Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 4th, 2020

The Coronavirus Is Transforming Politics and Economics

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John Cassidy has an interesting column in the New Yorker:

In early March, when health experts warned that the United States risked running short of vital medical supplies, such as masks and ventilators, Donald Trump resisted calls to invoke the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that gives the President broad powers to prioritize the production of certain items when they become important for national security. As recently as last week, he said, “We don’t need it.” Finally, on Thursday, Trump dropped the pretense and invoked the act to order the suppliers of ventilator manufacturers to give them the components they need to speed up production.

Every day, in ways small and large, the spread of the coronavirus is reshaping American politics. As the death toll rises and the economic fallout spreads, measures once considered unthinkable are being adopted, and not just in the public-health sphere. The $2.2 trillion emergency spending bill that Congress passed last week is worth about ten per cent of G.D.P., and in the coming months we are likely to see another stimulus. This dramatic ramp-up in federal spending is comparable to what happened in 1942, the year after Pearl Harbor, when federal spending as a share of G.D.P. rose by more than ten percentage points.

Trump is no F.D.R., of course, and the virus, unlike the Axis Powers, is an invisible enemy. But the record shows that lethal pandemics and major wars can both have enormous political and economic consequences. In his 2017 opus “The Great Leveler,” Walter Scheidel, a Stanford historian, described them as two of the “four horsemen” that have flattened economic inequality throughout human history. (The other two levelling forces that Scheidel identified were revolutions and state failures.) By decimating the population of medieval Europe, the Black Death made labor scarce, which raised wages and undermined the feudal system. The Civil War abolished slavery and gave rise to the Homestead Act of 1862. The First World War changed the role of women in the economy and paved the way for their political emancipation. The Second World War elevated the role of labor unions and led to the explicit adoption of Keynesian full-employment policies, through the 1946 Employment Act. In Europe, it facilitated the creation of a postwar welfare state, including the National Health Service in Britain.

These violent ruptures lasted years. We can hope that this horrible public-health crisis will also be temporary. And yet, the “wartime” metaphor is in many ways apt. Daily life has been transformed; in just two weeks, almost ten million Americans have filed unemployment claims; and earlier this week a White House task force said the death toll could eventually reach two hundred and forty thousand. Just like in wartime, people are frightened, public attitudes are changing, and the circumstances are necessitating a big expansion of the government’s role.

As of today, tens of millions of small and medium-sized firms will be able to take out bank loans to cover all of their running costs, including wages and rent, for the next eight weeks. If they keep their workers on the books, or rehire the ones they have laid off in the past couple of weeks, the Treasury Department will automatically repay the loans in their entirety. (I wrote about the scheme earlier this week.) The involvement of banks disguises the fact that this is essentially a huge, federal grant program, in which Uncle Sam will be paying the wages of tens of millions of Americans who are nominally private-sector employees. For a conservative Republican Administration, this is a strikingly interventionist move. But it doesn’t cover large corporations, and there are doubts about how quickly and widely the loans will be taken up. (The initial reports aren’t encouraging.) If the jobless count keeps rising, pressure will . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2020 at 11:44 am

Lenthéric and the Yaqi DOC — and a recipe

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I got distracted, thus the tardy post. Now, with brushes, soaps, and razors all organized, shaving resumes an easy routine. I still don’t quite have the photo dialed in: long time exposure reduces sharpness because camera not perfectly still, and flash is harsh. I’ll figure it out.

My Rod Neep brush made a terrific lather from the vintage Lenthéric, whose fragrance is absolutely wonderful. Yaqi’s double-open-comb is a very nice razor indeed, and three passes left my face ready for the pleasant splash of D.R. Harris Old English Lavender water.

The delay is because after eating breakfast I got to cooking. I am roasting a chicken using  this recipe with (naturally) a few changes. The chicken, from Farm & Field butchers here, is 3.4 lbs (1.544kg), and it fit nicely in my Field Company No. 10 skillet. I used a clementine-infused olive oil (from Enzo’s Table), and I quartered a lemon and put that in the cavity. I bought a baguette loaf from Fol Epi and cut three thick slices on which the chicken is resting. I probably will just eat the bread, but I had in mind to use the bread in a salad as in this recipe (in which the chicken is cooked very differently) — but: no arugula, no scallions. So I’ll probably eat the chicken and bread with some of my cooked greens.

Update: Chicken is starting to smell really good. When will odors be digitized so that we can include them in posts?

Update: Now resting:

Update: As it turns out, the bread doesn’t work so well in the long, slow-cooking recipe: the bottom of the bread becomes VERY brown and tough — not charred, but not all that attractive. And the chicken was rather dry. I think should I ever do it again (not likely — I’ve scratched that itch) I would go by temperature instead of time, and I would check it at 1.75 or 2 hours and not wait for 2.5 hours. And maybe try 300ºF instead of 325ºF.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2020 at 11:13 am

Zoom encryption is “not suited for secrets” and has surprising links to China, researchers discover

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Micah Lee reports in the Intercept:

Meetings on Zoom, the increasingly popular video conferencing service, are encrypted using an algorithm with serious, well-known weaknesses, and sometimes using keys issued by servers in China, even when meeting participants are all in North America, according to researchers at the University of Toronto.

The researchers also found that Zoom protects video and audio content using a home-grown encryption scheme, that there is a vulnerability in Zoom’s “waiting room” feature, and that Zoom appears to have at least 700 employees in China spread across three subsidiaries. They conclude, in a report for the university’s Citizen Lab — widely followed in information security circles — that Zoom’s service is “not suited for secrets” and that it may be legally obligated to disclose encryption keys to Chinese authorities and “responsive to pressure” from them.

Zoom could not be reached for comment.

Generating Encryption Keys in China

Earlier this week, The Intercept reported that Zoom was misleading users in its claim to support end-to-end encryption, in which no one but participants can decrypt a conversation. Zoom’s Chief Product Officer Oded Gal later wrote a blog post in which he apologized on behalf of the company “for the confusion we have caused by incorrectly suggesting that Zoom meetings were capable of using end-to-end encryption.” The post went on to detail what encryption the company does use.

Based on a reading of that blog post and Citizen Lab’s research, here is how Zoom meetings appear to work:

When you start a Zoom meeting, the Zoom software running your device fetches a key with which to encrypt audio and video. This key comes from Zoom’s cloud infrastructure, which contains servers around the world. Specifically, it comes from a type of server known as a “key management system,” which generates encryption keys and distributes them to meeting participants. Each user gets the same, shared key as they join the meeting. It is transmitted to the Zoom software on their devices from the key management system using yet another encryption system, TLS, the same technology used in the “https” protocol that protects websites.

Depending on how the meeting is set up, some servers in Zoom’s cloud called “connectors” may also get a copy of this key. For example, if someone calls in on the phone, they’re actually calling a “Zoom Telephony Connector” server, which gets sent a copy of the key.

Some of the key management systems — 5 out of 73, in a Citizen Lab scan — seem to be located in China, with the rest in the United States. Interestingly, the Chinese servers are at least sometimes used for Zoom chats that have no nexus in China. The two Citizen Lab researchers who authored the report, Bill Marczak and John Scott-Railton, live in the United States and Canada. During a test call between the two, the shared meeting encryption key “was sent to one of the participants over TLS from a Zoom server apparently located in Beijing,” according to the report.

The report points out that Zoom may be legally obligated to share encryption keys with Chinese authorities if the keys are generated on a key management server hosted in China. If the Chinese authorities or any other hypothetical attacker with access to a key wants to spy on a Zoom meeting, they also need to either monitor the internet access of a participant in the meeting, or monitor the network inside the Zoom cloud. Once they collect the encrypted meeting traffic, they can use the key to decrypt it and recover the video and audio.

Encryption Flaws: The Worst of AES

Citizen Lab flagged as worrisome not only the system used to distribute Zoom encryption keys but also the keys themselves and the way they are used to encrypt data. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2020 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life

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