Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

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Back Doors are for Bad Guys

The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, says he’s going to ban strong encryption within his country. Somehow this is going to make everyone safe from terrorists. I have some questions:

  • Are terrorists the ones who will abide by such a law, first and foremost?
  • Is it your intention to shut down all  e-Commerce in the UK?
  • How will it improve the welfare of British citizens to have the UK cut off from the rest of the Internet?

When that notoriously left-wing publication, Forbes, caught up with Internet security expert Bruce Schneier for his reaction, he was uncharacteristically hyperbolic: “My immediate reaction was disbelief, followed by confusion and despair.”  It makes no sense even to try this, according to Schneier.

Technically, there is no such thing as a “backdoor to law enforcement.” Backdoor access is a technical requirement, and limiting access to law enforcement is a policy requirement. As an engineer, I cannot design a system that works differently in the presence of a particular badge or a signed piece of paper. I have two options. I can design a secure system that has no backdoor access, meaning neither criminals nor foreign intelligence agencies nor domestic police can get at the data. Or I can design a system that has backdoor access, meaning they all can.

So try, and join the rogues’ gallery of China, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, who have all tried to censor the Internet and have all failed.

Cameron and Xi Jinping, censorship BFFs

It is worth remembering that the internet was designed beginning in the 1960s as a project of the Advanced Research Projects Administration, a DoD agency.  The original idea was to have a digital communications network with enough redundancy and resiliency that nuclear strikes would not disable it, merely slow it down.

The millions of routers that run the Internet are designed to have a primary way to get the next unit of data where it needs to go, and one or more backup ways if the primary fails (yes that’s a vast oversimplification).  More to the point, there is no truly central controller.  Every node in the network shares routing information and rules on how to apply it with every other node.  To kill “the Internet” you would have to kill so many nodes, you might as well be planning to end civilization.

Network architect John Gilmore pointed out an interesting consequence of this design.  He said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Cameron’s try at the Great Firewall has the stated goal of making us safer from terrorists.  This objective is so far beyond the reach of his proposal as to be simply ludicrous.   The real result would either be as porous as China’s and the rest, or would take his country to the information-economy status of North Korea.  In any case, Cameron, or someone advising him, must know this.

So which one is the one that he wants?

Good Slave-Owners

A little bit of a disturbing story by Margaret Biser on Vox about her experiences as a tour guide on a former slave-owning plantation.  Even visitors to a plantation famous for how slaves built it and operated it don’t want to hear about how slavery was not nice.  They want the stories about how good the slaves had it.  About how the owners of the plantation were the good slave-owners.  About how the slaves loved their owners.  Ultimately, it’s a whitewashing of our nation’s history — in every sense of the word “whitewashing.”  One tourist’s reaction:

“Listen, I just wanted to say that dragging all this slavery stuff up again is bringing down America.”  [Biser] started to protest, but he interrupted [her]. “You didn’t know. You’re young. But America is the greatest country in the world, and these people out there, they’d do anything to make America less great.”

Is it any wonder we have difficulty to this day talking about the real, structural racism in American society?  We still can’t being ourselves to rip off that Band-Aid.

On the other hand, a criminal like Cliven Bundy gets a news cycle for saying:

And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

So you’d think that would make him anathema, even to the crypto-racist dog-whistlers of the Republican Presidential Clown Car, wouldn’t you?  Well, you know what I always say about “you’d think”: any statement that begins “you’d think” ends in disappointment.  Rand Paul met privately with Bundy for 45 minutes last week, presumably to counsel him on how to dog-whistle more subtly.

Ken Paxton Loves Left-Wing Bloggers Like Me

so smug!

Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, has been instructing county clerks across that state to disregard the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.  To disobey the law of the land.

“How can that be?”, you say.  “Isn’t he sworn to obey all laws?  Isn’t that the oath he took when he was admitted to the bar?”  Well, actually, no.  At least not from what I can discern in the plain meaning of the words of the New Lawyer Oath of the Texas Bar Association:

I, _______, do solemnly swear to support the Constitutions of the United States, and of this State; that I will honestly demean myself in the practice of law; that I will discharge my duties to my clients to the best of my ability; and, that I will conduct myself with integrity and civility in dealing and communicating with the court and all parties.  So help me God.

(Aside: isn’t it funny that this oath doesn’t mention Texas by name?  Did they just take some boilerplate from the ABA and slap it on their own letterhead?)

So “obey” is not mentioned, and “support” could just mean something like “cheer on,” right?  And “integrity” – well, what would a Ken Paxton know about that?  Not so much, it seems.  See, telling clerks that they should ignore a Supreme Court ruling is just part of a pattern of law-ignoring that seems to suit Ken’s personal style.  Today I found this gem:

Special prosecutors will ask a Texas grand jury as early as this month to indict the state’s attorney general on first-degree felony charges for suspected securities laws violations, one of the prosecutors said on Thursday.   A spokesman for Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who came to office earlier this year with strong Tea Party support, was not immediately available for comment.

Now, if Ken didn’t love me, why would he be so generous to me with material?

Why Conservatives REALLY Hate Marriage Equality

During the whole debate and the progress of the various legal cases, conservatives argued incessantly that gay marriage would damage if not destroy straight marriage. Obviously this is not true, but unless we assume that they are all drooling morons, why would they keep saying that?

In an awesome essay for TPM, Amanda Marcotte explains that “traditional marriage”, to these conservatives, means more than the correct combination of genders.  It means that a woman is not independent, but under the control of a man:

It’s true that women in modern society no longer feel like they have to be married to be granted entrance into adult society. Single women living by and supporting themselves is no longer considered scandalous. Marriage is, bit by bit, becoming more about a partnership between equals who choose each other for the purpose of love and happiness. Which means it’s becoming less about giving men control over women’s lives.

A disturbing theme runs through a lot of causes championed by the Right, and it is this: Men are supposed to be in control of women, especially their sexuality and their reproductive capacity. Since men cannot themselves make the next generation, they feel they must own the means of production. So “traditional marriage” doesn’t just mean with respect to the sexual binary. It also means that the female becomes subservient to the “leadership” of the male — “leadership” is a common euphemism among the religious right-wing for absolute male hegemony. 

The Biblical view of women as property that occasionally talks back is no accident; extreme religious men today view their wives’ opinions with some bemusement.  They know that they need to make sure their peaceful homes don’t fall prey to constant nagging, so they try to learn the tricks to keeping her quiet.  Where I come from, this is called shalom bayit – “the peace of the house.”  That sounds nice, but remember: that same culture calls the husband ba’al – “owner.”  The more you know.

Conservatives’ desire to control women explains their attitudes toward sexuality, birth control, sex education, equal pay, workplace diversity, and even rape.  It’s kind of scary how little is NOT explained by this framework.  Are we becoming conspiracy theorists?  It’s hard to be sure when everything fits the overall rubric so effortlessly.

The good news is that marriage is quickly losing this “control freak” quality.  For more and more couples, marriage is entry into a joyful partnership of equals and not the subservience of one to the other.  That’s why same-sex marriage had to become reality.  In Justice Kennedy’s description of what marriage is and why any couple should be allowed its benefits, he gave no comfort to the controllers and all to the partners. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”  Search in vain for any mention of who’s in charge.

“Who wears the pants in your family?” was the taunt hurled at men deemed insufficiently in control of their women.  Not all that long ago — in my lifetime! — this had a sting.  It was what they called “fighting words.”  That today it generates more confused looks than embarrassment and rage is a huge accomplishment for our society. 

Law of the Land?

A Supreme Court decision is the Law of the Land, unless Christian bigots dislike what the court says.

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, probably doesn’t really give a damn who marries whom.  But he’s no stranger to what works in Texas politics, and what works there is playing to the persecution myths of the white Christian heterosexual cis-gender males, the most grotesquely over-privileged group ever to walk the face of the earth.  In a press release he called Friday’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges “a judge-made edict that is not based in the law or the Constitution” and said it “diminishes faith in our system of government and the rule of law.”

Inevitably, this emboldened petty officials around Texas to disobey the law, and sure enough we have Hood County clerk Katie Lang saying she won’t issue any same-sex marriage licenses because “It’s my religious liberty, my belief in traditional marriage”.

Here’s what they don’t get.  And I see I am going to have to make this simple enough so that even stupid people like Paxton and Lang can understand it.  So I will take a cue from Randall Munroe of xkcd when he explained the Saturn V launcher that took us to the moon.  (I hope Paxton and Lang aren’t in denial about that, also.)  Munroe decided to use only the thousand – sorry: ten hundred – most common words to explain one of humanity’s most amazing technological accomplishments, and created a panel called Up Goer Five.   Along those lines:

When two people love each other they might want to share a home, they might want to share it for all of their lives. They might want a baby, or a few.  The state where they live likes this, because having families in the places where people live makes those places nicer.  So the state gives people who share this way some good stuff.  They are allowed to visit each other in the hospital, without being bothered.  They are allowed to pay less money to the state, and to have easier ways to make the papers for doing that. The state accepts less money because the people making a family help make the state a better place in ways money doesn’t help with.  Families, love and sharing are just good for the state and all the people who live there. 

Now, the people who say what’s allowed in all the states have said that no state can stop two people who want to love, share and make a family from doing that.  Even if the two people don’t fit the old idea of “one of them has to be a man and the other one has to be a woman.”  

Some people think a god will be angry about this.  But any people who care about what the god thinks are free to stick to the old idea when they make a family.

thanks to http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ for making that a lot easier than it might have been

At least Cleburne County (AR) Clerk Dana Guffey had the integrity to resign over this issue, rather than remain in office, refuse to do her job, and impose her religious bigotry on others.  Kudos to her for that.

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