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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: A Letter to Sen. Feinstein

*sigh* this again..

Dear J-R:

Thank you for writing to me to share your concerns about law enforcement access to encrypted communications. i appreciate the time you took to write, and i welcome the opportunity to respond.

i understand you are opposed to the “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020” (S. 3398), which i introduced with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) on March 5, 2020. You may be interested to know that the Senate Judiciary Committee—of which i am Ranking Member—held a hearing on the “EARN IT Act” on March 11, 2020. If you would like to watch the full hearing or read the testimonies given by the hearing witnesses, i encourage you to visit the following website: https://sen.gov/53RV.

The “EARN IT Act” would establish a National Commission on Online Sexual Exploitation Prevention to recommend best practices for companies to identify and report child sexual abuse material. Companies that implement these, or substantially similar, best practices would not be liable for any child sexual abuse materials that may still be found on their platforms. Companies that fail to meet these requirements, or fail to take other reasonable measures, would lose their liability protection.

Child abuse is one of the most heinous crimes, which is why i was deeply disturbed by recent reporting by The New York Times about the nearly 70 million online photos and videos of child sexual abuse that were reported by technology companies last year. It is a federal crime to possesses, distribute, or produce pictures of sexually explicit conduct with minors, and technology companies are required to report and remove these images on their platforms. Media reports, however, make it clear that current federal enforcement measures are insufficient and that we must do more to protect children from sexual exploitation.

Please know that i believe we must strike an appropriate balance between personal privacy and public safety. It is helpful for me to hear your perspective on this issue, and i will be mindful of your opposition to the “EARN IT Act” as the Senate continues to debate proposals to address child sexual exploitation.

Once again, thank you for writing. Should you have any other questions or comments, please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at feinstein.senate.gov. You can also follow me online at YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and you can sign up for my email newsletter at feinstein.senate.gov/newsletter.

Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Thank you for your response.

While i don’t believe that anyone will ever stand up and be pro-child abuse, i caution that using that banner can often cover significant issues as well. i cite Ms Banker’s testimony at the hearing you attended. Perhaps you may have missed it.

One important decision that should be addressed by Congress in the first instance is any choice to limit or weaken encryption technology. While the bill does not identify “encryption” as a specific matter that the Commission must address, the Commission is not prevented from addressing it and the bill calls for the Commission to include a privacy, security, or cryptography expert. For these and other reasons, it is widely anticipated that the best practices that might emerge from the Commission would require that companies either weaken, or refrain from deploying, encryption protections for private communications. Limitations on the deployment or strength of encryption would impact a wide range of stakeholders and equities that are not represented on the Commission, as well as topics not within its scope.

Requiring companies to engineer vulnerabilities into their services would make us all less secure. Encryption technology stands between billions of internet users around the globe and innumerable threats—from attacks on sensitive infrastructure, including our highly automated financial systems, to attempts by repressive governments to censor dissent and violate human rights. Strong encryption is key to protecting our national interests because encryption technology is an essential proactive defense against bad actors.

Giving the government special access to user data—by building in security vulnerabilities or creating the ability to unlock encrypted communications—is impossible without generating opportunities that would be exploited by bad actors. The exponential growth of the internet both deepens and broadens the risks that would be caused by weakening encryption technology. As the internet becomes relevant to more areas of society and the global economy, our exposure to security vulnerabilities expands as well. Foreign and domestic entities have, for decades, targeted private data in hacks aimed at internet companies—a clear threat to our economic and national security. Strong encryption is our best tool for ensuring that the costs of cyberattacks, data breaches, and other types of exposure are low. And encryption can also be a smart strategy to decrease the incentive to engage in hacking. Encryption fundamentally protects the vital interests of our country and its citizens.

i feel i need to underscore this.

Criminals will continue to use effective encryption. Your bill will simply open the potential for innocent citizens, like yourself, your associates, and your families, to have personal information stolen or used against them.

You can either have effective secure encryption, or you don’t. You cannot have secure “back doors” because they WILL be discovered and used. There’s a saying in computer security: “Hackers have infinite time and resources”. i’ll also state that you cannot have an effective secure key escrow system.

i have a copy of the Washington Post article that shows the TSA master keys. These are now available for 3D printing by anyone. There’s also the famed 1620 key, which opens elevator control panels, job sites, and thousands of other locks in New York, and is available for $8. i’d also encourage you to read up about the DeCSS DVD decryption key, or how quickly even very sophisticated Anti-Piracy systems like Denuvo are cracked. Now imagine how big a target your finances and your secure email would be.

It’s a bit like putting up a bill against the practice of dropping puppies into wood-chippers that included installing cameras into every person’s home. Surely, you oppose puppy mulching, so a camera that watches you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that may be accessed by authorized persons only. Surely, since you love puppies, you wouldn’t be opposed to it, nor would you be shocked if footage of your morning routine showed up on America’s Funniest Home Videos because the master password was written on a post-it that appeared on the Wichita evening news.

i understand how important keeping children safe is. i also understand how critical it is to keep everyone’s personal data safe, and how fragile that system is already. Please don’t make it any more fragile.

Oh for fuck’s sake…

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:: Travel Advise

At work, someone said they were visiting California this upcoming summer for a couple of weeks and wanted to know if there were any recommendations for places to visit.

i offered the following:

There’s lots to do and see in California, but you have to remember that it’s a big state. (it takes around 13 hours to drive from the top to bottom, on freeways, so it’s not really the best way to see it.) i note this because it’s actually worth considering California as several different states loosely bound by asphalt.

True “Northern California” (generally everything north of Santa Rosa) is mostly deep wood areas. That’s where you get some really stunning drives through massive redwood forests and along coastlines. i’ve done route 1 from Mendocino to Eureka. It’s really pretty, but probably not the best with a car full of kids. It can also be more than a bit redneck.

East across the 5 is Shasta, Lassen and Plumas. These are also pretty, but less wooded. They are the remains of part of the volcano chain that stretches up the rest of the coast. Again, great if you love hiking, not so great if you’re into family fun activities.

Heading south a bit you get to what most would consider “Northern California” (which is about mid-way down the state). Basically it’s the Wine valleys (Russian River, Napa & Sonoma) east to about Sacramento, and south to Monterey. Lots and lots of stuff to do around here. Depending on what you want, you can spend days in SF and San Jose, visit Old Town and the train museum in Sacramento. Take advantage of your kids driving skills in the Wine Valleys, or spend the day at the Santa Cruz board walk, or just hit up Atlas Obscura for places like the Musée Mécanique)

Headed further south on 1 (you’ll recognize it for being in every car commercial, ever) gets you to the Central Coast, so named because even Californian’s have no idea how big their state really is. That gets you Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo (SLO). One noted for being Bugs Bunny’s vacation destination of choice, the other for being a college town with a fairly nice downtown. Again, wineries abound around there, and if you’re feeling like ignoring your car rentals strict rules, there’s beach driving at the Dunes. Or there’s also Dinosaur Caves Park, named after a tourist attraction that featured most of a dinosaur that eventually fell into the sea. Darn pretty park, though.

If you’re particularly lucky, and or the weather holds out, you might even be able to see a rocket launch from Vandenburg in Lompoc. (Bonus points if you insist on saying that town’s name like the narrator in Roger Ramjet, but only because it annoys my wife.) Continuing south gets you to Santa Barbara which is notable for it’s beach, ritzy shopping area, and the birthplace of a number of burger joints.

It’s also about where Southern California starts. Personally, i love taking 101 along this stretch since it hugs the coast. Right now, however, there’s also the problem of burn areas and mud slides, but that’s because we insist on putting roads next to mountains that catch fire.

Then comes LA. You could spend years going over all the stuff in LA and still not see it all. Instead feel free to drive through Anaheim past all the theme parks and watch your kids understand the glory of disappointment. Or just go by Knotts Berry Farm and let them wonder why the company that makes half of their peanut butter sandwiches has some deal promoting a 70 year old cartoon character using roller-coasters.

Finally, roll down 5 past the largest military base in the country, and you’ll arrive in San Diego. An old Spanish town which translates roughly into “Base Entrance next 5 exits”. Downtown San Diego does have some really good restaurants, a surprisingly good Little Italy and lots of folks from LA getting away for the weekend.

i didn’t even note some of the eastern stuff like the Salton Sea (which is a weird monument to a devastating irrigation error, the remains of Josuha Tree National Park & Death Valley.

Likewise, there’s Yosemite, with it’s grand vistas and magnificent traffic, and Lake Tahoe, which will probably make you realize you really can’t take too many pictures.

i think that should probably do it. Granted, by this point you’ll probably be enjoying retirement. Your kids retirement, but retirement none the less. Hope that helps!

:: Goin’ Solar

Recently, i had solar installed on my roof. It’s not a huge system, but it covers my average daily need of about 4KWh. It cost me about what a brand new economy car would have, and i understand that i’m in a fairly privileged position, both in the ability to have solar panels installed, and the ability to afford them.

The reason was pretty simple: my electric power rates had hiked up in the past few years and i expected to be at home a bit more. If i could reduce that cost down, there’s no reason i shouldn’t. There are other reasons i considered them, like the fact that i live in earthquake country and having panels means that i’d have some power available 1, and the panels would provide some shade to keep my metal roof from overheating2, but honestly, not forking over $100+ a month was really the major draw.

And, yeah, i get that i’m late to the game on this. i’m ok with that. Cutting edge tech on these sorts of things is foolish. You want something that’s had the kinks worked out and is reliable as hell for the 30+ years they’ll be running.

So, i find it kinda hilarious that there’s a growing backlash about roof top solar.

Part of the problem is that power companies built way the heck too much generation capacity. i can’t really fault them, Natural Gas is cheap thanks to the current glut, and not a lot of folks saw the residential solar panel growth happening the 10 or so years ago that these plants were authorized. Still, residential solar is a fraction of the power generated daily. It does, however, mean that the return on all those bright, shiny, and new power plants won’t be quite as great and it’ll take a few more years before they become profitable. Hooray! Power is a commodity and subject to supply and demand.

Which kinda leads to the next point. Residential power generation is kind of a fluke. Let’s ignore solar, and say that i’ve somehow created a tiny universe filled with residents who step on pedals in order to provide me Watts to spare. In the era before smart meters, i’d plug that in and the analog meter would literally run backwards. The power company would come by every month, read the meter, and wonder how to deal with consuming negative KWh. The simple solution, because not a lot of folks were creating tiny power-plant universes, was to just credit at the same rate they charged and move on. Some months i’d owe, others i’d collect as i fed the excess power back into the grid for my neighbors to use.

This is because the grid doesn’t really care where the power comes from, just that it’s there. It could come from coal plants, gas, wind-turbines, really anything that can send electrons along a path at the proper AC frequency.

So, i’m a little confused by articles like this which state:

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Uhm, what? They’re using power, from the grid. The same grid i’m feeding. They’re writing the same check, just that the power company is acting as a broker rather than the generator.

What’s more, i was required by the power company to install a “smart meter”. Meaning that unlike the analog predecessor, this sucker knows exactly when and how much i am either using or contributing. This means that i could be charged/credited fairly accurately, based off 15 minute increments over the course of the day. Since folks in my neighborhood have been told they’ll be hit with a $120 annual fine if they refuse getting smart meters, i’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time before even the most ardent folks concede and get one. So, yeah, the power company has/will have a stunningly accurate accounting of power patterns for this locale, minus some of the fun of long lines and massive substations.

So, you know what? i’m also 100% ok with not getting residential power prices for the power i’m generating. Yeah, it means that it’ll take longer before my system “pays for itself”, but as stated above, not really the goal. Plus, i know some folks with hilariously huge arrays on their roofs will be pissed, but just like the power company and their now less useful LP plants, Welcome to commodity based markets, bitches!


1So, yeah, fun fact. Solar needs to be able to sense the grid to operate. Otherwise they shut off because they don’t want to barbecue linesmen that might be working on the outage. You can solve that with a battery, but most of those are crap right now so not happening for a few years.

2It’s not a lot, but i’ll take what i can.

:: Acceptance

[wild cheering]

Thank you! Thank you all! What a great night this is for America!

[more cheering]

It is with great honor and pride that i accept this position which i have been tirelessly spending vast sums of money to acquire!

[Cheers!]

i’ll have you know that just prior to coming out to speak to you, i received a gracious call from my opponent conceding this election.

[Lots of cheering]

And though i spent the last five months telling you that he eats babies and regularly worships satan, i accepted his courteous offer before telling him that i was the one who slit his dog’s throat last Tuesday.

[a bit less Cheering]

Let’s face it, i slung more mud at that bozo than BP’s pumped into the well. Heck, the past few weeks? i was just making crap up. You can’t imagine the kind of glee i felt watching that maroon trying to calmly discuss why his grandmother was not smuggling Mexicans north in a hot air balloon during World War II. Honestly, there are jukeboxes that are harder to play. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about tonight! No, tonight we talk about the future!

[Ok, the cheering is back]

A future where you realize that you elected me on groundless promises that had you stayed awake for ten minutes in civics would have shown as impossible!

[And, the cheering is a bit less again]

A future where i will come to the stark realization that politics means other people, and i get to live out the repeated failings of countless others who have held this office ahead of me.

[clapping]

People You hated. People you wanted out so that you could get this fresh face in charge. People who wouldn’t think twice about condemning your neighborhood for a strip bar if it got them that much closer to a more powerful position or at least a decent kick back.

[POST EFX:insert clapping here]

And furthermore, a future where you realize that the slim number of my policies that have the best chance of actually passing are the ones you skipped over because they were boring. Policies like cutting funding for community programs, infrastructure, and permit oversight. So i wouldn’t park anything better than a Pinto under any trees in the area.

[a random cough]

So thank you, one and all! Your votes mean the world to me. Not as much as the money i’ll be getting from lobbyists and future speaking engagements, but it’s sweet how the puppies come back after you kick them. Oh, wait, no that comes next week.

[ ]

Thank you and God Bless America!

:: Cold Called by Terrorists

Last night, i was contacted by a terrorist organization.

i have to admit, i’m not exactly sure how they got my information, nor do i understand why they were interested in me, but sure enough, i got a call from “Out of Area”. Thinking it might be my sister-in-law who’s phone occasionally comes up like that, my wife answered and was told that the caller wanted to speak to me. That’s when a rather tired, low level telephone operator told me to stay on the line for a message for a recorded statement and a one question poll.

That’s when i heard the apparent ringleader of this terrorist cell, Dick Durbin, tell me how he is opposed to justice, favors torture, and is seeking to aide overseas terrorist recruiting operations.

Ok, even if that really was the Senator from Illinois, he didn’t come out and say any of those. Instead the recording went on about how he’s opposed to closing Gitmo, doesn’t want alleged torture investigations to continue, and how we’re all going to die horribly at the hands of the Unitard-Bomber. Even before he got to the sales pitch about some other “like minded” organization that wants my money to keep the children safe, i realized something. In effect, he was frightening imagery and the threat of personal harm in order to scare me into agreeing with him. He was invoking terror for personal or political gain. He was a terrorist.

i’ll note that not all terrorists stuff explosives into articles of clothing and try to set them of at 30,000 feet. Those that remember the IRA battles remember that the vast majority of terrorist activities involved posing the threat or taking credit for an action (often dozens of organizations will take credit for an attack). Often trying to influence folks far beyond the area they can best reach, say, like calling residents of a state a thousand or so miles away and trying to convince them they’re not far more likely to die in an accident on the way to the airport than while in flight. (This is why it’s important to learn math, kids.)

Still, it kind of saddens me that we have so many terrorists deeply embedded in our media, society and governing bodies. But at least i’m taking a stand against them.

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