Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bad Apple

Ramblings Post #311
Sometimes the world, or God, or the deity of your choice depending on where you are reading this, sends you a message. Maybe it's the same song playing over and over again randomly as you go through your day. It could be the way the wind blows, or running into just that right person at just that right moment. Or it could be the day you tell the government you don't have to help them, they respond by telling they got it done without you. God has a sense of humor. Or the deity of your choice, depending on where you are reading this. 

Last month, the evil and over reaching US government got a crazy judge to conjure up court order to have our heroes at Apple assist in trying to investigate what was either a terrorist attack or a brutal mass shooting. They requested that the company help them access the encrypted data on one of their premier products - the iPhone. Apple balked, calling the request an order to create a backdoor into their device, wrapping itself in the flag and screaming give me liberty or free wifi...or something like that. That's like a fair explanation of it right?

Okay, maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but I thought then and I still think now that Apple could have chosen a better place to stand to make it's case for personal encryption in the face of government intrusion. All those cases in New York involving crimes where neither party is completely clean? One of them maybe? No? In any case, after cloaking themselves in the concept that we should be able to live free from government intrusion (although properly warranted) the one thing that Apple didn't want to happen went ahead and happened - the government was able to access the phone without them.

Using an unknown, third party group. 

So now Apple has another problem. The issue they were trying to avoid was the creation of a method of access that circumvented their security features, a necessary feature which they claim was vital to protecting YOUR information. And to prove it, the company appeared to be going out of it's way to do so. It was a good, if not great PR stance for a luxury brand. Now, they know their phone and its vaunted encryption system has a hole in it, but now they don't know where that hole is. And everybody else knows it. This would the opposite of a great, or maybe just good, PR move.

Had Apple cooperated, they could have created a "hole"for the government to use and then fixed it, with the message being now not even we can get into the next generation. This would have maintained the illusion Apple has of always being one step ahead. Okay, I don't believe that, but the Apple fan boys do. And that is their bread and butter. Instead, they're now have to ask the very people they refused to help to help them fix their own product.

How much money is Apple hiding offshore to avoid having to pay taxes on it?


And while the unsettled privacy issue caused by advances in technology remains unanswered for now, and hopefully will end up attached to something much more mundane, it's kind of funny. I can almost hear it in my head. A government agent with a deep Southern drawl explaining their position on telling them how they cracked the phone. "Sounds to me like you fellas have a bit of ah, what you call it, encryption problem. Yep, to bad the U.S. government would completely wrong to help you out, I mean proprietary systems and all that. Government top secrets. That kinda thing. Can't have Apple talking about closing back doors."

Barkeep. An apple martini. Did you know I used to make these?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hammer. Nail.

This is a political post.

The idea that we are at odds with a faceless, stateless enemy had been slowly ebbing over the past year, as the time between incidents grew and other world issues bubbled to the surface. But after the horrific events of Brussels and Lahore, four actions in eight days total, the ugly specter of modern war has reasserted itself. And we have reacted again in the most typical, most predictable of fashions: Our problem is that when all you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, and  America possesses the most powerful "hammer" the world has ever seen. As such to threats to our safety we predictably react by suggesting we put boots on the ground, or some other euphemism for putting young men in harm's way on purpose. You can almost hear the crowd chanting in a fervor. And it is a sound theory when you can have the war "over there," minimizing your own collateral damages. It also helps if your enemy isn't prepared or actually expects to die for his cause. But here, in the modern world, the war is wherever the "enemy" wants it to be, and the enemy intends to die. This isn't tactics and movements as we've known it, this is Guerilla warfare, the last act of the desperate, scaled up to the digital age.

War is no longer tanks and infantry, but selected strikes and strategic actions designed to provoke specific political reactions. And combating it is now more investigation, policing and spycraft than bullets, artillery and warships. We wish it all still that simple. But as we enter this new century, our vision of war has to change. We can't fight modern wars using outdated tactics lest we entertain the prospect of girding ourselves into tyranny. And yet this tyranny, this tearing apart of our basic values is our knee jerk response. 

So what do we do? Our enemies no longer wear uniforms clearly delineating this is one, they walk among the innocent, both here and abroad. So what can we do? While we wage this  modern war, using modern tools, we also have to attack this movement at its source. We have to metaphorically cut its supply lines. We can no longer merely treat the symptoms, we have to cure the underlying disease. And the disease is NOT Islam, or just anti-American sentiment, but partially if not in large part due to the same issue that causes so many ills of the world, and is the cause of this conflict as well: Poverty. As much as we don't want to admit it, a great deal of modern war is the result of our economics.

 I realize I'm not a scholar, and there has been some disagreement on the subject, but in the interviews I've read with terrorists, aside from that known small core of fanatics who truly believe a the particular vision, the majority of those who join organizations that use terror join those groups for the most basic of reasons: money. With rationales ranging from long periods of unemployment, lack of prospects, boredom to simply feeding their families, these don't always start as stalwart soldiers, but as desperate men. And in a war of suicide bombers, the way to wreck their supply lines are cut off the incentive for people to willingly join. Addressing those strict adherents is another matter, but you have to whittle down the enemy to win. 

For starters, I might suggest a comprehensive economic reform program, within the bounds of the tenets of the prevailing religion, need to introduced into those area rife with potential for the incubation of terror organization recruiting. And when I say comprehensive, I mean one that addresses corruption, nepotism, and injustice as well as providing opportunity.  I realize it's counter intuitive, that the idea might be read as providing them with the tools they need to cause us more injury. But in reality, the introduction of jobs, of work and the ability to feel the value of earning, should take away from the recruiting efforts. This is not to espouse the idea that capitalism is the answer, but a mix of capitalism and socialism, along with a sponsored program of moderation to mix with the radical ideas would help alleviate the pressure. The weird part is, this isn't exactly a new idea, but like a lot of things, I believe we're just not executing it properly. In some ways we're undercutting our efforts by trying to fight the modern war with conventional tactics, like drones and bombs.

Is this a fix all? No. In the complex world we live in, nothing is simple. This is just a starting point. A certain amount of hubris on the part of Americans also has to be worked through. But that's a point for another post. But as people have long said, you can't wait until it's perfect to get started, you have to start somewhere. And here is as good as any.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I got a bad feeling about this...

Ramblings Post #311
I miss my youth. When I used to watch movies and just enjoy the story, or in some cases, the special effects because the story sucked, or yelling at the screen because yes, I was one those people. Now, when I watch a movie I'm concerned with representation, stereotypes, cultural slights, and how I would have done it. All that and the popcorn is like $12. Which may explain why I don't go to the movies like I used anymore. Well, there are other reasons too, but all that right there.

Ghostbusters Classic
I watched the Ghostbusters trailer, and... it wasn't funny.

Or, maybe I'm just not getting the jokes.

As I've written before, I was skeptical about this whole project from the start, but since I think Melissa McCartney and Kristen Wiig are funny, I was willing to give it shot. Said offer of said shot has since been rescinded. Maybe it hurt that the film trailer makes it sound like a sequel, while the actions on the screen make it feel like a remake. Or that right this moment it looks like the people behind it didn't understand the original movie. Or that I heard that the original actors making cameos had them shot as both the original characters AND as random strangers. Which means they don't know what film they were making or marketing. That does not bode well.

And I said explicitly that really hoped the Black woman character wouldn't be for all intents and purposes a "Wanda Zedmore." By that I meant the fourth wheel addition of the non-scientist character. In the original, the black character is just a guy who from his first line of dialogue clearly indicates he's in it for the pay, but he isn't portrayed with any of the stereotypical attributes one might expect. He's just a guy.  He contributes, he has a few good lines... it's almost an every-man character.  Well, the black female isn't Wanda Zedmore, as then she would have had more dignity. This character is a blatant Hollywood stereotype, the classic loud black female "with a dip of sass" comedy character that I really thought we were past since shows like Black-ish exist now. In the trailer alone she hits the Stereotype Trifecta- "from the streets," Cadillac, and Jesus. To say that character just looks bad is an understatement. Shouldn't the idea of good roles for women extend to women of all races? Why couldn't she be a scientist and one of the other characters have been the NY native?

Or maybe, maybe it's just that I'm missing the jokes. That "hat or wig" snippet was just...odd, and the few other attempts at comedy I saw seemed forced. But it is truly possible the jokes weren't meant for me. I've watched comics who were women do routines that had half the audience rolling on the floor - the female half.  There are jokes that men find funny, and jokes that women find funny. It happens. Or New Yorkers find funny but no one else. Or Jewish people find funny and no one else. So the idea that I'm not getting the jokes as a very real possibility.  But, and this is a very large but, if you're making a film, based upon the idea of appealing to the nostalgia of its original, mostly male audience, to ensure its financial viability, while also trying to bring in a new female demographic to assure its profits, shouldn't the humor be more universal? At least in the trailer?

Or is the idea that this New Ghostbusters, which apparently has made a point of showing women on both sides of the camera, just not intended for men? Do women turn out for sci-fi comedy? Bad sci-fi comdey? Considering the the standing ethos of the Modern School of Thought on Trailer Editing, the idea that the film has better jokes so you really have to go see it is a bit far fetched. Women deserve their own good film roles and lead opportunities, but um, what happens if the comedy isn't funny? And in today's political environment, how sexist will I be for having that opinion?

Barkeep. I need a MAN drink. So make it pretty, and fruity, and with one of them little umbrellas. And put some powdered sugar on the rim.