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Fortune of the Hanged Man

The very strange saga of Shahram Amiri has come to a final end. He was an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared from Saudi Arabia, apparently while performing the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the reappeared in the U.S. He claimed that he had been kidnapped by the CIA and Saudi agents, and returned to Iran, where he received a warm welcome. But less than a year later he was arrested and tried for treason. Now, his sentence -- death by hanging -- has been carried out:
http://www.bbc.com/news/36998747

So if Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, why is revealing information about it capital treason? Can you imagine executing a man for leaking information about, say, the Space Shuttle?

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Choking About Mystique

There is now a controversy about an image from "X-Men Apocalypse" which shows Jennifer Lawrence's character, Mystique, being strangled by the title villain. Some have even said it "normalizes violence against women". Let's put aside how a movie about a shape-changing mutant versus a millenia-old demi-god/demon can "normalize" anything. The real issue is the depiction of Jennifer Lawrence's character as helpless.

Super-hero movies are taking over more and more of the movie business, and if we want to keep some diversity in Hollywood (and I do) we want strong roles for women and minorities. In both this movie and the previous "Days of Future Past", Mystique is shown as being highly capable in hand-to-hand fighting. Yet during the climactic scene, she becomes terrified and can do nothing but vainly try to pull the villain's hand away. This would be bad enough if she were not a super-hero: any competent martial artist should be able to break a one-handed hold if his/her legs are free. But she's a shape-changer! Exactly what is preventing her from lengthening her arms and gouging the villain's eyes?

But, super-hero speculations aside, there is a real-life problem here. It was not long ago that combat roles were finally opened to women in the U. S. military. Let's be very clear about this: engaging in combat means that eventually, violence will happen to female soldiers that is far worse than simple strangulation. Are we ready for that?

It sounds to me like we're not.

Memorial Day 2016



Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

  -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Money Talks, And It Talks Politics

News report from Associated Press:

Bernie Sanders' campaign had less than $6 million at the start of May, a critical cash shortage as he makes an admittedly tough final play to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Hillary Clinton.

[...]

The two were on roughly equal fundraising footing last month, with Clinton and Sanders each raising more than $25 million. But the Vermont senator spent almost $39 million to Clinton's $24 million, the reports showed.

This year, Sanders has averaged more than $40 million in spending per month, underlining how quickly he could blow through the cash he had on hand at the beginning of May.

Since he started his presidential bid, Sanders has spent nearly $207 million, about $25 million more than Clinton's $182 million in expenditures. For her part, Clinton has averaged $26 million in spending per month since January.


It wasn't all that long ago that the Hillary supporters were depressed because the Sanders campaign was raising more in contributions than they were. If Sander is that bad with money as a candidate, what would he be like if he became President?

The End Times are at hand!

The Chicago Cubs, who have not won the World Series in over a century, are now the best team in Major League baseball. They have won 75% of their games so far, including a 16-0 no-hitter.

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The Silence of the Pro-Lifers

So Donald Trump is backing away from comments about punishing women who have abortions, after a lot of negative comments -- and very few supportive comments. But let's think about the position for a bit. The reason most "Pro-Life" people give for banning abortion is that they consider that, from the moment of conception, you have a human being who happens to be unborn for the time being. Thus, abortion is taking a human life, in other words, murder. However, if this is so, doesn't logic demand that the person deciding, participating in, and paying for, the murder be punished? So why should Trump have to backtrack from his statement? Shouldn't he be receiving an outpouring of support instead?

It seems to me that what we have here is a classic reductio ad absurdum -- if the logic is good, but the conclusion is wrong, there is a problem with a basic assumption.

More on FBI Vs Apple

The showdown in court is on hold, at least for now. The FBI now claims that it has a way to break into the San Bernadino iPhone. The interesting thing is that, twenty days ago, FBI director James Comey said to Congress: "We have engaged all parts of the US government to see does anybody have a way, short of asking Apple to do it, with a 5C running iOS 9 - to do this, and we do not." So where did this new technique come from? And if it turns out to have been provided by the NSA or some other governmental outfit, can Apple file a criminal complaint against Mr. Comey for false testimlny to Congress?

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A Modest Suggestion

  The Republican Party had already morphed from "The Party Of No" to "The Party Of Crazy". But now, with the rejection of even hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, it has become "The Party Of Refusing To Do Its Job". The justifications of a "Biden Rule" are feeble: Joe Biden was making a hypothetical remark about circumstances that never actually arose. And Justices have in fact been confirmed in election years. (Anthony Kennedy was nominated in 1987 but confirmed -- unanimously -- in February 1988.) And if they won't do their job, why should any members of the GOP be elected to public office?
  So let me suggest a fig leaf. Hold hearings on Judge Garland, but since so many members of the Senate are busy getting re-elected, postpone the confirmation vot until after the election. That way, if Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected, which is the most likely occurence, the Republicans can hastily confirm Garland lest President Clinton nominate someone not at all to their liking. If a Republican is elected, they can always vote to reject Garland, since they have a majority in the Senate.
  The one flaw in this plan: the hearings are almost certain to reveal that Garland is a superbly qualified candidate.
The great match between Google's AlphaGo and the world's best human player of Go is concluded, and the human lost 4 games to 1. (However, that one game gives we humans some hope.) To reward AlphaGo, South Korea's Go Association awarded the highest Go grandmaster rank, reserved for those whose ability at the ancient board game borders on "divinity":

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/googles-alphago-gets-divine-go-ranking

Granted, that's a little unsettling. But there's also some promise there. In spite of all the Hollywood junk where the robots go bonkers and try to kill the humans, I've always though that robots have more to fear from jealous humans than vice versa. There is no question that robots are already better than humans at some things, and will continue to surpass us at more things in the future. (It has been at least twenty years since the best robotic welders became able to turn out more perfect welds than the most skilled human ones.) But if we can accept being bested in some areas, maybe there's a chance for useful cooperation.

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Follow the Money

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
  -- Benjamin Franklin

There's a serious, and even necessary, debate over whether Apple should unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino killers. As the head of the FBI pointed out, there are still some unanswered question over the jihadist massacre, and law enforcement wouldn't be doing their jobs if they didn't try to chase down every lead they have. The IPhone istself was actually government property, issued to the killer as part of his employment, so there is no argument that the contents are protected under privacy considerations.

But: the judge's order is not merely telling Apple to hand over a record, it is telling Apple to create something that does not yet exist. The government is trying to compel Apple to write code that will affect the IPhone's operating system. besides the obvious problem, let's think about the financial aspect. A company the size of Apple cannot simply turn to one of its programmers and tell him to write some code in an afternoon. When we're dealing with the operating system, you can bet that every line of code has to be documented, securely stored, and tracked whenever worked on. This will require accounting to create a project, and track all money spent on it, and to whom the monies are paid (including accounting itself). Meaning an expense of tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So where is this money to come from? If the government proposes to reimburse Apple, that means it comes from the taxpayers -- in other words, us. Bad enough, given that it is unlikely the data in the phone will lead to anyone who has not already covered their digital tracks in the time that has already gone by. (And has any company working on a government contract ever not over-billed?) But if the government is ordering Apple to create the code and eat the cost out of its own pocket, that looks a lot like involuntary servitude. And I haven't heard a word from the FBI about offering to cover the expenses.

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