Three thoughts on the FBI’s bite at the Apple

I had three thoughts after reading about the brewing conflict between Apple and the FBI.

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I read a primer in Vox on the developing fight between Apple Computer and the FBI, and it spurred three distinct thoughts in me.

The basic contention is whether Apple should be forced to disable a security feature on the phone of the San Bernadino shooter, so that the FBI can brute-force the phone without fear of it nuking itself after some number of bad guesses (10, I think, but I’m not sure).

Firstly, the author includes the line

The concern is that the government is trying to take advantage of a particularly odious defendant to set a precedent that could have much broader implications.

Well, duh.  The defendants in all important civil liberties cases look like terrible people, because those are the people the state most egregiously assaults.

Secondly, there’s a thing I don’t understand, and would love to hear from someone who knows:  To change the behavior, it seems to me, Apple would have to craft a special iOS update.  But after that, the crippled update would have to be installed.  Won’t it require knowing the passcode for that to happen?  Can Apple force an update down the pipe even to phones that are locked?  It seems to me that the request of the FBI is not only odious and an offense to the safety of citizens.  It might also be technically impossible.

Thirdly, I am a little disappointed — assuming what I’m about to say is actually true — that the NSA or other competent agency doesn’t have the capacity to read out the non-volatile memory non-destructively somehow.  They could then run an iPhone simulator with the copied data and brute-force it.  Every time it froze or self-erased, the agency could just reboot the simulator and try again.  This would take time but then you wouldn’t need any sort of help from Apple.

Or maybe the NSA doesn’t want to admit to having such a capacity.  🙂


The conservative contradiction

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In reflecting on Rand Paul and his ever-changing principles, the Lexington Herald-Ledger makes an interesting point about all the small-government types.  Perhaps it says less about the ranters who are leveraging widespread dissatisfaction into cynical grasps for office, and more about the contradiction lodged deep within democracy itself.

In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it’s board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.

Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.

As people inveigle against “big government” and “runaway taxes” while paying less tax than any industrial nation and simultaneously living in an age of miracles … it might do well to remember that there ain’t no free lunch and that civilization isn’t gratis.

The President and the Ring

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I hate to turn into just a site that reposts The Daily Show but sometimes they’re spot on.  The continued failure of President Obama to live up to his pre-election rhetoric on the rule of law is the most galling development of his administration.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Respect My Authoritah
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This piece from the Atlantic captures my feeling pretty close to exactly, re: the recent Rand Paul flap on the Civil Rights Act and his alleged “courage”.  In particular, the conclusion:

Now, after the police dogs, night-sticks and fire-hoses have been beaten back, Rand Paul wants to reopen the question, while, to be sure, claiming that he would have had the “courage to march with Martin Luther King.” This is a common strain of courage. It chiefly shines through in men born 50 years too late. Presently among the crowd, they are distinguished at that decisive moment when queried about wars they won’t have to fight, in times they will never live. These men populate our history books. They are all on the wrong side.


Stabilizing US Debt

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Everyone says they could balance the budget if they were in charge.  Few understand what would be involved.  I just played a neat simulator that actually allowed me to explore what different policies would do.

US debt stabilizationUnfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to post the results, but I did a screen-capture hatchet job:

US debt pathClick for a full view.  My choices — like anyone’s — probably wouldn’t please everyone but I don’t think they’re monstrous.  A guiding principle was to avoid adding much new until the current spending is more under control.  In reality, I know that government should be countercyclical, so this set of choices might actually be less than wise.  But it was still a good thought experiment.

How to Lie with the Truth — and how to counter it

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A meme spreading like wildfire throughout the rabid right is that “47% of Americans don’t even pay federal income tax.”  Clearly it’s time for another tax cut for the uber-wealthy in the interest of “fairness”.

David Leonhardt wrote a piece in today’s New York Times exploring this.  Short version:  The number is true… and meaningless.  The working class pays far more in total taxes (once payroll, state, and sales tax is included).  People aren’t getting a free ride.  The article is worth a read, if only as an example of a calm, fact-based response to overheated breathless propaganda.