The Devil can quote Scripture to his purpose


Never had much use for Apple, and even less for Steve Jobs, the guy who made jail seem cool, as Richard Stallman said. So it was with some surprise that I found Apple on the side of the angels, resisting an FBI demand — supported, of course, by Obie — that they create a backdoor into the security software on their phones.

The technical details of this wrangle have been poorly explained in the media, so perhaps it’s useful to do so here. This stuff, at this level, really isn’t hard.

Phones like the one the San Bernardino shooter had possess a security feature, which is not enabled by default, as I understand it, but can be enabled by the user. It works like this: A certain number of unsuccessful password attempts, and the phone wipes all its data. The assumption is that after that number, the phone has fallen into hands other than the user’s, and those hands are attempting a brute-force password-guessing attack. Which, of course, will sooner or later succeed, and much more often sooner than later.

Now this is a nice feature. It has what are by computing standards ancient antecedents: Unix systems, since the late Pleistocene, have locked a user account after a certain number of consecutive failed login attempts.

What the Fibbies want Apple to do is write custom software — and give it to them — software which will disable this security feature, and permit J Edgar’s boiz to run a brute-force attack on this phone, and of course on any other phone which falls into their hands, or say the Israelis’ hands, or the Saudis’, or the Brits’, or any of our other disreputable ‘allies’, or for that matter into the hands of any crook who bribes a Fibbie to give him the software.

Physical analogies for data security systems are always problematic, but roughly speaking, this is not like asking Apple to hand over the physical key to a house, a key which happens to be in Apple’s possession, for some reason. Apple — as far as we know — doesn’t know the password (though I wouldn’t put anything past them; but that’s another topic). In the physical-equivalent world, this would be like saying that Apple doesn’t possess the key.

What this is like doing is demanding that the manufacturers of locks build locks which are guaranteed breakable. This is Apple’s claim, and so far, it has a certain plausibility.

However there is a further wrinkle.

The reason why this demand is even possible at all is that Apple phones have a huge, glaring security hole already. The operating system of the device — the software that controls it — can apparently be overwritten and replaced with other software, even without the owner’s password, or for that matter without the owner’s knowledge.

The phone, however, won’t accept such new software unless it is digitally signed with a key that Apple does possess. So in theory, such software couldn’t be written, or rather signed, by just anybody.

So our physical analogy has to change somewhat. What Apple has done is produce a lock which is already compromised — compromised by design. It has a second keyhole, if you like, to which Apple has the key. The cops are demanding that Apple give them that key, a key that they can copy at will, and share with whomever they please, and use on whatever lock they please.

Now I am not a lawyer, but if I understand the matter at all, this state of affairs means that Apple has already forfeited, for these phones, whatever tenuous legal protections privacy still has in the United States, and moreover, has forfeited them on behalf of who knows how many of its customers.

This needn’t have been the case. All they had to to was provide that software upgrades couldn’t be done without the device owner’s password — subject to the usual autodestruct behavior, if enabled. But they didn’t do that. This isn’t a subtle thing, that somebody overlooked. It’s too big for a bug. It must be a feature.

So…. what were they thinking of?

Guesses welcomed. I have a couple of my own, which I will share in due course.

Meanwhile, the usual complicit media treatment of Apple continues to depict them as the guys in the white hats.

I suppose, by comparison with the FBI, they do in fact look pretty good. But that’s setting the bar rather low.

Clap, you son of a bitch, or Tinker Bell will die


I always liked Tinker Bell, even at her bitchiest. The illustration above unfortunately doesn’t make clear how extraordinarily sexy she was, but at my age, I must avoid over-excitement.

I never liked Bernie nearly as much as Tinker Bell, though of late, the grief he’s been giving Clintons, Inc. has rather endeared him to me. The enema of my enemy, and all that.

But a most depressing kerfuffle erupted today in my little corner of Facebook. Somebody posted a link to a piece at Counterpunch by Joshua Frank, which seemed pretty sensible to me, as Frank’s stuff usually does. Excerpt:

Bernie has fought a good fight, but he’s toast. The Clintons are just too ruthless and the primary process too rigged in favor of the establishment. The worst thing about the whole ordeal is that Bernie’s vowed to back Hillary when she ends up becoming the nominee.

Now this, of course, is precisely the reason why I haven’t been able to get too worked up about the Sanders phenomenon. Or primaries in general. It’s a contrived spectacle, engineered to offer the illusion of democracy, and ultimately achieve ‘buy-in’.

But the Dog-Star seems to have risen early this year. The response to this post by Bernie fans was… well… hysterical.

Most of it settled fairly close to the nadir: “Fuck you, asshole,” or words to that effect. A few more erected spirits were able to rise to the level of cliche, and reproach Frank for being unrealistic, or purist, or morally superior, or a party-pooper, or maybe a saboteur on the Clinton payroll.

Of course the amusing thing about this particular catechism of cliche is that it is precisely, word-for-word, identical to the reproaches that ‘centrists’ (read: reactionary monsters) like Clinton, and Albright, and Steinem, have been heaping on Bernie fans.

I wish somebody would write a history of this ‘purism’ trope. I bet it goes back at least as far as the English Revolution of the 17th century. In fact I bet somebody in Wat Tyler’s retinue hurled it primordially at a mediaeval comrade — accompanied, no doubt, by a generous fistful of Monty-Pythonesque horse manure.

One down, eight to go


Shown, Huck and Jim. Behind them, presumably, a Mitteleuropa headwaiter.

I say with shame that I never had a good enough sense of humor to enjoy Scalia. My first spontaneous response to the news of his death was, Well, that sack of shit will make a fine old fryup on the Devil’s gridiron. Perhaps I do still have a liberal bone left somewhere in my body, painfully trying to work its way out. Perhaps it’s the source of that annoying new ache in my left shoulder.

At any rate, though I have always said that anything which tends to bring the Supreme Court into disrepute is to that extent a good thing, Scalia always got under my skin. He seemed to me like a classic white-collar bully, the uncool goofy kid who finally got a chance to send people to the electric chair. Particularly the kinds of people he was always afraid of when he was young.

But he really did seem to enjoy himself on the Supreme Court bench, and though I hate to say it, he did seem to have a sense of fun, and even a certain inclination toward self-parody. These are attractive qualities. One has the uncomfortable sensation that one might have found him rather amiable and amusing in person.

So although I am not invited to the meetings where these things are decided, I would like to file an amicus brief in favor of commuting his damnation — well-deserved, of course, as whose is not? — to a good long stint in Purgatory. He was such a faithful Catholic that I’m sure he would have taken this plea. Even if it meant that all the people he pissed on in his life in the law got to piss molten lead on him.

Which I hope happens.

Curb your enthusiasm. But give free rein to your Schadenfreude


So dear old Dobbin, aka Bernie Sanders, seems to have ‘won’ the New Hampshire primary by a rather impressive margin.

This is, of course, good news. As far as it goes. Which isn’t very far.

What’s good about it is the fury and chagrin it seems to have caused among the Clintons, mere, pere, et fille, and people like Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem. Only a heart of stone could fail to rejoice at the discomfiture of these monsters. One hopes their various heads explode on live television, though this seems unlikely, alas. We are speaking here of people with a vast sense of entitlement and self-regard; but they are also experienced, tough-fibred old stagers, accustomed from of old to the ups and downs of electoral politics. As regards the vile Clintons, it’s the family business. No doubt Chelsea was reading polls, instead of the Berenstain Bears, at the age of four.

Still, a guy can dream, eh?

But there are dreams we should not entertain, for the sake of our own self-respect. One such is that Bernie might be the Democratic Party nominee. In general, I think that people who try to predict the future are fools, on the the principle that You Can’t Make This Shit Up, but I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that the machine will end up operating in its usual way.

But say he were the nominee? Say he won the general election? Oddly, it doesn’t seem impossible to me that if he were the nominee, he might win against Trump, or Cruz, or whatever loon the Republicans nominate. I could see young people turning out, the way they did for Obie. You have to be disappointed more than once or twice before you give up.

But suppose, piling one Pelion of improbability upon another Ossa of unlikelihood — suppose he won? What might we expect from him?

The record is unencouraging. Basically, he’s just another Democrat, in spite of his coy independent/socialist grass skirt.

But Terence, this is stupid stuff. Here I am trying, yet again, to find a way to tell my friends not to take this pantomime seriously — and in order to do that, I must pretend to take it seriously, and entertain all the far-fetched hypotheticals, and run regressions on the stats, and pay attention to polls.

What I would like to do is persuade my friends to stop doing all that. It’s like handicapping the Oscars, or the Super Bowl, and the outcome makes just about as much difference.