"More perfect union?" by Alan Wilson

This book is billed as being for people who want to align their heads with the directions their hearts have already taken on the issue of same-sex marriage and the acceptance of non-straight people in general. Specifically, if you’re a committed Christian and believe in marriage equality, but can’t square this theologically with what you have read in the Bible or heard in Church, and are minded to do so, then this book is for you.

This book was also written for two other audiences; one of them is very clearly the other bishops of the Church of England, i.e. Alan Wilson’s colleagues; the other, according to the blurbs on the inside of the cover, is people who disagree with the position of the author on same-sex marriage. This last group may understandably be harder to convince than the primary audience mentioned above, and I doubt that the book contains arguments they haven’t heard before, and have already thought hard about; I invite them to skim a book report in order to confirm this :-)

If you’re not a Christian then you may well be wondering what all the fuss is about and why it matters to you. Two short answers: (a) it probably doesn’t if you’re straight, and (b) a lot of bigotry and homophobia in Europe and abroad is regrettably buttressed by, given moral cover from, or couched in the terms of, religious or pseudo-religious reasoning. If this troubles you, then you might agree that the sooner churches pulls the rug out from under that kind of thing, the better.

The book starts with a brief history of the Church’s attitude to non-straight sexuality & gender from after WW2. This chapter alone is a shameful indictment of recent church history. I choose my words carefully when I say that reading how the Church enabled, collaborated with, and supplied moral justifications for a system that enabled so much pain, anguish and humiliation, leaving broken families and suicides in its wake – it left me feeling fucking angry. After I calmed down a bit, I was left merely deeply upset, that an institution supposedly dedicated to a God of love could get things so completely, terribly, heartbreakingly wrong.

It’s this chapter that, for me, makes it hardest to tolerate discrimination against gay people in Church, or consider as just their exclusion from Christian marriage. With the best will in the world and no matter the intentions behind it, for gay people wanting to marry in church, their exclusion must seem like just the latest blot on a long and dense time-line of prejudice and discrimination. In my opinion, if the established church wants to honestly adopt exclusion as a policy without condoning its terrible conduct in recent history, then the first order of business should be a major exercise in corporate repentance. Of course, I don’t see how any repentance could be sincere and leave such a policy in place.

Back to the book, we’re taken on a brief tour of the domains in which the arguments for and against tolerance, and more controversially, full acceptance of homosexuality is conducted. Briefly looking at the scientific, sociological and societal facts as he sees them, he then turns to scripture and shows how - surprise surprise - it's all in the interpretation. Modern interpretation tries to take into account the frame of reference of the culture in which the text was written, explaining why nobody thinks Christians should follow the holiness codes from Leviticus, or live according to rules meant for people living in the Roman empire.

It's in his interpretations that he’ll probably part ways with any readers not agreeing with his central point. One quote I thought humorous enough was “[you may] notice the complete absence in the N.T. of any of the extensive standard assortment of Greek words that would have been used naturally to describe the enormous amount of same-sex activity that went on in ancient cities”, although generally his arguments are of a weightier quality, familiar though they may be to anyone who’s been following the debate. However, given the size of the volume and the speed at which he covers ground, his arguments are made in broad enough terms that I'm sure objections can be found by people unmotivated by the framing logic.

After the science, sociology and theology lessons comes a history of marriage, ancient (in the Bible) and modern (how did Christian marriage became the norm in Britain?) In the Bible, marriage is mostly depicted as barbarically as you might expect in the Old Testament and as of little concern at first in the New Testament letters given that Jesus is coming back real soon now, so why bother? Once the New Testament writers and early Church fathers realised that the second coming might take a while, they looked again at the gospels, and it's from the gospels and later writings that Wilson draws his major points, which he then uses to shed light and not a little heat on the history of the Church of England.

Several of his major points: marriage is an institution of its time and culture, and has never had a fixed representation handed down by God; marriage is ideally centred around a spiritual relationship of self-giving love and partnership, not reproduction or sex; and that the institution of marriage, like the Sabbath, was made for people, not the people for the institution.

The history of marriage from the dark ages on, as told here, is quite engaging. Marriage has gradually been seen as less of a dynastic arrangement or question of property transfer, and more and more as an idealised ‘love’-based relationship, a consenting partnership of equals. These developments are something that Wilson claims have their roots in Christianity. The church is portrayed as constantly trying to batton down a stable definition in the midst of changing cultural mores and prejudices.

Looking at post-war developments, Wilson states that marriage is no longer seen as the gateway to adulthood and sexual activity, but is more the “gold standard”-certification of mature relationships. On this second point I beg to differ; I see it as a cultural choice. I am quite sure that it's normal these days to know stable, loyal, non-married and married couples, just as it is sadly normal to know relationships that have gone wrong inside and outside of marriages.

Wilson gives a little space to considering global church unity before moving on to CofE minutiae, which considering that the CofE is, for historical reasons, bureaucratically central to the Anglican Communion, is probably not enough. I also think this small consideration is the reason that he's quite harsh with Rowan Williams and his efforts on this topic. As he states several times in the book; it’s worth remembering that world-wide, the trend is not liberalisation but polarisation – with many countries, notably Uganda, moving to a more hard-line stance, again with highly unfortunate religion-based justifications.

At 164 pages this book covers a lot of ground in a short space. It’s well-written and not at all formal or academic in its approach, remaining accessible while managing not to blunt the force of its arguments by dint of presenting them in a popular format. I don’t expect it to change anyone’s mind but I do hope it will encourage more people to stand up for marriage equality as Christians. And I strongly encourage any bishops reading this to buy themselves a copy, if they haven't already had one dropped gratis into their pigeon-hole at Lambeth Palace.


Idea: Incentivizing CO2 sequestration by appealing to rich tax-dodgers (and their bankers)

James Hamilton has a nice post about what happened to the RE<C project, an initiative by Google that was intended to render renewable energy cheaper than coal.

Like most ridiculously ambitious projects, the goal was never realised, but some interesting learnings were gleaned from the experience of trying, as two of the engineers wrote about in the IEEE Spectrum magazine from whence the chart to the right was taken.

Long story short: switching completely to renewable energy takes the foot off the accelerator, but doesn't put us on the right direction in CO2 emissions, which should be: in reverse. To go into reverse, you need carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere.

James' mention of using economic systems to align incentives got me thinking about carbon credits, carbon taxes etc. As I understand it, both systems act as industrial regulation. They appeal to the rational side of human nature, but what's stopping us from fixing climate change is exactly the opposite: it's a collective action problem (CAP) and so in today's coldly rational geopolitics, nobody wants to move without anybody else. So how about appealing to the less sophisticated traits of human nature - the desire for riches and the reluctance to pay taxes?

It occurred to me that if a nation with a developed banking system issued a major tax break on all wealth denominated in tons of sequestered CO2, then the fiscal optimisation experts would do the rest and the financial giants of Wall St. and the City would soon be pointing the smart money at CCS technology.

Like the stones of Yap, the carbon doesn't have to be accessible to be usable as currency. An assaying/auditing authority would be responsible for issuing the currency units, which could be made liquid, transferable and splittable into smaller, more usable amounts using a Bitcoin-style blockchain. The 'worth' of each unit issued could be pegged to a major currency as a function on e.g. the last parts-per-million (PPM) figure for CO2 issued by the NOAA, and the exchange rate for other currencies determined by the currency market as usual.

This hare-brained scheme has several extremely cynical advantages. CCS technologies are immature and need lots of investment; and the banks managing the truly insane wealth of the 0.01% have lots of money sloshing around. Rich entities like billionaires and major corporations have lots of money and need to keep it somewhere, and don't like paying tax. Experience shows they will evade taxes anyway, but by giving them a way to do it closer to home, they can shut down their 'head office' in the Cayman Islands, and burnish their green CSR credentials at the same time. And finally, other countries might follow suit and issue their own tax breaks for CO2-denominated wealth, in which case, party on! Humans spit 29 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and the more people doing the opposite, the better.


God, Gender and the Bible by Deborah F. Sawyer

I just finished reading God, Gender and the Bible by Deborah F. Sawyer, which I gave Bethan a few birthdays ago. It's a short but weighty look at how God and gender roles interact in the Bible. It's academic in its approach and uses, among other things, Judith Butler's theories of gender performativity and Luce Irigaray's ideas of memesis to dissect gender roles in several contexts - most notably, Genesis, Judges, Jeremiah and the New Testament.

Now if by chance you're thinking "Feminist theologian! I can see where this is going," you'd be wrong, because Sawyer makes no attempt to either excuse or condemn the patriarchal nature of most scripture, and cheerfully takes an axe to some of the best "yes, but"s of Christianity's attempts to be more friendly to womankind. For example, women are frequently well-portrayed and commended for exemplary behaviour in the gospels, but Sawyer mostly categorises this as a literary device designed to show up the men, with whom it was assumed the readers would identify - not, sadly, as early examples of proto-feminism.

Neither is this an attempt to prop up current forms of patriarchy using biblical authority. Sawyer looks unflinchingly at the worst of it - exposure of infants, Jephthah's murder of his daughter in front of a mute God, and even more horrific things in Judges. Yet these things are the backdrop for several stories that are examined in more detail - those of Eve, Abraham's wife Sarah, Tamar, Ruth & Naomi, Judith, and the Samaritan woman at the well, among others.

Using these stories, the book illustrates is that once gender roles are recast as human constructs, rooted in a particular time & place, we can readily see how assigned roles are bent, twisted and broken as necessary to fulfil God's divine plan. To list a few examples, Tamar and Ruth both subvert the ancient Jewish laws of levirate marriage. Judith, a widow, not only refuses remarriage, she acts as both seductress and then assassin, accomplishing what the men of Israel could not.

Moving onto the New Testament, Sawyer uses early Roman Christianity to show how the paterfamilias was usurped by a manner of deusfamilias that was extremely threatening to the Roman empire in its form at the time, due in part God taking the place of the Emperor in religious life (Romans of the time referring to Christians as atheists, funnily enough [for us, that is - the arena wasn't really funny for them.]), and due also to converting women believing themselves free from the obligation to bear Roman children.

Throughout the book there are two themes running in parallel; firstly that patriarchy itself is emasculated in the presence of a divine God, and that ultimately all power relations are flattened into insignificance before God in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is succinctly summarised in (surprise!) Galatians 3 v. 28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

The second theme is the running conflict or paradox between manifest human autonomy and God's demand on his believers for absolute dependence on him, referred to most often as being modelled on a parent-child relationship. As I understand it, Sawyer sees post-Enlightenment humanity as having "come of age". Growing children constantly renegotiate the terms of their relationship with their parents, and this is as it should be, stressful though it may be for all concerned. But how can a mortal, limited humanity renegotiate with an infinite, divine & eternal God? Near the end of the final chapter, Sawyer proposes (I think) Eve's original sin as being part of the divine plan as a way of resolving this, and I confess at this point I have no idea what to think about that, being already stuffed to the gunnels with the rest of the book.

Anyway! Modern gender theory is deployed here as a very capable tool to highlight God's divinity, which is not something I expected. If you are of a theological bent and have an opinion on gender roles and the Bible, I would highly recommend it as being very thought-provoking.


Mrs Tittlemouse is a short-sighted bourgeois reactionary

Reading a story aloud every evening for months on end does strange things to your brain. Thus, after the third or fourth month of reading 'The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse' by Beatrix Potter to my little daughter, something clicked, or maybe snapped, and I suddenly realised that the story is actually about Communism and the secret police, and has a surprising moral that is relevant to these post-Snowden times.

You may think this is deeply silly, and you're probably right. But since Mrs Tittlemouse is both quite short and now in the public domain, I can offer you a scene-by-scene interpretation right here.

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse   ...and what it means
Once upon a time there was a wood-mouse, and her name was Mrs. Tittlemouse.

She lived in a bank under a hedge.

Such a funny house! There were yards and yards of sandy passages, leading to storerooms and nut-cellars and seed-cellars, all amongst the roots of the hedge.

There was a kitchen, a parlour, a pantry, and a larder.

Also, there was Mrs. Tittlemouse's bedroom, where she slept in a little box bed!

Mrs. Tittlemouse was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors.

This introduction serves to establish Mrs. Tittlemouse as a landowner obsessed with order.
Sometimes a beetle lost its way in the passages.

"Shuh! shuh! little dirty feet!" said Mrs. Tittlemouse, clattering her dust-pan.

And one day a little old woman ran up and down in a red spotty cloak.

The truth is that, Mrs. Tittlemouse's claim to 'ownership' of what appears to be a common right of way is only given weight through the use of intimidation,
"Your house is on fire, Mother Ladybird! Fly away home to your children!"

Another day, a big fat spider came in to shelter from the rain.

"Beg pardon, is this not Miss Muffet's?"

"Go away, you bold bad spider! Leaving ends of cobweb all over my nice clean house!"

She bundled the spider out at a window.

He let himself down the hedge with a long thin bit of string.

and unwarranted physical coercion.
Mrs. Tittlemouse went on her way to a distant storeroom, to fetch cherry-stones and thistle-down seed for dinner.

All along the passage she sniffed, and looked at the floor.

"I smell a smell of honey; is it the cowslips outside, in the hedge? I am sure I can see the marks of little dirty feet."

Suddenly round a corner, she met Babbitty Bumble—"Zizz, Bizz, Bizzz!" said the bumble bee.

Mrs. Tittlemouse looked at her severely. She wished that she had a broom.

Babbity Bumble can't be intimidated however. He's a bee!
"Good-day, Babbitty Bumble; I should be glad to buy some beeswax. But what are you doing down here? Why do you always come in at a window, and say Zizz, Bizz, Bizzz?" Mrs. Tittlemouse began to get cross.

Mrs. Tittlemouse is experiencing cognitive dissonance caused by Babbity refusing to conform to the classical worker-capitalist paradigm.
"Zizz, Wizz, Wizzz!" replied Babbitty Bumble in a peevish squeak. She sidled down a passage, and disappeared into a storeroom which had been used for acorns.

Mrs. Tittlemouse had eaten the acorns before Christmas; the storeroom ought to have been empty.

In other words, Mrs. Tittlemouse would rather the storeroom go unused than have the space be productively filled.
But it was full of untidy dry moss.

Mrs. Tittlemouse began to pull out the moss. Three or four other bees put their heads out, and buzzed fiercely.

"I am not in the habit of letting lodgings; this is an intrusion!" said Mrs. Tittlemouse. "I will have them turned out—" "Buzz! Buzz! Buzzz!"—"I wonder who would help me?" "Bizz, Wizz, Wizzz!"

The bees, lead by Babbity Bumble, have formed a workers collective and—worse!—reclaimed the heretofore-unused real-estate as socially useful living space. No doubt the bees consider the unallocated resources the byproduct of a wasteful economy that hasn't been properly planned.
—"I will not have Mr. Jackson; he never wipes his feet."

Mrs. Tittlemouse decided to leave the bees till after dinner.

Tittlemouse is essentially driven back by the collective resistance of the bees, but is still reluctant to call upon Mr. Jackson, and for good reason as we shall see...

When she got back to the parlour, she heard some one coughing in a fat voice; and there sat Mr. Jackson himself!

...but Mr. Jackson has eyes, ears and noses everywhere, and he already knows that something's up.
He was sitting all over a small rocking-chair, twiddling his thumbs and smiling, with his feet on the fender.

He lived in a drain below the hedge, in a very dirty wet ditch.

Mr. Jackson is not good company. This is because Mr. Jackson is, in fact, an agent of the secret police. Dirty work is his speciality.
"How do you do, Mr. Jackson? Deary me, you have got very wet!"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Tittlemouse! I'll sit awhile and dry myself," said Mr. Jackson.

Mr. Jackson begins to toy with Mrs. Tittlemouse. Like all government officials, he speaks in triplicate...
He sat and smiled, and the water dripped off his coat tails. Mrs. Tittlemouse went round with a mop.

He sat such a while that he had to be asked if he would take some dinner?

First she offered him cherry-stones. "Thank you, thank you, Mrs. Tittlemouse! No teeth, no teeth, no teeth!" said Mr. Jackson.

He opened his mouth most unnecessarily wide; he certainly had not a tooth in his head.

Then she offered him thistle-down seed—"Tiddly, widdly, widdly! Pouff, pouff, puff!" said Mr. Jackson. He blew the thistle-down all over the room.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Tittlemouse! Now what I really—really should like—would be a little dish of honey!"

...until he finally reveals the true purpose of his call.
"I am afraid I have not got any, Mr. Jackson," said Mrs. Tittlemouse.

"Tiddly, widdly, widdly, Mrs. Tittlemouse!" said the smiling Mr. Jackson, "I can smell it; that is why I came to call."

Protestations of innocence are useless...
Mr. Jackson rose ponderously from the table, and began to look into the cupboards.

Mrs. Tittlemouse followed him with a dish-cloth, to wipe his large wet footmarks off the parlour floor.

When he had convinced himself that there was no honey in the cupboards, he began to walk down the passage.

...Mrs. Tittlemouses' right to privacy and her protection from unreasonable search and seizure are ignored.

The truth is that, like the modern-day 'war on terror', the fight against communism considered civil liberties as mere obstacles, to be ridden over rough-shod.
"Indeed, indeed, you will stick fast, Mr. Jackson!"

"Tiddly, widdly, widdly, Mrs. Tittlemouse!"

First he squeezed into the pantry.

"Tiddly, widdly, widdly? no honey? no honey, Mrs. Tittlemouse?"

Again, this symbolises the creeping abrogation of Mrs. Tittlemouses rights. Furthermore, although Mr. Jackson is searching for honey, other innocents are caught up in his search of her private property...
There were three creepy-crawly people hiding in the plate-rack. Two of them got away; but the littlest one he caught.

...and suffer the consequences of his paranoia.
Then he squeezed into the larder. Miss Butterfly was tasting the sugar; but she flew away out of the window.

Miss Butterfly probably represents the socialite elite. She's happy to flit through the window and fashionably play with the boundaries that Babbity and her comrades are trying to erase, but she didn't stay to fight.

"Tiddly, widdly, widdly, Mrs. Tittlemouse; you seem to have plenty of visitors!"

"And without any invitation!" said Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.

Note that Mrs. Tittlemouse, despite her obsession with hygiene and dislike of (non-mouse) visitors, was less comfortable still with Mr. Jackson.

Beatrix Potter is showing that the bourgeois are unhappy with the methods used by the state against revolutionaries, even when the state believes itself to be acting in their interests...
They went along the sandy passage—
"Tiddly widdly—" "Buzz! Wizz! Wizz!"

He met Babbitty round a corner, and snapped her up, and put her down again.

"I do not like bumble bees. They are all over bristles," said Mr. Jackson, wiping his mouth with his coat-sleeve.

"Get out, you nasty old toad!" shrieked Babbitty Bumble.

"I shall go distracted!" scolded Mrs. Tittlemouse.

She shut herself up in the nut-cellar while Mr. Jackson pulled out the bees-nest. He seemed to have no objection to stings.

When Mrs. Tittlemouse ventured to come out—everybody had gone away.

...and while the real fight takes place she hides...
But the untidiness was something dreadful—"Never did I see such a mess—smears of honey; and moss, and thistledown—and marks of big and little dirty feet—all over my nice clean house!"

...and the riot is over, the state has destroyed the temporary autonomous zone, and left Mrs. Tittlemouse to clean up the mess.
She gathered up the moss and the remains of the beeswax.

Then she went out and fetched some twigs, to partly close up the front door.

"I will make it too small for Mr. Jackson!"

She fetched soft soap, and flannel, and a new scrubbing brush from the storeroom. But she was too tired to do any more. First she fell asleep in her chair, and then she went to bed.

Note that Tittlemouse shows no concern for the bee pupae that were gestating in their nest; no concern for where Babbity Bumble will live now that storeroom is empty and useless again. She's concerned merely with order for the sake of a quiet life and the maintenence of the status quo, oh and look—free beeswax!

In making the front door smaller, has Mrs. Tittlemouse let her love of order override the proper concerns of national security? Or has her initial distaste for Mr. Jackson solidified into rejection and disgust over his disproportionate, jack-booted response to the radicalised bees? Has she herself been radicalised?
"Will it ever be tidy again?" said poor Mrs. Tittlemouse.

Next morning she got up very early and began a spring cleaning which lasted a fortnight.
She swept, and scrubbed, and dusted; and she rubbed up the furniture with beeswax, and polished her little tin spoons.

When it was all beautifully neat and clean, she gave a party to five other little mice, without Mr. Jackson.

He smelt the party and came up the bank, but he could not squeeze in at the door.

The answer is no; The truth is that Mrs. Tittlemouse cares only for other mice and their opinions of her social elite; her racist prejudices prevent her from obtaining class consciousness through empathy with her fellow woodland animals.
So they handed him out acorn-cupfuls of honey-dew through the window, and he was not at all offended.

She's quite willing to accommodate Mr. Jackson and even continues to pay her taxes. She has seen the violence inherent in the system, but continues to conform.
He sat outside in the sun, and said—"Tiddly, widdly, widdly! Your very good health, Mrs. Tittlemouse!"

So there you have it. Mrs. Tittlemouse represents the landed bourgeois, the bees the workers collective, and Mr. Jackson the secret police. Truly a tale with a 'nightmarish quality' as Daphne Kutzer apparently wrote in her no-doubt less addled take on the story.

But a spectre is haunting Mrs. Tittlemouse - the spectre of what happens next time the bees come back through the window! How will Mr. Jackson destroy their nest, now that he can't get in through the front door?

Are we supposed to ask ourselves this question? Is Potter suggesting Tittlemouse's reluctance to call upon Mr. Jackson is misplaced, or is she secretly rooting for the return of the bees?

OK, but what does this have to do with the NSA?

The relevance of the fable to today is surprising. Imagine that instead of physically invading Mrs. Tittlemouses cupboards, Mr. Jackson has instead harvested her email, Facebook status updates and Yahoo webcam chat sessions. In response, Mrs. Tittlemouse didn't resize her front door; she audited all her crypto software, and ensured that all her Internet traffic was encrypted. But once the Internet is safe from surveillance, does that also make it safe for malfeasance?

This story illustrates a dilemma confronted by many throughout history. To what extent are we willing to compromise our core sense of identity in order to ensure collective security, and to whom does it fall to set these limits? In this story, Mr. Jackson unilaterally evicted the bees. As a consequence, Mrs. Tittlemouse accepts the risks of more bees taking up lodging in future, in order to maintain the tidiness (and access to beeswax) that is so important to her.

Today, the security establishment in the shape of the NSA, GCHQ and the other signatories of the 'Five Eyes' treaty have unilaterally decided where our rights to privacy begin and end. They've made an end-run around democratic limits by arranging for the NSA to spy in Europe, for GCHQ to spy on American companies such as Google, etcetera.

In response, Google now encrypts their datacenter links, journalists are more likely to use encryption, and any website that professes to value your data uses encryption by default. We are slowly realising that Mr. Jackson is not our friend, and, like Mrs. Tittlemouse, that we need to make our front door smaller.


Heartbleed and the NSA: put your hand up if you've ever credited a responsible-disclosure vulnerability report to the NSA. Anybody? Anybody?

Heartbleed is no doubt the worst security bug to hit the Internet in a very, very long time, and this comes hot on the heels of serious SSL certificate checking bugs in iOS and OpenSSL.

Bloomberg says the NSA knew of Heartbleed and said nothing. The ODNI forcefully denies this. Unfortunately the denial is difficult to accept, and here is why. Vendors often credit the people or organisations who find vulnerabilities. As the ODNI themselves pointed out, the Federal government uses OpenSSL and, no doubt, many other open source security products.

It would make sense for the 'defensive' wing of the NSA to to audit these products and, following the logic the ODNI themselves laid out in the link above, responsibly disclose any vulnerabilities to the product owners.

Furthermore, it is an obvious PR win for the NSA to ask for credit, and they know how open source works, having done work on SELinux etc. People would say, "Hey, my tax dollars at work, making us all safer! Truly the NSA is a force for good in the world."

(On the other hand, it is an obvious counterintelligence win not to ask for credit, because then the Chinese, Russians etc. (and Germans, the MSF, and UNICEF to judge by their target list) would say 'The NSA can find that type of vulnerability? Better scan our software!' and Coverity would add a check for that class of problem, making future bug hunting harder.)

But here is the problem: does anyone recall any serious security vulnerabilities that were found and disclosed by the NSA? I don't. We know they search for vulnerabilities; the ODNI admits this themselves. Thanks to Snowden we know that programs such as FoxAcid can query a library of exploits in real time using complex criteria such as value, risk of disclosure etc.

If the ODNI's assertions regarding disclosure of vulnerabilities such as heartbleed are true, where are the corporations and open source projects that can stand up and credit the NSA with finding the problems for which they have issued patches? Why is their blog post above a context-free assertion of fact, instead of a litany of examples of past actions?

This is my conclusion. Anyone who works on OpenSSL or any other open source project such as BIND or Apache, and who has received a vulnerability disclosure from the NSA, needs to stand up and say so. Their continuing absence proves Bloomberg right and the ODNI wrong, and we need to know.


The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

So I was given this book as a present by my brother – thanks! – which presented a good opportunity to read a book I’d normally never pick up; due to (a) what I know about Objectivism, and (b) what people who like Rand seem to get up to: see Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, etc.

But! I will say this: to its credit, and taken as a book, considered apart from its philosophical, moral and political stances, then it is actually quite good. Why: the dialog crackles. The plot is constructed well enough that it kept tugging me on in the manner of a good thriller, and the people are well-drawn enough that I wanted to find out what happened to them. It was good enough that I didn't read any other books at the same time. As a minor weak point, in some places the descriptive prose is hideously clunky.

That said, everything else about the book stands as a good example of why artistic merit is often divorced from other value systems, and since the author and the book itself specifically demand not to be judged in isolation from reality, as art for the sake of art, I’m happy to unload on the book as follows.

Firstly, Rand has used to the fullest extent her liberty as author to construct a reality in which her argument is presented in the best possible light. There’s nothing wrong with this as a rhetorical device; otherwise what would be the point of a political novel? But it’s interesting to note what had to be left out in order to make her promotion of egoism and self-interest-as-Prime-Directive stick.

There is one mother and one father in this book, that of Keating and Dominique respectively, and both parent-child relationships are severely dysfunctional. They are both relations between grown children and their parents. Parent-child relationships where the child is younger, i.e. dependent, clearly don’t figure in a world where self-interest is all, and indeed how can it? Parents sacrifice a lot when they have children – free time, mobility, sleep, income – and all sacrifice is antithetical to Rand’s philosophy. She would call it selfish, saying that the parent is somehow trying to live through their child, second-hand. I don’t deny that some parents do try this, but certainly not all; and all good parents sacrifice.

This lack of basic relationality goes further; there is one uncle (Toohey) and one niece (Katy), no brothers or sisters, no cousins, no grandparents or grandchildren. Roark and Dominique, the heroes, are introduced to us almost from nowhere. Roark’s parents are hardly discussed, yet where was his absolute self-centeredness inculcated? Dominique’s mother is dead, so where did she pick up her psychological sadomasochism? How did she grow up, since Guy Francon clearly wasn't involved? Gail Wynand, for his part, is effectively an orphan.

The only person whose parents are introduced at all are Toohey’s, whom we learn he manipulated into subservience at an early age. Nothing else about them seems significant.

This lack of familial relations, and the sparse friendships represented, allow Rand to promote self-interest to the hilt. She obviates the need for vulnerability in true relationships, she elides material links except when they illustrate weakness of character as in Keating. Wynand and Roarck came from a poor background, but neither have ill or poor parents, grandparents or other family members to support. Roarck doesn't need to think about paying the medical bills of his father; and if he did, then in what light would this cast his decision to refuse work, or to get himself expelled from school?

Enough about what is missing. What is present is objectionable enough, and we can start with the rape of Dominique Francon. Limply described as a 'rough sexual encounter' in the plot summary in the Wikipedia article, the section dedicated to the rape scene itself devotes half its verbiage to pathetic attempts to defend it. But I ask you: in what kind of rough sex would one attempt to smash one's lover over the head with a crystal lamp-stand? Miles away from anywhere, in the middle of the night, where your lover could die of blood-loss, from the nasty head wound a successful blow would inflict?

It's not hard to object even though the author clearly doesn't. As written, Dominique didn't enjoy it; she fought like a demon, she felt herself defiled. She suffered terrible pain. She went into shock immediately afterwards on the bathroom floor. Rand can deny this is rape; that matters not in the slightest. It was rape as written; in the book Dominique refers to it as rape.

It makes things worse to try and offer the slight smidgen of justification available: that in the book, Dominique is a sadist, she enjoys suffering, she was in love and secretly wanted it. Worse because in the real world, tragically, women are raped, all the time, by men who falsely and wrongly believe all these things of their victims. And this scene in a book that offers Roarck as a model, a super-man worthy of emulation, and Dominique in her tormenting and submission to him following this as an ideal woman. When you consider that the book is often read and admired by young men, it gets worse still.

I'm far from the first and surely not the last to make these points. But what of the ideology? After all the book is explicit in its agenda, what of that?

This is where I get more mixed and less forthright, because Rand herself is highly mixed up. She movingly describes the designs of Roarck, and the scathing indictment of all others shows a real love of building and architecture. Yet it's when Toohey is insincerely promoting collectivism that we hear of sacrifice, charity, and love. Greatness, Rand is saying, rejects all these things in the furtherance of itself.

How wrong this is. And ironically the book itself is full of sacrifice, charity and love; without which Roarck could not succeed. Austen Heller sacrifices a good portion of his reputation in first hiring Roarck for his debut project, then defending him; the worker Mike sacrifices time and income to move with Roarck in order to work with him; Heller and later Wynand host Roarck as he relaxes; And Wynand very clearly grows to love Roarck, even in preference over his then-wife, in all ways except romantically.

It's Toohey, in the book, who does nothing out of love or charity. All his actions are self-serving, but they are dressed up in the language of collectivism. His deceit, however, is also self-serving. And it's when Toohey is insincerely extolling collectivism that the book expresses the distorted shadow of what love, charity and sacrifice are all about.

But again, the book constructs a reality to support it's argument, why should it not be distorted? However, to see clearly the nature of distortion I think it's most helpful to compare the book to a real-world scenario.
"Buildings and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a building if you understand how it’s made. I want to know what buildings are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like."
A quote from Roarck? No. Imagine that Rand was writing The Fountainhead today, and not about architecture, but about technology. Roarck and his purist sensibilities, and his refusal to compromise, are mirrored nowhere better than in one company: Apple.

Steve Jobs was famously self-centered, and the gadgets that Apple produced under him and his successors are the product of a laser-like focus on greatness, a word that Rand and Jobs both loved to use.

Jonathan Ive is the chief designer at Apple and deserves a lot of credit of the iMac, iPhone, and iPad. He worked closely with Jobs, and recently gave a (very) rare interview to Time magazine. The above quote is from him, except that I replaced the words "object" or "thing" with "building".

Watch me put some of his quotes into two buckets, named after characters you might recognise:

"We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.""I don’t like being singled out for attention. Designing, engineering and making these products requires large teams,"
"We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. ... our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn."[The team] "is really much smaller than you’d think — about 15. Most of us have worked together for 15 to 20 years. ... We can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded."
"What people are responding to is much bigger than the object. They are responding to something rare — a group of people who do more than simply make something work, they make the very best products they possibly can. It’s a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness,""Apple is imperfect, like every large collection of people."

See what I did there? Apple, surprise surprise, in the real world, values both greatness, collective effort, ego and egoless team work. Nowhere is this clearer than in Ive's description of Jobs himself:
"His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!"
And this is why for me the ideology of the book fails. Taken as a hymn to human achievement, greatness, and struggle in the face of adversity, the book works well. But the struggle in the book is cast as one against some of the key ingredients needed for humans to achieve greatness and to overcome adversity. The book takes human nature, puts it through a centrifuge to extract one single ingredient, and then extolls this above all others, to the detriment of the whole. How annoying.


Affine transform for rotating in place an A4 ratio (A3, A5, etc.) image for e.g. converting landscape to portrait

I'm sure there's a better way of doing this with only one scale operation, but I don't know the maths. This took hours to find, and so hopefully it will save someone else the time. The Java code I'm sure can be translated to other languages relatively easily.

AffineTransform r = new AffineTransform();
r.rotate(Math.toRadians(90), width/2, height/2);
r.scale(width, height);
 * -(Math.sqrt(2d)-1d)/2d
 * = half the distance as % left between
 * the ratios of Ax paper;

r.translate(-(Math.sqrt(2d)-1d)/2d, (Math.sqrt(2d)-1d)/2d * (1/Math.sqrt(2d)));
r.scale(Math.sqrt(2d), Math.sqrt(2d)/2d);