History of Crypto War I

In its zeal to preserve the power to spy on its citizens members of the United States government have begun pushing to prohibit civilians from using strong cryptography. While proponents of this prohibition try to scare you with words such as terrorists, drug cartels, and pedophiles let’s take a moment to remember the last time this war was waged:

Encryption is a method by which two parties can communicate securely. Although it has been used for centuries by the military and intelligence communities to send sensitive messages, the debate over the public’s right to use encryption began after the discovery of “public key cryptography” in 1976. In a seminal paper on the subject, two researchers named Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman demonstrated how ordinary individuals and businesses could securely communicate data over modern communications networks, challenging the government’s longstanding domestic monopoly on the use of electronic ciphers and its ability to prevent encryption from spreading around the world. By the late 1970s, individuals within the U.S. government were already discussing how to solve the “problem” of the growing individual and commercial use of strong encryption. War was coming.

The act that truly launched the Crypto Wars was the White House’s introduction of the “Clipper Chip” in 1993. The Clipper Chip was a state-of-the-art microchip developed by government engineers which could be inserted into consumer hardware telephones, providing the public with strong cryptographic tools without sacrificing the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access unencrypted versions of those communications. The technology relied on a system of “key escrow,” in which a copy of each chip’s unique encryption key would be stored by the government. Although White House officials mobilized both political and technical allies in support of the proposal, it faced immediate backlash from technical experts, privacy advocates, and industry leaders, who were concerned about the security and economic impact of the technology in addition to obvious civil liberties concerns. As the battle wore on throughout 1993 and into 1994, leaders from across the political spectrum joined the fray, supported by a broad coalition that opposed the Clipper Chip. When computer scientist Matt Blaze discovered a flaw in the system in May 1994, it proved to be the final death blow: the Clipper Chip was dead.

The battlefield today reflects the battlefield of Crypto War I. Members of the government are again arguing that all civilian cryptography should be weakened by mandating the use of key escrow that allows the government to gain access to any device at any time. As with the last war, where the government proposed Clipper Chip was proven to be completely insecure, this war must be looked at through the eye of government security practices or, more specifically, lack of security practices. It was only last week that we learned some of the government’s networks are not secure, which lead to the leaking of every federal employee’s personal information. How long do you think it would take before a hack of a government network lead to the leaking of every escrow key? I’d imagine it would take less than a week. After that happened every device would be rendered entirely insecure by anybody who downloaded the leaked escrow keys.

What everybody should take away from this is that the government is willing to put each and every one of us at risk just so it can maintain the power to spy on use with impunity. But its failure to win Crypto War I proved that the world wouldn’t come to an end if the government couldn’t spy on us with impunity. Since Crypto War I the power of law enforcement agents to acquire evidence of wrongdoing (according to the state) didn’t suddenly stop, terrorist attacks didn’t suddenly become a nightly occurrence, and children being abducted by pedophiles didn’t suddenly become a fact of everyday life.

Crypto War II is likely inevitable but it can be won just as the last one was. The first step to victory is not allowing yourself to be suckered by government lies.

The United States Can’t Do Anything Cool

I don’t want to beat this dead horse much longer but I believe it’s necessary for me to point out how lame American politics is. People are upset about the 47 senators who wrote a vague threat to the Iranian government.

What we have here are 47 government officials writing a stinkin’ letter to prove how pissed off at Iran they are. This just goes to show that the United States can’t do anything cool. The last time 47 government officials in Japan were pissed off shit went down.

Why I Hate Public School History Courses

I love history. In fact I’m writing this post after spending about an hour reading The Secret History of the Mongol Queens (it’s a great book and if you have an interest in Mongol history I highly recommend it). This love didn’t develop until well after I graduated. During my public career I didn’t give two shits about history. It wasn’t not because I was lazy, it was because none of the history we learned was interesting. The most interesting history is the controversial history but that’s what they avoid teaching in public schools like the plague (which, interestingly enough, was likely introduce to Europe by the Mongols). I believe this is because the people drawing up the history curriculum want to avoid dealing with the idiot politicians who chomp at the bit whenever something slightly different from their party’s ideology is taught.

Whoever wrote the history curriculum in Oklahoma is learning this valuable lesson. Apparently they decided to cover some of the more sinister, and therefore more interesting, parts of this country’s history because some of that state’s Republicans are flipping their shit:

State Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced a bill at the beginning of the month that keeps the state from funding AP U.S. History unless the College Board changes the curriculum. The bill also orders the state Department of Education to establish a U.S. History program that would replace the AP course.

Since the College Board released a new course framework for U.S. history in October 2012, conservative backlash against the course has grown significantly. The Republican National Committee condemned the course and its “consistently negative view of American history” in August. Numerous states and school districts have now taken action to denounce the exam.

Fisher said Monday that the AP U.S. History course emphasizes “what is bad about America” and complained that the framework eliminated the concept of “American exceptionalism,” according to the Tulsa World.

This pisses me off for three reasons. First, the idea of “American exceptionalism” is nationalistic bullshit. The United States, like every other country on the face of the planet, has done some terrible shit. Nothing it has done has been exceptional in regards to the world at large. It really is just another country in the long history of countries. And if you really dig deep enough the United States is little more than a discount Roman Republic.

The second reason this pisses me off is because sweeping the bad parts of American history under the rug prevents the next generation form learning from those mistakes. Slavery, genocide, mass incarceration, institutionalized bigotry, and many other rather nasty things populate American history. If all of those things are just swept under the rug then they won’t be discussed critically and the lessons learned will be forgotten. Forgetting past fuck ups is not smart.

The third reason this pisses me off is because it dissuades teachers from covering controversial history. Without controversy history classes are places where students go to learn names and dates just long enough to pass tests. A lot of people bitch that kids these days don’t know history. Well it’s not their fault. They’re fed a bunch of bland facts with no critical analysis. Since that’s their introduction to history they believe it’s a born area of study and avoid it. If you taught them some of the really good shit they would likely take a real interest in the topic and pursue it.

What makes history interesting are the stories. Interesting people doing interesting shit is the backbone of any story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. But telling interesting historical stories is difficult in a political environment where one or the other major party will jump down your throat because the stories shine a negative light on their bullshit ideology.

Finnish Sniper


American Sniper is getting a lot of press. One side sees it as a movie about an American hero who rightly put a bunch of terrorists into graves. The other side sees it as a movie about a murderer and a liar. Based on what I’ve read about Chris Kyle’s life I’m guess we wouldn’t have gotten along. Furthermore the movie seems to be very popular amongst neocons so I won’t bother seeing it because I don’t want to be stuck in a theater with a bunch of people who have a raging erection because they’re watching Muslims being killed left and right.

I am a history nerd though so I want to poke a bit of fun at the tag line, “America’s greatest sniper”. According to Wikipedia Chris Kyle had “160 confirmed kills out of 255 probably kills.” That’s cute. But it also shows that surpassing “America’s greatest sniper” isn’t that high of a bar to jump over.

Enter Simo Häyhä. Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper that operated during the Winter War. For those unfamiliar with the Winter War it was an attempt by the Soviet Union to take over Finland. It didn’t end well for the Soviets. Using a modified Mosin-Nagant rifle, that didn’t have any optics I might add, Simo Häyhä managed to get somewhere between 505 sniper kills.

Simo Häyhä is also a more interesting individual in my opinion. First of all he was engaged in a war against an invading force instead of being a member of an invading force. The man was literally protecting his home. Another thing that’s worth noting about Simo Häyhä is that he was a humble man. He didn’t go around bragging about all of the commie he killed, he didn’t start random fights in bars, and he didn’t make up stories about traveling to other places to kill people. After the Soviets were run out of Finland he made a life for himself by moose hunting and dog breeding.

So when I hear people talking about “America’s greatest sniper” I can only chuckle. Chris Kyle, at best, managed roughly half of the kills that Simo Häyhä had, was a jackass if his own accounts of his actions are to be believed, and was helping to expand a tyrannical regime instead of defending against one.

The Vatican Armory

By today’s standards the Vatican’s Swiss Guard look goofy as fuck. While their purple and yellow uniforms look as out of place in today’s world as plated mail their weapons, at least the ones stored in the armory, are pretty modern:

Rifles of the Swiss Guard have long been whatever is standard with the Swiss Army. Since 1990, that has meant the SIG SG550 rifle. This 5.56mm NATO select-fire rifle has a 20.8-inch barrel and is one of the most accurate and reliable modern combat rifles. Its 30-round clear lexan magazines clip together like ‘jungle mag’ style for rapid exchanges. The Guard owns both the standard StW90 rifle variant and the SG 552 Commando model (with 8.9-inch barrel, 19.8-inches overall with stock folded). With the Swiss military tradition of marksmanship, it’s guaranteed that these soldiers can use them if needed.


In the 1970s, these guns were augmented by HK MP5s from West Germany, one of the first instances of the Guard using non-Swiss made guns. Today the Guard now carries the ultra-modern HK MP7 PDW chambered in 4.6×30mm. This is a good choice as these same types are used by US Navy Seals, German GSG9 and just about anyone who doesn’t agree with Jerry Tsai.

The article has many pictures of the Swiss Guard and the armory, which is full of both modern and historical weaponry. Where else in the world will you see rifles like this:


alongside plate armor like this:


The Vatican’s Swiss Guard even have Glock 19s with the Vatican seal imprinted on the slide (you can’t go to Hell for shooting somebody with one of those, right). I would love to have an opportunity to tour the centuries of history that that armory (and the Vatican itself) contains.

Inventories of Soldiers From 1066 to 2014

I came across a neat slideshow of various soldier load outs from 1066 to today. For the most part there is a trend of increasing equipment as time goes on but the variety of weapons carried decreases. Once our species masted firearm manufacturing (at least to a point where they were reasonably reliable and accurate) we said “Fuck these axes, maces, and swords.” That’s not surprising since the firearm really is the epitome of infantry weaponry.

Random Neat Historical Fact: Pay Phones and Chronographs Edition

It always amazes me how technologies intermingle with one another. Consider the average automobile, which almost always have a cigarette lighter. This simple almost universal inclusion actually says a lot about the popularity of cigarettes in our society (at least the historical popularity). Most of these intermingling technologies go unnoticed by us because they’re just so common.

One of those technological minglings that I never noticed, even though I’m a bit of a horological nerd, specific markings on old chronographs. Oftentimes the minute subdail for the chronograph function will emphasize the markers for three, six, and nine. I always assumed this was merely an aesthetic thing and never questioned it further but as it turns out there was a functional reason for this:

It all comes down to the telephone. According to a watchmaker and enthusiast, I was informed that back in the 40s, 50s and early 60s when these watches were being produced, people used payphones regurarly. Cell phones obviously didn’t exist and many people didn’t have landline in their home yet. When using a payphone at the time, the money you put in got you three minutes of talk time, and you were cut off abruptly when your time was up.

The lines on the chronograph simply help you keep track of your telephone call. You’d start the chronograph, put in your money, and easily be able to know when to put more money in or to finish your conversation. Most calls were likely under 10 minutes, which is why only the first three-minute markers look like this.

I would have never guess that. After all pay phones were already in rare use when I was a kid. This makes me wonder if the next generation of children, who will likely have much more limited exposure to cigarettes, will be confused about what the removable button in the car that gets hot when pressed is for.

Possibly the World’s Largest Pre-Digital Porn Collection

The United States is famous for its puritan views on sex. But the United States government has been smart enough, for the most part, to leave people’s porn alone. That wasn’t the case in the Soviet Union. Thanks to confiscation the Soviet government managed to create what is possibly one of the largest porn collections predating cheap high capacity digital storage devices:

It was the kinkiest secret in the Soviet Union: Across from the Kremlin, the country’s main library held a pornographic treasure trove. Founded by the Bolsheviks as a repository for aristocrats’ erotica, the collection eventually grew to house 12,000 items from around the world, ranging from 18th-century Japanese engravings to Nixon-era romance novels.

Of course privilege has its benefits. While the porn collection was off limits to the petty proletariat it was always available to the dictatorship of the proletariat (who were totally not bourgeois):

Off limits to the general public, the collection was always open to top party brass, some of whom are said to have enjoyed visiting. Today, the spetskhran is no more, but the collection is still something of a secret: There is no complete compendium of its contents, and many of them are still unlisted in the catalogue.

I’m sure that section of the library had to be steam cleaned multiple times a day.

The Soviet Union is a fascinating society to study. It was a society built upon the ideals of Karl Marx, which were supposed to usher in a new era of prosperity for the working class. Instead it ended up as one of the most oppressive states in the world. The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat attempted to control every aspect of its peoples’ lives. Everything from the houses they lived in to the jobs they worked to the porn they consumed had to receive an official stamp from a Soviet bureaucrat to ensure it wasn’t anti-revolutionary, bourgeois, or whatever other imaginary threat the heads of the union came up with.

Monday Metal: Inmate 4859 by Sabaton

We’re doing Sabaton again. The new album, Heroes, was released last month and when Sabaton releases a new album that usually means I have to crack open some history books. Most of the band’s lyrics are based off of historical wars and event and one of the songs that I really took a liking to is Inmate 4859. I wasn’t exactly sure what the song was referencing so I had to look it up.

It’s about an event from the life of Witold Pilecki, a man who was one bad ass Polish soldier from World War II. He volunteered for an operation that involved him receiving a fake identity so he could be arrested by the Germans so he could be taken to Auschwitz. During the time of this operation not much was known about Auschwitz and this operation was meant to correct that. Another goal of the operation was to create instability inside the camp by raising a prisoner fighting force.

The song is excellent and the history makes for a fascinating read:

Japanese Archers Circa 1860s

Here’s an interesting picture I stumbled across on Reddit:


Supposedly its a colorized photograph of Japanese archers from around 1860. What I find interesting is how Japanese bows, known as yumi, were constructed. As the picture shows the bows are very tall and asymmetrical. While the common belief is that yumi were designed in this asymmetrical manner to make them easier to use while on horseback the design actually predates horseback archery in Japan.

The bow is also drawn in a manner different than most bows. In the video you can see how the archer actually starts with the bow and arrow above his head and lowers it as he draws: