You cannot read the stars and live

You cannot read the stars and live.
You cannot comprehend their mysteries, you are consumed in the process
You are burnt up.
And below them,
Eyes transfixed skyward, regarding,
is a stranger,
A thief of your memories
Standing in your place and on your ashes.

Next Time, Pay Attention.

When the extra-judicial harassment of drug addicts began, in the 80s, or even back in the 60s, no one cared. “Ew, they’re drug addicts.”

We filled our prisons with young blacks and latinos destroyed by the drug trade, sent our Vietnam vets there, our crack addicts and tweekers. We got used to not caring about them. We hired police and taught them it didn’t matter what they did to those people and their communities.

When the extra-judicial harassment of Arabs began, in the 90s and then many times worse after 9/11, it was, we said, to be expected. “Well, they’re Arabs.”

On a few occasions, I stood outside in a protest of Arab registration in America where a still unknown number of men went into DHS offices, and never came home. We all watched the surveillance and intimidation of Muslim and Arab communities in America, the UK and Europe and said to those governments, it’s ok, because those communities have extremists.

Now the extra-judicial harassment of journalists has begun. And a bunch of folks are saying “How could this happen?”

You’ve been letting it happen and grow for 50 years. Congratulations on noticing. Now do something about it, because you’re next.

 

An Open Reply to Zooko and Jon

Dear LeastAuthority and Silent Circle (aka Zooko and Jon),

I too know and like you both! I too admire your work, have tremendous confidence in your abilities, and it’s been amazing to watch your efforts, both sophisticated and useful, grow over time. I want to be customers of you both when I am less broke. Personally, I enjoy talking and hanging and hiking and all manner of things with you! (Zooko I really must go back to the mountains with you one day) That was a very sweet and erudite discussion of the problems of verifiability and technical trust and Open Source and Descartes and Godel. Seriously, I could totally have that talk with both of you while sipping nice port out of little crystal glasses.

But no one is going to attack the customers of either Silent Circle or Tahoe-LAFS by compelling you to deliver a malicious update. If they want to do it the hard way, they’re going to use an iTunes update or a Skype update or just attach a filed called interesting-shit.jpg.exe to a forged email to your customers. If they want to or can attack your customers the easy way, your customers will end up under fluorescent lighting in an airless room surround by buzzcuts with toothy rictus smiles. Your customers will have the distinct sense that while they’d like to see your customer’s computer/phone or else, they’re cool with or else for a while if your customers want to play that way.

The first way is of course stealthier, which is the real reason they go after hosted services, because that’s a stealthy way of monitoring communications, and gets you a historical record. (Which is also why I’m all like “No encrypted email! Encrypted email baaaad!” all the time.)

But if they’re going to own the endpoint, there’s no point in interfering with your two companies who are loud and skittish and likely to pull a “Ladar”.

They could own the end point any number of ways with off-the-shelf shit, and go home early for the weekend. If they really want to do bulk collection they’ll just send a malicious update of Angry Birds.

Seriously, attacking a target through your apps would be stupid and likely to get out. So they’re not going to. They’re going to use the vast number of easy weaponized apps built on top of the thriving 0day market to scoop not only every bit your targeted customers send you, but everyone else too. And it’s great! They won’t ever get caught for this. I don’t even have to provide links and evidence for what I’m saying because we all, everyone who works vaguely in this field, already know this.* But this is not just your customer’s problem, it’s your problem, too.

This all brings me to my point in my normally circuitous way. And Jon, you made this point in part, but for me, not nearly hard enough. These debates on crypto and code verification are actively beginning to annoy me, because malware/phishing is fucking terrible and the real fucking problem and everyone is ignoring it. I don’t mean you in particular are annoying me, but in general this tendency is. I worry watching two people as respected as you do this continues to distract people from our terrible problem. It’s like watching a couple gentlemen have a lengthy and erudite discussion on the merits of the front door’s lock while the back of the building is actually on fire.

I really do appreciate discussions of verifiability on an intellectual level. If I wasn’t also that kind of dork I would never have made it through the majority of my life hanging out with you people. I can sit around with friends trying to figure out when the halting problem comes into play in game situations. I teach writing with Shannon’s information theory in mind. I understand the dopamine rush of a *solution*. But we don’t have that luxury anymore, because everything and everyone is getting owned like crazy.

The answers to the malware problem are probably not verification. They are probably many answers, messy answers, and not always provable or even always effective. I think that’s why we don’t like them, because they aren’t elegant. And because we like to imagine malware can’t happen to us. It happens to people who don’t know better and live far away, but are also much more likely than us to do the kind of work that gets targeted by hostile actors.

I don’t mean to over-focus on you, because you guys aren’t close to the worst on this. We need to fix the industry’s incredibly broken threat model, because malware is everyone’s problem. You’re trying to protect your users’ data, period. Not just when it’s in your little mathematical garden, but before it gets there an after it leaves, because otherwise your mathematical garden is irrelevant to the real world. This problem is, for our kind, much harder than proving Godel wrong, because it’s tractable but huge and it’s messy and it will never, ever, ever feel right.

If we don’t start focusing some of our attention on malware, crypto is going to be irrelevant in yet another way.

Regards,
Quinn

 

* People who are not the people this is addressed to who would never make this mistake anyway, don’t even talk to me about AV. I mean, don’t even.

The Bit I Liked Most

As Ada took me back through the Lord of the Rings.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Such times as these. Transition times, when new things are trying to not be crushed by old. Times like those that Paine said try men’s souls. Times when you can finally understand how people can see the round ups coming, and choose to stand. Drought times of soul and spirit.

Me, Aaron, and What I Said to MIT

MIT came out with its report on Aaron’s case and his death. I was interviewed by Hal Abelson and the lawyer assisting him May 3rd of this year. It was a difficult interview. I talked about what it was like being investigated along with Aaron. I told them how Aaron saw MIT, why he did what he did there, and what his relationship with data was. I told them things I had come to understand over years of knowing, loving, and living with him. This, for reasons both valid and not, vanished from the final report.

I, like many of the people close to him, wasn’t satisfied with the report. I didn’t appear in the final report beyond confirming factual details. However, I recorded my side of the interview. I share that with you here, and I will expand on it as I find the time.

The blank bits are were I have omitted personal information.

Advice to be Unheeded

e22The best thing our government could do for itself is this: offer Snowden a plea deal as sweet as he could get. Two felonies, 18 months in Club Fed, call it good and let him go. The only chance America has to minimize the political impact of Snowden’s releases would be if the DOJ could get him to say “I’m guilty” and fade into obscurity after just enough time for people to forget him.

To lose him altogether is to make him a legend, but to capture him and prosecute him is to make him a legend and a martyr. People want to be legends. They want to be cried over, remembered with awe and respect, to be written into history… young, computer savvy people especially. But this urge isn’t new. The medieval church had no shortage of heretics to burn, not because word didn’t get out, but because it did. Human yearn to have meaningful lives and glorious deaths, if they didn’t, why would they enlist in institutions like the US Military? Through hunt and persecution the US is offering Snowden a life of glory and praise and an honorable persecution and death. By the very principles it goes on about to recruit young people, high-minded people, it offers Snowden the most praiseworthy of lives.

You may say, but Ed Snowden didn’t do this for glory. He didn’t think himself a legend, a figure of history. To which I say sure, that’s probably true at this point. But I’m talking about the next 20 Snowdens. Each one will be more elaborate than the last, each learning from the others, until they do more than dump secrets. They will evolve as they learn to look for more glory in the cruelty of the US Government. They always have.

On Dignity

me-bonesI have so many things to say they jam up my brain sometimes. I have even more I want to learn, and then pass on. I have so many things to care about. In July my health insurance is getting cut off. I have looked through my options and concluded that for now, I have none. I make very little money, as a result, I haven’t had a place to live since 2009. It is too little to afford insurance (& I suspect next year I will have to start paying penalties for that fact). But at about 20-25k a year and no address, there is no assistance for me.

I could give up my career and look for a job, but there’s no jobs, and I don’t handle offices well. And frankly, I like my career. It doesn’t pay much, but I believe what I do is important and not many people can or will do it. We spend a lot of time equating financial success with meaningful work, and both with deserving healthcare, but I think all of that is bullshit, and I won’t live my life that way.

No; giving up being me is not an option. I am not a shiftless and lost person. I am busy, and involved and I live with tremendous purpose and hope. But I live in a society that does not value me. That doesn’t mean I don’t, though.

I’m 40 now. In many ways it feels like the beginning. I have tons of energy, I know my life’s work. It’s not easy, and I don’t know if I can get all the things I need to done, but it’s coming together. It was a hard fucking road here. Strange and hard beyond what most people imagine a life can be. For getting here, I’m grateful. This is also a time when the body changes, when medical considerations change. I’ll do the health things that make sense to do without insurance, I still love and value my life and want all of it I can get. But I’m not bothering with a mammogram. What could I do about it anyway? I’d rather put my time and energy into my work, what time my society will leave me. Because I live in a society that has decided people like me should die if they get ill.

But I still have choice in how that happens. If I get a lump in my breast or a hole in my heart or gut, I’m not going to spend my precious remaining time begging for help from the public or indifferent bureaucracies, while I get weaker and drown in pain. I watched people beg for scraps from an America that doesn’t care about them. You may have chosen that I will die, America, but I don’t have to be polite about it.

When the time comes that I am out of options and facing illness, I intend to dictate and write the final notes on I can on my work, and then take my own life before disease and indifference do. I would go out of this world the same way I came in — screaming and strong.

Fuck dying quietly.

A few of my favorite ledes

In no particular order, and purposely without origin, I give you a collection of the beginnings of stories I have found compelling and masterful. (Please feel free to add any I should have here in comments.) Enjoy!

Gary Robinson died hungry.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god.

Sirhan S. Sirhan is nuts, nuts, nuts.

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Bad things happen to the husbands of Widow Elkin.

Depression is the flaw in love.

This isn’t at all what I expected. In 1985, by some sort of journalistic accident, I was sent to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine to look for an almost extinct form of lemur called the aye-aye. None of the three of us had met before. I had never met Mark, Mark had never met me, and no one, apparently, had seen an aye-aye in years.

It is with no small amount of trepidation that I take my place behind this desk, and face this learned audience.

All children, except one, grow up.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

It was a dark and stormy night.

All this happened, more or less.

The poles of the earth have wandered. The equator has apparently moved. The continents, perched on their plates, are thought to have been carried so very far and to be going in so many directions that it seems an act of almost pure hubris to assert that some landmark of our world is fixed at 73 degrees 57 minutes and 53 seconds west longitude and 40 degrees 51 minutes and 14 seconds north latitude- a temporary description, at any rate, as if for a boat on the sea.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

The University of Toledo gave President Frank Horton a pay increase yesterday. It was his first raise in nearly a month.

‘They hit a little girl,’ and in his muscular black arms the first specialist carried out a seven-year-old, long black hair and little earrings, staring eyes — eyes, her eyes are what froze themselves onto M’s memory, it seemed there was no white to those eyes, nothing but black ellipses like black goldfish. The child’s nose was bleeding — there was a hole in the back of her skull.

Snow, followed by small boys on sleds.

Kazbek Misikov stared at the bomb hanging above his family. It was a simple device, a plastic bucket packed with explosive paste, nails, and small metal balls. It weighed perhaps eight pounds. The existence of this bomb had become a central focus of his life. If it exploded, Kazbek knew, it would blast shrapnel into the heads of his wife and two sons, and into him as well, killing them all.

Let’s talk about tattoos.

Ella had to find out what had attacked her, and she wasn’t the only one.

The imperfect man pitched the perfect game.

Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.

If on the morrow we should lose to the Germans at our national game, fret not, lads, for twice in this century we have beaten them at theirs.

If you could stop rubbing your itchy, watery eyes for one second, put down the tissue and look around, you’d see an increasing number of sneezing, sniffling sad sacks just like you.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

At 12:30, my husband and I were having a pleasant lunch in a restaurant. At 1:30, we were back home, sitting at the kitchen counter planning a trip to Vienna and Budapest with cherished friends. At 2:30, I was walking out of the hospital emergency room in shock, a widow, my life changed forever, beyond comprehension.

Floridians are going to have to start pulling up their pants and stop having sex with animals soon.

President Clinton returned today for a sentimental journey to the university where he didn’t inhale, didn’t get drafted and didn’t get a degree.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something.

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

Placing the SCUM Manifesto in Historical Context

solanas-socratesMuch has come up lately about the Valerie Solanas’ 1967 radical feminist essay, the SCUM Manifesto. It’s a remarkable read, uncompromising, utopian, and like all good writing, unashamed of being what it is. It is an important piece of writing, and should take its place with the study of literature and ideas. Solanas stands with Pythagoras, Socrates, TS Eliot, and Kant among countless others who put forward theories about the role, origin, and best eventual outcome regarding other members of their societies.

What makes it a good commentary is that it has the feel of many true things in it. But I would ascribe them to what is more commonly called the Patriarchy these days than to the specific genetic condition of maleness, and so for me, that is what makes it not a correct commentary.

I also find the SCUM Manifesto overly utopian, and I am profoundly suspicious of utopias. Like all visions of enforced human improvement, SCUM promulgates a singular vision of human nature, and fails to see more than a binary among womankind. We are not Solanas’ perfect and groovy creatures. If men did not exist, I believe we would have invented them. Ultimately, Solanas’ Manifesto falls to its own assertions. As the superior and only “whole” members of the species, the responsibility for men’s behavior ultimately has to fall on us, like bad tenders of a garden, who let men grow out of control in the first place.

What makes the SCUM Manifesto brilliant isn’t its originality, but its total derivativeness. It echoes countless other manifestos, analyses, philosophical tracts, medical text books, theological arguments, and so on — but from high status men. Many of these men are still regarded with near worship today, like Freud and Kipling. SCUM bears the impression of Charles Dickens, and St Thomas Aquinas. It has more than passing similarities to the ideas of Confucius and the holy texts of the Hindu faith.

It’s just that it’s pointed up the power chain, instead of down. These ideas about inferiority, genetic, intellectual, and spiritual, aren’t new. They’ve been used as justifications to deny meaningful lives to women and low status men by the billions for centuries. I want to point that out again: billions of people for thousands of years.

I’m not going to say Valerie Solanas wasn’t nuts. She clearly was. She shot Andy Warhol. She was also just nuts, there’s no getting around Solanas being not being a very good or well person. I’m happy to leave Solanas to history as unfortunate and somewhat nasty. But on one condition: all the other people who promulgated the same ideas are just as nasty and unreasonable. Solanas goes into a looney bin of horrors. But all those beloved, male, white, or whatever the dominant ethnicity of the place and era, those intellectuals, leaders, and spiritual men of history, even the ones I love, have to go in there too.

Everything they wrote doesn’t have to go in there with them. I still love Kipling and Hemingway, despite the White Man’s Burden and, well, everything Hemingway ever did. I love The Hollow Men, I love the Scholars, I love many things that never pass any variation of the Bechdel Test. But if men’s work, replete in their strange and incidental hatreds get to stay out of the bin of shunned horrors, so does the SCUM Manifesto. Surely any writing that can clearly show that a swath of great thinkers of history were demonstrably insane and cruel belongs among the great writings, even if insane and cruel itself.