TMQ Watch: December 12, 2017.

December 12th, 2017

Two weeks in a row, we have a column title that tells you everything you need to know. In this case, it tells you that Gregg Easterbrook is a low, mean, and contemptible person.

After the jump, this week’s TMQ

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You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#44 in a series)

December 11th, 2017

This is outside of my usual area of coverage, but there’s a nice twist to it.

On Friday, former Massachusetts state senator Brian A. Joyce was arrested. There are 113 counts in the indictment, including “mail fraud, theft of federal funds, money laundering, scheme to defraud the IRS, 20 counts of extortion, seven counts of money laundering, and conspiracy to impair the functions of the IRS.”

“conspiracy to impair the functions of the IRS”. I love that.

The feds contend Joyce took money in exchange for official action, using his Senate office for private gain in a scheme that may have netted up to $1 million since 2010, according to the 102-page indictment.

But 113 counts? Man, dude is a bit of an overachiever there. What was his secret?

Would you believe…coffee?

Joyce received up to 700 pounds of free coffee, and roughly $125,000 grand in alleged kickbacks, from a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee owner, who later claimed it was in exchange for legal services. Joyce passed out coffee at town hall meetings and to other senators, authorities said.
“No decaf,” Joyce told the franchisee owner in a December 2014 email for one request, according to the indictment. He added “We like k cups (sic) at my office if possible.”

I know, if you’re going to sell out for coffee, why not make it good coffee? But I don’t think my Texas readers understand the extent to which the Northeast runs on Dunkin’ Donuts. I think I’ve told the story before about traveling in that neck of the woods with some friends and co-workers, and the Dunkin’ Donuts every 100 yards becoming a running gag with us.

Is safe! Is not safe!

December 11th, 2017

Another thing I haven’t had a chance to blog before now:

Vaultek makes gun safes. Among their models is the VT20i, which has a fingerprint reader and Bluetooth. You can use Bluetooth and an app to unlock the safe.

And, yes, you already know where this is going, don’t you?

In this case, the responsible party is Two Six Labs. This is a pretty fascinating takedown.

High points:

  • “The manufacturer’s Android application allows for unlimited pairing attempts with the safe. The pairing pin code is the same as the unlocking pin code. This allows for an attacker to identify the shared pincode by repeated brute force pairing attempts to the safe.”
  • “There is no encryption between the Android phone app and the safe. The application transmits the safe’s pin code in clear text after successfully pairing.”
  • “An attacker can remotely unlock any safe in this product line through specially formatted Bluetooth messages, even with no knowledge of the pin code…the safe does not verify the pin code, so an attacker can obtain authorization and unlock the safe using any arbitrary value as the pin code.”

Even if you aren’t into guns, or safes, or gun safes, I think this is a pretty good “how do I go about banging on a Bluetooth device” primer.

Somewhat to their credit, Vaultek says they are offering a patch, though it looks like you’ll have to send your safe back to get it. (Vaultek says they’ll cover shipping both ways, which can’t be cheap.)

Edited to add: something from Vaultek’s site on this issue:

Either of these methods are not easily captured and require several factors to execute including time, the right equipment, and close proximity to the safe.

They also refer to the attack as requiring “special equipment”. The “special equipment” is an Ubertooth, which you can get here and here, among other places.

As for proximity, that’s a good question that Two Six Labs didn’t address: with the right antenna and Bluetooth adapter, how far away can you be to make a successful attack? Does anyone remember the “Picking Bluetooth Low Energy Locks from a Quarter Mile Away” talk from DEFCON 24?

(Yes, door locks have to be accessible from the outside, while your gun safe is almost certainly inside. Modern construction almost certainly attenuates the signal some. But how much? Could I drive through the neighborhood with a Sena UD100 or something very much like it, just sniffing for Vaultek safes? And then come back later to attack them?)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas II: Electric Boogaloo.

December 11th, 2017

I’d like to give a little bit of love and publicity to a few charities that I’ve seen mentioned by other bloggers. I haven’t given money to all of these organizations yet, so don’t consider this to be endorsements of these groups. But all of these have touched me in one way or another (and not in the Harvey Weinstein sense), so if you’re looking for a place to give, you might want to consider these.

Respectable Lawyer put up a series of tweets yesterday about HDAP: the Houston Diaper Assistance Program. Basically, HDAP gets diapers (for free, or at a low cost) to people who need them: families who are at 133% to 200% of the poverty line.

This is an all-volunteer organization run by local lawyers in Houston. Every penny goes to diapers. They distributed over 50,000 diapers after Harvey. But, of course, Harvey also put a strain on their resources, and they’re trying to recover from that. So if you feel like it, you can give here, or you can read more from Respectable Lawyer’s tweets, starting from the one linked above.

I learned about HDAP and Respectable Lawyer’s tweets from Popehat’s twitter. And speaking of Popehat, Ken has a list of alternative giving suggestions up at that site.

Last week, Bethany Mandel was fundraising for Liberty in North Korea and their Refugee Rescues program:

Thousands of North Korean refugees have escaped their country, but are now at risk of exploitation & capture because they cannot afford the 3,000-mile journey to a safe country. LiNK helps refugees make that journey. Read more here:

It runs about $3,000 to get one refugee out of North Korea. Ms. Mandel has already met her fundraising goal (and I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to retweet this last week) but anything you can give is still going to help people get out of a literal Communist hellhole.

Finally, The Bloggess is doing the James Garfield Christmas Miracle again this year. The whole thing is too long to explain here, but it basically amounts to: people who need help asking for help, and people who can help helping them out. Go to the linked post for more details.

Your loser update: week 14, 2017.

December 10th, 2017

On the road, more later, but:

Hundley, you magnificent bastard, I READ YOUR BOOK!

NFL teams that still have a chance of going 0-16:


Edited to add 12/11: Man, that was a squeaker, wasn’t it?

I was actually in the middle of a Bass Pro Shop in San Antonio with Mike the Musicologist and RoadRich when I pulled out my phone to check the game status…and saw Green Bay was down by 7 points with 47 seconds left to go.

“Oh, heck,” I say. Then I look at the game details and see that Green Bay is in scoring position…and get a little happier. By the time we’ve checked out and left, the game is in overtime and I’m watching the updates on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s webpage as we head down the freeway to our next stop…

…so that was my Sunday. How was yours?

San Francisco won, and is now 3-10. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. The New York Football Giants lost, and are now 2-11 and nicely positioned for a good draft pick. Might I suggest Baker Mayfield?

And Cleveland’s next three games are:
* Baltimore in Cleveland, which I think is a win.
* Chicago in Chicago, which worries me: as I’ve said, da Bears are da Bad. But they did beat Cincinnati, which is more than can be said for the Browns, and they will be playing at home.
* Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. I think this is also a win unless Pittsburgh has everything locked up at this point, and decides to play their second and third teams.

ETA2: Oh, yeah. About that SF game. What the hell, Houston?

Quote of the day.

December 7th, 2017

The Los Angeles Police Department has advised drivers to be wary of following navigation apps that direct them through areas that are on fire.

(Previously on WCD.)

Shocked, shocked I am!

December 7th, 2017


We have a firing. In the Cleveland Browns organization.

But not head coach Hue Jackson.

Sashi Brown, the “Executive Vice President of Football Operations” was fired earlier today.

But wait, it gets better! The Browns are bringing back Jackson as head coach next year!

“We have great appreciation and gratitude for Sashi’s commitment and leadership to our organization but believe transitioning to someone with strong experience and success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams is critical to the future of the Cleveland Browns,” team owner Jimmy Haslam said in a statement.


Brown’s signature move was trading the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for a boatload of picks. The Eagles drafted Wentz, and are now 10-2. They’re Super Bowl contenders, and the Browns are trying to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16.
With picks acquired in that trade, Brown selected receiver Corey Coleman, right tackle Shon Coleman, quarterback Cody Kessler, receiver Ricardo Louis, safety Derrick Kindred, receiver Jordan Payton, offensive lineman Spencer Drango, Jabrill Peppers and DeShone Kizer.

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

December 7th, 2017

I was so busy yesterday that I missed this, but December 6th this year was the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.

For some reason, I don’t think this is generally well remembered, outside of Halifax anyway. I knew about it at a fairly young age, but that was because I read a first-hand account of it in a really old “Reader’s Digest” that one of my grandparents had around the house.

Halifax was a pretty busy port in December of 1917. There was a war on, after all. On the morning of the 6th, the SS Imo (a Norwegian flagged ship chartered to carry relief supplies for Belgium, but empty at the time) struck the SS Mont-Blanc, a French flagged ship, in a narrow section of the harbor.

The Mont-Blanc was heavily loaded with high explosives for the war effort, and also barrels of benzol. It sounds like the initial collision was at low speed, and damage to both ships was minimal.

At first.

But the collision started a fire on the Mont-Blanc.

The commotion soon brought out crowds in the largely working-class neighborhood along the narrows. Some survivors’ accounts described the immediate aftermath almost as if it were a fireworks display, with exploding barrels of benzol bursting in the sky. Many people, to their later harm, peered down at the harbor from the hillside neighborhood through windows.

At 9:04:35 AM local time (according to Wikipedia) the Mont-Blanc exploded.

Vince Coleman, the dispatcher for the rail line that ran along the front, feared the worst and telegraphed a stop order to a train heading for the city: “Munitions ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye.” He died almost immediately afterward. The city, which was a hub for undersea cables from Europe, lost all communications with the rest of the world.

Over 2,000 people were killed. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 more were injured.

Plays, special exhibitions, films and events, as well as shop windows commemorating the anniversary, are spread throughout the city.

The shop windows are deeply ironic: an estimated 600 people were blinded by flying glass.

The explosion is estimated to have been the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. (Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, had an estimated yield between 12 and 18 kilotons. Wikipedia gives an estimate for the Grandicamp explosion in Texas City of 2.7 kilotons equivalent, but hedges that a bit.) Before the atomic bomb, this was the largest man-made explosion in history.

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,000 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont-Blanc’s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, and the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

The NYT has a good article up. Wikipedia entry.

TMQ Watch: In Defense of Eli.

December 7th, 2017

(Guest post from Infidel de Manahatta, as promised.)

Was he as good as Peyton? No but that’s not really a fair comparison. But Eli still belongs in the HOF.

Obit watch: December 6, 2017.

December 6th, 2017

On my way out the door, but I wanted to get this up now because otherwise I don’t know when I will have time.

Christine Keeler. NYT. WP.

For folks of a certain age, the name almost certainly rings a bell. For those who don’t recognize it, Ms. Keeler was the central figure in the British “Profumo affair” of the early 1960s.

Ms. Keeler was the “party girl” — as she was often described — who had an affair with John Profumo, a star in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The secretary of state for war at the time — some saw him as a future prime minister — Mr. Profumo had met Ms. Keeler at a party in 1961, when she was still a teenager and he was in his mid-40s.

Ms. Keeler had had multiple lovers, among them Cmdr. Eugene Ivanov, an attaché in the Soviet Embassy in London, and when that relationship came to light, government figures and MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, feared that her affair with Mr. Profumo might have created a grave security breach.

I may update this obit later.

Edited to add 12/7: strictly in the interest of history, and not for any prurient reasons at all, I thought I would include what the WP calls “one of the decade’s most famous images”:

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TMQ Watch: December 5, 2017.

December 6th, 2017

The headline tells you all you need to know, in this week’s TMQ

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

December 6th, 2017

This isn’t my Christmas post, but I heard this over the weekend, or at least I think I did: I was out and about and didn’t get a chance to ask the person behind the counter who was playing, but I’m pretty sure it was this.

Even if it isn’t, this is still the rocking-est version of “Little Drummer Boy” I’ve ever heard.

I’ll throw this in as a little bonus: it isn’t Christmas related, but it is related to a book I’m in the process of reading. Plus, feel that authentic 78 RPM hiss.

(TMQ Watch is coming. It might be tomorrow before I get it up, but if I can get it done today, I will. Odd how busy the Christmas season is.)