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.  🙂

 

“Morning” After Blues?

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I had the same thought as Steve Bennen when he penned A generation later, Rubio flubs ‘Morning in America’:

Maybe the whole “morning” metaphor was a little too subtle for Marco Rubio. He’s not pitching Reagan’s message; he’s offering the literal opposite.

The point of “Morning in America” was that things had turned a corner and were getting better under the current President at the time (Reagan).  The Gipper had vanquished darkness and we were headed into a glorious new American day.  Things would only get better.  Is that really the impression Rubio wants to make on current voters?  That Barack Obama healed our wounds and improved our standing?  (I happen to agree but it’s odd for Rubio to make that case.)

The ad itself is appropriately apocalyptic and more in keeping with the current GOP memes.  I wonder if the Rubio campaign commissioned a more upbeat ad, then realized that Rubio as optimist wasn’t getting any traction, and thus called up the ad company and said “Make it completely different”, but all the contracts had been printed or something.

Or maybe they just got the name wrong.  Maybe it’s a typo.  Maybe the title was supposed to be, “Morning After in America”.  Or “Morning … of DOOMSDAY in America!”

Odd and sloppy, no matter what.  Well, at least the cognitive dissonance is getting them some free airplay, I suppose.

Regarding “Huckabee: The Supreme Court ‘Cannot Overrule God’ On Gay Marriage”

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Gov. Huckabee is entirely correct: SCOTUS cannot overrule God.  The justices can’t make a gay marriage sanctified.  But then, they can’t make a straight marriage sanctified either.  It’s really quite simple:  To the extend that marriage is a sacrament, the government cannot have an opinion, and the marriage-equality suits do not speak to this.  To the extent that marriage is a social contract for the transmission of and management of property — i.e., its historical role in society — then the government can regulate and must ensure equality.  Anything else is sophistry.

That means I happen to agree with the loons in Oklahoma and elsewhere, though I disavow their motives:  Get the state out of marriage entirely.  Enact universal civil union laws that any pair of consenting adults may enter into, and leave the sacraments to the churches.

From Talking Points Memo:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), no stranger to mixing religion and politics, might have outdone himself on Wednesday night when he greeted the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.”I do not come to you tonight with the ability to speak Spanish. But I do speak a common language: I speak Jesus,” he said, according to CNN.

Full article: Huckabee: The Supreme Court ‘Cannot Overrule God’ On Gay Marriage

One sentence can pull you out of an entirely fine essay

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By Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I actually agree with most of what Fareed Zakaria writes in his Washington Post op-ed “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous“.  We need balanced, robust, well-rounded education, not narrow business-driven training.  It will take many different vantages points to see solutions to the problems we face in this hardest century of human history.  Students of mine often express shock (and perhaps a little betrayal) when they complain about, say, their history teacher and ask me “Don’t you think it’s just a waste of time?” only for me to reply that it is one of my favorite subjects.  As a physics guy, I obviously think we need more and better science teaching, but I also think we need more and better teaching in the humanities and the arts.

Having said that… boy, does this one sentence put me in a slow burn:

No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write.

It angers me that Farakaria, with a vast platform, falls into the stereotypical thinking that these skills — learning, writing, thinking — are somehow not part of the math/science pool.  In actuality, of course, scientists, engineers, and coders practice those skills constantly.  While there are surely scientists who cannot write, there are English majors with the same problem.  STEM thinking isn’t the only kind of thinking we need, but it is thinking.  It is both disingenuous and insulting for him to imply otherwise.

I know it’s a small piece of a larger argument, but it still rankled me.

Pat Buchanan is an idiot

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Sorry for being so obvious.  But I’ve read his latest ill-informed anti-immigrant screed and couldn’t stay quiet.

Buchanan’s thesis is that we were once a unified country but now since 1960, we’ve been in decline.  First off, it’s a little suspicious that the magic time was exactly when Pat Buchanan (born in 1938) had just reached majority age.  Nearly everyone looks back on their twenties as the halcyon days.  It’s the moment you first achieve independence from your parents, when you come into your own agency, and when you (most likely) start paying attention to the world around you as if you were a part of you.  That is, how the world is becomes your frame of reference for how the world should be.  But really that’s just the drug of nostalgia, and it’s no different than Homer Simpson declaring that “rock attained perfection in 1974 — it’s a scientific fact”

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Buchanan then pivots to alerting us to the existential threat to America poised by unaccompanied children fleeing violence.  He of course invokes sainted Ronald Reagan of blessed memory: “For, as Ronald Reagan said, a nation that cannot control its borders isn’t really a nation anymore.”  I’m not exactly sure how he squares that with the open borders of the Roman Empire, or the British one, or indeed, most of US history.  But whatever.

Buchanan also invokes the Federalist papers and John Jay’s comment that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs. … ”  This might have made good propaganda, but I’m fairly sure that Jay’s words would have irked the already-numerous German, Scottish, Irish, Danish immigrants who had fought in the Revolutionary War to help establish this nation.

Buchanan asserts “We were not a nation of immigrants in 1789″, which is just laughable.  Heck, Andrew Hamilton — another of the authors of the Federalist Papers — was an immigrant to these shores.  While many of the colonists were born in America, many had travelled here.  And above all of that, you might want to ask a Native American, who might remind you that all the White guys were immigrants or recent descendants of immigrants.

Buchanan also says “The republic of the founders for whom Jay spoke did not give a fig for diversity. They cherished our unity, commonality and sameness of ancestry, culture, faith and traditions.”  This certainly makes one wonder about the long, drawn-out, sometimes-vicious fights in the Continental Congress between (usually) the New England and the Deep South contingents.   Oh, also all that time and effort spent trying to square the circle on the South’s “peculiar institution”.

This brings up the largest hole in Buchanan’s argument.  We used to be all one happy, unified, uniform family?  What drugs is he on?  Look at the treatment of any minority population in the US (and, hey, we do actually have some and always had): the Native Americans, the Blacks, the Chinese.  Heck, look at how the Irish were treated.  It’s a little hard to swallow that we were a unified culture.  Instead, we had the in-power culture (more or less the WASPs), who then simply declared that other cultures were backward, uncivilized, and plain old irrelevant.  Buchanan’s reasoning boils down to “There was only one culture — as long as you ignore all the other ones.”

It is nice that Buchanan admits, obliquely, that maybe not everything was rainbows and unicorns:  “And though the civil rights movement had just begun, nowhere did black peoples enjoy the freedom and prosperity of African-Americans.”  That’s right, in the magic year of 1960, White culture finally started to grudgingly offer some semblance of fairness to the Black population, a mere century after the bloodiest war in American history and the abolition of outright slavery.

Quibbling with Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion that America is “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago,” Buchanan laments that nonetheless “We are no longer one unique people ‘descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion’.”  But the fact of the matter is, we never were.  You can only pretend that we were by ignoring the reality, twisting the history, and unlearning the lessons.  You can only pretend we were when you define “real America” as “exactly and only the small patch of ground I grew up on”.

As evidence of how far we’ve fallen, Buchanan lists a bunch of things:

We are from every continent and country. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans trace their ancestry to Asia, Africa and Latin America. We are a multiracial, multilingual, multicultural society in a world where countless countries are being torn apart over race, religion and roots.

We no longer speak the same language, worship the same God, honor the same heroes or share the same holidays.

But he says these like they’re bad things, whereas I think they speak to the enduring strength of this nation, to adapt, persevere, and improve itself — to strive always to become a “more perfect Union”.  For someone who sings of “American exceptionalism”, Buchanan misses what makes us exceptional:  Not the fortuitous vast natural resources, or the particular spot of earth on which we stand, or the world’s oldest free trade zone or the world’s oldest constitutional republic, not a fictitious single language or single culture.  We are a nation of peoples, a weird and wonderful dream bringing together cultures, and languages, and experiences, and hopes and aspirations from all that humanity has to offer.  America the nation is an idea, not a place or a people.  And that is largely unprecedented and ambitious.

 

A final comment:  One of the things that so disturbs Buchanan is that “Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are out of the pantheon”.  And I say, Yea! to this, and good riddance.  The triumph of the American spirit is that we can finally reject these traitorous and seditious, fundamentally dishonorable men who abandoned the United States and its Constitution, not to mention their own sworn oaths, in a parochial construction of duty to defend a heinous state founded on the noxious principle that some humans have, as a divine right, the right and even obligation to own other human beings.  (If you’re one of the revisionists who want to argue that “the Civil War wasn’t about slavery”, I suggest you read the ordinances of secession, or indeed, the Constitution of the Confederate States.   See also an analysis of slavery in the Confederate constitution, or a similar analysis.)

Recycled: Just Wrong

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Long before this blog, I kept an equally-erratic literary journal called A Voice in the Wilderness. And while nothing written there was particularly world-shattering, I don’t want it to get lost in the mists of cyberspace. So to do my part to save the planet, I’m going to recycle and reuse that content, putting the save-worthy stuff here on Mongrel Dogs. Today we start with a piece written in reaction to an op-ed in the Washington Post written by one Victoria Toensing, on 2002 September 23, about the then-nascent Bush policy of secret detention and arbitrary arrest. Sadly it’s five years later and we are five years deeper into the pit, the cause of liberty even more undermined by its alleged defenders.

The piece is reproduced below the fold.
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Alternate History: The Speech that Wasn’t

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In preparing my second Convocation speech, I spent most of the summer at a loss. Once I had changed apartments, I sat down in earnest. Eventually, I ended up jettisoning my original effort and producing the speech as given. But in case you wonder what could have been, below I’ll post the speech I nearly gave. There are two caveats:

  • I shamelessly cannibalized this for any rhetoric I thought actually worked, so the actual speech and this one overlap somewhat.
  • I abandoned this and never finished editing or, indeed, writing it. So the thing given is unpolished and the quality comparatively low.

Without further hedging, let me give you the Speech that Wasn’t.
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Faith in an Age of Fear

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Today the Hun School had its second annual Convocation to commence the year. As the current holder of the Distinguished Faculty Endowed Chair, it fell to me to present a speech. (I did this last year, too; you can find that speech online.) The text of this second speech can be found below the fold.

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Worrisome Phrase

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In reading this AP News story on the upcoming speech by the President, I came across the following:

Bush and his senior advisers are likely to hear the initial thinking from Ryan Crocker, Bush’s envoy in Baghdad
[emphasis added]

Isn’t Ryan Crocker the accredited ambassador to Iraq? Confirmed and empowered, one would hope, by the United States Senate? He’s not some office flunky that Bush sent over to Iraq for a look-see. He’s the full-time diplomatic representative (to an allegedly sovereign nation) of the United States of America, not of George W. Bush. Talk about your imperial presidencies! It’s about as bad as when Bush himself said, of Rumsfeld,

Good. He’s done a heck of a job. He’s conducted two wars, and at the same time is out to transfer my military from a military that was constructed for the post-Cold War to one that is going to be constructed to fight terrorism.

Ominous phrases, both.

Another propaganda poster

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As has been usual, this is another exhortation to “Work to Win”. My “study” of WWI and WWII posters indicates that almost all fell into the “Work harder” or “Buy more bonds” categories. True to form, this poster says, “Victory up here… begins down here“. Overhead are a Retro Rocketship and a DV snub fighter. On the ground, in a vaguely-factory-ish compound, is another Retro Rocketship. It’s not so easy to make clear that this one is being assembled or worked on. I put in a forklift and a repair bot, as well as a guy welding something to the periscope hatch. (He’s hard to see, on the top of the ship.) Actually, I had to go find models for almost everything, as I didn’t have a lot of industrial nick-nacks lying around.

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