fbi v. apple decrypts candidates

As in 2016’s first eight contentious weeks, rallies, polls and posturing are similarly shaping week nine. Clinton v. Sanders and Trump v. Pope are but a couple of the headlines.

This week’s newcomer is Apple v. FBI.

If you care about this issue beyond just the headlines, I would encourage you to go and get the facts for yourself. The encrusted traditional press is pitiful when communicating the substance of the conflict, but Macworld produced a short yet excellent FAQ that will get you up to speed quickly.apple_fbi

Several issues are at play, but the important one to me is determining whether the government can compel its citizens to spend their time and treasure on assisting a criminal investigation. While most of us would be eager to help our law enforcement, it is quite another thing when they compel civic altruism from our neighbors. This is an egregious overreach by the FBI.

I do not recall the cultural prototype of Federal Law enforcement, Matt Dillon, ever deputizing a posse against their will.

As shocking as it is that the courts went along, it is more disturbing to behold the uniform public support for the FBI in this matter. Outside of the tech community, Apple has little support. The Pew Research Center poll’s only significant demographic not on the FBI’s side is left-leaning independent voters. One would naturally expect that Bernie would join his fellow left-leaning independents and come out on Apple’s side, but feeling the spotlight of the presidential campaign, he instead waffled:

“There has got to be a balance. But count me in as someone who is a very strong civil libertarian who believes we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”

Now, in Mr. Authentic’s defense, Hillary waffled too—but we expect that from the candidate who sold her soul to the political underworld long ago.

The GOP candidates, never the sort to miss an opportunity to seize power from anyone without “Inc” in their name, uniformly weighed in on the side of truth, puppy dogs and the Hooverites. But leave it to the Bloviating Billionaire© to strike a perfect Reality TV pose going even further in calling for a boycott of Apple until they comply with the court order. In this 2016 edition of politics as sport, Trump is proving that he is indeed no mere apprentice.

I know that the Curmudgeon often sounds like a phonograph with the needle stuck in a groove, but there are certain big issues that permeate our entire national political morass. A quantitative graph of our collective tolerance for the vacuous discourses of these frauds playing us for fools would be a century old exponential curve.

The American affinity for the sound bite waxes strong.

In some ways I am more hopeful today than in recent memory that the twitterification of America can be reversed: there are numerous new-media sources succeeding with long form presentations and discussions on important social, legal and political topics. In spite of this positive trend, this Curmudgeon senses that we are still a long way from the content of a candidate’s ideas influencing more votes than their 140 character rejoinders.

It seems I am doomed to disenfranchisement for a while yet.

As an ardent civil libertarian, I am happy that Sanders at least stakes out some ground around which to defend our freedoms—as far as it goes. It is certainly nothing new to hear political elites give liberty some lip service. Virtually no American running for national office will campaign on a platform to alienate that which was formerly inalienable.

But voters seem unwilling to confront the reality that our upper caste rarely fails to say one thing while doing another. Sound-bite politics is a messy thing and Americans are peculiarly averse to holding their gladiators accountable for their words and deeds.

I applaud Tim Cook for his (smallish) stand against the accelerating over-reaching of our government. We need this reminder with awareness of the threats waning as Edward Snowden recedes further from the headlines. These politicians campaigning for leadership of the free world have made it clear that they have little care for your and my liberty. They only superficially acknowledge the competing issues that the FAQ I recommended above made clear.

As I said, this is nothing new. The hard question for you, Dear Reader, is whether our fellow Americans will ditch the newspaper, drill down deep, and remember. Whether you will remember the election rhetoric and promises.

This American will never forget their misdeeds.

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extinguishing the bern

I’m not a great election forecaster. Or even a good one. But that never stopped me before and I’m going out there again: Bernie doesn’t stand a chance.

There…I said it.

As I’ve written before, I’m pulling for an outsider win this time. Outsiders give us the best possible result we can hope for in our current dysfunctional federal government: glorious gridlock. For the millennials following along, here is exhibit one: the Carter Administration.

I admit it: gridlock isn’t really that glorious. It only seems glorious juxtaposed to Congress unleashed. I’m firmly in the camp preferring nothing over misguided half-measures like the Affordable Care Act. That’s Obamacare for the baby boomers following along.

But my expectations are getting ahead of reality and I must throw cold water on myself. The Democratic machine is powering up and while they can’t quite dictate a Hillary victory, a $4.5 Million spending spree and a 394 Superdelegate head start gets close.

Fighting Two-party Hall on the inside is tough.

The ugly truth is that $4.5 Million is just the start as the power elite pullsil_570xn-844756496_76kb out the stops. So far, The Bern has 44 Superdelegates. How many of the remaining 274 do you think he will get. Hint: not many.

As Curmudgeonly as I am about our current state of political affairs, I do see glimmers of hope. My sense is that the populist trend is real. After a lifetime of political pendulum swings, demographics are beginning to assert their actuarially inevitable tidal forces. 2020 could be a whole new political world.

Think Latinos and Millennials.

Both Latinos and Millennials are less deferential to the past than the Old White People that will be dying in the next four years. Certainly less deferential than my generation was when we were the whippersnappers.

Working in Software Engineering, I’m around a disproportionate number of Millennials for an Old White Curmudgeon, and I can attest, they have completely different life experiences and the progressive attitudes that are a natural result. My recent teaching foray in a very conservative high school confirms that we are seeing a very broad shift across diverse socio-economic classes on a wide range of political and social issues.

Four more years of Old White People dying. Four more years of millennials attaining voting age.

This is big.

If you doubt the progressive groundswell consider the data coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. I won’t bore you rehashing the numbers—there are plenty of sources for you if you want to dig.

But for those who dig, a few things become clear. It is clear that “socialism” is not a dirty word for those who learned of the Cold War in history books and not newspapers. It is clear that “social justice” resonates with the working poor. It is increasingly clear that it also resonates with those middle class at risk of joining the ranks of the working poor.

2016 is not, however, the dawn of a new progressive age. The political elite will not go down easily. The headlines deceive: Hillary is overwhelmingly ahead in the delegate count. And will stay that way.

It is exceedingly hard to fight Two-party Hall.

As for the Bern? He is Bernt Toast.

galilean contemplation

My Son’s Christmas present has given me a new perspective on the Universe.

Literally.

Looming over his “library” now is a rather substantial telescope that was the only present on his Christmas list. Dad, of course, is learning a bit of astronomy now too since at his age substantial assistance is to be expected.

Doing astronomy you spend a lot of time in quiet dark places. Just the kind of places that bring on a pensive mood whether you want it to or not.

Try some time to avoid thinking while gazing at the heavens. The wonders of the Universe that lie behind those little pinpoints of light will set in motion the mental wheels of even the most mentally rusted American Idol fan. The big questions are inescapable out under the stars.

One haunting quandary for me is the whole disenfranchised state in which I find myself. It seems like at least once a week I hear a remark somewhere to the effect “if you do not vote, then you do not have a right to complain”. And like a Raven tapping at the door of my cranial chamber, there is that omnipresent deep voice that subconsciously insists that voting is a patriotic duty.

I continue to stand by my right to complain: it is not my fault that there are no candidates for which my conscience will allow me to vote. At a minimum I have a right to complain about that. Since my disagreements are rooted in substantive issues, I do not think abstention fairly takes me out of the substantive discussion either.

But then, of course, there is the Louisiana Defense.

In 1991, Louisianans had a choice in front of them for Governor that is hard to forget: Edwin Edwards, on his comeback from a corruption indictment (actual prison time only came later), and David Duke, a neo-Nazi and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. It is hard to blame the fine citizens of that State who stayed home on election day rather than forcing a choice between a lizard and wizard.

I too will continue to choose none of the above.

It is significant to my view that I find both of the major American parties equally obnoxious on the issues I care most about: Human Rights, abortion and fiscal responsibility. On the issues alone it is impossible to find someone to vote for that is even somewhat consistent with myself on the critical things.

But my disenfranchisement is much deeper than mere disagreement on the issues.

The rotten core of the problem is that both parties are working against the best interests of the American people. A vote for either of the two major parties is a vote for more power consolidation, more sound bites, and more guests at the Congressional Country Club. In short, voting the majors is voting to continue the course of self-destruction. If I were ever convinced that either a Democrat or a Republican candidate was a real Mr. Smith, I could probably hold my nose on the issues and vote.

And self-destruction is exactly what is occurring. Consider, if you have the courage, the last quarter century of headlines.

Robert Bork. Jim Wright. Iran-Contra. Republican traitors in budget wars. Gingrich quits. White-watergate. Perjury skates. Democrats for the war. Body bags in Babylon. I can’t take it anymore.

I didn’t start this fire. And truly, the full list would be so long that Billy Joel could produce another hit single.

This is just the public corruption side of the analysis. If you look at the substance, it is a hard case to make by those who support the major parties that their loyalty has produced any results. They will make that argument, again and again, but I suggest you consider the facts as they are and not as you wish them to be. Decades of Democratic dominance yielded scant progress on key issues at best. Over two decades of Republican dominance have yielded perhaps even less for their base. Has anyone checked the deficit lately?

What we have instead of substantive progress is an increasing accumulation of power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. When it was Democrats grabbing power, the Republicans wailed. And now, of course, the names are changed but the crimes against Liberty are the same.

Reflection is always a good thing. In the end, I remain unrepentant for refusing to vote for those who are running our formerly great nation further into the ground. I have admitted my not voting really stands for nothing in the greater scope of things, but then my conscience is perhaps a bit less troubled as the wheels are coming off of America.

To ease my conscience further, my goal remains to trouble partisan hearts without mercy. Eventually facts make a difference. Just like with Galileo.

Where was I? Darn. Mars moved totally out of view.

bridgehead over troubled waters

Almost exactly a year after having written my post entitled premature iraqification discussions of troop withdrawal are again a hot topic. At that time I was seriously concerned about the possibility that the administration would perform some sort of cut and run under political duress.

Thankfully my concern was unfounded. But now it is a new year and time to examine the situation and to see why the withdrawal did not happen and will not happen any time soon.

I will not waste your time with the official version of why we remain. You can read that in any newspaper. And the opposition position is equally artificial, disingenuous and available.

Rather what I would like to consider is the facts.

First, as an aside, let me point out that I am not saying that this administration will not pull some troops out and call it a withdrawal or “draw down”. After all, this is the crew that boldly declared Mission Accomplished some two and a half years ago. No matter what actual course we take there is little of which I am so certain as the ultimate declaration of victory by this President and those of his party which will attempt to assume his mantle.

But the facts continue to be rather stubborn. American deaths continue to mount and the grim reaper’s roll call will continue as long as we are present there. Islam is fundamentally hostile to foreign rule and nothing is going to change this in a time frame measured in anything smaller than decades. Because of the mounting political pressure, some kind of withdrawal is inevitable before the next election, and the question is only what form and shape it will take.

If you think that complete withdrawal is a possibility, forget about it. The reason we will never entirely leave Iraq is buried in our real purpose for being there in the first place.

Iran.

It has been clear at least since the end of Gulf War One that the real threat to world peace in the Middle East was not an emasculated Iraqi regime, but the Islamic Revolution. Recent headlines highlight the problems which a powerful Islamic State can cause. Of course, Iran is not the only threat, just the biggest and the one with the greatest chance of striving toward a greater Islamic State.

Iraq II is not about terrorism and never was. There is little doubt remaining in this Curmudgeon’s mind that the major reason for occupying Iraq was to create a permanent Western bridgehead at the center of this volatile region.

That bridgehead until recently had been Saudi Arabia. But events there have rendered our reliable forward logistics area problematic in the future. Hostility to the House of Saud continues to grow as does the world’s appetite for their oil. And Diego Garcia is too small and too remote to facilitate a significant modern military embarkation.

I can not even say that such a base of forward operations are undesirable. Whether we like it or not, the modern world runs on oil. If the oil stops flowing, modern civilization grinds to a halt. Or ceases altogether as a result of the social disorder a closed spigot would spawn. However obnoxious you may find the idea, the West must be prepared to keep the spigot open and to do so by force if necessary.

Forward bases in the less occupied regions of Western Iraq are just the ticket.

It is not a bad motive to want to insure the continued existence of modern civilization. Truly that which renders all of this so incredibly obnoxious is all the deception. Since we have gotten in the bullying business in extreme form already, perhaps it is time for a little honesty? Perhaps we should draw a perimeter of some size on a map of western Iraq and add a Fifty-first star to our flag? I doubt that Americans would get killed in any greater numbers.

John Adams should certainly consider his copious work on the topic of Factions vindicated by the present mess. It was during the Clinton reign that the methodology of all campaign all the time was first made overt. Those in charge of this formerly great nation continue to operate in continual campaign mode and the bridgehead must continue to be made politically palpable.

So I suspect that the current campaign slogans about a drawdown are nothing more than trial balloons just as was the case a year ago. Just another probing by the political savvy to determine the exact contours of what will sell to the masses of functionally illiterate people known as the American public.

But cheer up: an election is coming. The choice will be clear for the “informed” voter exercising their “responsibility” to go vote. We will again have our chance throw the bums out. A chance for redemption through regime change.

And you KNOW the party that brought you Vietnam can turn this thing completely around.

war of the worlds

It is that season again. A Supreme Court nomination is again our nation’s political focus. There is no question that this has become a sham political debate and not a quest for a sound jurist.

It would be naïve to suggest that politics in the judiciary is a new phenomenon in our land. Marbury v. Madison itself was about the seedy intersection of politics and blind justice. What I am decrying is that the process has been emptied of all content whatsoever.

The divisiveness over Roe v. Wade has much to do with this, but this is itself merely part of a larger trend. A trend toward high stakes political gamesmanship at the expense of We the People. A trend away from the substantive decision-making and toward the blood sport of politics.

The Roe debate itself is minor in the context of the overall tragedy which is the extreme politicization of the American mind.

It is with some mirth that I observe all the casual conversations around the water cooler where the phrases “judicial activism” and “strict construction” are bandied about with cavalier certainty. But I derive no similar humor from the lawyer-politicians who consciously perpetuate the existence of these mythical jurisprudential antipodes. The shameless lying coming from both sides of the aisle should disgust any informed observer.

“Lying” will probably seem too harsh a word to many. But frankly if you make it through law school and still have an honest belief that this political terminology is of utility in the substantive discussion, then you are too stupid to deserve the degree. Sadly, I do not think that most of the CongressCritters are in fact stupid. They just play stupid on TV.

The truth you seldom hear is that this quasi-legal language exists solely as proxies for underlying political positions.

The funny thing is that many of the same people who carp the loudest about these issues are the same ones you will later hear lamenting the poor jurisprudence coming from our courts. As the ancient wisdom would tell us, we will reap what we have sown. Sow political seeds and what you get is political fruit. And political fruit is almost never good law.

Personally, I lay much of the blame at the feet of the Traynor and Warren courts. These “great” jurists and their brethren made it fashionable for courts to get into the business of making law. Brown v. The Board of Education led to the popular error that the courts are competent to be agents of social change. And have no doubt, “error” is exactly correct: as monumental as was Brown it is highly arguable whether the court ordered busing produced the social benefit many assume flowed strictly from that aspect of the decision.

My just saying something negative about Brown will undoubtedly prompt some ugly emails.

But I have a dream of sound jurisprudence that anchors our human rights in natural law rather than subjecting them to the whims of an inherently political legislature or their conscripts in the judiciary. Contrary to the myths you hear nightly on the news, returning the courts to their limited Constitutional function would not dictate any particular political outcome. Social Justice is possible without tearing our legal institutions apart. Liberty can be protected without shredding our Constitution.

But judging by the empty rhetoric I hear daily, my vision is destined to remain nothing more than it is: an abandoned dream.

i, heretic

Terri Schiavo’s impending death should give each of us pause no matter where we come down on the issue of her continued access to food. That I am on the side of life for Terri will come as no to surprise to those of you familiar with me. That I am mortified by the desecration of the rule of law by those who in a general sense agree with me will be probably less surprising to you still.

In a New York Times op-ed today, Charles Fried characterized the superficial problem well when he expressed dismay at the Republican’s situational contempt for the rule of law in light of their traditional patronage of that worthy cause. Whether the Republicans ever had a drop of sincerity in their support for the rule of law is hard to say, but it should be clear now that their purported high regard of America as a nation of laws is ultimately subservient to their political agenda. Unfortunately, a lack of fidelity to one’s stated High Ideals is nothing new for our political class regardless of which side of the isle on which they stand.

I seldom get more nauseous than when a Democrat or Republican is accusing other politicians of hypocrisy thereby achieving the epistemological marvel of hypocritical hypocrisy.

But my nausea today stems more from a profound discouragement that we as a society will ever be able to tackle complex ethical problems in a useful manner. We have become so dysfunctional that as a nation that we are not only unamazed at the politicization of a politically neutral moral issue, but we also unrepentantly accept this state of affairs as the norm. Our continuing voluntary acquiescence to content free dialog has brought us to this point where it is highly probable that we will come through the long and arduous “discussion” concerning Terri Schiavo and arrive at the other side with no more understanding or consensus than when we first considered the issues.

While I share the distress of many Americans over the need to find a socially useful definition of life, my greater terror comes from recognizing that the issues presented by the Schiavo case are of great simplicity when compared to profound bioethical questions that lie just over the horizon of popular consciousness. A society that cannot corporately determine that which is Life when dealing with familiar things such as the human genome will surely be dashed to philosophical pieces by the radical technologies which will explode upon us long before this writer reaches his actuarial expectation of the hereafter.

And make no mistake about it, what lays ahead is perhaps more daunting than what any of us can imagine. Will the mice with quasi-human brains that they claim are presently not allowed to fully develop be deemed worthy of any kind of human rights protection? What are we to do with other chimeras yet to be born? And fasten your seat-belts bio-sports fans because mere genetic tinkering of this kind is child’s play compared to efforts to use the building blocks of life to create fundamentally new biologies.

Hyperbole is scarcely even possible in these matters.

What is happening due to our collective inability to intelligently arrive at a conclusion on any issue that presents an ethical conflict is that we are abandoning some of our most important decisions to the political elite. Being dependable politicians, they of course pursue political advantage rather than leading constructive ethical debate. It is the ultimate in naiveté to be shocked by this.

The real shock is that we are missing here a great opportunity to set the law on the reasonable path of a presumption for the continuation of life. Certainly other positions are possible and should be discussed, but it seems likely that most Americans would favor a presumption of life in the absence of a prior clear expression to the contrary by the one who is no longer able to speak for themselves. Instead, we ogle the facts before us, stamp our feet in righteous anger and carefully avoid the uniquely American heresy of substantive dialog.

The politicians will have the last “laugh”, I suppose, because when the petition for injunctive relief to support the human rights of something akin to a pig-human chimera that can be shown to possess a brain with a human structure and chemistry, America will habitually turn to them to be told what to think. And what we must think will then of course depend on the red-blue topography of the upcoming election.

When bioethics questions come up, I often think about the line uttered by the Jeff Goldblum character from the movie Jurassic Park where he admonishes that “life will find a way”. As we set a course for tinkering with life in ways grander still than even what was depicted in that movie, it is a frightening thing to know that we proceed not only without a navigator, but without a rudder as well.

‘roid rage

If you are not a sports fan, you might be unaware of the controversy over steroids that has surrounded major-league baseball for many months. Leaked grand jury testimony from a criminal investigation and the usual informed whispers have fueled the pervasive sports punditry up until now. Enter stage Right the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform who announced that they will be holding hearings investigating steroid abuse in the big leagues.

When asking himself the pre-emptive question of why the need for Congressional hearings, chairman of the committee, Tom Davis, evoked several of the standard Vote For Me symbols wishing to shine a light in the darkness and of course protect our children. As sad as that sop was, he went on to add, “We can help kids understand that steroids aren’t cool.” I wish the committee well in that endeavor because I think that convincing teenage boys that a muscular physique is “uncool” is a grand undertaking indeed.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that perhaps this might not be the best use of the time of our Congressmen?

Laying aside these silly nits, there is a real problem that does need addressed. Steroids are a dangerous thing and like other illegal drugs, they are making their way into the hands of children far to young for society to have any expectation of a reasonable risk/reward analysis on their part. I certainly agree that a program of communication to young people is desirable and justified, but I can not help but wonder if this is not a more appropriate matter for the Surgeon General than the Committee on Government Reform. It sounds like the Reform Committee is overdue a bit of self-examination.

Of course we all know that the truth is that like most of what poses as legitimate legislative activity in the hallowed halls of congress lately, these hearings are intended primarily to be attention getters for the politicians. In elementary school, we called it mugging for the camera. When describing the behavior of our Congressmen, we should just call it embarrassing.

A while back, in an attempt at making some suggestions that could help with the embarrassment that is called our public school system, I called for the removal of sports from our schools in order to help the institution focus on the actual objective of educating. Perhaps the same treatment is in order for our nation as a whole. It is hard to believe that Congress can be this distracted when as a nation we face challenges the magnitude of international terrorism, nuclear missiles in the hands of depots, and an impending meltdown of our health care system. I’m sorry, but as much as I love watching sports, I find the possibility of the end of Western civilization a more compelling topic.

We should be telling Congress to collect autographs on their own time because they have work to do.

But we love our diversions and really, it is hard these days to tell political discourse from sport anyway. The testimony of some of the biggest names in sports before the Congress will undoubtedly attract the approving attention of Americans who care more about who did what to whom than the substantive health concerns. We will be treated to seeing Davis and Henry Waxman preening before the cameras all the while knowing that their media show will not produce anything more than the ongoing criminal investigation is calculated to determine.

And while we are distracted, terrorists will have more time to exploit our exposed borders, North Korea will move a bit closer toward another nuclear tipped missile, and we will waste yet more precious resources into the entropy of an irrational health care system. Perhaps it is naïve to expect more of our leaders and our citizens than this, but one can always hope. Hope that the façade of genuine concern crumbles off of the Capitol Building. Hope that some of those watching The Show will notice that nothing is actually happening.

On the other hand, maybe not.

Play ball!