If Only My Devices Came with a Switch Labeled “Cloaking Mode”

Fascinating interview here with cryptographer/security expert Bruce Schneier, who is helping The Guardian analyze the huge number of documents bequeathed it by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.  (Or traitor, if you prefer.  I don’t — not yet, anyway.) Schneier argues that the potential ramifications of the NSA’s all-seeing eye are far more disturbing than most citizens realize:

They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state.

We’re not there yet, but already we’ve learned that both the DEA and the IRS use NSA surveillance data in prosecutions and then lie about it in court. Power without accountability or oversight is dangerous to society at a very fundamental level.

Yup.  He’s also right that His Five Tips  for protecting ourselves from government intrusion are neither simple, nor practical.  I’ve read about the encryption hoops Laura Poitras had to jump through when first contacted by Snowden.  The security procedures he insisted on didn’t sound like something the average person has the money, patience or technical know-how  to do.  Heck, I’m so “average” I can’t even figure out how to get the “Recent Posts” widget to work in the sidebar of ChickCurmudgeon.  The fact that four widgets do appear properly — most of the time — is no sign of waning widget-impairment either; I have no clue why they’re working.

If interested, more reflections on the NSA’s attempts at Snowden-mitigation are in my blog posts “On Truth and Fantasies” and the third section of “Oh, What a Tangled Web They Weave . . . ” and include a link to the NYT profile of Poitras.  Is it possible a spy thriller based on her experiences isn’t already in the works?

These are scary times, but Schneier, who will be writing future articles on the material he’s been analyzing, has a wise practical suggestion:

The Internet has become essential to our lives, and it has been subverted into a gigantic surveillance platform. The solutions have to be political. The best advice for the average person is to agitate for political change.

I have one for him too, if he hasn’t already done it:  hire bodyguards.

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Invincibly Ignorant

Administration’s Benghazi Review Board Discredits Itself in Congressional Hearing

Throughout their appearances Thursday and in their depositions earlier, both Pickering and Mullen insisted that their investigation was independent and thorough. But the substance of their testimony suggests precisely the opposite.

~Stephen Hayes

Stephen Hayes’ blog on the Benghazi Hearings unmasks the completely DEpendent  Investigation run by the State Dept, and ought to be in every online dictionary next to the words  “corruption” and “farce.”  That most of the mainstream media are ignoring this cover-up  shows that the Fourth Estate and Integrity are no longer on speaking terms.

As the mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith said,  “I don’t trust my government anymore because they lied to me.”  The fact that 12 of 14 Democrats on the committee left before she or Tyrone Woods’ father spoke says volumes about their trustworthiness too.

No Love Lost

. . . if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay, because, um, that’s the way they are,  then it follows from that, that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here, who are in love with each other and are of the same gender, should be denied the opportunity  for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship, by having marriage equality.

~ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at a Q&A session

This four-minute clip of a politician answering a pastor’s question about his recently changed  view on same-sex marriage is a great illustration of what passes for gotcha reasoning these days — a “smackdown” being celebrated all over FB, about the righteousness of “marriage equality” and the uber-wrongness of Christians and others who oppose it. The “winner” is Rudd, a self-avowed Christian who has promised to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage within the first one hundred days of his reelection.  He begins his answer to Pastor Matt Prater of Brisbane with several glib, but nevertheless, unsubstantiated assertions: (A) that gays are all born that way; (B) that since they’re born that way, it must be “natural and normal” and therefore ought to be supported by everybody;  and (C) that anybody who thinks differently is anti-science, not to mention dissing the wisdom of the prime minister’s own conscience, which he tells us more than once, is both “informed” and “Christian.”

Never mind that Rudd only achieved this state of marriage-equality enlightenment recently –he exhibits no charity or compassion for anyone who might still be in the dark ages which he himself inhabited just a few months prior.  In explaining his reversal, Rudd derides the view that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural as  “just wrong . . . and completely ill-founded” and then asks the pastor to clarify his reasoning.  Wisely, the pastor doesn’t go there, instead saying that since Jesus defines marriage as between a man and a woman,  he’s curious to know why, as a Christian,  Rudd doesn’t “ . . . believe the words of Jesus in the Bible.”

That’s when the great smackdown moment occurs, as Rudd replies, “Well,  mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.” The place erupts with applause.   To drive the point home, he adds, “Because St. Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves, be obedient to your masters’ and therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War.”   Touché – the Bible has been fatally wounded.

Or not.

No one seemed to notice that Rudd’s non-sequitur answer had been crafted  to obliterate the claim that he tried to elicit from the pastor:  that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural.  The fact that the pastor never said so didn’t matter –  Rudd’s tone was triumphantly dismissive,  and if winning the gay marriage debate meant throwing Jesus under the bus, then so be it.   After all,   what exactly is that view that the prime minister, with his informed and Christian conscience, was so eager to eschew? It’s the view of traditional Christianity throughout the centuries, that as followers of Christ, believers ought to take Jesus at His word — as saying, in fact, exactly what He meant to say.

Toss out the authority of Jesus and the Bible, and what exactly of Christianity is left?   Ah yes, “universal love,” avers Rudd — although why we should trust what the Bible purportedly says about love, when it can’t be trusted to speak reliably on marriage or slavery or presumably other sticky subjects, is beyond me.

Putting aside that Rudd’s facile retort about slavery conflates descriptive and prescriptive passages, and that Biblical advice for dealing with Caesar or various human institutions does not necessarily confer approval of those rulers or institutions — he has just made the argument that same-sex attraction is natural and that what is natural is worthy of societal approval.  In essence, Rudd uses the adjectives natural and normal to bestow a positive qualitative judgement on things which are naturally occurring   –  to attach a sort of moral seal of approval.    Call me wacky, but it seems that the tendency of the strong to enslave the weak is also “natural,” and has been “normal” throughout history – rather popular to this day in fact.   I’m sure that the science he is so eager to defer to in support of gay marriage could give him several plausible evolutionary reasons as to why slavery is “natural” among men.

But in this case, the PM means that because slavery is morally wrong, it therefore cannot be “natural,” and since it is not natural, the Bible is wrong, and being wrong, it can no longer lay claim to having any moral authority.  Get it? I don’t, but I’m not as advanced as the prime minister.

However, I can think of lots of naturally occurring things, besides slavery, that I would rather not accept, much less endorse:  Quick tempers, arsenic, birth defects,  earthquakes, murder, and cellulite come to mind.  (I’m not too crazy about gray hair either, but I’ll admit it looks great on a few friends.)    And before you get your knickers all twisted up, I am NOT saying that same sex attraction is “like” murder, or slavery.  I am simply saying that “natural and normal” tendencies or activities come in good, bad and indifferent.  (By the way, I just learned from a retired dentist for a prison that it was “normal” for him to be asked by gay prisoners to have their top and bottom front teeth, perfectly good teeth, mind you, extracted.  Normal, but nevertheless, a request not granted.  Trust me – you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it.)

At any rate, for most Christians, to say that something is “natural and normal” is not to say that it’s morally right.  Our belief is that we live in a fallen world, one in which sin has metastasized throughout it so completely that we’re told by Paul in Romans 8 that the whole creation has been “subjected to futility.”   Paul then describes the situation in more poetic terms:  the creation, he says, is in bondage, groaning for redemption.    If Christians are right, then this fallen state is the real Reality, and Reality, we all know from bitter experience, has an annoying  way of not cooperating with ideology that, for lack of a better way of saying it, gets Reality wrong.

If Paul is correctly describing the spiritual state of mankind, slavery is “natural and normal” precisely because man is sinful, and being sinful, we do bad things.  Repeatedly.  Over time, we get more efficient and more creative at doing bad things –think sarin gas.  We also get better at rationalizing doing bad things, and better at rationalizing not doing good things.   Bad things become “normal” and “good,” and vice versa.  Yup –that’s progress.

This isn’t to say that people don’t transcend their sinful nature, and do good, occasionally spectacular things, or that radical moral arguments can’t be made, and won, such as William Wilberforce’s long and ultimately successful battle to end the slave trade in Britain. But, the doctrine of original sin does say that when it comes to the rightness or wrongness of a behavior or belief, its “naturalness” or “normality” is nothing but a red herring.

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It’s difficult to explain in this relativistic age, but when Christians talk about God’s law, we’re not talking about arbitrary rules He’s inflicted on us just to keep us from having fun.  We believe God’s law is meant to protect us, with all our flaws and selfish inclinations, from ourselves, and from each other.  We think that our best chance for a meaningful life will be found by cultivating certain attitudes and behaviors — for instance,  a willingness to forgive and a habit of cheerful generosity — and by avoiding destructive attitudes and behaviors, such as being envious or doing a shoddy job at school or work.    The moral counsel of the Bible provides a framework within which each of us will best find true purpose and fulfillment.

Of course, this traditional view jibes with the prime minister’s view that God is indeed universal love, and that therefore He intends good things for these creatures made in His own image.  But it goes much further, however, than the PM is willing to go,  and  trusts that God knows better than man himself what is best for man.  It also reasons that God, as the omniscient creator of the universe, does not need to be “updated” periodically, like an app, with the latest moral operating system.

Christians may be wrong about all this, and if so, to the extent that we’ve obeyed the moral code, we’ve missed out on a lot of fun.  Some of us may confuse moral directives that were meant for particular times, places and purposes, such as dietary or dress restrictions, with moral directives intended to be timeless, like “thou shalt not murder.”  Clearly, there are gray areas of dispute.  Yet, if the conventional view that God’s boundaries for sexual relationships and family structures belong to the for-all-time category, then to the extent that society discards these rules, great harm will be done to individuals, and to  our society as a whole.  Our suffering will be the collateral damage that always occurs when our mistaken ideology collides with Reality.

This doesn’t mean that if Christians are right about sexual prohibitions, that trying to obey them is not, at times, fraught with great difficulty and anguish.  It’s that fallen-world syndrome again.  As Paul says in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Even so, we believe that God helps us in making the attempt at obedience,  and that we’re better for it, even though we  sometimes fail.    The belief that there is forgiveness, redemption and life everlasting, is,  of course, a cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Unfortunately, in this life, the viral video world is offering no forgiveness or redemption to the pastor whose legitimate question – asking why a Christian rejects a clear Christian teaching on marriage  — sparked Mr. Rudd’s great triumph.  The link I ran across had already garnered over 46,000 “likes” in just a day.  The scorn heaped on the pastor in tweets and comments is to be expected — it’s what happens when an understanding of the depravity of man, the inherent sinfulness of all of us –not to mention kindness — gets lost . . .  But I can’t help contrasting this sham of a debate about same-sex marriage to the radically different view  expressed in a blog I linked to last month, written by a homosexual Christian  who believes that despite his “natural” inclination, he is called to be celibate.   He calls his struggle to be obedient to God’s  boundaries an “arduous good,” a  phrase he borrows from St. Thomas Aquinas:

An arduous good is a good that requires struggle. A good that is worth fighting for. And a good that inspires fear and hope and endurance in the face of adversity.

“Arduous good” is also a phrase that is seldom spoken in Hollywood, and almost never heard on Madison Avenue. In that silence, the poverty of our culture is laid bare.

Yes, and the poverty of our culture is also laid bare in that moment when an unthinking audience cheers a facile putdown of the Bible, Jesus, and a hapless pastor who tries to follow Him.

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Postscript:  Australia Shows: Family Friendly Conservatism Can Succeed

 

Oh, What a Tangled Web They Weave, When Progressives Practice to Deceive . . .

. . . except that they’re not really practicing deception anymore; they’ve pretty much mastered it.

At any rate, hope my latest web wanderings find you in good spirits.  I’m just a tad twitchy, thanks to a spike in the usual number of tech glitches.  I’m about to switch over to my fourth  HTC One X “smartphone” – battery croaks in minutes, not hours — and since it’s integral, the only way to get a new battery is to get a new phone.   In the process of making sure my photos were backed up on my laptop, I updated my glitchy photo gallery software, which updated into not working at all.  Now I can see not one but two copies of every photo on my computer,  and I can edit them, but I can’t upload them to Facebook or anywhere else because my Windows Photo Gallery tells me that the photos I’m LOOKING AT belong to  files that don’t exist.  Charming.   Explain to me again how technology simplifies my life – or why it’s great to have a phone warranty that replaces one faulty device with a refurbished faulty device?

Anyway, since I can still read articles on this piece of junk, I’ve been wanting to share a few that struck me as interesting and off the mainstream radar.  This first piece, written by an intelligence analyst who studied communist propaganda, serves as a primer on political correctness, and explains how progressives have harnessed the latest research in social psychology to manipulate public opinion and behavior.  Not surprisingly, Obama’s pal Cass Sunstein shows up as one of the main “experts” in the field of “choice architecture.” The author’s analysis goes a long way toward explaining why The Great Uniter is always dividing.  His insults are not the result of frustration with his opposition– they’re part of the strategy of coercion.

It’s easy to observe these techniques in politics, universities, and journalism, but familiarity through repetition doesn’t make them any less foreign to my own mode of thinking, which is that Truth matters and that the business of persuasion is to help others see the truth about a particular issue.   If somewhere along the way I discover that my view is in error – i.e., out of alignment with reality, then my view ought to change to conform with reality.   At least, that’s my quaint Judeo-Christian way of looking at the world.  God is Truth, and if I’m His follower, then my allegiance is not just to Him, but to that which is true, to the extent that I can discern it.    These Sunstein disciples, on the other hand, seem to regard truth or reality as irrelevant– or,  to the extent that they have trouble concealing it, inconvenient.

I suppose the gist of the whole thing is that PC is about power-consolidation, NEVER about anything  so retro as mutual understanding or the free exchange of ideas.  If we miss that,  if we keep meekly defending ourselves against the constant accusations that we’re bigots or racists or hard-hearted,  . . . we’re toast.

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The next piece, by Andrew McCarthy, speaks to the unreality of democracy or religious plurality co-existing with Sharia.  The current persecution of Christians in Egypt is an ugly illustration of that incompatibility.  I’ve bookmarked a site that is keeping a daily tally on the persecution of Christians in Egypt, and it contained this gem from Mohamed Saad al-Azhary:   “I strongly condemn the burning of churches for two reasons. 1) Whoever does this ruins the image of the protesters.   2) Who in their right mind would burn waste?”  (Gives new meaning to the term “charm offensive.”)   In the all-is-not-lost dept., the site also notes instances in which local Muslims have sided with Christians to protect their churches against the Muslim Brotherhood-of-Hate-and-Destruction.

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Regarding the ongoing surveillance saga, there’s always more there there.  This tidbit from a story on the detention/interrogation of Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow for 9 hours — not to mention relieving him of all his electronics — caught my attention:

The Guardian disclosed Monday that British authorities have attempted to pressure the paper to turn over the material leaked by Snowden, or to destroy it. Rusbridger . . . said that at some point over the past month, security experts from the GCHQ intelligence agency oversaw the destruction of two hard drives in the Guardian’s basement, even though he pointed out to officials that the paper’s NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York.

As for MSM coverage, the NYT’s  in-depth, admiring portrait of Laura Poitras, who was the first journalist to make contact with Edward Snowden,  is the stuff of  intrigue flicks – and there’s no way one could read it without at least questioning the official line on Snowden.

This press release by Udall and Wyden on the NSA revelations caught my eye because they come awfully close, for two Democrats, to saying the executive branch cannot be trusted.  (And to be clear, I do think that intelligence organizations are supposed to have secrets.  I just think those secrets are supposed to be about our enemies, not about our law-abiding selves.)

It’s also been fun to watch President Bystander —  who never learns about anything unseemly going on in his administration until he opens his morning newspaper  (I mean really, can’t Eric-bug-‛em-Holder at least give him a 24-hour heads up?) — now in the awkward position of trying to convince us that he’s completely aware of whatever the NSA has been peeking into, and it doesn’t involve anything we might consider private . . . at least, not after the Sunstein crowd gets through with us.

This whole privacy issue has gotten utterly wacky.  I must get 3 or 4 privacy notices every week in the mail; multiply that across the land, and whole forests are being mowed down in the name of HIPAA  or other mandated disclosures that nobody reads.  At my doctor’s office, they have taken such extraordinary measures to make sure patients can’t overhear each other,  building a long curved desk divided by high partitions, that the marooned receptionists can’t see if any patients are in line, and we in the line can’t see how many desks feature actual receptionists.  To solve this problem,  pendant lamps were installed over each desk, and when a receptionist is ready to see a patient she turns the light on — except when she forgets to turn it on, or walks away and forgets to turn it off, or . . .  Meanwhile, with our medical records digitized, how long before some hacker and/or government hack has them?

Likewise, while Facebook continually tweaks its “privacy controls” and offers little tutorials on how to use them to “protect your privacy,”   we’re warned by tech gurus (and court precedents) that we should have NO expectation of privacy for anything we do on the internet, or anything we send to another person via a third party – e.g., a phone company or a piece of snail mail or an email or a Facebook message or a text or whatever.  Really?   Why keep “improving” our privacy settings if Google is scanning everything and the NSA is scooping it all up for storage in Utah?  And don’t even get me started on Google Glass . . .   For a great overview of recent surveillance revelations, check out John Fund’s column, in which he makes the case that conservatives need to rethink giving the NSA the benefit of the doubt:

So, I’ll close with a piece by Peggy Noonan, a conservative who’s been ahead of the skepticism curve.  Like me, she seems to believe that ferreting out terrorist plots and protecting law-abiding citizens from unlawful intrusion are not mutually exclusive endeavors.   Genuine oversight  is required – not just soothing reassurances for the dupes from the Prevaricator-in-Chief.

If you read Noonan, I think you’ll see the connection between the manufacturing of “availability cascades” to shift public policy, and the Obama campaign’s number crunchers who analyzed massive data sets in order to micro-target specific voter groups.    If the NSA is doing what Snowden and others claim it is – there’s no way they’ll be able to leave that ultimate data base unsifted when it comes to winning election campaigns or pushing controversial agendas.  The ends will justify the means – they always do with this crowd.

Of course, if the Utah storage computers were being built to the same specs as my current phone, I’d be far less worried . . .