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Apple vs. FBI

On the issue of whether Apple should help the FBI crack the San Bernardino shooters/terrorists iPhone, I am on the side of Apple. When I hear “people on the street” talking about this case, they almost always say that Apple should be patriotic and help fight terrorism and crime with the government. These kinds of statements reveal that most “people on the street” don’t understand security technology. And even when I hear or read news pieces on this issue, rarely do the journalists or reporters explain what actually is the real issue with this.

It’s not that Apple is refusing to crack open one iPhone — the “crack” will actually allow any and all iPhones to be opened. Apple has a very good security system built into their phones, and millions of people rely on that good security to keep their personal information protected. If Apple creates a bypass for that security, that security is compromised for everyone. The technology is such that creating a crack for one iPhone, (any iPhone), is essentially creating a crack for every iPhone.

See, this whole thing actually is not simply “cracking a phone” — that is, it is not breaking into the one, single physical iPhone device.

It’s “cracking the phone security system” — that is, it’s breaking into the computer program which locks that one and all iPhone devices.


A company makes a super good physical padlock. No one has been able to pick it — not criminals, not the government, not competing padlock-making companies. Even employees of the company itself can’t pick the lock, because no one person at the company knows exactly how the whole mechanism is created. Each little piece of the lock is designed and created by separate workers, and even the guy who assembles all the pieces into a whole doesn’t know how the individual pieces are made.

Then one day the government wants/needs the company to pick one of their locks. If the company complies, it means they have to get everyone together, compare notes, and create a lock-picking tool for their padlocks. Once that lock-pick tool is created, it can open any of the company-made locks. That’s good for the government because it can now pick the lock they need to open. But it is very, very, very bad for everyone who uses that brand of padlock because there now exists a lock-picking tool for their padlock. What was once an unpickable lock is now totally pickable because the company created the pick. No one’s lock is truly safe anymore, from anyone — government or criminals.

Because we live in and are discussing a digital security system, the above analogy falls far short of the actual danger. In this digital world, the lock-pick tool can easily be copied and multiplied. Hell, even if the actual cracking code (the lock-pick tool) was destroyed*, there now are people who know how to (re)create it. Maybe dozens or hundreds of people, who, even one, could remake the crack, or maybe just pass along the knowledge to someone else.

* Nothing in the digital world is ever truly destroyed.

What if Apple kept a database of everyone’s iDevice password in a “very safe” place? When you buy a new device (phone/tablet/whatever), you told Apple the password you were (ever) going to use. The only way Apple would give away your password is if the government came to them with a proper warrant. Would you feel that your private info stored on your device was safe? Would you, really? Even if you have complete trust in the government — they would never misuse their power to get your password, just think: there exists a database with everyone’s passwords. A database of passwords just like there are databases of credit card info, medical histories, and government secret programs — all things that have been compromised.

If you don’t follow this concept yet, let me try one more (less computery) analogy:

What if there was a law dictating that you have to give the government a copy of your home key? Even if the government was completely flawless and incorruptible, would you feel completely secure knowing that there is a room in the police office where your (and everyone’s) home key was hanging on a hook with your name and address on it? Would you support such a law even for the intent to protect your neighborhood? Would you feel secure and protected when someone else (even the government) has access to your home?


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Run for Presidential Nominees

You want to know my views on the current folks running for their respective parties? Of course you don’t. So here are my views:

I don’t really bother learning about the politicians when they’re jockeying for their party nominations. It’s far too early for me to care at all. I haven’t watched any debates, but I have seen snippets of them here and there from various sources. And what I’ve seen only reinforces my dislike of political debates.

I’d be interested in the debates if the candidates would talk about their plans, (with specifics), rather than what they do — attack everyone else in the running. Every snippet I’ve seen from any political debate makes me think of the “eleventh commandment” that Ronald Reagan popularized: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Both parties should take this concept to heart. Why in the world would you want to trash someone in your own party? Not only are you crapping on someone with whom you are supposed to have a lot (politically) in common, but you are handing the opposing party ammunition for later. Just seems dumb on the face of it.

As for the current crop of candidates:

I know essentially nothing about any of the Republicans other than Donald Trump. I haven’t sought out info on Trump, but the media makes sure to keep him and his statements in my face every day. And what I think of Donald Trump: He’s a top-notch asshole. He’s a bully who says outrageous things to get attention. The things he has said are completely void of any substance. “I’m going to make America great again!” How? I haven’t seen or heard anything but vague platitudes from Trump. And some of his vague platitudes seem truly dangerous; he takes war mongering to a new level. If Trump is the Republican candidate for President, I will not vote Republican.

I know little about Bernie Sanders other than he is a self-identified socialist who wants to break up the “big banks.” First off, socialism isn’t something that fits the American concept or culture. Socialism sounds good to young idiots who can’t (or refuse) to learn how actual capitalism works. Capitalism works to the best of each individual’s interest, investment, and ability. Capitalism may end up with a wide difference between the top and the bottom, but socialism ensures everyone is close together always near the bottom. If Sanders is the Democrat candidate for President, I will not vote Democrat.

I know much more about Hillary Clinton, and I believe she is deeply unethical. Having known of her for around 20 years, now, I see her as crooked, even to the point of actual criminality. She gets away with things because of her political clout and because the general media lets her. And her supporters seem to willingly overlook her dishonesty because they want to believe in her. I understand the feeling of wanting to believe in someone who says what you like and claims to support what you support. And I understand the gut need to sometimes give someone a pass on things here and there because their larger points and positions are more important than small hiccups or transgressions. But there does come a point where you have to see that the someone you like has taken your willing passes way too far, and they must have nothing but contempt for you and your support. If Clinton is the Democrat candidate for President, I will not vote Democrat.

So: Trump is a asshole. Sanders is a socialist. Clinton is an crook. None of them are the kind of person I want as President of the United States.


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Guns and Gun Control

I have no problems with honest, law-abiding citizens carrying guns, openly or concealed. My brother carries a concealed pistol. A few weeks ago, there was a man openly carrying a pistol in the pizzaria my family was sitting in. That man was there for dinner with his wife and young child, and though I spotted the gun on his hip, it didn’t bother or worry me at all.

I grew up surrounded by guns. My step-father was a hunter, so there were several shotguns and rifles in various rooms, vehicles, and closets in our home. My father simply liked guns, so he had a few pistols and rifles in closets in his home. Firearms were completely ubiquitous things in my world growing up. I knew where they were, how to use them (safely), and how to leave them alone.

Shooting I

Shooting II

Shooting II, continued

I currently own several guns. Most are heirlooms passed down from my father or step-father; only one did I purchase myself. But they’re all in usable condition, with ammunition (stored separately). If the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, I could be armed and ready in about half an hour.

I don’t think the government wants to take my guns away from me, but I do believe there are people who would love for the government to take my guns away. (Not my guns, specifically. But everyone’s guns, in general.) I believe this not out of paranoia, but because plenty of people directly state they want that. They even have political lobbies for it. Although, I don’t expect the government will ever actually confiscate everyone’s guns. I just don’t foresee that kind of thing getting passed without a catastrophic Constitutional breakdown.

I think the most the gun control folks will get is to make purchasing/obtaining guns very difficult, even for upstanding, law-abiding citizens. I’m not against some basic gun control ideas like background checks to prevent bad people with violent records from getting weapons. But I’m not so deluded as to think background checks will actually stop bad people from ever obtaining a gun; criminals can get guns in criminal ways. Spoiler alert: Bad people are bad, and will find bad ways to do bad things. And I believe that making it very hard for law-abiding citizens to arm themselves makes it proportionally easy for criminals to prey on them.

If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

If the government ever came to my door demanding my guns, you know what I’d do? I’d calmly and politely direct them to each weapon. Because I’m not a nut or an idiot. There are laws in this country, and I obey them, without antagonizing the law enforcers. And the government has to obey the laws, as well, without harassing law-abiding citizens. Although there are plenty of examples of the government going above, (or under), the law to do things, such situations are usually and generally handled and corrected through the legal system.

I’m not afraid of any gun. I’ve had a gun pointed at me, intentionally, one time, by someone who did know better but just had a serious brain fart for a second. He knew the gun was not loaded*, and thought pointing it at me would be funny. He apologized immediately after realizing it actually wasn’t funny.

But I am afraid of some people: thugs, gangsters, generally undisciplined and violent assholes. And since it isn’t reasonably possible to keep violent assholes from getting weapons, (see: “Bad people are bad,” above), I like the idea of law-abiding citizens having access to lawful weapons.

It’s not the gun, it’s the person holding the gun. I judge the danger of a situation by the person. If you walk into a room and see a police officer, you probably don’t even think about the fact that he’s got a gun holstered on his hip. If I walk into a room and see a decent person with a gun holstered on his hip, I don’t worry. If I walk into a room and see a thug with a gun tucked under his belt, I worry. In fact, I’m cautious when in the presence of even a visibly unarmed thug.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

But then, also, there are deranged persons that occupy territory outside an easily identifiable label. If such a person has a gun, well, very bad things happen. But you know what usually stops a deranged person with a gun? A decent person with a gun. That decent person is usually a cop or other security-type person in the vicinity.

I remember a story my mother related to me many years ago, soon after the situation occurred:
My mother used to work late at the office, and she had to walk from her building, through the parking lot, to her car in the dark, alone. So she got and learned how to use a pistol. She carried the pistol, a chrome .38 revolver, in her purse all day, and only took it out for her walk from the office to her car at night. She held it in her hand while she walked. One night there was a man in the dim parking lot. When he started approaching her, (for what purpose, we’ll never know), she stopped, held the pistol out to her side to let him see it. The man immediately spotted the shiny weapon glinting in the night. He stopped, turned, and walked away.

Did that man intend her harm? Did she survive that situation because of owning and carrying a gun? We don’t and can’t know for absolute certainty. For all the argument about whether or not armed citizens deter crime, I know of at least one time that I firmly believe an armed citizen probably did prevent a crime.

I, personally, don’t carry a firearm on my person in my daily life because when I weigh the odds of actually needing one at hand, it would be more certain and constant bother than it’s very low potential worth. The odds of me encountering a situation where I need a gun is extremely low. But other people have the scales of their life calibrated differently, and I have no problem with them choosing to be armed. I respect that decision, for them. They may even one day end up saving me because they chose to be armed.

A firearm is a tool. It can be used for a hobby, like a golf club or a baseball bat. It can be used for a useful purpose, like a chainsaw or a hoe. And it can be misused with dangerous results, like a golf club, a baseball bat, a chainsaw, and a hoe.

If you don’t have any guns in your home, you probably do have several sharp knives either in a drawer or in a block on the kitchen counter. Knives are very dangerous, and are used in many violent crimes every year. But you probably don’t really think much about knives.

You probably drive a car or truck or van every day of your life. Motor vehicles are very dangerous, and cause many, many injuries and deaths every year. For the past century, more people have died in vehicle accidents each year than died from firearms use both by accident and on purpose. But you probably don’t really think of your vehicle as a deadly danger.

The majority of people killed by guns each year are people in dangerous, and bad, lifestyles: thugs and gangsters. And though I don’t think those people deserve to die, I do believe that they do have personal responsibility in their circumstances. Join a violent gang or partake in a criminal enterprise, and you will probably encounter trouble. Live by violence, you may very well die by violence.

A mass slaughter by a deranged individual is a very rare event. But it was the deranged individual, not the gun that was the problem. Mentally ill individuals need help, and we, as human beings, need to be aware enough of the people in our families and communities to notice when someone is having a mental problem. We’d notice when someone was physically ill, and our medical, (and legal), infrastructure is built around helping such a person. But for some reasons, we, as humans, turn a blind eye to mental illness, and our medical, (and legal), infrastructure is just not prepared to handle it as well.

Unintentional deaths by firearms are usually due to ignorance and inexperience. Yes, accidents happen even to the knowledgeable and well trained. But children dying because someone was playing with a gun happens because the someone, (often a child), was never schooled on what guns are and how they can be dangerous. Even if you don’t have guns in your home, every parent should educate their children, (or have someone else educate them), about firearms. You’d warn them about fire even if you don’t keep a pack of matches in the house, right?

So, to repeat the point: I like guns. I own guns. I am fine with decent, law-abiding citizens owning and carrying guns. I am not against some moderate controls on selling/purchasing guns with the intent of making it more difficult for criminals to have guns. [Edit: Having just posted this, I discovered I’ve actually pretty much said this whole thing before: The Tuscan Massacre and Armed Citizens.)

* Always assume every gun is loaded until you check it yourself. And even then, always treat every gun as though it was loaded. No exceptions.

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The Pledge of Allegiance

We went to a school event a few weeks ago, and for the first time in many, many years, I stood up and said the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s been so long since I recited the Pledge that I really don’t even remember when it would have been. I know the words by heart:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which is stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

But then, I also know the McDonald’s Big Mac lyrics by heart: Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. Anyway…

I have to say, it felt weird saying the Pledge. I didn’t know that the school kids say it every morning, and I didn’t expect it to come up in a school function in the auditorium. I’ve been to several meetings at school, for one function or another, but we’ve never had to say the Pledge. It felt weird, in a way like I was joining a cult.

I’ve never been a joiner. I’ve even turned down many offers to join online groups, guilds, clans, etc. for various games. Joining anything in any kind of official way feels weird to me.

In the school function, when the principal announced for everyone to stand and recite the Pledge, I just did it without even thinking. I put my hand over my heart and everything, I guess out of the habit I learned in childhood, in school? I don’t remember saying the Pledge in school. I don’t remember when or where I ever said it. Obviously, though, I have said it, enough times that it comes to mind automatically when I’m prompted.

But right after, I felt a pang of oddness. “I pledge allegiance….” I love America. I love being an American. If trouble ever came to America, I’d naturally, both instinctively and with consideration, side with America. But standing up and pledging allegiance feels cultish.

Maybe it’s from having read/watched too many stories in which brainwashed people pledge their lives to some symbol or person. I can’t think of any stories in which someone having to pledge their allegiance turned out as anything good.

Well, I don’t expect anyone will be coming to my house to make me join anything based on the fact that I recited the Pledge at a school function. I don’t think it automatically conscripts me into the military. I’ll just go on living my life as a loose and free American.


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