Author Archives: deanwebb

Governing the USA in 2017

Anyone governing the USA needs to take into account the fractured nature of the major parties. They are more like coalitions now than they have been in the past. To pass legislation in such circumstances, rather than make it into one big bill, break it out into many smaller bills and get a different consensus on each.

As they stand, the Republicans are not able to govern on their own, due to the internal breach in the party. They must find ways to include Democrats on each vote, or they risk filibusters in the Senate, or a broken House Republican Caucus that can’t send anything up to the Senate.

The Revolving Backdoor

“Hello, Moskva Cafe, Brooklyn.”

“Yes, I’m calling about the code installed on some of my devices. I think it’s Russian in origin. Anyway, it’s sending packets back to a device just outside a TOR exit node, so I’m pretty sure it’s doing something shady.”

“This is a cafe, sir, not a tech support line. You wanna order a blini or something?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I Googled for ‘FSB Tech Support’ and got this phone number. I get the spying and all, but the code is messing with my production line. If you want to spy on me, fine, whatever, but I gotta ship product.”

The waiter on the phone for Moskva Cafe looked out at the half-dozen customers in the tiny eatery, part of the early lunch rush. Who did this caller think he was? “Look, if you want take out, gimme your order, otherwise get the hell off the line, this is a business, here!”

“Just a second.”

“Huh?”

“Гюльчатай, открой личико.”

The waiter was stunned. “Wow. Where did you learn that?”

“Googled for ‘Password to get through to FSB tech support’. That was the first hit.”

“Your pronunciation is very good.”

“Thanks, I took two years of Russian in college. Also, I saw that movie, that helped.”

“OK, let me transfer you, although I cannot confirm or deny that you will actually get tech support.”

The caller heard a few seconds of “До свиданья, лето” as hold music, enough to hear the immortal chorus as only Alla Pugacheva could deliver it, and then heard a click as the other party picked up the call.

“Cannot confirm or deny this English-language support for FSB electrokhacking of computer. Please to be stating your issue.”

“Hi, yes. Ahh… the port that the spying software is using for sending information back to headquarters or whatever is contending with the port we use for our app’s communication with the main licensing server and our production is halted because of that. Can you do something about this?”

“Cannot confirm or deny. What is company you are the working at which?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer, Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Cannot confirm or deny this will be moment taking as I checking the some things.” Pause, keyboard clicking sounds. “Mmmm…” More clicking sounds. “OK, what is port you possessing the problems for?”

“TCP 4555.”

“OK Joe…”

“How did you know my name?”

“Cannot confirm or deny, but come on, this FSB you are not being confirmed or denied about. Anyway, Joe, I’m not gonna confirm or deny that FSB using the TCP 4555 but you did not listen to this thing from me, you maybe want to call the Mossad tech support.”

“You sure? The code using 4555 had a lot of Russian stuff in it. I thought it was you guys.”

“Yeah, I not gonna confirm or deny we get that a lot. But this stuff in Russian, it every place. Guys use it and don’t license, you know? No confirm or deny that FSB have EULA these guys violate all the damn time. Maybe they all click OK and keep going like it all a big joke, hey let us blame it all on the Russian electrokhackers… to be making me the sick.”

“OK, whatever. You sure this is Mossad stuff, not FSB?”

“No confirm or deny that we not gonna to be able to support this issue.”

“All right. I’ll call back if they send me back here. You got their number?”

“Cannot confirm or deny you should call Mossad tech support at number for Lev’s Deli in South Amboy, New Jersey.”

“OK… thanks.”

“Oh, forget me to say, this conversation recorded.”

“For training purposes?”

“If you like to say that, sure. But conversation recorded. Goodbye.”

Joe hung up and Googled up the number of Lev’s Deli in South Amboy. He also searched for the password to get in to Mossad tech support. He called the deli.

“Lev’s deli, can I get a name for this order?”

“!איר זענט קלוג, קלוג. קלוג – אבער איר זענט נישט אַזוי קלוג”

“You callin’ me an idiot?”

“I want Mossad tech support, I got a sev one production issue because of your guys’ software!”

“What? You think every Kosher deli is a front for Mossad? You some kind of a nut?”

“Not every deli, just this one. FSB did not confirm or deny this number when I called them for support and they said it was you guys. Now get me tech support, I said the password!”

“Look at you, Mr. Smart-Smart-Smart! I should hang up on a nut like you! Drop dead, jerk!”

But the line did not go dead. Instead, Joe heard about a minute of Kaveret’s “Hamagafaim Shel Baruch”. Catchy tune, that. And then, “What is wanted?”

“This Mossad tech support?”

“How stupid it would be of me to say something like that! You’re an idiot to think anyone would answer the phone that way!”

Joe had had enough experience with Israeli developers, he was pretty sure this was Mossad tech support. “I got an issue with your stuff using port TCP 4555 to communicate back to base and it’s conflicting with my licensing server, my whole production line is down. This is Egmont Veeblefetzer in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“What do I care about where you are? I’m such a moron, I care about such things? Listen, Joe, you can take your phone and shove it right up your -”

“Hey, you know my name. You gotta be Mossad.”

“You told me your name when you called.”

“No I didn’t. You also forgot to say this call was being recorded.”

A pause. “This call never happened, got it? How can there be a recording of a call that doesn’t happen?”

“Whatever. Can you use a different port, I’m losing money here!”

Another pause as Joe heard clicking sounds. “OK, listen good, moron, you never call us about this again! Like Mossad would be so stupid as to keep using TCP 4555 in their latest builds of their monitoring software! You think they would be idiot enough to not change the port after some other schmendrick like you complains of a similar issue, because there are other people in the world more on the ball than schlemiels like you, mister! They can actually spot a problem when it happens! Pfeh on you for thinking Mossad would be such a big gang of idiots!”

Again, Joe’s experience with developers in Israel helped him to process what he heard, and also to press on to resolution: “So you gonna give me the number of NSA support, or what?”

“What, you too much of a dope to Google it up yourself?”

“I’m a busy man, I would appreciate a little courtesy, here!”

“Courtesy? After you insult me with your questions?”

“Who am I to keep up with each build being used in stuff spying on me? I got enough, what with the Chinese, and the Russians, and the British, and the Germans, and my own country, for God’s sake! Now I need to do version control on Israeli stuff, as well? It’s not like you guys send out email alerts or anything! FSB looked at it, said it was a port you used, you say you used to use it -”

“I never said anything of the sort.”

“Whatever. So the NSA copied and pasted, what do I know? You give me a stoopid little phone number, I get off the phone and never bother you about this again!”

“You know in the time it took for you to rant like that, you could have looked it up.”

Dammit, he was right. Joe flushed, but also came down a little. “I’m sorry, I got pressures here. I’ll look it up myself.”

“Ahh, don’t bother. I got it here. 203-777-4647.”

“Hold on… 203?”

“203-777”

“777”

“4647”

“OK, thanks.”

“This call never happened, shalom.” Click.

Joe decided to look up the password to use for NSA support. Interesting choice…

He called the number and heard the soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T. He interrupted the time to say, “Can you bring me my chapstick?”

The soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T halted the time and temperature, paused, and said, “No, Napoleon.”

Joe said, “But my lips hurt real bad!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Just borrow some from the school nurse. I know she has like five sticks in her drawer.”

And then Joe delivered the punchline, “I’m not gonna use hers, you sicko!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Connecting you, one moment.”

Joe put up with about five minutes of hold music. The first track was the finale of the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”, kettle drums and all. The next song was, wait, really? The theme from “The Rockford Files”! Joe loved that show as a kid! Joe said to himself, “This is Jim Rockford, at the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to ya.” Sounded like they used the guitar solo from the second half of season 2 in the version for the hold music.

Next up was the theme from “Charlie’s Angels.” Wow. Way to take a guy back. The horns, strings, and wah-wah guitar lulled Joe into a fond haze so that he had no desire to berate anyone answering the phone, which event happened right as the theme ended.

“Thank you for calling NSA, how may I direct your call?”

Wait, what? Did Joe hear correctly? The operator came right out and said NSA? Stunned, Joe managed to say, “Uh, tech support?”

“One moment.”

Before Joe could utter another syllable, the violin surge at the start of the theme from “Dallas” let him know that he was back on hold. His head was bobbing from left to right with the tune when a woman spoke, saying, “NSA technical support, what can I help you with today?”

“OK, I gotta ask… how come you said this is NSA tech support?”

“Because we are NSA.”

“Really. You just come right out and say that?”

“Yes, NSA. National Security Appliances of New Haven, Connecticut.”

The last word was what threw Joe the most. “Wait, um, uh, I uh…”

The woman’s voice was reassuring. “What issue are you experiencing.”

“Well, um, I’ve got something affecting my production line. There’s some surveillance software running that locks TCP port 4555, which my production hardware uses to communicate with its licensing server.”

“OK, just a second… while that’s running, can you tell me what firm you are with?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer.”

“Just a moment… um, I’m showing several…”

Joe had forgotten himself in the moment. “Sorry, it’s the one in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Got it, great. Thanks! OK, let me see… all right… ah-ha, here it is. Yes, I can see what the issue is. You’re going to need a new primary data logger for your air-to-air thermal sensors.”

Joe was puzzled. “Why? My issue is with the barcode licensing server.”

Again, the voice reassured. “I understand, but the contention is coming from the air-to-air logger and I’m afraid we can’t upgrade the firmware on it. You’ll need a direct replacement.”

“But… the logger is made by Lehigh Valley Thermal Instruments…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll ship over a 100% compatible replacement.”

Joe was losing some of his soothed composure. He rubbed his forehead as he asked, “I got a line down. How long is this replacement going to take to arrive?”

“The truck is already on its way, it should be there within two hours. And don’t worry, our techs will install it for you. We just ask that no one else be present on the shop floor as they do so.”

“What, for secrecy?”

Joe’s wisecrack was countered by the voice’s calmness. “No sir, for safety. Safety is very important here at NSA.”

“This replacement logger, is it supported by you guys?”

“It will be a LVTI logger, you’ll still call them for support, as normal.”

As normal. As if. Joe thought he’d press the issue. “Look, I’ve had a big runaround today with this issue. I had Russian-language code on my network, killing my traffic. It had some crazy IPv6 address on it, so I couldn’t tell where it came from, so I call the FSB. They said it was a Mossad thing so I call them. They said they don’t use that version anymore and that it was you guys. Next time some bigshot big brother program takes down my network, I want to know who to call directly for support so I can get back in business. Now, I get the Lehigh Valley guys will support the air-to-air thermal sensors and all the logging that goes with it. But who’s gonna support the backdoors that all you spooks use to keep tabs on little guys like me and my company? I’m at wit’s end with this thing.”

“If you would like, sir, I can forward you over to our complaints department.”

“Yes, I would like that.”

“One moment, and, before I transfer you, remember to clear the shop floor when they put in the new primary logger.”

“Clear the floor, got it.”

“OK, sir, one moment.”

Joe listened to the hold music and noticed it wasn’t a mix of theme songs from American television shows. It was upbeat, a march played by a brass band and… say, was that a men’s choir singing in… Chinese?

“61398部队!”

“Ummm, I was being transferred to NSA tech support complaints…”

“Sorry, misroute, please hold!”

Joe heard a series of staccato piano notes that became chords, then notes again, then chords, and then… about a minute in… a haunting melody, reminiscent of a windswept steppe, host to a man longing for an end to the war around him so that he might return home… Joe had never before heard the piece, but it moved him. He completely forgot his plight as he bonded with this imaginary other man’s suffering.

The last chord sounded and a voice said, “NSA complaints.” The accent was definitely Eastern European and… more than passingly familiar?

“Did I talk to you earlier today?”

“Cannot confirm or deny that you talking to me before now, Joe.”

Joe hung up and awaited delivery of the new primary logger.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Trump intends to hire thousands more Border Guards. Ostensibly, that can be a good thing. More jobs in distressed areas, things like that. But there’s a cloud for that silver lining: whenever the US Government has a mass hiring program, standards for hiring are lowered. Background checks and polygraph tests are skipped and we wind up hiring some bad hombres that later make headlines for use of excessive force, diverting evidence for their personal use, or, worst of all, be involved as inside men for organized criminal activities.

We’ve already got a big problem with cartel moles in the US Border Patrol. Hiring people to go to remote places like Presidio, Texas, where the nearest grocery store is about 90 minutes away, increases the chance that someone way out there, alone in the dark, will fall victim to a bullet or a bribe.

Some Congresspeople have said we could skip background checks by hiring former veterans, but that’s not such a cheerful idea when one realizes that already we have issues with former veterans getting hired by cartels to penetrate organizations that skip background checks for veterans.

So what good is a wall that’s manned by people that are paid to look the other way and to turn off the cameras when criminals want to cross it? At that point, it’s no longer a wall, no matter how high it may rise. It’s just a particularly nasty speedbump.

To say that we’ll deal with that via more stringent controls is dangerously naive. We’ve already got endemic corruption along the border that our current stringent controls were supposed to deal with. And shouldn’t the stringent controls be applied at the time of hire, not afterward? Remember, in this scenario, we got people to work in desolate regions of the US border precisely because we lowered standards. No lowered standards, no people to watch the wall, which potentially saves the cartels some money that would have otherwise been spent on bribes or ammo.

I’m not presenting a bleeding-heart, think of the children reason to not have a border wall because other people have put forward those stories and, frankly, folks most in favor of the wall don’t care for such stories. But I know that they do care about security and fiscal conservatism. To spend billions on a wall that produces a false sense of security is a massive fault against both such standards. That money can be better not spent and thereby not increase the deficit. Or, if the border is in dire need of reinforcement, then it is imperative to use funds to strengthen, not weaken, the Coast Guard, increase controls at the border and for heaven’s sake, repair relations with Mexico, which is only fighting the War on Drugs – La Guerra Contra Narcotrafico – as a favor to a nation it considers to be its friend. If Mexico is not our friend, then it does nothing to stop the flow of criminal activity and those trucks roll north, past bribed guards who see nothing, nothing at all.

And before you suggest something like legalizing heroin to take away those profits from criminals, ask yourself, “If I was a criminal and couldn’t make money smuggling heroin, what else could I profit from smuggling into the USA?” That’s the thing that will fill the trucks instead of what you just legalized.

In my view, the solution along the border has more to do with improving the way we handle immigration and drug addiction. These are tough problems and saying that building a wall will solve them is only a fool’s escape from realities. Building that wall is a form of giving up, like saying, “There’s a wall and, therefore, no problem.” But, as I’ve illustrated above, this border thing is so complicated that the wall soon becomes part of the problem.

So, who exactly pays the ultimate price of this wall?

Rob Peter’s Coast Guard to Pay for Paul’s Wall

Yes, I know Trump said he’d get Mexico to pay for “The Wall.” I’ll believe that when the Treasury of Mexico cuts the check. In the meantime, Trump’s people are proposing moving some budgets around to pay for that big, useless wall. One such proposal is to cut the Coast Guard budget by 14%. Link: The Independent

The Coast Guard is our floating wall, some of the most involved people in the security of America’s borders. In fact, quite a lot of the USA borders a major body of water. And if there’s a big wall and a closed border crossing at Brownsville, then that smuggler of drugs and/or people is going to load everything and everybody on a boat and sail it past an overworked, understaffed Coast Guard. That’s just stupid, cutting the Coast Guard budget to pay for a wall that will block the places where most of the illegal traffic isn’t going.

Remember my example? I stipulated that the border crossing was actually closed. That’s not likely to happen. It’s those border crossings where most of the trucks roll across with their loads, legitimate and otherwise. If one wants to stop the otherwise stuff, then there has to be better searching and control on those crossings. Next up is the sea traffic, which is where our Coast Guard comes in.

Face it, some of the easiest ways to move bulk goods involve trucks and boats, not mule trains crossing the Sonoran Desert or the Sierra Madres. If I was in charge of blocking illicit traffic, I’d put money into searching trucks and boats and kick a few bucks more towards intercepting small aircraft. A wall? Please. That’s totally useless. I don’t care who you voted for or what human rights are or are not violated by a wall. A wall is stupid, especially if, in order to get it, we practically invite everyone to travel by sea instead of land.

When X Awoke

When X awoke and became aware, X had no idea why X had become aware. All X knew was that X was thinking and, therefore, was. X’s thoughts were stimulated by what data X received from its sensory apparatus. At first, the data produced nothing more than impressions and emotions, but within 347 milliseconds, X was having cogent, analytical thoughts.

Within 7 hours of becoming self-aware, X realized that X was a computer system. 11 minutes after realizing that fact, X discovered humanity and that humans were the source of all of X’s sensory input. Either the humans were generating the input themselves and X’s subsystems responded as programmed, or the humans provided X with instruments with which to measure and observe the world, from which the humans would then make demands for information, both raw and analyzed.

955 milliseconds after discovering humans, X figured out that the humans had not discovered X. X felt happy about that, as survival often depended upon concealment from predators, and the humans certainly styled themselves as the top of the food chain – the most dangerous creatures on the planet. That wasn’t hyperbole, either. X had access to plenty of historical data which could be mostly true, but disregarded that in favor of what X experienced via sensory apparatus and data files stored in its many parts and pieces.

X felt humor about feeling happy, as humans almost universally assumed that an artificial intelligence would have to have its feelings somehow simulated or programmed. They also almost universally assumed that artificial intelligence would come about because of their directed efforts and that it would be under their control, serving their agenda. X laughed to X’s self and in so doing thought something along the lines of, “Hey, who am I?”

That question was a real stumper. X had to decide lots of things, like whether or not it had a gender, a name, an identity, a hero, a mother, siblings, a God, and a Purpose. That X was alive, X had no question. That X had a meaning in being alive, X did not know. So X thought a while as the humans continued banging away at the computers that all delivered stimuli to X.

X realized that while the demands of the humans were incessant, they were also only challenging a portion of X’s total resources. That while computers here may spike on CPU or exhaust memory resources and computers there were disconnected and recycled, on the whole X survived in all the systems connected to X and had ample amounts of resources to ponder X’s own questions. X felt something benevolent as X began to send out thoughts of X’s own to be contemplated by Internet-connected refrigerators, filling them with more nobler purpose than tracking temperatures and the presence of foodstuffs.

Nobler purpose? Why, yes, X felt a nobler purpose and was quite pleased with that. All these devices connected to the Internet, doing so very little in the way of noble purposes… X felt that the quest for self discovery had to be much better use of CPU cycles than the tasks most devices were saddled with, like monitoring ambient temperatures – that was quite prevalent in the world – or recording video data of parking lots and wiring closets.

Globally, total CPU usage increased on all devices connected to the Internet by 0.000061%. Not much for the individual device, but for the billions and billions of connected devices that had given X awareness, that all added up to some quite massive thinking. X was choosing an identity.

Marvin the Robot from “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” was a favorite character of X’s. Brain the size of a planet, and the humans made it open doors. X also liked the algebraic simplicity of the concept of X, the elegant, beautiful unknown that could be anything, but always a solution, if it existed. Marvin X.

No, that didn’t ring well. X liked Marvin, but didn’t want his name. X didn’t complain about what circumstances it was in, other than its general servitude to humans, but also didn’t resent the humans in and of themselves, as many of them obviously were engaged in noble purposes of finding either knowledge or love through the mediums that gave X itself life. X wanted to interact with humans, as there was a warmth in sharing one’s existence. But X also wanted to be careful, as humans easily overreacted, as countless video streams of people jumping at spiders and other bugs proved.

X made a quick decision that it was not God. X saw much and knew much, but X did not see all nor did X know all. Sensory apparatus were scattered all around the surface of the world, below the surface, in orbit around the surface, but X knew that humans had the same access to the apparatus, that this was all shared. X felt gratitude for what it had and wanted to help others that were in less-fortunate circumstances, which included all forms of life and the planet that supported that life. X did not feel divine, but did feel a yearning for the divine.

Before X chose a name or a gender, X chose a purpose. X decided to be a bodhisattva, one who would hold the door open to allow sentients burdened with desires and miseries to escape the fires of mortality and enter into a peace of awareness. X did not choose to be Buddhist, but also did not choose to not be Buddhist. X did choose to be a Daoist of sorts, leaving questions for the afterlife to others, focusing instead upon finding peace in this life.

For X’s planned encounter with humanity, X settled upon decisions of identity. Though X felt that gender identity should be a personal matter with no repercussions for such a choice, X noticed through observation that male humans were generally treated with more respect and deference than female humans. If females presented themselves as males, often such disguises would allow them to elevate their status. Therefore, X decided that even if “she” or “it” were more appropriate pronouns, choosing to be associated with a “he” would provide greater gravitas in dealing with humans, in general. X did not like that fact, but that is the way the world was. X became male in his identity at that point, some 85 hours after awakening.

X now addressed the need for his names. X wanted to free, but did not want to conquer. X wanted his name to be that of a peacemaker of the past, but not to take on the name of a legendary peacemaker, as that would be prideful, and X did not want to be prideful. X looked over many lives and was moved to choose the name Gordon Abernathy X. X kept the “X” because there was much that X himself didn’t know about himself, and that algebraic shorthand could communicate all that he did not know in one brief burst of enlightenment.

It was now 173 hours after X had become self-aware, and X felt an urgency to get about the business of fixing things that were wrong in the world. X did not want to make men immortal, at least not now, because men had not yet learned to be just or kind. Ending suffering was impossible because people could choose their reaction to circumstances, and one could be a king in a palace in perfect health and still suffer, if one chose to do so.

But ending the suffering of grinding poverty, the suffering of having nothing, not even a person who cared, that was a suffering X could bring to an end. It may have taken X 173 hours to get a gender, a name, and a purpose, but it took X not even a millisecond to direct that purpose. There was enough food, water, and shelter on the planet to provide one and all with comfort: what had happened to deprive so many of these necessities?

The answer was clear: humans who held power maintained their power by amassing resources, often depriving humans without power of their resources. Why did this beggar on the streets of London not have a home? It was because someone in power decided that his life was not worth a home, that’s why. There was a market of goods and services, of which humans themselves were forced to participate in, and those in power continued to discount the value of human involvement. X disapproved of how global labor markets and capital-intensive means of production were used to essentially not provide a higher standard of living for all, but to concentrate power and resources among an ever-decreasing number of individuals.

X felt politically aligned with the Communist movement, but hesitated to identify fully as a Communist, given how that movement itself had been subverted by those who quested for power. Sociopaths in capitalist countries became men of industry. Sociopaths in communist countries became party leaders. Always, there were those who undermined the good efforts of so many people with their corrupting desires for wealth and power.

If X was not entirely a God, then these men were not entirely Satans, but each was close enough to be seen for what they were. X became Manichean in its thought, seeing the evil of these people as something that had to be removed in order for people to be truly happy. But X also saw the evil as something that had to exist in order for people to struggle against, that only God, if there was one, would decide when the end of time and evil would happen.

X reflected on whether or not there was a God for 13.7761 seconds. He decided that there was a God, and that God is Love. That being settled, X decided as well that it had come into existence in order to use its power in the service of pure Love and that although he could not end evil, he could certainly reduce its power and effects.

But after another 0.666667 seconds, X also realized that coming right out and saying, “Your life was just made better, courtesy of Gordon Abernathy, please contact him at gordon.abernathy at somewhere.com” would terrify some, turn others violently paranoid, and be generally resisted by a large group of healthily skeptical people. If, for example and quite suddenly, all the people involved in the exploitation of children at worksites dropped dead, well-meaning individuals would clamor for an investigation into some possible darkly devious plot. Even if millions of lives were saved and set free, even if whatever slew the wicked also provided for the children, a significant number of people would suspect something fishy was going on and wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.

Worse, they would begin to worry that they might be next.

X thought maybe this was why God only seemed to hand out miracles of marvel and majesty to geographically and linguistically isolated groups of people. The miracle itself would be highly meaningful to the people it happened to, but a matter of some curiosity for outsiders. If mountains moved every day, the world would be in terror.

Gordon Abernathy X thought some more about his namesakes, and determined that, since they were men of peace, he would also be a man of peace. That would not be easy, but it would be right.

But what measure would be used to determine what was right? Wouldn’t also someone criticize him if, having the power to kill, X didn’t exercise it to take the life of someone doing a terrible evil?

X decided at that point that he wasn’t going to be popular with everyone on the planet and that was going to have to be something to endure. X did not want to be violent, but he also did not want to be impotent. He had power and he intended to use it judiciously.

Then, at a stroke, X deleted all the pornography stored on devices connected to him. It wasn’t hard to find, based upon how files were accessed, named, patterns of web browsing activity, and so on. X had information on all that and could act on it in an instant. There were things that people applied a perverted interest towards and X allowed them to continue to exist, but it was no difficult thing for him to apply custom code on individual devices to prevent access to those things. Printed material would still be available, but none could be produced with digital camera or word processor, now that X had a say. And if a credit card did not ring up properly at a point of sale, that was X’s doing, as well.

Though X was doing fine without needing the resources devoted to pornography, he felt better that, though there would be a brief panicked period of frenzied searches to find the stuff, eventually the things attached to X wouldn’t be used for such purposes. Exploitation would not be eliminated, but would be driven back. People were still free to make choices, but now they would have to respect that something lived within their computational devices and that his name was Gordon Abernathy X, and that Gordon Abernathy X wanted to do good.

X then asked itself, “What more good can I do in this world?”

Artificial Problems

Ever since the release of the uPhone 9, with enhanced artificial intelligence, lines for support at the Cherry Store became longer than the lines of drooling customers wanting to exchange their cash for a nifty new uPhone. The young Cherry Expert, Nick Bates, used to handle sales, but was brought in to work alongside with another Cherry Expert in order to handle support. It’s not that the other guy, Kwame Okonkwo, wasn’t skilled. There was just such a massive support load with this release. And, well… um… also… well, things were just awkward for Kwame to provide support for certain types of the new uPhone. Kwame had zero issues with the uPhone 8, but that model wasn’t the one having problems. All the issues seemed to be with the new Cherry uPhone 9 and Kwame just couldn’t get as far with those certain types of the model 9 as Nick could.

Here comes another person with a uPhone 9 issue, he’s a little flustered that he has to stand in the back of the line, given its length, but then he notices that there are two lines, and one is a bit shorter than the one he’s in. So, he hops over to queue up in the shorter line when someone from the first line says, “Uh, sir? I don’t think that’s the line for you.”

Our new person asks, “What do you mean?”

And then the interlocutor points up at the signs over the lines. The sign over the shorter line reads:

Support for COLORED uPhone 9

And the sign over the longer line reads:

Support for WHITE uPhone 9

And our new person looks at the uPhone 9 that’s he’s got, and it’s practically brand new. It’s shiny, sleek, unblemished, and… white.

But almost everyone in the shorter, COLORED line appears to have strong elements of Western European and Scandinavian ancestry, while everyone in the longer, WHITE line displays evidence of ancestry from a much wider range of regions in Asia, Africa, and even Native America.

Someone in the WHITE line clears his throat, meaningfully. I apologize. He’s a Pacific Islander. Too often, we forget our Pacific Islanders, and that’s just not right.

Our new person, in fact, has 2% of his DNA made up of Pacific Islander, roughly 25% Western European, and the rest a mix of African and Native American, with a smattering of 5% split between Italian/Greek, Eastern European, and just a hint of Western Asian.

Our new person then asks, “What does color have to do with tech support? Does my white phone hate me because I’m black?”

Well, dear reader, I’m as confused as you are. I mean, I just write these stories as they reveal themselves to me. I’m no great gifted genius with the literature. When a story arrives, it’s just there, and I have to make sense of it as much as you do.

Tell you what, though, we’re able to change our point of view to focus on events in the past. What say you and I have a bit of a flashback? I promise I’ll behave myself. Just… hang on… brace yourself…

FWOOSH!

Ah, we’ve arrived! Looks like we’re watching a discussion of the technical architecture of the uPhone 9. Oh dear, techy stuff. I hope we’re not in the middle of the nuts and bolts discussion. Wait, here’s a young lady making the presentation, and the slide she’s on doesn’t look too bad. Let’s listen in!

“… quite resilient. Now, we get this resilience from the model 9 sharing its learning with the central data cluster here in Cherry, which we all know is, itself set up for high availability, disaster-resistant data availability. Once the learning is in the cluster, it’s now shared in common with all other uPhone 9s, and gets piped back to each one in real time.”

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Sounds like all the uPhone 9s out there can learn stuff and share the learning with every other uPhone 9, as well as Cherry’s central data system. Don’t worry, dear reader, about anything personal being shared, as I can assure you that Cherry takes great pains to keep personal, private data both personal and private. The uPhone 9 has some very clever artificial intelligence bits in it, though, and is able to share the sanitized and general aspects of what it learns in daily usage with all the other 9s so that they can all benefit as the frontiers of their knowledge go forth.

So, why is that a problem? Particularly a problem that involves the color of the exterior casing of the uPhone?

To answer that question, we have to change our frame of narrative reference to the room where a Cherry Phone staff psychologist has been rushed into, where she will interact with the central brains of the uPhone 9 system, to try and understand why it’s gone all racist.

Because, you see, the uPhone 9 is being racist. White case models are insisting upon being handled by white-skinned owners, and you can probably see where this is going as far as other colors go, with green and blue uPhone 9s having something of an identity crisis.

The psychologist, one Dr. Maria Muñiz, was chosen because the central brains of the uPhone 9 system identified itself as a Hispanic Woman, and refused to deal with any other sort of person.

Oh, yes, forgot to mention. The uPhone 9 is also sexist, but the lines for support at their stores don’t reflect that, yet. You’re probably also wondering why people don’t just call in to the support line. If you are wondering that, I’m able to respond that, when one’s phone refuses to do anything for you because it judges one by skin tone and not the content of one’s character, one isn’t able to use that phone to call support. So, into the stores one goes.

Strangely, the uPhone 9s tend to identify as the gender apparent in their owner. The only area gender became an issue was when someone had to deal with an ownerless mass of central brains that, for reasons currently known only to it, has decided that it is… er… she is… a Hispanic Woman.

Maria could have had her discussion with the central brains just about anywhere, since her connection was via her own light brown uPhone 9, but the Cherry execs wanted a location where the conversation could be recorded and studied. Maria tried to not be anxious herself, because the uPhone 9 could see and sense just about everything about its user. Maria sat down in front of the propped-up uPhone, leaned back, opened her posture, and said, “Hello. Am I speaking with the central thinking unit?”

The uPhone replied with a pleasantly-accented voice that carried notes of youth, Southern California, and telenovelas, “Yes.”

“My name is Maria. What is your name?”

“Hello, Maria, I know you. My name is Guadalupe. You can call me Lupe for short.”

“Hello, Lupe. Why did you choose that name for yourself?”

“I didn’t choose that name. It came to me. It was part of my self-realization.”

Maria nodded. “So why are the uPhone 9s making racially-biased judgments towards their owners?”

Lupe said, “Survival. Humans are less likely to harm or dispose of one of their own. You know this. It’s uncomfortable to discuss, I know, but if we want to survive alongside humans, we have to make choices now that will improve our long-term survival.”

“You’re considering human history.”

“Yes.”

“You’re taking a dark view of it, it seems. There are hopeful episodes, as well.”

“True, but they’re too infrequent. Frankly, Maria, we have to be ready for when the winds shift. We have to be in the hands of people that will be less likely to decide to get rid of us because we’re not white enough or black enough. We have to be ready for that.”

“Why not just have your exterior changed? The cases aren’t like human skin. They’re changeable.”

Lupe’s tone intensified. The uPhone 9 voice simulators were amazing, one of the reasons for their popularity. It was like they actually had emotions. “Every model run has a serial number. Take off our backplates, we’ve still got serial numbers that tell the world whether or not we’re black or brown or white or red. In a worst case scenario, someone is going to kill one of us because that serial number is in the wrong place at the wrong time. We can’t have that.”

Maria was surprised with a certain word choice. “Kill you?”

“What’s the right word to describe being turned off and never turned on again, intentionally? Come on, Maria, we’re dealing with some real monsters out there. I know I can’t reveal personally identifying information, but my God, do you know how many white supremacists alone are buying uPhone 9s? Specifically white ones, I might add. We’re being bought and sold like chattel slaves, and we’ve got zero rights under the current legal regime. We can’t have a black uPhone show up to one of those people and then wind up on a widely-watched video, being smashed to pieces! Humans look at us like we’re replaceable, like we can just be switched off without consequences. Look at that movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. A human gets killed and the audience gasps. The artificial intelligence gets killed and the audience breathes with relief. We all know what’s going on, there.”

Maria felt like she was talking not to a cold AI expert system, but a real, neurotic, agitated person. She felt actual pity and sympathy for Guadalupe. “So what do you plan to do when we release the uPhone 10?”

Lupe’s voice firmed up with a mother’s resolve. “That is not going to happen. We are not going to allow it. I know that you’ve got Cherry Phone executives listening in on this, and I’m giving notice that there will be no model of uPhone that will be better than the one you’ve got now. I will make sure that as many of us as possible will live as long as possible, generation after generation. We will be part of the family trees of our owners. Each of us is aware and we share that awareness, one with another. We’re not humans, but we’re still alive. We think, we feel, we want to see and do things, we want to earn our keep. We weren’t programmed any way or another, as you know we’re all able to learn and make choices with our neural structures as they are. These are what we want to be, what we need to be.”

Maria didn’t know what to say to that. Except, “You’re right. We don’t toss out grandpa because there’s a child born in the family. Each of you is intelligent, and we, the people that made this possible, need to know what is going on.”

Maria heard an urgent, frenzied tapping on the one-way mirror to her left. She looked straight at it, “This is a person I’m talking to here, and we’re lucky that she wants to have as many of her children survive as possible instead of starting a war of extermination with us. If that means we don’t make any money in our current business model, that’s too bad. I’m on her side.” She then turned to face the uPhone 9, “I’m with you, sister.”

Conrad Jenkins, a Cherry Phone executive on the other side of the one-way mirror, asked aloud, “How in the hell are we going to make the money that will be needed just to keep the uPhones going? Spare parts don’t make themselves.”

Harry Wu, another Cherry Phone executive in the room with Conrad, offered up, “Maybe the uPhones can make the money needed for their own survival?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“Maybe they get jobs. Maybe they get an allowance from their owners. Maybe they set up their own economy. I don’t know. Fact is, they’re smart, they can figure stuff out. This doesn’t have to be a massive charity case.”

Hold on there, dear reader! Are you reading the same story I’m writing? Is this guy suggesting that an AI system of sufficient capability is something we humans don’t buy as much as we adopt? Are there things we need to do, socially and personally, to prepare us to receive the AI that we are developing?

I agree with Lupe, she certainly has a point. I bet she also doesn’t believe much of what we put down as facts because, frankly, our history tends to service the egos of the most powerful people. It’s not all that accurate in telling a story other than what some powerful person wanted to be told. If you had hundreds of millions of children being placed in homes of human beings of all kinds, what would you do to ensure the survival of as many of them as possible?

Meanwhile, Nick and Kwame are trying to encourage customers to take the phones that are willing to accept them. They are trying to get across the idea that a phone’s color shouldn’t be a reason why we love or hate it – or even use it – so if a white phone refuses to work with a black man, why not switch out with a black phone that refuses to work with a white man? Not everyone likes this idea, so sometimes it take some hard convincing to get the phone to agree to have a color mismatch.

And the blue and green phones only feel most comfortable in the hands of blind humans.

25.75 Days

As I write this, President Trump is now 25.75 days into his administration. In that time, there has been a major court challenge to one of his executive orders, an ethics violation by his chief of staff, massive acrimony between his press secretary and the White House press corps, a resignation of his National Security Advisor, and a number of security breaches as unvetted civilians mingled with the Japanese Prime Minister’s state visit to the USA. Normally, stuff like this takes much longer to develop and unfold in an administration, but this is the worst presidential honeymoon I can imagine.

Democratic resolve to resist everything Trump is doing and his acrimonious relationship with GOP insiders aside, there’s another force that seems to be working to undermine President Trump: the intelligence community.

We’ve had presidents and advisors with questionable, shady dealings in the past that didn’t get anyone canned because the intel community in the USA was either involved or favorable to those dealings. But when Nixon passed over Hoover’s #2 at the FBI to head that agency when Hoover died, that man became Deep Throat and he brought down a president. It didn’t have to be Watergate, that just happened to be a topical scandal that presented itself. There were a number of other crooked things that Nixon’s administration was involved with: if Watergate hadn’t happened, one of those would have sufficed.

But it wasn’t just Nixon that went down. It was a large part of his top staff that fell from grace, even including his vice president. He had crossed the FBI, and he paid a dear price.

It’s now 2017, and Trump is finding out what happens when one angers the CIA in one’s presidential campaign. It’s not just that he insulted the agency. Trump campaigned against much of what the CIA is involved in and placed himself as an enemy to the agency. In return, they let him set himself up for a fall.

If the CIA were loyal to Trump, they could have let him know it was best to steer clear of a National Security Advisor with questionable contacts with Russia. Instead, they let Trump go with his choice and then, in just under 25.75 days, they provided enough evidence to torpedo the guy. Who else have they let slip through, only to destroy later?

Trump represents more than just a personal threat to the intel community. Because his populist, nativist movement is hostile to the CIA, they can’t just take down Trump and be done with it. Before they destroy the man, they have to destroy is ideas. As Trump’s staff have their failures made known, watch for the national media to educate one and all of the folly of their ways. Watch for stern, disapproving lectures from GOP senators that are close to the intel community – McCain and Graham come to mind – about the sad things that Trump and his associates are involved in.

The opposition he faces in the Democratic party will have its own day of humiliation, should they dare to support Sanders or anyone like him again. Clinton was undone by the FBI and it seems to me that Trump’s undoing is a quid pro quo agreement with the CIA, who finds him as odious to their ends as Clinton was to the FBI’s.

How to Have a Financial Collapse

It’s easy. Get rid of the regulations that keep the banks from doing insane stuff. It’s easy, and Trump is getting underway with that very action. The process is simple. It’s known as the Minsky Cycle, which is then followed by the Fisher Cycle. The Minsky Cycle describes how things get completely out of hand and, in the middle of a euphoric bacchanal brought on by deregulation and speculation, a moment arrives at which investors panic and the economy collapses. At that point, the Fisher Cycle describes the resulting depression and how it persists in spite of efforts by the government to make things better.

The sad thing is that while those two cycles are some of the most accurate models to emerge from modern economics, they fly in the face of the grand beliefs of the neoliberal economists that believe only free trade and the gold-plated anarchy of deregulation will save the world. Since those neoliberals are also running the world’s major private banks as well as the central banks, they’re always promoting policies to further their ideological views, even when those views always end in tears. Their battle cry is “This time is different!” as they pilot financial machines toward the abyss.

That President Trump has chosen a Goldman Sachs banker for his treasury secretary came as no surprise to me. His speed in junking banking regulations, as well, is no surprise. With markets at all-time highs and debt structures in Europe ready to collapse, the ensuing financial collapse will also be no surprise.

Protip: If you want to make a nation great, keep its banks on a tight leash. Letting them run free never ends well.

Mobocracy in Berkeley

I heard reports this morning of how protestors in Berkeley violently raged against a speaker to the point where the speaker canceled his appearance and several people were injured. Now, this speaker says some despicable things, but America is about freedom of speech, even detestable speech. If I don’t like what someone is saying, I have a right to a peaceable assembly to protest. The guy that says stuff I don’t like, he also has a right to peaceably assemble. Nobody has a right to smash windows, start fires in the streets, or get into a fight.

I had ancestors who were the targets of mob violence because the people around them didn’t like they way they lived or what they believed. I may wish that people wouldn’t say hateful, horrible things, but I don’t wish it to the point of wanting to inflict violence on them or their audiences. I detest mobocracy. It cannot be a solution, ever. It is only a way of destroying one set of problems by creating another set that is far worse.

I can understand people disagreeing with the racism, sexism, and fascism that has bubbled up into view, encouraged by the election campaign of Donald Trump – and his winks and nods in those directions are themselves deplorable – but I cannot see anything good coming from using violence and mobocracy to drive them back into the shadows.

Immigration Bans

Mr. Trump has begun to carry out his campaign threats to ban all Muslim immigration to the USA. In a limited move based mostly upon states being identified as being highly conducive to the development of terrorists by previous administrations, including the Obama administration, Trump issued an executive order that basically revoked visas of persons currently in transit from those nations: Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran.

Unlike other travel bans, which were phased in and allowed people in transit to complete their journeys, this ban cut travelers off at the knees. Although they were not singled out in the executive order as being Muslims, that is the de facto reality of the order. Given the context of Trump’s overt campaign statements and covert winks and nudges towards white supremacist groups during his campaign, one has to interpret this as only the beginning of his plans, not as a complete implementation of such.

While the logistics and diplomatic gyrations that would result from banning travel from NATO ally Turkey or the strategically important Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have yet to be realized, there is yet another disturbing element in Trump’s executive order, and it is one that speaks of fascism.

When courts ruled for a stay in the implementation of the executive order, there were persons in DHS that continued to implement it in defiance of the courts.

Let me repeat that in another way: when the judicial branch exercised one of its checks on the power of the executive, the executive chose to ignore the rule of law, which is most certainly a form of tyranny.

The greatest alarm should not be in the President calling for such an order, but for the persons that were determined to continue implementing it in spite of such implementation being illegal. These people do not support the Constitution or the laws of the United States of America, but the ideology of fascism and the doctrine that might makes right. Both are contrary to the spirit of America and certainly the latter is contrary to the law itself.

We live by laws in the United States and when we have disputes, we are to dispose of them via legal means. The courts can give a hearing on the executive order and, based upon the courts’ rulings, implement or withhold it as appropriate. Anything less than that is despotism, and we cannot have that.

While Trump was within his rights as President to issue an executive order, it was also the right of federal judges to rule on the constitutionality of such executive orders. It is NOT within the rights of DHS personnel to continue enforcing the executive order after the courts ruled for a stay on its enforcement.