My Very Long Week at Church

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump

I have a confession. I get it. I watched most all of the GOP Convention this week, and I think I understand the appeal of the message. These people don’t want to elect a President, they are voting for their savior.

I’ve come to understand there’s an almost religious theme to Trump. And this may be behind his somewhat inexplicable appeal to Evangelicals. On the Christian fringe, the religion is not so much about lifestyle, conduct, or even community. It’s about a man. Have you found Jesus and accepted him as your savior? He will make everything okay. You don’t need to know His plan. In fact, you can’t know His plan–it’s beyond you. Just rest in His arms and have faith that He will save you from the evils of the world.

This is essentially Trump’s message. He will save you. You don’t need to know how, just have faith. Know that Trump is powerful and will set everything right. Trump will smite your enemies. In his kingdom your family will prosper under his protection, but only if you are one of the flock.

In many ways the #RNCinCLE had far more of the trappings of a religious revival than a political convention. There was little to no policy discussion. Instead, the evils and sins of the mortal world we live in were enumerated and cataloged. Satan was trotted out frequently. We were warned against believing her lies, and there were frequent calls to cast her out. The future was painted in unspecific themes of freedom, prosperity, self-determination, justice, and safety. The broad themes inherently invited everyone to impress some level of personal desire onto them. But the path to them, the path to realize your desires, was through one man. Do you have faith in him? Do you believe? The Trump welcomes everyone, and wants us to be one, but only if we are believers. Heretics and dissidents will be punished.

I rather doubt most Trumpians have made this connection. I don’t think they are aware of the religious subtexts to Trump’s rise and their support for it. Rather, the campaign is plucking the same religious strings their pastors do, and it is resonating with the faithful in a compelling, albeit unconscious, way. But make no mistake, Trump would be more than happy to be elected God.


Conservatives Evolutionists vs Progressive Intelligent Designers

TLS-ColbertSmall “c” conservatives are, by definition, ideologically committed to preventing or slowing the rate of change. The essential premise is that things are better the way they are, or maybe even the way they were, but definitely not the way they are going. Bill O’Reilly asserted the futility of this last night on The Late Show when saying to Stephen Colbert that conservatives believe they are losing the culture war to progressives. In response, Colbert noted that conservatism is always a losing battle because the culture always changes.

In a similar vein, Vox’s Matt Yglesias penned an interesting article about small conservative communities desperate to preserve the status quo. They are often resistant to new industry and new development coming to town for fear of what outside elements might come along with it. He noted the brutal truth that change was going to happen to these towns either way. By resisting the influx of outside influences, they were instead suffering the withering death of attrition as their young people went off to college and never came home.

In both cases, the conservative path is to ultimately have change thrust upon them by outside forces they don’t control and didn’t influence. In this way, conservatives are embracing a sort of cultural evolution. After all, in the natural world, evolution is simply the change induced by random events. It’s not directed. It’s not controlled. It’s not inherently good or bad. It just happens.

In contrast, small “p” progressives not only accept that change will happen, they advocate for it. They try to control and direct it. This doesn’t mean all progressive changes are good, but it at least means they were thought out and intended. They are open for debate, refinement, and improvement. Ironically, this puts progressives in the position of advocating for cultural intelligent design.

Go figure…


…recently on Facebook

It finally all makes sense to me. ...

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It's worth noting that lots of people heard exactly what they wanted to hear last night. This is frightening at several different levels. Still, it's important to recognize that this world-view is not only out there, but fairly prevalent.
"Trump lived up to tonight's theme, "Make America One Again," laying out by subject, one after the other, the problems we face, what needs to be done and how he will get it done."
...

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If you are scared shitless, bad at math, and have no access to The Google then Trump is your candidate. #RNCinCLE Otherwise, WTF? ...

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This should be a non-event. It was a relatively banal passage in a fine but otherwise uninteresting speech delivered by the spouse of the nominee, who frankly should not have to even have to perform this ritual. The campaign could take responsibility, blame this on a staffer, and promise they will spend the rest of the day ironing their hands. This would be out of the news cycle by noon. Instead, Trump and Manafort will double-down, deny this, lash out against their unfair treatment by the media, and keep this as the dominant story, potentially overshadowing their own convention. ...

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Why the FBI vs. Apple Matters

iphone-6s-tear-downTo most Americans, Apple’s refusal to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone seems an untenable position. After all, Farook is a known terrorist who committed a horrific crime. That a legal warrant should be issued to search his every sock drawer and hard drive to uncover links to other terrorists or plots is patently obvious. Clearly Apple should just give the FBI what they want. So why is Apple balking? And why does most of the tech community side with them?

The facts are a bit confusing to those outside the tech community. The average American doesn’t (and probably doesn’t want to) understand the intricacies of data encryption and security. With that in mind, I’m going to try to make a more real-world analogy that everyone can relate to, but still illustrates the problem at hand. To do that, let’s assume that this is the 1960s. “Ivan” has just committed an act of terror in the name of the USSR. He was killed in the event, but police suspect he may have had microfilmed plans and lists of other Soviet agents inside the US.

The FBI discovers Ivan has a safety deposit box at the local bank. They go to the court and get a warrant, present it to the bank, and the bank manager opens the box inside the vault and surrenders the contents inside to the authorities.

This situation is similar to requests Apple has responded to many times before. It is a request for something Apple has possession of (e.g. iMessage conversations on its servers) which are turned over willingly with the proper legal authorization. This is how most people seem to be thinking of the Farook iPhone case, but it is not similar to the current case at all.  For that, let’s move on to the next scenario.

Police then discover that Ivan has an ACME Self Destructing Safe in his basement. The feds know this safe is equipped with an acid release failsafe inside the unit such that if the wrong combination is tried too many times or they attempt to force open the safe, the acid is released and all contents of the safe are destroyed.

The FBI then goes to the ACME company and asks them to open the safe. But ACME explains that even they don’t have the combination. Only Ivan did, and he’s gone. ACME doesn’t own the safe or any of its contents. It just designed and built it. Then the FBI comes back to ACME with a new plan and a court order to make ACME implement it. They want ACME to build them a device that can neutralize the acid failsafe so that the police can then just crack the safe.

However, ACME is aware that this acid neutralizing device will actually work on any of their safes, not just Ivan’s. Further, they know their safes are the bane of the FBI, and that police have hundreds of these legally confiscated safes from other crimes stored in evidence lockers across the country. The FBI would love to open them all.

ACME is worried that eventually one of the neutralizing devices or the plans for one will get out in the public or on the black market, and once that horse is out of the barn, there’s no putting it back. They realize that what the FBI is asking them to do is effectively remove the acid failsafe as a security feature from everyone’s safe, not just Ivan’s. This compromises the safety of ACME’s many legitimate customers who have trusted them to secure their belongings.

Further, the security industry as a whole is worried that if ACME yields, it sets the precedent that no one can build and sell uncrackable safes or unbreakable locks. Every security system must be penetrable by the police without the owner’s cooperation. But such a built in weakness is also exploitable for nefarious purposes, both by corrupt government agents as well as theives and spies.

This is the situation Apple finds itself in with the locked iPhone. Once it builds the crack tool, there is no reality under which it would be used just once and destroyed. Even if that tool was safely destroyed, the FBI would be back next week with another warrant for another iPhone, and they would be forced to build it again. Eventually, it becomes impractical to destroy and rebuild the tool each time, so the issue becomes about controlling access to the tool.

Therein lies the weakness. In a world where horses don’t exist, no one has to worry about watching the barn door. But once you create a horse, then the door becomes a liability. And because horses are useful, eventually you have multiples… then multiple barns… and multiple doors. It’s only a matter of time before one gets loose. After all, no security system is perfect.


Bern’in for Hillary

DemDebateLast night’s Democratic candidate debate was far and away the most debate-y event held to date on either side. It was substantive and informative while remaining cordial and not devolving into an ad-hominem slug-fest. Moreover, it drew a delightfully bright line between Clinton and Sanders that even the candidates don’t disagree with.

Bernie Sanders is the ideological heir to Obama’s 2008 candidacy. He’s inspirational. He’s all about hope and dreams of a better tomorrow. His vision is transformational.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is practical, prepared, and ready to get down to business. She’s all about the art of the possible. She is the heir to Obama’s Presidency.

Obama campaigned as a visionary. But when faced with the realities of Washington and the lack of a similarly visioned Congress, he pivoted to governing as a moderate. He focused on figuring out what bits he could get done. His vision remained intact, but his aspirations were tempered with reality. Most importantly, rather than wallowing in the disillusion of his inability to transform Washington, he opted for tactical, directional, and practicable progress.

While I like much of Sanders’ vision, his ability to execute on it is, by his own admission, predicated on the political revolution he’s trying to foment. He may well rally a swell of people behind him, but there is no complementary group of Democratic Socialist Senate and House candidates running who could sweep in with him to affect the transformation he envisions. He’s a one man show. And Sanders’ career indicates he’s a determined ideologue. He’s unlikely to compromise his dream and pivot to practical matters. I fear that at best, he spends four years inspiring future Congressional candidates who would be elected in 2018 or 2020. But by then, the Bern Legacy will have worn off. His accomplishments will be non-existent. His movement will be considered a failure. And we’ll move on to something else. After all, Americans are not known for their patience and willingness to endure a long slow slog toward an aspirational goal. “Squirrel.”

OTOH, Hillary. She’s competent, capable, and better vetted than possibly any other candidate in history. But she’s not exciting. She’s frankly not even too likable. Sure, she’ll keep the lights on. She’ll get done what needs doing. Yet she’s unlikely to take us anywhere too far off our current trajectory. She’s like our safety candidate.

And then there’s the practical matter of the general election. Sanders is likely to draw more people to the polls, which helps the Democrats up and down the ticket. Will people come out to vote for Clinton? Probably not. About the only thing she truly inspires is enmity from the right.

In many ways, Hillary and Bernie are like Obama was a victim of some Star Trek transporter malfunction that split Barack into Candidate Obama and President Obama. And in many ways, what I pine for is Scotty to make an 11th hour appearance and put Clinton and Sanders back together again. That’s a candidate I could get behind.