18

I can really start to hyperventilate about this sort of thing, predictions of Russian hacking in November. It's a funny twist that I can hyperventilate about an article and also not have the patience to read the whole thing.


 

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The Big Unsort

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.15.18

Elon Musk can go fuck himself, always and forever.

Is this the moment when his fanboys face a crossroads, and Silicon Valley develops an overt Republican arm?


 

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