Category: Uncategorized

Living on the Edge

I was reading the other day about the next-gen Windows browser, Edge, that replaces Internet Exploder in Windows 10. Apparently, the browser informs Microsoft of just about everything to do with your activities, even your GPS location. Disabling this “feature set” means yet another string of window and mouse clicks, specific to the tool.

I’m just so sick of that horse hockey.  One is forced to adopt a strategic plan regarding online privacy.

What is my goal for online security?

  • Prevent my financial information and related personal information from being sprayed indiscriminately around the internuts.
  • Fuck with the gummint, because, ‘Murica.
  • Establish a beachhead for data security, in view of the probability that the gummint is (still) going after data unlawfully.

Security Begins At Home

I accomplish these goals mostly by using a private VPN. The VPN secures my data over the network from the NIC on my system to its target; and back. I have two fundamental protections. The data is encrypted, i.e., unreadable to anyone inserting himself between my system and the network. The encrypted data goes through a VPN server, meaning that anyone on the network cannot see the originating system.1

Communications

I have a paid account at Hushmail, which I use periodically to keep it active; but which exists primarily as a fall back, to be able to securely send encrypted mail, if needed. Hushmail provides a challenge-response mechanism for mail recipients to read their Hushmail online, via an encrypted protocol in the browser, without having to open and maintain a Hushmail account.

I have a Skype phone number and subscription for sending text messages. Skype-to-Skype calls and messages are encrypted.2

Disk Encryption

I have whole-disk encryption on my linux laptop. I used the default system that comes with Ubuntu 15.04. 3

BitLocker

In Windows, you have access to a built-in encryption technology, BitLocker. This software has some well-known issues, not least of which is an abiding mistrust of Microsoft among members of the technical community.4

Other free/”open source” tools exist, and so do some commercial ones. Excepting BitLocker, technical expertise and courage will be required to install them on your systems.

BestCrypt

Bruce Schneier recommends BestCrypt5, a commercial disk encryption system that comes in two forms. Container encryption enables the user to encrypt sections of the user space. For example, you might encrypt your documents folders, and perhaps, your porn collection. Volume encryption is the BestCrypt terminology for “whole disk encryption.” The tools are not overly expensive, but they’re not cheap, either.

DiskCryptor

DiskCryptor 6 started as a drop-in replacement for any of several other disk encryption packages.  One of these, TrueCrypt, has gone to the software graveyard.

Data Drifting Overhead

Of course, no musing about data integrity would be complete without contemplating the ubiquitous cloud, the mythical storage place for all out data.  In the fallout of the Snowden debacle, several prominent cloud storage providers, including Yahoo and Google, quickly made public plans to completely seal their cryptographic containers, so that government agencies could no longer help themselves. Additionally, they committed to using hashed, unrecoverable keys that could not be handed over whenever government agents went fishing.

In the event that these promises of the megacorps are insufficient, tools exist to add a user-level cryptographic layer to the floating data.

BoxCryptor

BoxCryptor is a product of a German company that encrypts files in online services like Dropbox.  Essentially, it creates a virtual drive, made up of the portion of the filesystem that is occupied by the Dropbox folder, and then encrypts the “whole disk.” The disadvantage to these services is that you are required to use the virtual drive for accessing the unencrypted files. In the case of BoxCryptor, it’s a Windows/Mac product, only, with apps for Android and iPhone.

Self-Sufficiency

One can’t escape the determined reach of a government arm.  That does not mean we can’t make it as damned difficult as possible to get a grip on us.  The various forms of media are full of yak from people talking up firearms as the answer to every problem.  A firearm will not keep government hands off your data.  A bit of self-sufficiency will. Everyone knows that the NSA has God-like powers, when turned loose upon an unsuspecting population.  But, a suspecting population can make these “data collection” operations expensive, and, eventually, unprofitable.


  1. An additional layer of anonymity is added by the fact that I can choose which VPN server will route my traffic. Today, I’m using a server in New Jersey. Tomorrow, I could route my traffic through a server in Arizona. 
  2. Much ink has been spilled over Microsoft’s apparent ability to read messages sent over its system; this, despite the fact that the service claims end-to-end encryption. The likely status is that your messages and voice traffic are safe from outside interference, but that Microsoft has built itself a back door. A back door is inherently insecure, since your data is now only as safe as Microsoft’s protection of the back door. I would not use Skype if I wanted to hide from a government agency with a 3-character abbreviation for a name. 
  3. “Guide to Full Disk Encryption with Ubuntu.” The Simple Computer. The Simple Computer, 28 June 2015. Web. 04 Sept. 2015. http://bit.ly/1XscjCP”…full disk encryption using Cryptsetup, dm_crypt and LUKS.” 
  4. Lee, Micah. “Microsoft Gives Details About Its Controversial Disk Encryption.” The Intercept. The Intercept, 4 June 2015. Web. 04 Sept. 2015. http://bit.ly/1hISx5p 
  5. “BestCrypt Volume Encryption.” Fixed & Removable Whole Hard Disk Encryption Software. Jetico, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2015. http://bit.ly/1Xs7w4o. 
  6. “Main Page.” DiskCryptor Wiki. N.p., 09 July 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2015. http://bit.ly/1Xs8CwX. DiskCryptor is an open encryption solution that offers encryption of all disk partitions, including the system partition. 

Double Jeopardy

Angry Black Man

Another big stink about black activism, this time about Farrakhan calling for 10,000 black men to search out and kill cops.

Here is the short transcription of the 2-minute clip circulating on the right wing web sites.

Ten thousand fearless men, who say, Death is sweeter than continued life under tyranny. Death is sweeter than to continue to live and bury our children, while the white folks give the killer a hamburger. Death is sweeter than watching us slaughter each other to the joy of a 400 year old enemy. … retaliation is prescribed in matters of the slain. Retaliation is a prescription from God to calm the breasts of those whose children have been slain. So if the federal government will not intercede in our affairs, then we must rise up and kill those who kill us. Stalk them and kill them and let them feel the pain of death that we are feeling. 1

The actual words are quite different from their portrayal in various media, social and otherwise. It’s clear, first of all, that his call for the “10,000 men” is rhetorical, and not a literal “call to arms.” And I have to say, nothing in the above paragraph, transcribed from his speech, offends me. He exactly nails the issue. The government at all levels continues to tut-tut and adjourn the meeting, as police officers around the country continue to kill blacks — not just “thugs,” but young children, middle class family men and women, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Additional irony can be found in the first sentence: Ten thousand fearless men, who say, Death is sweeter than continued life under tyranny. Don’t we hear this same clarion in the speeches of white supremacists and their various fellow travellers? Give me liberty, or give me death — bold and true, spoken by a white man; evil and terroristic, spoken by a black man.

Angry White Man

On the flip side, unremarked and unimportant to whites, is this terroristic rant by white supremacist, former prison guard Nathan Ener, recorded on home video and uploaded onto his Facebook page.

The whole rant is about six minutes long. One of the highlights is his warning to law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement, I’m talking to you now. When we get there — and we going to be there — step aside. Our fight is not with you — it’s for you.

Later, he picks up a shotgun, pumps the slide and promises:

The last fucking thing some of you sons of bitches will ever hear is that noise when we’re out there, when we come in your goddamn house.

Contrast Farrakhan’s powerful speech in defense of those who are being indiscriminately killed, with the intense hatred being expressed by Ener.

End Game

A takeaway from the video of Farrakhan’s speech was that the church was, by and large, filled with middle class blacks. These people who came to his speech were not “thugs,” hoodlums from the hood. They were men and women with a stake in America, who are fed up with the shilly-shallying of whites. As PE noted, “It takes a nation of millions to hold us back.” But that nation of millions is now on the brink of facing a second nation of millions, who are going to push back.

Wake up, American white man.

The Death Cult of American Individualism

The Cult

America was not founded on the cult of individualism. The Founders had no such notion of putting the individual above the common good. The guarantee of liberty was conceived as the way to enable citizens to fully and responsibly participate in the society.

Following the Civil War, the idea of the individual in society began to shift, until today, it has shifted 180°. In modern America, individual liberty has lost all mooring to social responsibility, becoming an end itself, rather than a means to an end. Social responsibility is no longer discussed in tandem with individual liberty.

One area seriously impacted by this shift is the ownership of firearms. Citizens at the time of the founding of the nation would be shocked to see that ownership of firearms carries with it no concomitant responsibility for safe usage. The modern gun owner argues that he should not be restricted by government from selling his weapon to whomever he pleases, whenever he pleases. And, this is a core axiom of NRA positioning on the sales of firearms.

Gun owners further argue that, if an individual commits a crime with a gun, the responsibility for that act rests solely with the individual, and no blame or culpability attaches to the individual who provided the weapon.1

Death

This question was actually raised by Socrates in Plato’s The Republic 2500 years ago. In The Republic, Socrates offers a scenario.

A man gives you his weapons for safekeeping. Some time later, he returns and asks for his weapons back, because he intends to murder someone with them. Do you return the weapons to him? They’re his weapons, and surely it is just for you to give him back his own weapons. On the other hand, says Socrates, surely it is not just for you to give him the weapons, when you know his intention is to commit murder. By giving the man the weapons in these circumstances, you are enabling injustice, a murder, to occur. 2

In modern America, the question is no longer a question. Of course, you are obligated to return the weapons to the man, because what he does with them afterwards is not your responsibility. The individual is solely responsible for his own actions. This theme of ultimate individual responsibility is woven into American society in many ways. It’s the justification for letting poor people go hungry, for leaving people homeless on the streets, for being indifferent to police officers’ brutalizing and murdering citizens, for allowing criminals and the mentally ill to purchase and own firearms.

Ultimate individual responsibility is how we justify economic inequality, school systems segregated by income class, racial profiling by police, discrimination in hiring, denial of voting rights. In each case, the individual is solely responsible for not putting himself into the situation, or for getting himself out of the situation, and fellow citizens have no role nor obligation in the matter.

This attitude of ultimate individual responsibility has no religious nor ethical foundation. The United States was founded by men educated in the philosophies of the Enlightenment, who would have been, and were, repelled by such antisocial ideas. No words of Christ can be found in the Bible to justify it. No words of the ancient philosophers can be found to justify it. It’s a philosophy and ideal that grew out of the peculiar and parochial American way of life that developed in the 19th Century.

One is forced to make accommodation to some elements of the nature of one’s society. After the school shooting in Newtown, CT, in 2014, which left 20 children dead — 20 seven and eight year-olds — a mighty flood of rhetoric was released about controlling the easy access to firearms in America. This flood filtered through the sieve of American conscience and drained away, with no impact. At some point afterward, I realized that no change was going to be made, in this case nor in any other, to Americans’ reckless indifference toward homicide with firearms.

So tightly woven into American culture is the notion of ultimate individual responsibility, now, that the idea of social responsibility is completely dead. Modern American life is conducted with the sense of social responsibility, the sense of personal responsibility, to be found in a drunk driver. Citizens desiring to change this pattern of life cut around the edges, occasionally pulling loose a thread or fraying a pattern. But such measures have no impact over the whole fabric, and people continue to live in misery, and die sudden and violent deaths.

The thing has arrived to such a height, that we are actually threatened with, becoming a nation of drunkards.

— Temperance pamphlet, Green and Delaware Moral Society, 1815 3

The moral drunkard who has become the epitome of American life feels no restraint upon his actions. We will continue in this manner for the foreseeable future.


  1. No blame or culpability attaches to the gun owner who does not secure his weapons, as a result of which they are stolen and used criminally. Many states now have Stand Your Ground laws, which indemnify an individual who shoots another person to death, no matter what the circumstances, as long as the shooter maintains he was “in fear for his life or safety.” 
  2. Plato. The Republic. Trans. Georg M. Grube. Ed. C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992. Print. 
  3. Rorabaugh, W. J. The Alcoholic Republic, an American Tradition. New York: Oxford UP, 1981. Print. 

Citizens and Liberty

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This is the text of what may be the most famous, or most popularly known, of the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.  Among a significant portion of American citizens, this amendment is considered the most important.  On it, the claim is made, all the others depend.  If you don’t have a “well armed” populace, you can’t protect liberty from overweening government. 1

This claim has no basis in history.  No original supporter of the Constitution endorsed this view — not at the time of its writing, nor at the time of its ratification, nor at the time of ratification of the first ten amendments, sometimes known as the Bill of Rights.  That does not in itself invalidate the claim.  Times change, as does our understanding of the Constitution and of our rights as citizens.

What invalidates the claim is its assumption that liberty can only be, or even finally be, defended with weapons.

Liberty is defended by citizens living free.  It is defended by citizens who refuse to yield.


History has some heroic defenders of liberty, some of whom are justly famous, many of whom are not.

  • Raoul Wallenberg, diplomat: Issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory saving tens of thousands of lives.
  • Oskar Schindler, businessman: saved over 1000 Polish Jews by employing them in his factories and warehouses and hiding their Jewish identities.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., minister: Marches, jail and magnificent speeches to inspire Americans to do what is right.
  • Rosa Parks, secretary, civil rights activist: Refused to give up her seat on segregated bus
  • March 7, 1965, protesters: “Bloody Sunday” marchers were beaten, gassed and jailed while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to register to vote.
  • March 9, 1965, protesters: “Turnaround Tuesday” march ended with the KKK beating to death a Unitarian minister from Boston.
  • Ron Kovic, Vietnam Vet, bronze star, purple heart, paraplegic, antiwar protester: “I had been beaten by the police and arrested twelve times for protesting the war and I had spent many nights in jail in my wheelchair. I had been called a Communist and a traitor, simply for trying to tell the truth about what had happened in that war, but I refused to be intimidated.”
  • Nancy Wake, journalist: Courier between Allies and French Resistance during WWII. Her husband, a businessman, was captured by the Gestapo. Although tortured, he refused to reveal her whereabouts and was executed.
  • Dietrich Boenhoffer, minister: German anti-Hitler pastor who took part in an assassination plot, imprisoned, tortured and hanged in 1945.
  • Freedom Riders, civil rights activists: May 1961, attempted to desegregate interstate bus travel, beaten and in one incident, locked inside a burning bus.

All these disparate incidents have one common element: citizens who refused to yield.  Citizens.  They did not wait for the guns to arrive, they did not want guns; they did not wait for the troops to arrive; they wanted liberty.  And liberty was “liberty for all,” for “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  By securing liberty for others, they secured it for themselves.  They understood that liberty is for those who take the risks, who act.  Liberty is not gained by killing those whom you find disagreeable nor even those who represent a real or imagined threat.

Violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.  Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

In vain, the RTKBA’er fantasizes that crushing a couch cushion and banging down pounders is all that he needs to do — because he has an arsenal of firearms in his basement.  All he has to do is kill that vague “someone” who “threatens to take away his guns.”  And send more money to Glenn Beck, who will tell him who needs killing.  In the meantime, he can catch the game on TV.

The notion of liberty amuses the people … When a butcher tells you that his heart bleeds for his country he has, in fact, no uneasy feeling.

— Samuel Johnson

The RTKBA’er already has agreed to warrantless and secret searches by the FBI.  He’s agreed to Federal agents infiltrating and spying on local political activist organizations.  He’s agreed to NSA listening posts in every telephone exchange CO.  He’s agreed that protesters must be kept blocks away from delicate, sensitive politicians and multimillionaire corporate CEOs who bribe them.  He’s agreed to militarized police squads, aka SWAT, that on a regular basis, break into the wrong homes and businesses, beating and even killing innocent citizens and inflicting millions of dollars of uncompensated property damage.  He’s agreed to let local, state and Federal prosecutors seize and dispose of citizens’ property before trial and often, even before charges.  He’s agreed to indefinite imprisonment without trial, even for American citizens.  He’s agreed to copyright laws that make it illegal for a shade-tree mechanic to fix the electronics on a car engine.  In fact, there’s hardly any aspect of real liberty that the RTKBA’er is not willing to part with, so long as he maintains ownership of his firearms, to kill that deadly “someone” who “threatens to take away his guns.”

Keep you doped with religion, and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free.
But you’re still fucking peasants,
As far as I can see.

— John Lennon

No liberty without sacrifice.  And by “sacrifice,” I mean being prepared to bear the brunt of unlawfully or immorally wielded state power: refusing to yield. Workers at lunch counters; marchers on the bridge to Montgomery; a man in a wheelchair leading a protest march; a female journalist carrying secret messages. These people didn’t get up in the morning and say to themselves, “I’m going to do something heroic today, I’m going to defend liberty.”  No, they just bore witness to injustice and refused to accept it, refused to yield.  Their actions came out of the moral imperative.

No sensible person is going to show up at a protest march armed with a semiautomatic rifle and engage in a firefight with police and National Guard troops.  But, you can join in and engage with your fellow citizens and put your own body on the line.  You may find yourself gassed, beaten, arrested.  For liberty.  No sensible person is going to pull out a gun and accost a group of police officers kicking and clubbing a suspect handcuffed and lying on the ground.  But, you can pull out your phone and start photographing — you may find yourself arrested, beaten, your phone confiscated.  In extreme cases, citizens have lost their jobs.  But congratulations.  You’ve taken on the responsibility of a free citizen.  You refused to yield.


  1. Originally published 19 May 2013 on my Spankenheimer Meister blog. Formatting changes have been made, and minor grammatical edits. 

A Cop’s Life

I can unabashedly admit, much about a police officer’s life is unappealing. The pay is not great.  It’s shift work. It can comprise long stretches of mind-crushing boredom.  Paperwork. Close proximity to assholes.  And, constantly under pressure to conform to a “code of silence” about corruption, malfeasance, and illegal activities. Reporting a fellow officer for such behavior is “ratting,” and will get you shunned, and probably fired.

Oh, yeah, and sometimes, there’s even physical danger.

We get the police force for which we are willing to pay.  In most places I’ve lived, I could make more money driving a forklift than I could driving a squad car.  Nationally, the median annual earnings for a police officer is $45,000.  Does that make sense? Really?

I want police officers that are disciplined. Of course, I want them well trained in their use of force; emptying a clip at a fleeing suspect (or one lying on the ground at your feet) is just right out. But, I want them disciplined — able to maintain control of ambiguous situations and make rational judgements about their courses of action. If a cop is firing 15 rounds in order to hit the guy once, she has more than a problem with her aim.  A cop who is emptying his pistol’s clip at a fleeing suspect is a cop who has lost control of the situation.

I don’t accept that the present crews are completely incapable of such discipline. But, the officers aren’t getting the training they need. Proper training can and will cull the outright incompetents. That’s a start. But, you are not going to have a sufficient pool of applicants, if you’re asking them to work for Burger King wages.

The problem for police departments is that the have to fill seats. Getting hired as a police officer follows a cycle. The best and brightest can work where they want to work, and are most likely hired by the departments with the best salaries, working conditions, and benefits. The remaining members of the pool ripple out from there, finding positions that match lesser abilities with lower salary, &c.  Officers who are fired from one department can usually be found working at another, a short time later. Thus, it’s no good simply “going after racist/corrupt/brutal cops,” because it’s whack-a-mole. When that racist cop gets fired in Dallas, he’ll soon be found working at McKinney. There’s always some police department, somewhere, with an empty chair that needs filling.  And, that means that police officer selection processes gravitate toward the LCD, seeking to get as many applicants as possible through the exit chute, rather than seeking to cull as many applicants as possible.

Police departments face a situation similar to that faced by many school districts. Again, the best and brightest teachers can pick their spots. The rest filter down through the system, gradually coming to rest at something approaching their level of least incompetence.

Police officers and teachers are two groups of citizens whose careers are boxed by taxpayers accustomed to buying the cheapest products possible.  When you go cheap on a teacher, children are neglected. When you go cheap on a police officer, people die.

Hot Lumps

In the beginning, there were hot lumps.  Cold and lonely, they whirled noiselessly through the black holes of space.

Then, they evolved into the NSA, and no longer were they lonely, because they could listen into everybody’s conversations!