Thursday, April 21, 2016

Okay, 2016, enough already

First you take Bowie. Now you take Prince?

You take anybody else, it had damned well better be someone who has no more to give.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ted Cruz's revealing non-answer

"What would you as President do to protect me and my husband from that institutionalized discrimination?" Todd Calogne, a New York Republican, asked Cruz during a town hall hosted by ABC's "Good Morning America."
A reasonable question to Ted Cruz, who, like every other Republican presidential candidate, has not been all that thrilled with same-sex marriage's legalization. By "that institutionalized discrimination", the questioner presumably was referring to recent "religious liberty" laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi, laws whose effects are tailored, curiously enough, to make certain Christian sects' views on same-sex relationships the official attitude of the state.

Cruz responded thusly:

"When it comes to religious liberty, religious liberty is something that protects everyone," he said. "It is our very first amendment, very first phrase that is protected in the Bill of Rights."

"It applies to Christians, it applies to Muslims, it applies to Jews, it applies to atheists," he added. "We want to be able to live in a world where we don't have the government dictating our beliefs and how we live. We have a right to live according to our faith and according to our conscience."

Huh. Funny thing, Senator, but Mr. Calogne asked you how you would protect people like him. We already know how the laws protect Christians and Muslims and Jews. (I disagree that those laws do anything to protect the rights of atheists: the promoters of those laws explicitly don't recognize that atheists have "religious" rights. But I digress.) So, do you want to answer the question this time?

Oh, that's right, you already did.

For the benefit of those who have trouble reading between the lines, let me tease out your real message, Senator:

Ted Cruz doesn't give a shit about same-sex marriage.
In the United States of Ted Cruz, your right to live your life free from government interference is sacred and inviolable — as long as you're Christian and heterosexual. Otherwise? Sorry!

But don't worry, Mr. Calogne, because like his ideological soulmate, the late Antonin Scalia, Cruz will leave you to the tender mercies of the majority. Leaving a minority group's civil rights up to the majority has always worked out, right? I mean, as long as you mean "worked out for the majority".

I'm not clear what gay Republicans see in a party whose frontrunners are Trump and Cruz (although I suppose Trump has yet to call gays rapists or to demand they be forbidden to immigrate to this country). However, if you are gay and Republican, and you were genuinely unsure where Ted Cruz stands on same-sex marriage, you have your answer.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Erdogan the thin-skinned

German chancellor Angela Merkel is allowing the prosecution of a comedian for insulting Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan asked that the comedian be prosecuted under a hitherto-obscure German law originally crafted when Germany was still a monarchy and insults to royal leaders could get one executed.

All the noise in this case has been about Merkel's sacrifice of free-speech principles in favor of mollifying Turkey's strongman, who derives leverage from his reluctant cooperation with Europe to deal with the refugee crisis.

Aren't we kind of missing the point, though? Germany and the rest of Europe need Turkey's cooperation so Erdogan, like it or not, finds himself in a good position to exact concessions like this one. The real point is that Erdogan has showed himself, unsurprisingly, to be a thin-skinned goon.

People who aren't two-bit bullies aren't afraid of a little laughter, Mr. President of Turkey. But I guess you wouldn't know anything about not being a two-bit bully.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Avatar sequels

There will be four sequels to James Cameron's Avatar.

It's entirely futile to object to sequel-itis: that boat sailed with The Godfather. Still, I do object. I've seldom if ever seen such a grand and expensive spectacle without real heart as Avatar. Must we endure four follow-ups?

I don't have to watch them, of course, and absent unexpectedly fantastic reviews I won't. But I think of all the money Cameron's going to tie up producing these things and I wonder, how many better original movies would that buy?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why software signing matters

Color me disturbed but not shocked: at least some home-security cameras ship with malware links.

This is one of those problems about which the consumer can do nothing: you can't fix the software or firmware running on these devices. However, there is a long-term fix that we must pressure vendors to adopt: software signing. Code signing (another term for this process) ensures that the software running on a system is exactly and only what the vendor shipped. Any unsanctioned alteration is detectable and at the least will trigger a warning to the user. (On Apple products, if Apple-originated software is altered, other than by Apple in a software update, the software flat-out won't run.)

Digitally signing software isn't foolproof and it takes a lot of thought to get it right, but if properly implemented it can prevent the kind of absurdly simple malware injection that happened to these cameras. If a company that makes security cameras isn't interested enough in the security of those cameras to make this investment, do you want to trust that company with your security?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Feinstein the fascist strikes again

I have to apologize, just a little, to Texas. I have often thought that the Lone Star State sent the most regressive idiots to Washington. And make no mistake, Louis Gohmert and Ted Cruz alone are formidable contenders for biggest horse's ass in Congress.

But as a Californian, I have to hang my head in shame at the fascistic, anti-democratic instincts of Dianne "Police State" Feinstein.

Feinstein and Richard Burr are circulating draft language for what they've called the "Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016".

Per The Hill's article that includes the draft text, the "Sense of Congress" is that while the Constitution and laws provide for "civil liberties", it also provides that "no person or entity is above the law". You can see where this little paean to Congress' noble instincts is going.

(4) all providers of communications services and products (including software) should protect the privacy of United States persons through implementation of appropriate data security and still respect the rule of law and comply with all legal requirements and court orders;

(5) to uphold both the rule of law and protect the interests and security of the United States, all persons receiving an authorized judicial order for information or data must provide, in a timely manner, responsive, intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information or data ...

Then the bill goes on to turn the "Sense of Congress" into actual legal requirements.

Of course, Congress doesn't want to grub around in the filthy details of how to do this, so the CCOA explicitly doesn't "require or prohibit any specific design or operating system". We don't care how you do it, tech monkeys: just be sure you can do what we tell you.

Feinstein, like the authoritarian she is, doesn't give a shit that "Sense of Congress" item 4, above, is patently nonsensical. For the benefit of those whose minds aren't utterly in thrall to a fantasy of perfect security, let me identify the conflict:

You cannot "protect the privacy of United States persons" and provide on-demand decryption. You can't.

The only way to defeat state-of-the-art encryption (outside of whatever voodoo the NSA has developed) is to make it not state of the art. You have to introduce weaknesses into the encryption. And those weaknesses will not be used only by law enforcement, which is what Feinstein and Burr want you to think. Introduce a weakness and it will be found by anyone who is sufficiently motivated.

It would be bad enough if I thought Feinstein were ignorant enough to believe in the ideals promulgated by this bill, but I know she's not that stupid. She knows she's essentially taking away people's privacy, and she doesn't care. She's that big a fan of the police state.

Dianne, you're a disgrace.