You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Poor old Harry Reid, he seems to have become confused once again. During some debate on some energy bill Mr. Reid decided to call supposed members of the Tea Party anarchists:

Reid (D-Nev.) said Tea Party Republicans are preventing progress on an energy efficiency bill by offering amendments on ObamaCare and other unrelated issues.

“We’re diverted totally from what this bill is about. Why? Because the anarchists have taken over,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “They’ve taken over the House and now they’ve taken over the Senate.

“People who don’t believe in government — and that’s what the Tea Party is all about — are winning, and that’s a shame.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Reid has made this mistake. Between May or this year and now he still hasn’t picked up a dictionary to find out what the word “anarchist” actually means. The word is a combination of the greek ἀν- (an-), meaning without, and ἀρχός (archos), meaning leader or ruler. Therefore, an anarchist is somebody who opposes rulers, not just a person who disagree with your political ideology. Members of Congress create decrees and use force against anybody who disobeys. That’s what a ruler is, somebody who attempts to make you obey his or her commands through the threat of force.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that my political philosophy is used as an insult in Washington DC pleases me. It lets me know that I’m on the right path.

The Fourth Dimension of Legal Discussions

In mathematical physics the Minkowski spacetime model depicts our physical universe in four dimensions. The first three dimensions are what we consider traditional space (often represented using x, y, z coordinates) and the fourth dimension is what we consider time. In the field of physics, changes over time are important. I would put forth that the same is true regarding legal discussions.

To justify my suggestion I will used the Second Amendment as an example. The Second Amendment reads:

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.

Advocates of gun control often point at the phrase “A well regulated militia.” They say that the phrase indicates that the founders only meant for the military and police to have a right to keep and bear arms. If we use the modern definitions of the words “regulated” and “militia” this argument may hold water. But the Second Amendment wasn’t written in modern times, it was written two centuries ago.

The definition of words change over time as this article does a good job of pointing out:

There is some predictability in the way words change over time. For example, words can expand in meaning, that is, come to signify a larger group. The word “pimp” once referred to a man who sold the sexual favors of women for money. It now refers to anyone who leads a lavish, ostentatious lifestyle exemplified by fancy cars, clothes, jewelry and women. There is even a TV reality show dedicated to the transformation of junky cars into custom masterpieces. Its title is “Pimp My Ride.”


But just as a word like “pimp” has widened in its reference, so “girl” has narrowed. In the 14th century, “girl” could refer to a young person of either gender and evolved to denote only young females. (Male children were called “knave girls”; females were called “gay girls.”) And “gay,” of course, has narrowed from anything bright and merry — “A gay time will be had by all!” — to a synonym for the cultural expressions of homosexuality.

Let’s consider the word “regulate.” In modern times we primarily think of the word as being synonymous with control. Another definition, one that was more prominent historically, was to make something regular:

The original intent of the Commerce Clause was to make “normal” or “regular” commerce between the states; thus it was designed to promote trade and exchange not restrict it. Further, it was specifically aimed at preventing the states from enacting impediments to the free flow of “commerce” such as tariffs, quotas and taxes. And since the explicit language of the CSA, like all economic regulation, interferes with the free flow of commerce, it is inherently antithetical to the original intent of the Commerce Clause. (Whether the law could be legitimized by reference to the “police powers” of the state is another matter).

This definition is still used when referring to engineering. To regulate an engine, for example, means to adjust it until it works correctly. Likewise, the definition of “militia” has also changed over time. While the term was used in the Constitution it wasn’t legally defined otherwise until 1792. Today the modern legal definition of militia is defined in Title 10, Subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 13, § 311 of United States code:

(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are—

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

Of course that definition was created after the Second Amendment was ratified.

What did the Founders mean when they said a “well regulated militia?” As the term lacked a legal definition at the time the Second Amendment was ratified we must assume that the Founders were using the common definition, which was “a military force raised from the civilian population of a country or region, especially to supplement a regular army in an emergency, frequently as distinguished from mercenaries or professional soldiers.” One interpretation of the Second Amendment would imply the need for a regular, or normal, group of armed civilians and that that need implied civilians had a right to keep and bear arms. Less you think I’m merely pulling a definition out of my ass let me point out that support for what I’ve said exists in the scholarly realm. Namely, the preamble of the Second Amendment is subordinate to the remainder because an armed citizenry is a prerequisite for a militia.

This leads one to question whether or not the modern definition can be used in reference to the Second Amendment. I don’t believe it can as I also believe legal matters must be argued based on the definitions that existed at the time a law was ratified. This is also the reason I don’t give much consideration to the idea that the Second Amendment only applies to black powder rifles.

Black powder rifles were the epitome of military arms at the time the Constitution was ratified. Assuming the Second Amendment only applied to black powder rifles also assumes that the authors were attempting to predict the future. What is more likely? Did the Founders imply that the people had a right to keep and bear only the arms of the time or did they imply that the people had a right to keep and bear the epitome of military technology at any given time? I will not attempt to guess what dead men were thinking but I will point out that it is odd no such specific restriction was written into the Constitution. I will also point out that only the truly foolhardy believe themselves capable of predicting the future with any amount of accuracy. These two points lead me to believe the Founders implied that the people have the right to possess the epitome of military technology, not the specific arms available at the time the Second Amendment was ratified.

Although I chose the Second Amendment as my example I don’t want to imply that what I’ve said only applies to the Second Amendment. Discussion regarding any laws should take the time period it was written in into consideration. Applying modern definitions to words written decades or centuries ago is, in my opinion, dishonest.

Sharing Your Data with Everybody

Glenn Greenwald has become one of my favorite journalists. His scathing stories about the National Security Agency (NSA) are almost a daily thing now. The latest one has to be one of the best though. As it turns out, the NSA isn’t simply collecting information on every man, woman, and child in the United States. They’re also sharing that information with Israel:

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process “minimization”, but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

Why not? We share everything with Israel including fighter jets and palettes of money. At this point we might as well share private information about the people living here as well. I’m sure it makes Israel’s interrogation of American citizens entering their country easier.

This story does go to show how quickly information can circulate. As soon as you tell one other person a secret that secret can spread infinitely. Anonymity is important because it disconnects you from circulating data. You may not be able to control how quickly a secret spreads but, if you are able to initially share that secret anonymously, you may be able to prevent it from being tied to you. Once again I find myself stressing the need to use cryptographic and anonymizing tools. It’s not just the United States government that has access to your information. The NSA is sharing its information with at least one foreign country and it’s highly probably that we’ll learn that it’s sharing its information with other foreign governments.

9/11 Continues to Cost Us

12 years ago two planes crashed into two towers and killed a lot of people. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, which was far less damaging since the wing that was struck was under construction and therefore unoccupied. But the carnage didn’t stop there. In an ironic twist the very agency that was supposedly created to protect Americans from another terrorist attack, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has made flying so miserable that people now opt to drive shorter distances. Since driving is exponentially more dangerous than flying the country now suffers an additional 500 automobile-related deaths per year:

The inconvenience of extra passenger screening and added costs at airports after 9/11 cause many short-haul passengers to drive to their destination instead, and, since airline travel is far safer than car travel, this has led to an increase of 500 U.S. traffic fatalities per year. Using DHS-mandated value of statistical life at $6.5 million, this equates to a loss of $3.2 billion per year, or $32 billion over the period 2002 to 2011 (Blalock et al. 2007).

To put that number in perspective it has been 12 years since the 9/11 attacks. During that span of time approximately 6,000 people have died in automobile-related accidents that may be alive today if it wasn’t for the draconian policies put into place by the TSA. The 9/11 attacks killed a total of 2,753 people. Since the 9/11 attacks the policies put into place by the federal government have managed to kill over twice as many people as the attacks themselves. That’s not even counting the number of deaths that have occurred because of the wars started using the 9/11 attacks as a justification.

The terrorists won. A handful of people using box cutters and knives were able to bring the mighty United States to its knees.

The iPhone 5S Fingerprint Reader

Yesterday Apple announced their new iPhones. The iPhone 5c was, in my opinion, wasn’t at all newsworthy. Apple’s new flagship phone, the iPhone 5s, wouldn’t be newsworthy except for its fingerprint reader:

Apple’s brand-new iPhone 5s isn’t dramatically different from last year’s model, but it has at least one major addition: a “Touch ID” sensor. Us human beings are calling it a fingerprint sensor, and it’s built into the phone’s main Home button below the screen. Apple’s Phil Schiller says, “It reads your fingerprint at an entirely new level” — it’s 170 microns in thickness with 500 ppi resolution. According to Cupertino, it “scans sub-epidermal skin layers,” and can read 360 degrees. As expected, the sensor is actually part of the Home button, making it less of a button and more of a…well, sensor. Using Touch ID, users can authorize purchases in iTunes, the App Store, or in iBooks by simply using their thumbprint (starting in iOS 7, of course). Pretty neat / scary!

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. It’s certainly a neat piece of technology and I don’t want to decry Apple for trying something new in the smartphone field. Today you can lock your phone with a four-digit passcode or a full password. If I were betting money I would bet that a majority of users use neither option. Of the people who put a passcode on their phone a vast majority likely opt for the four-digit option. Phones are devices that are accessed frequently. Having to enter a long password every time you want to check your Twitter feed get annoying quickly. Therefore few people are willing to use a complex password to security their phones. That leaves most people not enabling any security and those who enable security most likely opt for a relatively insecure four-digit passcode.

Apple has been fairly good about including security features that are relatively easily to use and this fingerprint reader looks to be another one. Time will tell if the sensor is easily fooled by other fingerprints but if it convinces more people to put some kind of security on their phone I’m happy. If the technology is properly implemented it could easily be more secure than the four-digit passcode (admittedly not a high barrier to climb over).

Then there’s the other side of the coin. My first thought after seeing the announcement of a fingerprint reader was that the police are going to love it. As it currently stands, a police officer wanting immediate access to your phone must obtain a search warrant and gain your cooperation, have a mechanism of exploiting a security hole in the phone on site, or bring force into things either as a threat or as physical harm. With the inclusion of a fingerprint reader a police officer need only force your finger onto the sensor to unlock it. That seems to be far less hassle than the other three mentioned options.

In light of Edward Snowden’s leaks there is also the concern that your fingerprint will be send off to the National Security Agency (NSA). While Apple promised that your fingerprint data will only be stored locally there is no way to verify that fact. Furthermore, if Apple was compelled with a national security letter to include a mechanism to allow the NSA to obtain fingerprint data they wouldn’t be legally allowed to tell us. That thought should scare everybody.

Finally, on a more practical side, biometrics have a fatal flaw: the technology is based on sensor data obtained from your body as a point in time. What happens if you cut your finger? Will the sensor detect your altered fingerprint as somebody else? What happens if your finger is cut off? Our bodies can change over time and those changes are often difficult, if not impossible, for biometric technology to detect.

As with most security technology there are ups and downs to this fingerprint reader. If it convinces more people to enable security on their phones then I will be content. However, one must realize that there are real downsides to using your fingerprint as a security token.

American Politics

Where else, besides America, are executions rescheduled because they interfere with a campaign fundraiser:

There is no graver responsibility and act of state government than an execution.

In Florida this week, a campaign fundraiser takes precedence.

Attorney General Pam Bondi persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to postpone an execution scheduled for tonight because it conflicted with her re-election kick-off reception.

I think this story sums up everything that is wrong with American politics and our society as a whole. My theory is that Attorney General Pam Bondi gets off on watching people die and didn’t want to miss the fireworks because of a stupid campaign fundraiser. Thanks to Governor Rick Scott she can announce that she’s running for the position again, rake in campaign contributions, and still get to finger herself while watching somebody die. Our entire political system is made up of fucking psychopaths.

Saving Face

It’s a miracle! Mr. Obama has seen the light and is now considering delaying the start of the United States-Syria War:

US President Barack Obama has said he will put plans for a US military strike against Syria on hold if the country agrees to place its chemical weapons stockpile under international control.

I’m sure his decision was influenced by what Syria proposes to do with its chemical weapons. The fact Russia has moved its fleet into the area, every other nation in the world (with the exception of France, who used to claim Syria as a colony) opposes a war between the United States and Syria, and Congress is unwilling to state its willingness to enter another war almost certainly had no influence on Mr. Obama’s statement.

Let’s face it, Obama is trying to save face. He was demanding war with Syria and everybody else opposed him. If he feels he can get away with ordering an action against Syria he will almost certainly claim that the Syrian regime failed to put its chemical weapons under international control. If he doesn’t feel as though he can get away with starting another Middle Eastern war he will claim that the Syrian regime did put its chemical weapons under international control. Either way, he has an out and that’s what he’s striving for. The one thing he doesn’t want to do is look weak. War mongers never want to look weak.

As a side note, watch many of the people who were opposing the war change their opinion. I believe many people in the opposition were only opposing the war because Obama supported it. If he now ceases beating the war drum those people will quickly pick up the drumsticks and continue beating the drum. American politics is seldom about principle and often about opposing what the other side wants.

The George Zimmerman Circus

George Zimmerman has turned into a veritable three ring circus. It seems the man is unable to keep himself out of the news. After his trial concluded his wife plead guilty to perjury. She lied about the assets held by her and her husband during his bail hearing. Shortly after that she filed for a divorce. Now she claims Zimmerman threatened her and her father with a gun:

Lake Mary police say they were called around 2:30 p.m. to the Sprucewood Road home owned by Shellie Zimmerman’s parents, David and Machelle Dean.

According to Lake Mary Police Chief Steve Bracknell, Shellie Zimmerman called 911 claiming George Zimmerman had a gun and was making threats.

“He’s in his car and he continually has his hand on his gun and he keeps saying ‘step closer’ and he’s just threatening all of us,” Shellie Zimmerman said in the 911 call, adding that George Zimmerman was “trying to shut the garage door” on her.

Conveniently, no charges are being filed:

LAKE MARY, Fla. – No charges have been filed against George Zimmerman on Monday as the investigation continues into if he threatened his estranged wife with a gun, as she originally told Central Florida police.

This is one of those situations where I don’t know what to believe. Some people have pointed out that Zimmerman’s soon-to-be-ex-wife has admitted to lying in the past and should therefore be considered a liar in regards to this situation. Her unwillingness to press charges does lead me to believe that she is, at least to some extent, lying. On the other hand domestic issues, such as divorces, have a habit of getting very emotional and vicious very quickly. It’s possible Zimmerman had a lapse of judgement after the pressure of the trial and divorce.

I think the important part to take away from this story is how messy it potentially is. It could be a case of a woman, looking to get revenge on her soon-to-be-ex-husband, calls the police on a false pretense. Or it could be a case of a man, deciding he’s had enough of the divorce hearing, deciding to opt for fear and intimidation instead of civil proceedings. Domestic issues arising from divorces or other family stresses are seldom cut and dry.

But I’m sure a good portion of the population has already taken sides. Those who were decrying Zimmerman’s acquittal probably believe his wife’s claim without any doubt and those who were cheering Zimmerman has a beacon of neighborliness probably have no doubt that his wife is lying. Based on my observations, people seem more apt to focus on the people involved in the event instead of the event itself.

Caracal Model C Pistol Recall

Last year a Middle Eastern firearm manufacturer called Caracal opened a subsidiary here in the United States, which gave us access to Caracal’s pistol line. I was very interested in the pistol because it was something new and shiny although the weird way the rear sight was a physical part of the striker assembly put me off. As it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t invest in one of their pistols because I would have almost certainly purchased a Model C and those are all being recalled:

Caracal is now issuing this recall of all Model C pistols in all markets, following the completion of a full investigation. Caracal is initiating this voluntary recall of Model C pistols because the safety of its customers is paramount.

This recall affects all Model C pistols, including but not limited to those with serial numbers which start with the following letters: HM, AA, AD, AG, CA, CB, CC, CD, CE, CF, CG, CH, CI, CJ, CK,CL, CM, CN, CP, CR and CS.

If you own or have access to a Caracal Model C pistol, PLEASE DO NOT LOAD OR FIRE YOUR PISTOL. Please contact Caracal customer care immediately to arrange to have your Model C pistol returned. Caracal will provide you with a full refund of the purchase price of your Caracal Model C pistol or vouchers for other Caracal products. Unfortunately, the potential safety issues cannot be addressed through a repair of the Model C pistol and all Model C pistol’s must be returned for refund.

I can’t remember the last recall where the company said they were unable to fix the problem. Most firearm recalls today tend to be upgrades to internal parts that failed under very specific conditions. To have an entire line declared bad and unrepairable is concerning. Hopefully their full size pistols aren’t found to be dangerous in a few months.