Why I’m not getting an iPhone X

I’ve been a fan of Apple products since the late 1980s. Call me a gadget geek, or whatever, and I probably fit the description. I bought a few shares of Apple stock in mid-October, 2001 when all stocks were trading at a discount in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks simply because I liked the company.

I didn’t know that they’d be launching the iPod less than two weeks later.

I bought my first iPhone when the 3GS came out, as that was when my then-contract with my prior phone was up. A year ago, I signed on to their annual upgrade program. So this year, when that program allowed me to choose between an iPhone 8 and an iPhone X, I chose the 8. (Technically, an 8 Plus since I like the size of the device.)

I have three main reasons for not wanting the X and today, on the eve of its formal release, I have yet to see anything that addresses my concerns. And none of these reasons cover the much-discussed privacy concerns raised by others, about the new FaceID technology.

My reasons for not wanting it, have more to do with preferring to keep the existing TouchID fingerprint recognition technology. Here are my reasons, in greater detail:

1. I have CarPlay in my car and connect my phone to it. Furthermore, I have a few HomeKit devices in my house. Without going into detail about the specifics, there’s a bug somewhere within HomeKit that requires the phone to be unlocked — even while using CarPlay — in order to be invoked. I’ve reported this bug to Apple but as of right now, it’s still an issue. My workaround is to unlock my phone while I’m driving. There are no safety concerns given where I put my phone while I’m driving and the fact that I can unlock it simply by putting my finger on the home button. (But I still do that at red lights anyway…). There would be huge safety concerns if I had to raise the phone to my face, if it would even allow it.

2. There are times when I want to keep the phone locked to get to something on my home screen without unlocking it. The two most prominent are my medical ID and my Apple Wallet, which contains most of my loyalty cards to various businesses I patronize. (Indeed, one of the things I hate about CVS’s app is that they don’t let you add their card to the wallet…). It’s much harder to get to these things through an unlocked phone, since they actively require you to open the wallet or health apps. From a locked phone, just push the home button twice, and attempt to unlock the phone with a finger that hasn’t been recorded for its fingerprint, respectively.

3. This one is the biggest one. Many apps, especially games, offer in-app purchases. While I do sometimes make in-app purchases, some apps make it far too easy to inadvertently tap a point on the screen that would result, if I approve it, in my making that purchase. I don’t want to make an inadvertent purchase simply because I’m looking at my phone’s screen. That technically could apply for buying actual apps, music, movies, TV shows, and books, within the respective Apple stores in my device, but games are the worst offenders here.

I’m not going to get into a debate about how secure the facial recognition software is in the iPhone X. Even if I give Apple the full benefit of the doubt on that matter, that doesn’t address these three concerns. And until they are properly addressed (which, in the case of the HomeKit bug, means fixing it), I don’t want it.

Maybe next year. Who knows?

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I hear crickets…

I don’t hide the fact that I occasionally direct my web browser to some right-wing websites to see what they’re talking about. But there was a news story this past week that really intrigued me vis a vis my desire to know what they’re getting outraged over. After all, it pitted two things that get their panties in a twist, into a place where, supporting one would actively mean opposing the other.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there has been absolutely nothing written about it anywhere in the right wing echo chamber. Not even a blurb on Fox News. For the record, I’ve checked Breitbart, Conservapedia, Rapture Ready, Movieguide, Drudge, and, as already mentioned, Fox.

I’m officially giving up on expecting any right-wing pundits to talk about it. There’s no shortage of reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised at it.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, it’s the story of a 17-year-old girl who, in order to protect her identity, is known only as Jane Doe. She arrived in this country illegally and was detained in Texas (the first of the two things mentioned above). After her detention, she learned she was pregnant and sought an abortion (the second thing mentioned above). After weeks of legal wrangling, she had the abortion this past Wednesday.

If she had been forced to give birth in this country, that baby would have become a US citizen. So what’s a xenophobic misogynist to do? Force her to have the baby or let her abort? Find a way to kick her out of the country first?

The shame of this story was that it was even necessary to go through all of the legal proceedings for the abortion in the first place. We can debate whether her detention was warranted — I don’t have enough information on that point, to be honest, to have a real opinion — but why hold her up from a legal procedure that was otherwise available to her?

But the absolute silence from the right on this matter speaks a lot louder than anything they might actually say out loud on either issue raised here. It’s as if they’re incapable of looking beyond only the shallowest or most facile explanations of things……

Preventing a Repeat

About a month before last year’s election, I wrote a blog entry in which I argued that Donald Trump was the least deserving of being elected president than any other candidate with a legitimate shot at the title, in American history. Looking back on that essay through the lens of hindsight, I may have been too charitable and kind to the man.

Since he took the oath of office, he has carried out petty grudges against anyone who might dare to challenge him, made disaster recovery all about him, engaged in an ongoing attempt to erase the legacy of his predecessor, and generally has been presiding over a degree of corruption in government that could challenge the corrupt legacies of the Grant, Harding, Nixon, and Reagan administrations. And that’s not even getting into the evangelical Christians / theocrats who have been the base of the Republican Party since the Reagan administration and are the primary reason why I can’t vote republican in good conscience and who are the only people applauding his moves.

I sincerely doubt he would pass a middle school-level civics test.

Although there have been rumblings about impeachment and/or the 25th Amendment almost since the day he came into power, that talk has grown in the last week. I want to talk about what happens after that. I think a series of law changes — if not amendments to the constitution — are warranted here.

When the constitution was written, the only requirements surrounding eligibility for the position of president, were being a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and having lived in the country for at least 14 years. The only real change to this since then, was when the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting the total time in office to ten years. (Although the definition of a natural-born citizen has evolved…)

It seems to me as though these rules need to be modified. Here are some possible modifications we ought to consider:

1. Remove the natural-born citizen requirement. Immigrants who want to become citizens must pass a test, which arguably means they understand the workings of the government and American history better than some natural-born citizens. I see no harm in requiring that naturalized citizens have resided here for a minimum time period (which could easily be two decades or more and which could still restrict which immigrants would even consider running for president) but this rule, which was designed to prevent foreign attempts to manipulate our government from within, seems outdated, especially given the growing evidence that it didn’t really work.

2. Test the candidates. Design an exam that covers the facts of how the constitution operates, facts of American history, and an ability to state matters of current events factually (not solutions to current problems as those would be more subjective but, for example, if a candidate wants to criticize a law or a treaty, he or she needs to be able to explain exactly what that law or treaty does or does not do. A candidate who fails the exam would not be eligible to run during that election cycle.

3. Require the release of candidates’ tax returns. A law like this recently passed the California state assembly, only to be vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown’s official argument against it was a slippery slope argument that, quite frankly, if we accept it on face value, should render this entire blog entry moot. I’m not saying there can’t be unintended consequences to this, or any other suggestion I’m making here, but I would like to see future presidents to be culled from the best of the best in this country. I often say that I don’t care for the pledge of allegiance and argue that everything after the word “stands” is factually incorrect. I’m open to debate on whether the USA qualifies as a republic, since the leaders of a republic are generally chosen from amongst the most deserving. Unless you count the ability to raise large sums of campaign cash as a condition of “most deserving”, it could use a little more honing.

4. Require candidates to fully divest themselves of their business interests. This should be self-evident, given that the emoluments clause covers foreign investment. But Trump is making money off of the government without violating the emoluments clause by having republican fundraisers and events at his hotels and by housing the secret service in Trump properties when he or his family are there.

5. Empower fact-checkers to declare official winners and losers of debates. Kind of like the test I mentioned above, but if a candidate proposes a new program without saying how they’d pay for it, or if they say a law or treaty is awful, they’d better be prepared to take a dinging from the fact checkers. Right now, the debates don’t do anything since both sides will argue that they won the debate as soon as it’s over.

There are some other ideas that, if implemented, hypothetically could have prevented Trump’s election but on a higher level won’t necessarily fix the problems in our electoral process that could still be exploited in the future. These ideas include abolishing the electoral college, eliminating the gerrymander, and requiring a maximum number of constituents per representative in the house. (That last one won’t give Wyoming’s electors more per-voter clout than California’s.)

There may be others but this is at least a start.

Opening the flood-gates

I was born in March of 1972. If you’re a student of American history, then you should know that the first major historical event of my lifetime occurred about three months later, although at the time, hardly anyone would have known or predicted that a “botched, third rate burglary attempt” would have been so consequential.

The location of the break-in has become shorthand for the political scandal that rocked the US government to its core: Watergate. A little more than two years after the initial event, amid talk of impeachment and an almost certain conviction by the US Senate, president Richard Nixon became the first (and to date, the only) president to resign from office.

There are a few points that bear mentioning here. The actual break-in not only failed to gain any usable information on Nixon’s general election opponent, George McGovern, but it was completely unnecessary. Nixon was popular enough within the electorate, that he didn’t need to resort to dirty tricks to secure re-election. I doubt that his lopsided victory would have been much different had the break-in not been attempted.

But Nixon’s crimes and his corruption were far greater than the break-in. There is an old adage about how, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. It’s a political town and everyone is looking out for him- or herself. And if that means taking down people who are powerful, so be it.

One of the key figures who helped to bring Nixon down, was known for more than thirty years under the alias of “Deep Throat” (an homage to a then-popular porno movie) and was only revealed to be Deputy FBI director Mark Felt after his death. He fed information to the Washington Post reporters who did their research and found all of the information that would eventually lead to the resignations not only of Vice President Spiro Agnew but also of Nixon himself.

There is a new movie out about Mark Felt, and I am curious to see it, especially after Movieguide penned an opinion piece that makes Nixon look like the victim of overzealous prosecutors, and how Mark Felt’s personal agenda made him conduct his personal witch hunt. See above about getting a dog. There’s no evidence that his party affiliation made him any more or less dutiful an FBI agent.

The Movieguide article alleges — without even a citation much less evidence — that John Dean ordered The Watergate break-in to cover up his wife’s affiliation with a prostitution ring. If this is true, I couldn’t find a single credible source on this point. Perhaps that’s why they said it once and never returned to this point later in the article, without so much as an attempt to connect the dots from his wife to the break-in. This sounds like, at best, an attempt at deflection from the reality.

Towards the end of the Movieguide article, they make reference to a book by one-time White House staffer Geoff Shepard that I readily concede I haven’t read. All reviews of this book, are on conservative websites that have an interest in furthering their hypothesis that Nixon was an innocent victim. And it may be one of the few published works that offers an alternative view to an extremely complicated moment in American history. I’m not saying that this book likely plays fast and loose with the facts, but Mr Shepard is hardly an unbiased observer here, since his own ambitions were scuttled by the way the scandal played out.

In my lifetime, I have seen a total of nine different presidents. Six republicans and three democrats. I think it’s interesting that the six republicans, in chronological order as they served, also go, in my opinion, from best to worst. I consider Nixon to be the best Republican President in my lifetime (starting the EPA, entente with the Russians and the Chinese, and laying the groundwork for getting out of Vietnam are all positives about his greater legacy…) He was better than Ford, who was light years ahead of Reagan, who was better than Bush, Sr., who was better than his son. And I didn’t think anyone could be worse than Bush, Jr, until Trump came to Washington.

Donald Trump is facing scandals that dwarf the scope of Watergate, and he doesn’t have a dog. He’s damaging the United States domestically and abroad. If he’s doing anything, he’s padding his bank account and those bank accounts of his children. He has made the country and the world a considerably more unsafe place many times over. It’s only a matter of time before he is relieved of his duties, either through impeachment or coup involving the 25th amendment.

I just wonder what kinds of movies and books will be made about this era forty years from now…

Rex Appeal

Oliver Stone’s 2008 movie W. portrays the 43rd president as somewhat of a tragic persona, a person who might want to do the right thing despite his own inabilities and shortcomings. It’s an interesting movie to watch, regardless of your opinion of the subject matter.

I say this because there’s some interesting drama playing out in Washington these days, and I can easily envision Stone or some other filmmaker making a similar movie about the embattled Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

It doesn’t take a political scientist to look back at the process leading up to Tillerson’s nomination to the post — for which he would have to leave his role as CEO of ExxonMobil — and see that the nomination was mostly (if not entirely) an effort to undo the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Those sanctions have prevented Exxon from inking a lucrative deal with Russian oil firms.

Then two things happened. First, Tillerson was actually approved as Secretary of State, and second, congress passed a law preventing the sanctions from being lifted without their approval.

With regard to the former event, Tillerson clearly knew going into the position, that there were things about the job that he wasn’t prepared to handle. Despite a bumpy start to things, he does seem to have at least been trying to lead the State Department the way it ought to be run.

With regard to the latter event, it actually freed him a little bit. Knowing he can’t really do anything about Russia, he seems to have sought out things that he can do that might be best for the entire country and not just his former company.

And that freedom has enabled him to speak more freely, including the reports that he called Donald Trump a “fucking moron”. His non-denial of using those words (and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment) only angered Trump more.

That’s not to say he’s been an effective Secretary. His tenure in the government is likely to be quite short (I’m guessing he’ll stay until January or so) and if it’s remembered at all, it will be as a footnote or a cautionary tale about the proper sources of cabinet-level positions.

But I do kind of feel sorry for the man. He’s out of his league and he knows it. He’s trying to do the right things but is hampered by his inexperience, attrition within his department, and, of course, the fucking moron he reports to.

Sounds like the makings of a somewhat engaging movie. Where’s Oliver Stone these days?