Monday, October 20, 2014

The Arrogance of Ignorance

It looks like law enforcement is pushing back against strong encryption they cannot get into.

FBI quest for smartphone data will fuel privacy battle

FBI Director James Comey said as much Thursday in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, suggesting the agency might ask congress to force companies to provide what amounts to a “back door” to law enforcement to obtain password-protected data on targeted personal mobile devices.

Sigh...

I've argued before that there is no such thing as a backdoor that can only be used by law enforcement. A security hole is a security hole whether it called a "backdoor" or a "golden key". In fact, a deliberately planted backdoor -- as opposed to one resulting from design or programming error -- is worse because the bad guys know for sure it is there. To think that the Chinese or the Jihadis will not look for it and pick the lock is a sure sign of ignorance.

ETA: Another thought that occurred to me is that once the bad guys figure out how to exploit the government mandated "golden key" backdoor, the vendors will not be able to patch it without permission from the government!.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Radiation Resistance and DNA repair

Now this is interesting. Some scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Louisiana State University forced the evolution of extreme radiation resistance in e coli bacteria. That alone is unremarkable since it has been done before.

What makes this effort noteworthy is that they were also able to identify the cellular mechanisms involved and that there are active in addition passive mechanisms of detoxification of oxygen and DNA repair. This could have profound implications for human longevity.

Evolution of extreme resistance to ionizing radiation via genetic adaptation of DNA repair

If the above is too dry for you, here is a more "gee whiz" summary:

Engineering E. coli to Resist Ionizing Radiation Damage

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Got Capitalism?

Here is how the evil capitalists at Firestone are dealing with the Ebola outbreak.

Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks

Dr. Flannery of the CDC says a key reason for Firestone's success is the close monitoring of people who have potentially been exposed to the virus — and the moving of anyone who has had contact with an Ebola patient into voluntary quarantine.

By most accounts, this Ebola outbreak remains out of control, with health care workers across West Africa struggling to contain it.

Asked what's needed to turn that around, Flannery says, "More Firestones" — places that have the money, resources and unwavering determination to stop Ebola.

The CDC certainly has the money and the resources but the bureaucracy may be lacking in the "unwavering determination" department. I am one of the last persons to advocate government should be run like a business. In fact, I am more likely to advise it be run out on a rail. However, if the state wants to get involved then the state actors fighting the outbreak need to look at what is working and Firestone's efforts are. Less time concentrating on the problem and more time concentrating on the solution.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eliminate the Backdoor

Recently, there was a particularly brain-dead editorial in the Washington Post entitled Compromise needed on smartphone encryption.

Changing the name of a deliberately planted security hole from "backdoor" to "secure golden key" doesn't change the essential security problem. Even if you believe that your government can be trusted to never misuse the power of a backdoor, there is someone out there who will find it and use it for unintended purposes. There is no such thing as a "backdoor" that only law enforcement can use.

In 2005 the Ericsson switches used by Vodafone Greece were compromised. Software using the so-called "lawful interception" modules were exploited to intercept phone call from at least 100 government officials for seven months. Interestingly, the Greek Government did not request these modules be activated but they were still used by the, as yet, unidentified attacker.

In 2006 Telecom Italia users were wiretapped via exploits believed, at the time, to have been discovered during a penetration test. The provenance on this exploit is a little fuzzy -- I don't know for certain if it was deliberate backdoor or a programming error -- but it was found and, apparently, exploited.

In 2010 Chinese hackers discovered and exploited a backdoor into the Gmail system placed there by Google to comply with law enforcement intercept orders. The US government mandated that Google give law enforcement access and the Chinese discovered it then used it to gather private data.

Those are just some of the criminal uses of backdoors we know about.

There may be a good argument or two for not revealing an exploit that could be used against an enemy. I can only think of one and it is only passably good. There are, however, no good arguments I know of for deliberately creating a security hole in software -- no matter how much law enforcement wants it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Final Test of Truth is Ridicule

Pa. boy, 14, allegedly desecrates Jesus statue by mimicking sex act in selfie: Outrage?

What the boy did was certainly in poor taste but, aside from the trespass, I don't think it was criminal. There was no vandalism reported nor was anyone harmed or even threatened with harm. I doubt the boy was trying to make any philosophical point. He was just doing what 14-year-old boys have been doing for millenia. Unfortunately he ran a foul of a little known and rarelty used anti-desecration law. This prosecution is no better than the zero tolerance policies in the schools.

Freedom is an inherently offensive state of existence. No matter what you may believe, there will be someone who will ridicule it. Someone will burn a Koran, dip a Crucifix in urine, photoshop the Flying Spaghetti Monster into the creation image of the Sistine Chapel or use the word "citizen" (which is, apparently, banned in Seattle!) in a sentence. However, as HL Mencken wrote, "..the razor edge of ridicule is turned by the tough hide of truth."* If you really think what you believe is true then what is there to fear? Your pet theories or dogma will survive if truth is really on your side.

Silly attempts to limit offensive but otherwise peaceable behavior using law or speech codes is an example of the American ardor for substituting laws for common sense. The political Left, Right and Middle seem to share an insane belief that nirvana is just another regulation away. Wail all you want about Political Correctness but it is really just the Left's version of the anti-blasphemy laws.


* "On Truth" in Damn! A Book of Calumny. Page 43 in the Kindle edition I have. That essay is also the source for the title of this post.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bizzaro State of Massachusetts Maryland

Correction: An Anonymous comment corrects me: "This took place in Maryland, not Massachusetts." Text is edited to reflect this.

Patrick Wayne McLaw, an eighth grade teacher at Mace's Lane Middle School in Massachusetts Maryland, has been suspended under circumstances charitably described as mysterious.

Cambridge Mace's Lane Middle School Teacher on Administrative Leave

Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases. Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future. Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.

Aliases? Such a sinister word. Anyone with more than two brain cells left to rub together would call the false name an author uses a "pen name". Why would the reporter choose a baleful word to describe the man's nom de plume except to demonize him? Maybe it was just ignorance but the article has been updated at least once and the word is still used so, for the time being, I am going to go with it being evil over stupid.

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County. "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.

According to the Amazon page for the book the story is set almost 900 years in the future.

On 18 March 2902, a massacre transpired on the campus of Ocean Park High School, claiming the lives of nine hundred forty-seven individuals--the largest school massacre in the nation's history. And the entire country now begins to ask two daunting questions: How? and Why? After the federal government becomes involved, and after examining the bouquet of black roses that lies in front of the school's sign, it becomes evident that the hysteria is far from over.

Leaving aside any arguments about what human society will look like 900 years from now, that seems a pretty safe distance in time. So just what are the authorities afraid of? This is even more mysterious. According to a related article:

“The residence of the teacher in Wicomico County was searched by personnel,” Phillips said, with no weapons found. “A further check of Maryland State Police databases also proved to be negative as to any weapons registered to him. McLaw was suspended by the Dorchester County Board of Education pending an investigation and is no longer in the area. He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.”

So no firearms were found or even implied but, despite that, he is being held "...at a location known to law enforcement..." No charges have been mentioned nor is there any indication I can find that Mr. McLaw has been allowed to see a lawyer. For writing a book.

Just when I think I can see the bottom of the pit of human stupidity, someone shouts, "Challenge accepted!" and demonstrates that is goes even deeper into the darkness.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I Fear is Hate and Stupidity

Saul Cornell and the Daily Beast are what they are and I expect no better from either. However, I find it amusing when a controlist (mis)quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes' opinion in Schenk v. United States upholding the conviction of a man who advocated resisting the draft. What is, arguably, one of the worst judicial offenses against the First Amendment is now being cited in attacks on the Second.

Of course, the fact that the Second Amendment is now treated as an individual right has almost no bearing on gun regulation, because no right is absolute. You can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, nor can you fire a gun in one.

Gun-Rights Advocates Should Fear History of Second Amendment

You are wrong Mr. Cornell. What gun rights advocates have to fear is what all civil rights activists have had to fear throughout history. We have to fear the hatred and stupidity of the ideologues in power trying desperately to preserve their privilege and control.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Driving While Distracted is OK if You're a Cop?

It certainly seems so in this case.

Police Officer Will Not Be Charged For Killing Napster Exec While Texting And Driving — Because It's Apparently OK For Police To Do That

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy Andrew Wood will not be charged for fatally running over former Napster COO Milton Olin Jr. in his patrol car while the officer was typing a message into his computer.

The District Attorney's report on the incident is pretty clear about what happened:

The article continues:

The Los Angeles District Attorney's report into the incident says that even though it is illegal to text and drive, Wood was not negligent because police officers are expected to respond quickly to messages from colleagues.

For a long time I've accepted the fact that the Thin Blue Whine will always protect its own. That select group includes district attorneys and judges. I am not particularly happy about it but it is a fact of life. Still, the handling of this incident is pretty blatant. It is a dead certainty that if an unbadged person answered his email or sent a text message while driving and, as a result, hit and killed someone, he would be be charged with something. If not vehicular manslaughter then felony reckless driving.

Why is the DA refusing to prosecute this case? Like I said: That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Arizona Tragedy

There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks critiquing the instructor's methods displayed in the video accompanying the article. Frankly, it looked to me like he did things right but I am not particularly qualified to offer anything but a layman's opinion. What I do know is that I feel sorry for the little girl and the instructor's family. Mistakes or not, it is still a tragedy.

Officials: Girl Accidentally Kills Gun Instructor

The incident itself is a controlist's wet dream: A dead firearms instructor, a messed up little girl and press coverage of the whole thing. I suspect Sarah Brady and Shannon Watts will comment on the matter right after they finish masturbating.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Retard in the White House and Elsewhere

Remember when Joe Biden -- putative Vice-President of the United States -- recommended that gun owners discourage intruders by firing a shotgun in the air?

So did Jeffery Barton of Washington State but when he followed that advice, he was arrested for his trouble. At his arraignment he pleaded not guilty and raised what is now being called the "Joe Biden Defense". While that seems a little tongue-in-cheek to me, it is, in the clarity of hindsight, a predictable reaction to the utter stupidity and ignorance exhibited by Biden.

Now -- perhaps hoping not to embarrass the VP more than he does for himself -- the prosecutor is dropping the one count of illegal aiming or discharging a firearm.

New developments in 'Joe Biden defense' case

Clark County's prosecutor said Tuesday he will dismiss a firearms-related charge against a Vancouver man who said he was merely taking Vice President Joe Biden's advice on how to defend his property from car prowlers. Instead, the man will be prosecuted for obstructing a police officer.

Jeffrey C. Barton, 53, made international news when he told journalists: "I did what Joe Biden told me to do. I went outside and fired my shotgun in the air."

That is a reference to the vice president's answer to a question in February 2013 about home defense. Biden responded that Americans don't need to own semiautomatic weapons because a couple blasts from a shotgun will scare off intruders.

Of course the state being, typically, unwilling to let go of any opportunity to harass a peaceable gun owner will throw an obstruction charge against the wall.

However, the firearms charge will be replaced with a charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer, Golik said.

Golik said ethical guidelines prevent him from discussing specific reasons for the new charge.

"Based on (Barton's) conduct, we are going to pursue the obstruction charge," he said.

Ethical considerations? In this case is sound more like: We don't have a real reason to put him in jail so we will fall back on the obstruction charge.

And lawyers wonder why Dante spread them out all over the Inferno. There are so many appropriate places there for them.