Giving Up our Right to Privacy Does Not Make Us Safer

Most people who have been following the political cycle recently, and many who have not, are probably aware of the court case involving Apple and their refusal to create software that could allow them to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. Even some of the presidential candidates have weighed in. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both declined to take a side in the debate. Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump believe that Apple should comply with the order, with Trump, who apparently thinks he is running for king and not president, going so far as to say he would force Apple to comply if he were elected. Marco Rubio stated that Apple should “voluntarily comply,” but also warned of the possible dangers if they do. Former candidate Rand Paul, on the other hand, said that Apple should not be forced to comply.

Specifically, what the FBI wants Apple to do is to create two different kinds of software. Farook’s iPhone 5c is locked with a four-digit passcode. If entered incorrectly enough times, the phone will lock down and the only way to restore it is to reset it to factory settings, erasing all of its data. The first piece of proposed software would eliminate this factor, allowing codes to be entered indefinitely. The second piece would allow a computer to enter thousands of codes at once. If both were implemented, the user could unlock the phone and recover all of its data without knowing the passcode.

What’s interesting about those who are defending the FBI is that they argue that if created, this software’s use would stay relegated to a single phone. If history has proven anything, it is that no weapon ever created has ever been used only once, and before you accuse me of calling the proposed software a weapon, please realize that yes, I am absolutely calling it that. Once Apple creates this software, there will be no going back. It would reverse decades of Apple’s progress in creating almost impenetrable encryption. Any hacker who got their hands on it could unlock any iPhone, even remotely, and steal someone’s information. However, that’s not the worst danger. The worst danger is that the government will use it to spy on citizens. If the software is created, this danger will become an absolute certainty. The government already collects emails, Internet records, and phone records from citizens. Does anyone really think they will not do the same with iPhones?

Some people argue that they need to know citizen’s private information in order to keep us safe. If we can’t preemptively stop terrorism, they argue, people will die, and how will we know who the terrorists are without searching people’s private information and finding out? The problem with this argument is that not only have no terrorist attacks ever been stopped in this way, but the right to privacy and being left alone is a fundamental human right. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says that in order to search someone’s property, a warrant needs to be issued by a judge on probable cause that a crime was committed. People need the right to live their lives freely without government intrusion.

However, there is also an argument to be made from the First Amendment. Apple has contended that being forced to write code they disagree with violates their right to free speech. Should Apple be compelled to do something they believe is wrong?

Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that, if necessary, he will take the case to the Supreme Court, and that possibility seems extremely likely. For the good of the country, let’s hope they make the right decision. The rights of every American hang in the balance. 

Inside Out

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My rating: 5/5

Over the years, Pixar Animation Studios has proven that it is one of the most daring and original production studios in Hollywood. Despite the fact that their most recent films do not fully live up to that reputation, their latest film, newly out on DVD and Blu-Ray, proves that their best days are not yet behind them. Inside Out is a stunningly smart and original story that combines exciting action and humor with deeply moving pathos and drama, creating a film that ranks with the best of Pixar’s classics. The film is set inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, and the characters are her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. The emotions live in headquarters and basically guide her through her daily life. The interactions between what the emotions are doing, what happens in Riley’s mind, and what happens to her on the outside are nothing short of brilliant. The cleverness of the film considerably ramps up after Joy and Sadness are accidentally stranded outside headquarters and must find their way back. Try as they might, the other emotions simply cannot keep Riley emotionally stable. Most of the film is about Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters, and their adventure is probably what will most appeal to kids about this film. It is fun, exciting, funny, and expertly paced. Adults will appreciate the humor and sophistication of the story. All the voice actors are excellent as well, the standouts to me being Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Lewis Black as Anger. What I like best about this film however, is its originality, from its setting and characters, to its conflict and resolution. I cannot give away the details of the latter, but suffice to say that the climactic scene is one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen in a recent film. The film takes the idea of emotions and executes it in the best way possible, and it does so in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy it. The animation is beautiful. The plot balances fun and adventure with depth and maturity. It will make you laugh and cry. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and force you to think about what you have seen. Inside Out is truly like nothing you have ever seen before.

Information:

Release Date | June 19, 2015

MPAA Rating | PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

Director | Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen

Distributor | Disney

Steve Jobs

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My rating: 5/5

I honestly cannot imagine what the world would be like without Steve Jobs. As I write this on my MacBook, with my iPod in my pocket and my iPad next to me, it is easy to see his impact on the world. But beneath his public persona of brilliant innovator who invents the future, what was Steve Jobs actually like? Who was he, really? What motivated him to change the world? The creators of the film Steve Jobs, a dramatized examination of the titular technology mogul, try to answer these questions with one of the most intriguing, thought-provoking, and entertaining films of the year so far. A compelling and fascinating character study of an influential figure, Steve Jobs is a dynamic showcase of brilliant writing, acting, and directing. While leading actor Michael Fassbender may not look like Jobs, he absolutely nails the role, giving a performance that is equal parts calculating genius and tortured antihero, a corporate dictator who hides his flaws and vulnerabilities beneath an exterior of steel. He powers his way through the film, completely dominating every scene with his formidable presence. The rest of the cast is excellent, as well, especially Kate Winslet as Jobs’s assistant, Joanna Hoffman, and a surprisingly good performance from Seth Rogen as Jobs’s former partner Steve Wozniak. Of course, a great actor is nothing without a great writer. Once again proving himself to be one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, Aaron Sorkin (who won a much-deserved Oscar for his work on The Social Network) has crafted a screenplay that is as cuttingly sharp as it is electrically energetic. Structured into three acts, each set at a different product launch, the script is less focused on what Steve Jobs did as it is on who Steve Jobs was. As a result, it may leave some viewers behind, especially those who were hoping for a more documentary style approach. However, anyone else should be more than satisfied. Adapting a script like that for the screen is no easy task, but director Danny Boyle pulls it off with élan and visual stylishness. The cinematography is impressive, the editing is smooth, and the music by relative newcomer Daniel Pemberton is an elegant balance between classical-sounding orchestra and more modern electronic elements. However, the remarkable craftsmanship of the film only complements its complexity. Here we do not see the Steve Jobs most people think of. Here, he is a charismatic and innovative dreamer who built a digital empire, and an egotistical driver ready to steamroll anyone in his way in order to achieve his goals. Anyone wanting a typical, inspirational biopic will be disappointed. For everyone else, however, Steve Jobs is a unique and brilliantly crafted masterpiece that will surpass your expectations and make you think about it long after you have left the theater.

Information:

Release Date | October 23, 2015

MPAA Rating | R (For language)

Director | Danny Boyle

Distributor | Universal

Dear Americans, Can We Please Focus on Real Issues of Racial Justice?

A video of alleged police brutality has been making the rounds on social media recently. In the video, a black female student in a South Carolina school is aggressively pulled from her chair by a white police officer and thrown to the ground. She had been using her phone in class, was asked to hand it over, and refused. She was then asked to go to the principal’s office by several people and refused every time. Then, the police officer was called. He told her to get up and she refused, so he aggressively forced her out of the chair and onto the ground. The officer is now under investigation. While the officer was definitely too rough on the student, this is obviously not a case that warrants national attention. Racial inequality is a problem in the U.S., but this is not what it looks like. This really should not be such a widespread story, but it is.

While this video has been widely shared and discussed, there are numerous cases, in fact, whole trends of social injustice that nobody seems to care about. For instance, on the subject of black students being mistreated by police, people do not seem to care about the victim if the victim is autistic. Last fall, an autistic black sixth-grade student named Kayleb Moon-Robinson was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for kicking over a trash can. Then, when he struggled against a police officer who grabbed him, he was charged with felony assault of a police officer. His case is still pending. While I would expect there to be national outrage over this, the story was not covered by major news networks or spread by many people other than autistic groups and communities. That is a disgrace. Apparently, people’s lives don’t matter if they are autistic. If you need more convincing, here is a story about an autistic woman being held against her will in an institution. Here is a story about an autistic man who was murdered by a police officer. Neither have any kind of national attention.

However, it is not just autistic lives that apparently don’t matter. Unborn lives, and particularly unborn black lives, also apparently do not matter. Black women are five times more likely to have an abortion than white women, and even though blacks comprise only 13% of the population of the U.S., they account for 37% of all abortions. Other relevant statistics are that 69% of pregnancies among blacks are unintended, compared to 40% among whites, and Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has 80% of its abortion clinics located in minority neighborhoods. Rather than trying to ascertain why this racial disparity exists and come up with a solution, most people deny it is even a problem and allow the murder of infants, especially black infants, to continue unchecked.

Blacks are also disproportionately affected by poverty. In a 2012 study, it was found that 27.2% of blacks are in poverty, compared to 9.7% of whites. During the Great Recession from 2007-2010, the median black household’s income fell 10.1 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for white households. In the aftermath of the recession, the unemployment rate for blacks rose to 15.9%, compared to 8% for whites. In addition, mobility for blacks is about twice the rate of whites. 62.9% of black children whose families were in the bottom fourth of all families by income stayed there as adults, compared with 32.3% of whites. A mere 3.6% of black children from the bottom fourth made it to the top fourth, which is about one-fourth the rate for whites.

Now we get to the criminal justice system. While I believe that most police officers are not racist, it is undeniable that our justice system disproportionately affects blacks. The U.S. has the second highest incarceration rate in the world (second only to the tiny country of Seychelles). Blacks make up 40% of the U.S. prison population, even though they only make up 13% of the general population. Whites, on the other hand, make up 39% of the prison population, and 64% of the general population. 450 whites per 100,000 are incarcerated, as opposed to 2,306 blacks per 100,000. Now, some people will say, (in fact, I have said it myself) that in order to prove that this is a problem, one must prove that either most blacks being incarcerated are innocent, or that whites not being incarcerated are not innocent. However, even if our justice system were perfectly enforcing the law and convicting all criminals while acquitting all innocents, and there is a lot of evidence that it is not, one would still have to ask why more blacks are involved in crime than whites. Any way it is examined, it is an enormous problem.

If we as a nation are going to solve our real issues of injustice with regards to race, we need to focus on those issues. Demonizing the police and using criminals like Michael Brown as examples of victims of brutality does not lend any credibility to this cause, nor does it help solve real issues for real people. The highly publicized cases, such as the recent video I mentioned at the beginning of this article, almost always involve people who are breaking the law or not cooperating with the police. I do not say this to minimize actual police brutality, but to say that solving these issues involves looking at the big picture, not just assuming that all police are racist or encouraging citizens to riot or even murder officers. We will only start solving these issues when we are able to accurately assess them and rationally deal with them, which means reforming how our justice system is run, getting rid of government policies and taxes that keep businesses from hiring poor people, examining societal trends that cause people to turn to crime, implementing better training for police officers, abolishing abortion, and looking at how to increase rehabilitation for former prisoners. Instead of inciting people to violence against the police, many of whom are innocent and simply trying to do their jobs, we need to work toward real solutions. All black lives (and all other lives, including police lives) matter. Not just when they trend on Twitter. Not only when they are reported by the media. All lives always matter. It is time we recognize that and act like it.

The Inevitable Consequence of a Fundamentally Flawed System

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” – Proverbs 17:15

I’m sure by now most people know about Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who was recently jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. I’ve already seen countless arguments online about the case. While some people are on her side, most people say that even if she disagrees with doing it, she has to either issue the licenses or resign. She is not above the law, they say. I agree with that sentiment. No one is above the law. There is just one small problem. She was not actually breaking any laws. Now, I know what you are thinking. “Of course she was breaking the law. The Supreme Court ruled that she has to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.” Yes, that is true. They did. There is just one small problem. They never had the authority to make that ruling in the first place. Now, I am not an expert, but I have read the Constitution. According to the Constitution, only Congress has the authority to make laws. The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the laws, make sure that the laws are constitutional, and if they are not, to strike them down. In the ruling about gay marriage, Obergefell vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court did not strike down any laws. It did not even make a ruling about any laws. It made a ruling about a lack of laws. The Supreme Court cannot declare that a law must exist. It can only rule whether laws that Congress passes are constitutional. But, as everyone knows, there were no laws against gay marriage. Any two people could form a partnership and call it marriage. The government would not have stopped them because it was not illegal, nor should it have been. But, of course, nobody wanted the right to marry. What they really wanted was for the government to recognize their partnerships as marriage. They wanted to create a law, not strike one down. Whether anyone thinks this is a good idea or a bad idea (more on that later) is beside the point. Feelings and opinions have no place in the Supreme Court, or in a Kentucky court. My opinion is not relevant. Neither is anyone else’s. All that matters are the facts. The Supreme Court cannot make laws. It can only strike down laws. Therefore, the Supreme Court did not have the authority to force states to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Only Congress has the authority to do that by passing a law. Therefore, clerks are not obligated by any law to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. That means that Kim Davis was not breaking the law. These are the facts. They have no opinion, no feelings, and no bias. They do not care if people agree with them. They simply state reality. Based on the facts, Kim Davis must be released from jail. She was not breaking the law.

Now, even though it has no relevance to the case, I do have an opinion about it. I think this proves that the government has no right to legislate anything about marriage at all. Marriage should be completely privatized. That way, everyone could live according to their own beliefs and convictions, without making others compromise their own. What people do behind closed doors is their business. Not mine. Not the government’s. Every time the government gets involved in something in which it has no legitimate business, it messes it up. So, if someone asked me if Kim Davis should be allowed to refuse to issue marriage licenses, I would say yes, because the government should not be issuing marriage licenses in the first place. What is happening in Kentucky is not only an obstruction of justice, it is the inevitable consequence of a fundamentally flawed system.

A postscript: There is one other point I should mention. This may seem harsh, but I have to say it. The same people who argue that Kim Davis must be subject to the rule of law are the same ones who are silent about other lawbreakers and actual human rights abuses. Planned Parenthood has been murdering unborn babies and selling their body parts. (To those who say the videos are edited, you can watch the full, unedited videos here.) The mayor of San Francisco defies our immigration laws. Black Lives Matter protesters murder and encourage the murder of police officers. An autistic woman is being held against her will in an institution. Black disabled children are thrown in jail for no reason other than being black and disabled. These are real people with real problems. People being killed and having their human rights trampled on. Do we really care more about a clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses than innocent people being abused and killed?

Spreading Fear and Hate is Not Heroic

In April, I wrote a blog post about the organization Autism Speaks, and how they do not serve the best interests of autistic people. Recently, People magazine has made the exceedingly poor and misguided choice of including an article about Bob and Suzanne Wright, the founders of Autism Speaks, in the feature Heroes Among Us. Below is a picture of the article, along with an image description for accessibility purposes.

Image description: Image is a page out of People magazine. In the top left hand corner it reads, “Heroes Among Us. Crusading Against Autism. After their grandson was diagnosed, Bob and Suzanne Wright launched a battle against the disorder” Below in a smaller quote: “We’ve given this voiceless community a big voice,” says Suzanne (with husband Bob, daughter Katie Wright and grandson Christian, now 13)″. The picture is of an older very rich privileged white couple standing to the right side of the picture. They are smiling, the woman is blonde, wearing glasses and is smiling at the camera. The man is looking down at a couch to the left of them, where a blonde-haired mother sits on a couch leaning over an awesomely autistic boy with blonde hair and an adorable smile. Image description by Boycott Autism Speaks. Description has been slightly modified from original to correct errors.
Image Description: Image is of the magazine article. It says: When Bob and Suzanne Wright’s 2 ½ year old grandson Christian Hildebrand was diagnosed with autism in early 2004, they quickly found out how little was known about the disorder. “Basically, [the doctors] said goodbye and good luck,” recalls Suzanne, 68, of Fairfield, Connecticut. Adds Bob: “They had no medical treatments, no real medical advice.” The couple spent the next several months traveling around the country to different autism events. “We saw all these parents, many of them had children who were 10, 11 and 12 who had never gotten any real help at all,” says Bob, 72, the former CEO of NBC Universal. Many had gone broke paying for treatments because their health insurance wouldn’t cover them. “We were so shocked,” says Suzanne. “We came back and said, ‘We have to do something.” And so they did. This year they are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of their nonprofit, Autism Speaks (autismspeaks.org), which has raised millions for research into possible treatments and cures for autism and created toolkits for parents at each stage of their child’s life. But what they are most proud of is that now 41 states have some sort of health insurance coverage for autism treatments. “We had to go state by state, hat in hand,” says Bob, who recently stepped down as chairman of the organization. “It was a real battle.” For the future, the Wrights say they are most excited about MSSNG, a research project with Google that they hope will bring answers about the genetic causes of autism. Parents like Jesse Mojica, whose 16 year old son Adam has autism, couldn’t be more grateful. Besides the practical help he got finding treatment for his son, “there was always somebody you could talk to, to give you emotional support.” says Mojica, 48, of New York City. “It was lifesaving.” Image description by Boycott Autism Speaks. Description has been slightly modified from original to correct errors.

It truly saddens me that such wrong views are called heroism in today’s society. We like to think that we are enlightened, that our collective intelligence is greater than that of past generations, but the truth is this: dislike and fear of that which is different is an injustice that has plagued humanity for ages and is still alive and well. Misunderstanding of autism has led to a widespread belief that somehow autistic people lead horrible lives. Parents of autistics are said to live in constant fear of what their autistic child will do next. It is a shame that people like Bob and Suzanne Wright exploit people’s misunderstanding of autistics and are called heroes. These so-called experts are so unable to understand autism that they classify it as a disorder, and are actively trying to “cure” it. Autistic people such as myself do not want to be “cured.” Being born different is not the same as being disordered and autistic people have a fundamental right to be themselves. Anyone who advocates a cure does not believe this and actively tries to take this right away. Now, some parents will say they simply want their children to “fit in” and be seen as “normal.” This is done by forcing autistics to suppress certain behaviors and cultivate others, for the sole reason of being in line with arbitrary societal standards. Parents will say that unless their children act like everybody else, they will be unable to cooperate with others and be unable to succeed in a career. This notion is patently false. Autistics can learn to socialize, just like anyone else can learn. However, they must be allowed to learn in their own way, and to do it in a way that is comfortable for them. Whether or not their way of communicating or learning is considered “normal” is beside the point. This only proves that while so-called experts may know what autism looks like on the outside, they have no idea what it feels like on the inside. Autistics are not the emotionless beings Autism Speaks portrays them as. We have feelings, just as everyone else does. I know from personal experience that being treated as if you do not have feelings or the ability to empathize is extremely hurtful, especially because even your feelings of hurt are disregarded. This is the great irony of Autism Speaks. They claim to give a voice to the voiceless, but in reality, they silence autistics and teach others to do the same. They focus entirely on parents and the great “burden” of raising or living with autistics, but they completely ignore autistics and the effect their actions have on them. They promote harmful “therapies” and perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Most hypocritically, they refuse to allow autistics into the conversation or their advocacy. And most harmfully, they teach families that having an autistic child will make their life a nightmare. They say that families with autistic people are not really living. In short, Autism Speaks does not speak for me. If they did, they would not spread fear and hate. They would instead combat the harmful misconceptions that pervade our society. They would promote therapies that improve quality of life, rather than modifying behavior. They would include autistics in the conversation. In fact, autistics would lead the conversation. The true experts on autism are autistics. Period. Anyone who has not experienced autism cannot claim to be an expert. Yes, they can know the science, and yes, they can recognize the outward characteristics, but they cannot claim to understand day-to-day life from the perspective of an autistic, and they certainly cannot claim to speak for us. If Bob and Suzanne Wright understood the principles of neurodiversity and truly advocated for autism acceptance, People magazine could call them heroes. But since they do not, I have a message for People Magazine: Bob and Suzanne Wright are not heroes. Spreading fear and hate is not heroic.

Independence Day

Today is a great day. Today we celebrate the birth of a nation founded on freedom. Freedom to exercise religion. Freedom to speak our opinions. Freedom to live our lives the way we see fit. But most of all, freedom from a tyrannical government that would take these freedoms away. You see, America was predicated on the ideal that freedom is a human right given by God, and that the purpose of government is to protect our freedom. Unfortunately, however, many people do not seem to understand this. As a result, America is no longer the great nation it once was. Millions of the unborn are legally murdered every year, denied their freedom to live. Many people do not believe in freedom of religion anymore, or freedom of speech. Racism still exists, and race relations only seem to be getting worse. Our government is full of corruption on both sides of the aisle. America has a long way to go before we achieve true freedom and equality. People want to be optimistic today. We want to believe that our country is great, or at least can be if we just vote for the right people or give our money to the right organizations. I like to be optimistic, as well. The truth is, though, that I am disappointed with the state of this country. Deeply disappointed. However, there are still people in this nation who believe in freedom. As long as there are, we can still be a great nation again. We must always believe in the ideals of liberty and equality. We must work to fight injustice and tyranny in our own lives wherever we see it. Most of all, we must always remember that true freedom comes only from God, not from government.

To end this post, here are some of my favorite quotes about freedom:

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” – John F. Kennedy

“Once a man has tasted freedom he will never be content to be a slave. That is why I believe that this frightfulness we see everywhere today is only temporary. Tomorrow will be better for as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life. All men will want to be free and share our way of life. There must be so much that I should have said, but haven’t. What I will say now is just what most of us are probably thinking every day. I thank God and America for the right to live and raise my family under the flag of tolerance, democracy and freedom.” – Walt Disney

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson (The Declaration of Independence)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – The Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:1)