Thursday, September 11, 2014

iPhones, Us and Me

Remorse sleeps during a prosperous period but wakes up in adversity. —Jean Jacques Rousseau, Confessions

It’s enough to make us all want to quit sending nude photos of ourselves to our closest friends. Of course, the propagation of the nude photo on the Internet by means of the iPhone is simply the latest example of a creative use to which that medium has been put by some of its owners.

When members of earlier generations wanted to capture images of events they wished to preserve for posterity, they did it by committing the event to memory, if a private sort of event, or to film, if a non-private event. Images of public kinds of event that were preserved for posterity were taken with cameras and the subjects would be shown doing all sorts of things like climbing mountains, sailing ships or simply sunbathing on beaches. When recording memories of times on the beach, the raciest photos were defined by the coverage afforded by the bathing suit in the photograph. Times have changed.

The iPhone as camera has found opportunities to display its skills in places where few, if any, of their owners would, in days gone by, have thought of taking cameras. Although the new discovery may seem titillating to the iPhone and its owners, there is a downside to the use of the iPhone to preserve memories of what may take place in the bedroom. The downside becomes apparent when the parties to the bedroom activities are no longer friends and the events were recorded on the iPhone. If the possessor of the iPhone wishes to embarrass the former friend, he or she can simply e-mail images from happier times to mutual friends, not didactically to show what sorts of activities the former friends had engaged in, but vindictively to embarrass the person who didn’t own the iPhone. At least one court has addressed the issue of use of photos of lovers engaged in amorous pursuits once the pursuit has ended. A German court ruled that at the end of a happy relationship either party may be required to delete “intimate or revealing photos and videos” that the couple made in happier times. The court’s ruling did not apply to pictures taken of the woman when fully clothed since the court observed those had “little, if any capacity” to compromise the woman.

We have now learned that it is not only the ordinary who enjoy photographing themselves, either alone or with others in what in earlier days would have been considered private poses and activities. September arrived with the news that some prominent celebrities’ e-mail accounts had been hacked and pictures they had intended to share with only a few select friends were now being shared with the world. Those unfamiliar with modern ways may wonder why anyone takes a selfie or asks a friend to take photographs of himself or herself without the benefit of clothing. Even greater wonder is inspired by the question of why, having been taken, they are posted in a place where a hacker can discover and disseminate them on the Internet. Whatever the reason, it happens and now we can all enjoy photos of some celebrities wearing only what they were given at birth. Those whose photos have been shared with the world are, of course, furious even though in most cases (unless surreptitiously taken) they are the ones responsible for the photographs having been taken in the first place. It is not, however, only the celebrities who have been embarrassed by the disclosures. Apple has been as embarrassed by the distribution of these pictures as the unclad celebrities, albeit for different reasons. Endless news stories and editorials have criticized the company for the fact that the iCloud is not as secure as people thought and suggested that the fault lies with the company and not with the celebrity stars. There is, of course, another way to look at it.

Even if a celebrity has been told that he or she has “a heavenly body” many people might wonder why its possessor would want to place its naked image in the iCloud for friends to see. In announcing the breach of iCloud security that permitted the heavenly bodies to be viewed by the general public, one headline exclaimed: “Leaks of nude celebrity photos raise concerns about security of the cloud.” The headline might more appropriately have read: “Leaks of nude celebrity photos raise concerns about the good sense of some celebrities. ” It is easy to demand an explanation from Apple as to why its site can be hacked by voyeurs. Someone should demand an explanation from the aggrieved as why they posted the images in the first place.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Faux War

— War, children, is just a shot away, it’s just a shot away.
—Mick Jagger, Gimme Shelter (1969)

Wars can, of course, be started quite by accident. They can be started because the warriors on one side or the other are overly enthusiastic about what they are doing and their enthusiasm leads them to do things that may have unintended consequences. They can also be started because one side or the other lacks a sense of direction and accidentally invades another country. Or they can be started because scenes from video games appear on the internet and give the impression that aggressive acts are taking place that are in fact not taking place except in the mind of the creator of the games but the other side is unaware that what appears to be an invasion is in fact merely an illusion. All those things have been happening in the Ukraine but as Vladimir Putin would be the first to explain, there has been no invasion of that country by Russian forces.

The first thing one must keep in mind is that there are really no Russian soldiers involved in that conflict. Some of the Russians who are there are soldiers, but they are not acting in their capacity as soldiers- except insofar as fighting as a soldier is considered being a soldier. Explaining when a soldier is not a soldier, Alexander Zakharchenko, the East Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist leader explained it this way: “Among us are fighting serving soldiers, who would rather take their vacation not on a beach but with us, among brothers, who are fighting for their freedom. . . . There have been around 3,000 to 4,000 of them in our ranks.” He refers to them as soldiers but since they are in fact on leave they are not acting in their capacity as soldiers but as citizen volunteers. The fact that some of them were seen driving Russian issued armored vehicles is no surprise because it is not unlikely that in Russia a soldier on leave is required to take his or her armored vehicle with him or her to the beach or wherever the soldier is planning to go on vacation, in order to keep it in good running shape.

It is not only the vacationing soldier who can create the impression of an invasion. The same thing can happen when a soldier with a bad sense of direction and no GPS wanders into what would be considered enemy territory if the territory into which he or she wandered was at war with the country on the other side of the border. That happened to at least 10 Russian paratroopers in late August.

There was no suggestion at the time of their capture inside Ukraine that they were folks who had foregone a beach vacation in order to enjoy some rest and recreation time in Ukraine and, accordingly no one suggested that they were not in fact acting as soldiers. They were apparently real paratroopers doing real paratrooper kind of work and they simply got confused as to where the border between Russia and the Ukraine was. Since they mostly enter countries from the air and the pilot of the airplane tells them where they should land, it’s easy to see how that mistake could happen. A Russian defense ministry spokesman said the paratroopers who had probably come in from the air, were “patrolling the Russian-Ukrainian border, [and] crossed it by accident on an unmarked section.” He went on to point out that they offered no resistance when they were captured thus conclusively demonstrating that they were not engaged in hostile activity but were simply lost.

Another thing that can cause a war to start by accident is if one side, in order to demonstrate the bad acts of the other side, broadcasts to the world images of a purported aggressor sending self-propelled armored vehicles into another country if those images are in fact simply images taken from a video game. That happened on August 26 when NATO showed pictures of a convoy of self-propelled armored vehicles that appeared to be driving into the Ukraine. The images were, of course, not real. Russia’s Foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov explained that NATO was using “images from computer games” to prove that there were Russian troops in the Ukraine. He said, referring to these images, that “hiding the evidence is an outstanding characteristic of the U.S. and many EU countries” when it comes to the Ukraine. (It is not clear why showing a video from a computer game would be considered “hiding the evidence” and no one asked Mr. Lavrov to explain.) Of course if those pictures were not from a video game Mr. Lavrov would have had a tough time explaining why their entering Ukraine was not part of an invasion.

If it were not for the helpful explanations by Mr. Putin’s assorted spokesmen we might be concerned about how events in Ukraine will ultimately play out. For good reason.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Missouri-Show Me What?

I come from a state that raises corn . . .and Democrats and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.
— Willard Duncan Vandiver, Speech at Naval Academy 1899

In order to place things in perspective when looking at Missouri it helps to consider that there are worse things in that fair state than the Ferguson police department. Consider the justices on its Supreme Court, the state legislature and, as they most recently demonstrated, its voters.

The Justices on the Missouri Supreme Court have spent considerable time during the last few years on lawless excursions in the state’s death chambers. The Justices have repeatedly shown that they do not subscribe to the legal principles followed by most state courts. The principles they ignore are those that require that executions of those on death row should not take place while the prospective beneficiaries of the process have appeals pending before federal courts requesting postponement of the event. In a thoughtful dissent in the 2014 case of Zink, Nicklasson et al vs. Lombardi Judge Herbert Bye, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, reviewed the Missouri Supreme Court’s unwillingness to defer to federal courts when it came to executions. In his dissent he wrote that: “Missouri has a well-documented history of attempting to execute death row inmates before the federal courts can determine the constitutionality of the executions.” He observed that among the court’s many wanderings through the death penalty process was the 1983 case of Doyle Williams. The Missouri Supreme Court set a time for Mr. Williams to expire at the hands of the executioner before the time for Mr. Williams to appeal his conviction and death sentence had expired. In staying the execution, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun explained to the Missouri Justices that legal protocol required that condemned criminals should not be killed by the state until all their federal appeals had been exhausted. A few months later the Missouri Justices again set a date for executing four condemned men before the time for them to appeal had run and again Justice Blackmun admonished the Missouri Justices saying: “If Missouri fails to fulfill its responsibility, I shall fulfill mine.” The Missouri Justices who did not appreciate being admonished by a United States Supreme Court Justice ignored Justice Blackmun and continued in their free wheeling ways. In January 2014 they permitted the executioner to execute Herbert Smulls 30 minutes before the U.S. Supreme Court had acted on Mr. Smulls’ request for a stay. (The Justices were prescient-Mr. Smull’s request was turned down-after he was dead.) It is not only the court that acts in ways that non-Missourians find difficult to understand. The legislature is a close second.

In 2007 the Missouri legislature repealed a law that had been in effect for several years requiring would-be gun buyers to be vetted and licensed by a local sheriff prior to the purchase. According to a “report”: in the Journal of Urban Health following that law’s repeal there were an additional 60 gun-related murders in that state each year between 2008 and 2012. In February 2014 the Missouri legislature considered another broad gun rights bill. One of its provisions required that a gun owner report the theft of a firearm within 72 hours after discovering the theft. The NRA believed that such a reporting provision implicated the 2d Amendment’s guarantees and at its urging, that provision was stripped from the bill. Although the NRA’s rationale is not immediately obvious, it may well be that if a person reports to authorities that his or her gun has been stolen the person is admitting that he or she had a gun and that is clearly no one’s business and a violation of the reporter’s second amendment rights. The people of Missouri, of course, elect their legislators and a recent vote suggests they get what they deserve.

On August 5, 2014 voters approved Amendment 5 to the Missouri Constitution by a 64% margin. That amendment states that: “The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, family and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned. The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. The state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.” Michael Boldin, the Executive Director of the Tenth Amendment Center, said that the passage of the amendment was merely the first step in nullifying all federal gun laws and regulations in force in Missouri. As he explained: “Today was step one. Step two is now. Pass the 2d Amendment Preservation Act, banning state enforcement of every so-called federal gun law. And from there, step three and four will be to bring gun control to an end in Missouri.”

Missouri calls itself “The Show Me State.” Someone should accept its invitation. It needs all the help it can get.