Mimsy Were the Borogoves

For the wisdom of the wise are the criterion of your madness.

Security questions will always be insecure—Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
You are talking to a stalker

Would a real person on the other end accept this answer or escalate?

The purpose of insecurity questions and answers is to bypass not knowing the password. The more they’re treated like passwords, the more useless they become for that purpose.

Insecurity questions are those questions you’re forced to answer when you create an account just in case you forget your password. The answers are about some aspect of your life. Your mother’s maiden name. Your first date. Your most inspirational teacher. Your favorite actor.1 Public information that is hopefully obscure enough to identify you in the unlikely event that you forget your password, but at the same while keeping the mass of potential hijackers out.

Insecurity questions are sometimes called security questions, secret questions, out-of-wallet questions2, or knowledge-based authentication. These questions by their nature require awkward security tradeoffs. Sometimes I think the reason password recovery questions are referred to with misleading names like “security questions” and “secret questions” is to gloss over the fact that they are horribly insecure, not at all secret, and do little to ensure authentication. The questions aren’t secret. They’re shown to anyone attempting to bypass not knowing the password. The answers aren’t secret. That’s the whole point, that they are information about a person that the person won’t, like their password, forget.

Calling them security questions obscures the fact that they specifically reduce security. That’s their entire purpose: to provide alternative access to a protected service, in a way that doesn’t require knowing the account owner’s access credentials. The more avenues we provide for accessing a protected service without knowing or having the pass information, the easier it is for the hijacker. Two different access paths will always be less secure then one path, even if both paths are secure—and insecurity questions are by design not secure. That’s their whole point, that you’ve lost access to the secure path.3

Small towns, big government—Wednesday, September 12th, 2018
Baroque Obama: Let them eat cities

Last week’s post reminded me about something I’ve been wanting to say about dying small towns. Every once in a while the argument comes up that if there are no jobs in your town, you should move to where there are jobs. And if your small town has no jobs, then it should die.

This is grossly hypocritical when it comes from modern pundits and politicians. It is a tacit acceptance of big, intrusive government. It is government regulations that mean fewer and fewer jobs in small towns. It is government mandates that make it deadly for businesses to hire people nearby even though businesses would by far prefer nearer workers to overseas workers. The reason small towns increasingly resemble inner cities is because the same problem affects both: an inability to overcome the barriers that Washington (and cities run by Democrats) put up against starting and running small businesses. Small towns were more resilient because they were further from the nutty regulations of Democrat-run cities, but the way federal regulations force small-town businesses to close is the same as how they forced inner-city businesses to close.

It is critical to realize that this affects all small businesses, not just small businesses in small towns and dangerous neighborhoods. The longer the problem goes on, the closer we get to the kind of science fiction dystopia of big-business arcologies and monolithic multinationals.

The more expensive and difficult we make it to start a business, the more this becomes only feasible in cities—and only for those with the resources to start big. The more expensive and difficult it is to start a business, the more customers you need to make it profitable, and the more bureaucracy navigators you need to literally keep yourself out of jail. Both customers and extraneous expertise are more common in cities than out of them.

People should not have to leave their home towns to start businesses that create jobs. But if they want to keep from breaking the complex laws that surround running a business, they need to hire tax experts, legal experts, human resource experts, and health coverage experts. And probably more experts I'm not even thinking of.

How the left bribes big business—Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
Baroque Obama: Let them eat IBM

The left often seems to assume that big businesses are a natural progression from small businesses, that big businesses naturally and easily outweigh their small rivals. This is mostly bullshit. Big businesses are almost always slow, unwieldy dinosaurs. They tend to be slow to respond to changes in what customers want while smaller businesses are nimble. They tend to be unresponsive to customer problems because management is often nowhere near the front lines of the business while smaller businesses, with management that is literally right with the customer, forge deeper and more meaningful relationships with customers and communities.

Big businesses are notoriously bad at staying in business once they build a bureaucratic wall between management and customer. The “first mover advantage” is mostly a myth, made possible because no one remembers the many failures that preceded the first long-term success. For the computer industry, read Fire in the Valley for a long litany of first-mover failures.

Big businesses have one advantage, money. This lets them make more mistakes and still survive (why IBM is still around). It also allows them to take advantage of economies of scale: better prices per part by buying more, applying fixed manufacturing costs over more product, and applying fixed selling costs (such as advertising) over more product. But that tends to be swamped by their many disadvantages which cause them to spend that advantage on the wrong thing. For example, the Atari graveyard, and the big three auto manufacturers selling big cars long after consumers had said loud and clear that they want smaller cars.

Getting great prices on all the parts doesn’t matter if the whole is something nobody wants and the administration is too isolated from the customer base to respond effectively.

There are three fields where bigger businesses do have an advantage over smaller businesses:

The Tyranny of the New York Times—Thursday, August 9th, 2018

As a case in point about just who is the tyrant here, take a look at this headline and subhead from Kara Swisher at the New York Times:

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.

The platform won’t ban the dangerous liar Alex Jones because he “hasn’t violated our rules.” Then what’s the point of these rules?

If we can’t ban someone we disagree with based on the rules, then what’s the point of having rules? is a very familiar logic. It’s the logic of tyranny. In a free society, rules should exist to outline what is against the rules. You start with generalities: what actions are so wrong that they cannot be tolerated? You make rules—or laws—to codify this and serve as a general warning to everyone, politician and non-politician, journalist and non-journalist. Then you enforce the rules against everyone.

The New York Times, like all tyrants, has a completely different viewpoint. First, you decide who disagrees with you. Then, you make rules to sideline them: put them in jail, silence them, punish them. The rules aren’t going to be used against anyone but who you’ve already decided they should be used against. They certainly won’t be used against the people who made the rules.

If those rules don’t let you sideline people you disagree with, what’s the point of the rules? To the Times, there is none.

Those are “the words of a tyrant”. Not vehemently disagreeing with someone, as Jefferson did and Trump does. Jefferson’s and Trump’s are the words of freedom. It’s CNN, and the New York Times, who explicitly and knowingly use the words of tyranny.

Explicitly. Take a look at this section from the article:

Let me say that I have nothing but admiration for the long-suffering trust and safety team at Twitter, which has been tasked with the Sisyphean job of controlling humanity and scaling civility, armed only with some easily gamed and capriciously enforced rules. How are these people supposed to do that when the company has provided them with no firm set of values?

Values would require that Twitter make tough calls on high-profile and obviously malevolent figures, including tossing them off as a signal of its intent to keep it civil.

First, CNN came for InfoWars—Wednesday, August 8th, 2018
Jefferson on CNN

What Thomas Jefferson might say about CNN.

There is a special irony in defending fake news with a fake quote from Thomas Jefferson. Lately I’ve been seeing a supposedly Jeffersonian response to a Trump tweet:

The Fake News hates me for saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. they purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!

“When the speech condemns a free press, you are hearing the words of a tyrant.”—Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson, of course, never wrote that1, as anyone familiar with Jefferson’s writings would recognize. I cannot even imagine the howls we’d hear from the press if President Trump had tweeted:

Don’t believe CNN. Americans who never watch CNN are better informed than those who do. Their minds aren’t filled with lies and fake news. CNN is junk, obscene. You can’t trust anything on that piece of shit station.

While I don’t recall Trump writing that blatantly, Jefferson did:

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

… the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, & mendacious spirit of those who write for them… these ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste, and lessening it’s relish for sound food. As vehicles of information, and a curb on our functionaries they have rendered themselves useless by forfieting all title to belief. — Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 2 January 1814)

Why do gun owners think the left wants to take our guns?—Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

For years, the NRA has been trying to pass laws to make the background check system more reliable. For years, Democrats have opposed these laws, even filibustering them, to keep them from passing.

So when this was posted recently on Facebook by a friend of mine from Lansing, Michigan:

SO sick and tired of people thinking liberals want their guns. We want COMMON SENSE. Better background checks, stricter laws and no one needs an assault rifle. Seriously. It’s about taking the guns away from and keeping them away from the “people who kill people.”

I thought, hey, okay, I’ll bite, maybe she’s serious:

The current version of the Cruz/Grassley bill to reform background checks is H.R. 38. It has passed the House and only needs to pass the Senate. It does literally what you are claiming we should support: improves background checks and increases law enforcement’s resources to enforce background check laws, in ways that would have stopped previous mass murders. At the same time that it cracks down on criminals it makes life easier for law-abiding gun owners by removing the pointless hassles we all have to got though every week but that criminals ignore.

If the left really believed what you wrote, H.R. 38 would have sailed through Congress. And yet it passed the House with 225 Republicans in favor and 184 Democrats voting against. It appears that the left doesn’t agree with you.

Write your Senators, both Democrats, and convince them to vote in favor of H.R. 38 in the Senate. I will believe it when I see it.

She replied with a naked link to a Washington Post article, “Why Senate Democrats are considering holding up a gun-control bill from one of their own”.

I read the article—and I’m guessing she either didn’t, or she was so caught up in the eye of the insulter that she didn’t realize it contradicted her original plea for common-sense reforms. Democrats, according to the article, had said they just wanted to reform background checks, not ban guns. Republicans joined them.1 Now Democrats were saying they really wanted more restrictions.

Her response?

Okay… I can’t say I disagree with them wanting more restrictions.

Franklin D. Trump: What else can I do?—Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Continuing on the theme of the eye of the insulter, yesterday I saw the following misguided satire on Facebook:

Retweeted Mike Scully (@scullymike): “I asked Japan if they attacked Pearl Harbor. They said no. What else can I do?” —President Franklin D. Trump

Obviously, given what we know about history, the comparison between FDR and Trump doesn’t come off very well in this instance—for FDR. Because it turns out FDR said and did exactly this, and for Russia. Trump, at least, is working to make sure the smaller nations that Russia wants to intimidate and invade have the means to defend themselves. It was only a few months ago that he approved missiles for Poland, for example, and he’s also approved weapons sales to Ukraine and military aid to Georgia. His domestic oil policies encourage American oil producers to undercut Russia’s main economic strength, oil, weakening Putin within Russia.

FDR, in comparison, just wanted to give Russia everything they wanted:

“I think,” Roosevelt told [advisor, William] Bullitt, “that if I give [Stalin] everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”

Roosevelt continually promoted the image of a friendly “Uncle Joe”, far beyond the need for an ally against Nazi Germany, to whitewash Joseph Stalin’s culpability for the millions dead by his policy, especially in Ukraine. Seeing this comparison made by the left is especially head-shaking because of the left’s complicity in those deaths; journalists on the left, such as Walter Duranty for the New York Times, deliberately hid Stalin’s deliberate policy of genocide from the American people. Prominent socialists George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells also helped Stalin hide his crimes.1

Far from “aligning” with Putin as the left claims, Trump appears to be following the advice of that other Roosevelt, Teddy, by speaking softly and carrying a big stick—or, in this case, making sure that the countries Putin is threatening have big sticks. I hope it works: Putin may not have reached Stalin’s toll against humanity, but he does sometimes seem to aspire to it.

Showboat media and showboat killers—Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
Time-Life Assassins cover

I’m not sure how you would design a cover to play more to the narcissism of showboat killers.

This is a near-perfect example of how difficult it is to stop incentivizing showboat killers. This is why they plan and perform their over-the-top crimes: because it works. There are a handful of people right now, thinking about this Time-Life cover, seriously planning out how to top one of the pictured assassins, to get their face and name on the cover of the next special to succumb to the showboat killers’ gambit.

As I wrote earlier, inciting killers in this manner shouldn’t be illegal. It ought to be beyond the boundaries of what any sane editor would publish. Much of our problems today are not something that better laws can fix; they require more introspection on the part of the media and politicians.

It’s another example of how the Topper mentality (to steal from Dilbert) absent any sense of responsibility is not just indirectly dangerous to the public discourse, but also directly dangerous. Time-Life didn’t put out this cover and special because it’s in the public interest; they designed it specifically to be more edgy, more offensive, to break more boundaries than their past offerings. This special did not need to be presented this way to report news nor to explain history, not even news or history on this topic—they could, after all, have focused on the results rather than on the perpetrators. They wrote this special and led with this cover for the same reason showboat killers keep trying to top each other: they did it to become news.

The only thing worse than being talked about for having incited a showboat killer is not being talked about at all.

And of course it works, because unlike showboat killings, there’s no way to talk about how this cover works to create more showboat killings without talking about the cover itself. The egregiousness of this cover can’t be explained in words as well as it can be seen, in its blood-red cover and glamorizing head shots. It seems designed specifically to play to the narcissism of potential showboat killers.

There’s a lot of argument, and has been for decades, about whether or not violent media incites violence. But there’s no question that showboat media incites showboat violence. What we’re going to do about it, I have no idea. I’m not going to buy this issue. But there are enough people fascinated by showboat killers—look at the reaction to the Boston bombers (who also got a cover, on Rolling Stone)—that this issue will sell.

If we’re going to stop showboat killings, we have to find some way to break this most vicious of cycles.

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