A confederacy of dunces

NYT editorial neatly sums up the Republican candidates.

It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will.

Start with immigration, and the idea that any president could or should engineer the mass expulsion of 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Not one candidate said that a 21st-century trail of tears, deploying railroad cars, federal troops and police dogs on a continental scale, cannot happen and would be morally obscene. Ben Carson said, “If anybody knows how to do that, that I would be willing to listen.” They accepted the need to “control our borders” with a 2,000-mile fence. Even Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, once an immigration moderate, endorsed the fence. Mr. Carson actually suggested two fences, for double security, with a road in between. Do these people have to be sent to the Rio Grande Valley to see how ludicrous a border fence — over mountains, vast deserts, remote valleys and private property — would be? And it won’t solve the problem they are railing against, which doesn’t exist anyway. Illegal immigration has fallen essentially to zero.

On foreign affairs, there was a lot of talk about not talking with bad people. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said his first act would be to tear up the Iran deal, throwing the nuclear race back to the ayatollahs and rupturing global alliances — but making a point! Carly Fiorina said: “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

We get the message, and it’s scary.

Always read the T&Cs

The Ashley Madison saga continues to entertain and inform the watching public. For example, it turns out that the click-wrap T&C agreement warns users that they may be interacting not with real people but with feminised bots.

According to the Guardian, the relevant passage in the current T&Cs reads thus:

You acknowledge and agree that any profiles of users and Members, as well as, communications from such persons may not be true, accurate or authentic and may be exaggerated or based on fantasy. You acknowledge and understand that you may be communicating with such persons and that we are not responsible for such communications.

But it turns out that this formulation is toned down from a previous clause, present in February of this year, which was more explicit about the presence of fake accounts. The February version explained that the robot accounts were created “In order to allow persons who are Guests on our Site to experience the type of communications they can expect as Members”.

The profiles we create are not intended to resemble or mimic any actual persons. We may create several different profiles that we attach to a given picture. You understand and acknowledge that we create these profiles and that these profiles are not based on or associated with any user or Member of our Service or any other real person. You also acknowledge and agree that the descriptions, pictures and information included in such profiles are provided primarily for your amusement and to assist you navigate and learn about our Site. As part of this feature, the profiles may offer, initiate or send winks, private keys, and virtual gifts. Any one of these profiles may message with multiple users at the same or substantially the same times just like our users.

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.

Truly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. I shouldn’t complain, I suppose, because the Ashley Madison saga is a perfect case-study for the book chapter I’m working on at the moment.

EULA news


Some time ago, the Finnish computer security firm F-Secure set up a free WiFi hotspot in London and invited people to use it. Before doing so, they had to click ‘Accept’ to the Terms and Conditions. This was one of those conditions. Nobody balked — because obviously nobody read the T&C.


Refugees: back to the Middle Ages


Some of the photographs coming out of Turkey and Hungary at the moment are as striking as some of the pictures that emerged from the Vietnam war. My eye was caught by this NYT front page, for example.

Just look at the detail:


Not only is it ‘painterly’ in its texture, but it could be part of one of those allegorical paintings from the 1650s. Except that it’s much more moving. These are not creatures from a long-distant past, but our fellow-humans.

Want to network your Jeep Cherokee? Try smoke signals: they’re safer

This morning’s Observer column:

‘‘Jeep Cherokee hacked in demo; Chrysler owners urged to download patch”, was the heading on an interesting story last week. “Just imagine,” burbled the report, “one moment you’re listening to some pleasant pop hits on the radio, and the next moment the hip-hop station is blasting at full volume – and you can’t change it back! This is just one of the exploits of Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek … when they hacked into a Jeep Cherokee. They were able to change the temperature of the air conditioning, turn on the windshield wipers and blast the wiper fluid to blur the glass, and even disable the brakes, turn off the transmission, take control of the steering, and display their faces onto the dashboard’s screen.”

In some ways, this was an old story: cars have been largely governed by electronics since the 1980s, and anyone who controls the electronics controls the car. But up to now, the electronics have not been connected to the internet. What makes the Jeep Cherokee story interesting is that its electronics were hacked via the internet. And that was possible because internet connectivity now comes as a consumer option – Uconnect – from Chrysler.

If at this point you experience a sinking feeling, then join the club. So let us return to first principles for a moment…

Read on

LATER: Chrysler has issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles as a result of the hacking revelations.

You don’t say

Well, well. The New York Times is reporting that the penny may have finally dropped in Washington:

WASHINGTON — American officials are concerned that the Chinese government could use the stolen records of millions of federal workers and contractors to piece together the identities of intelligence officers secretly posted in China over the years.

The potential exposure of the intelligence officers could prevent a large cadre of American spies from ever being posted abroad again, current and former intelligence officials said. It would be a significant setback for intelligence agencies already concerned that a recent data breach at the Office of Personnel Management is a major windfall for Chinese espionage efforts.