Ramblings & ephemera

A mummified body in front of a TV

From Reuters’ “Mummified body found in front of blaring TV” (17 February 2007):

Police called to a Long Island man’s house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set.

The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said on Saturday his body was discovered on Thursday when they were called to the house over a burst water pipe.

Officials could not explain why the electricity had not been turned off, considering Ricardo had not been heard from since December 2005.

A woman’s wallet returned after 60 years

From AP’s “Woman gets wallet back after 60 years” (7 February 2007):

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Joan Martinek Barnes never imagined she would see her wallet again after she lost it at McKinley High School 60 years ago.

But the red alligator grain wallet turned up Monday when a building engineer tracked down a broken hot water pipe. It was found on top of an air duct in a basement storage room that once housed girls lockers.

Barnes, now 75 and living in San Antonio, said her wallet was lost when her coat was stolen during the winter of 1947-48. …

The wallet didn’t have any cash in it when it was found, but did contain a $4 activity pass, a student ID card, and a membership card for the YMCA’s teen club.

It also contained two black-and-white photos — one of a girl who could be Barnes and another showing a young man in an Army Air Force uniform, possibly someone she was dating.

Ghost brides in China

From Reuters’ “China arrests men for murdering “ghost” brides” (26 January 2007):

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police have arrested three men for killing two young women to sell their corpses as “ghost brides” for dead single men, a Chinese newspaper reported, warning the dark custom might have claimed many other victims.

Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old farmer in western China’s Shaanxi province, confessed to killing a woman bought from a poor family for 12,000 yuan ($1,545) last year.

She thought she was being sold into an arranged marriage, but Yang killed her in a gully and sold her corpse for 16,000 yuan, the Legal Daily reported on Thursday. He and two accomplices then killed a prostitute and sold her for 8,000 yuan before police caught them.

The women were victims of an old belief, still alive in the yellow-earth highlands of western China, that young men who die unmarried should go to their graves accompanied by deceased women who will be their wives in the afterlife. Often these women die natural deaths.

Police in Yanan, the poor and dusty corner of Shaanxi where Chairman Mao Zedong nurtured his Communist revolution, said the dark trade went beyond these cases.

Yang and two helpers sold the bodies to Li Longsheng, an undertaker who police said specialized in buying and selling the dead women for “ghost weddings.” It was unclear what happened to Li.

A wallet returned after 60+ years

From KOMU’s “Sarah’s Stories – Wallet Memories” (KOMU: 4 January 2007):

MEXICO [Misouri] – A local resident enjoyed an early, unexpected Christmas present.

Ray Heilwagen, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, has a story that stretches from France to his front lawn.

During war, a wallet can be a soldier’s most prized pocession, full of photos and other family memories. Like many veterans, Heilwagen carried his wallet on the battlefields of northern France in 1944.

Just after D-Day, a mortar shell hit him in the leg, and the powerful explosion blew him into a nearby river. Heilwagen survived, but he lost his wallet between the battlefield and the tent hospital.

Then, last month, Heilwagen got a phone call.

“[He] wanted to know if I’d ever served in France during World War II. I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said, ‘Did you ever lose a billfold?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I sure did.’ It just kind of shocked me,” Heilwagen remembered.

“I didn’t even know that he lost his wallet, so he calls and says that this man that he doesn’t know calls and says he found his wallet from the service some 60 years later,” added granddaughter Kayla Sudbrock.

“And then he went on to tell me that his father was a World War II veteran and he found the wallet but he didn’t know where I was to return it,” said Heilwagen. “So he took it home with him and stuck it in a drawer some place where it’s been for 62 years.”

Steve Breitenstein of Illinois used the Internet to locate Heilwagen in Mexico. Decades after he lost it on the battlefield, the wallet arrived at Heilwagen’s house in mint condition, with his original Social Security card, his money and memories still intact.

The fact that he got his wallet back after six decades is amazing, but so is the timing because the Illinois man found it on Nov. 11.

“Finding it on that day is so ironic,” said Sudbrock, “that he found his wallet from the service on Veterans’ Day.”

The technical details of executions by hanging

From Daniel Engber’s “How Do Hangings Work?” (Slate: 7 November 2006):

The last major innovation in hanging occurred toward the end of the 19th century, when executioners first developed a systematic way to calculate the drop. Once these “drop tables” were published, a hangman knew that he’d need 7 feet for a slight, 120-pound criminal, but only about 4 feet for a 200-pounder.

In the United States, only Washington and New Hampshire still perform hangings. These jurisdictions follow now-defunct U.S. Army regulations for the punishment. The military rules demand 30 feet of hemp rope that has been boiled, stretched, and dried. The bottom of the rope should be greased or waxed to make sure that the knot of the noose doesn’t get snagged, and the whole system should be tested with a sandbag dummy before the actual hanging takes place.

The Army even has its own drop table. According to its guidelines, the last man to hang in America—220-pound Billy Bailey—would have required 5 feet of loose rope. …

The Army drop table turned out to be inadequate for Mitchell Rupe, a Washington inmate who was supposed to hang in 1994. On death row, Rupe refused all exercise and ate junk food nonstop. By the time of his execution he’d reached 409 pounds, well above the table’s maximum listed weight. According to Army regulations, anyone heavier than 220 pounds would get a 5-foot drop. The Washington authorities made an exception and cut Rupe’s planned drop to 3.5 feet. Rupe appealed his case, and a federal judge ruled that the risk of decapitation was still too high. Rupe died in a prison hospital this past February.

The psychology of waiting for your luggage at the airport

From Dan Ariely’s “Flying Frustrations” (21 November 2011):

Think about these two ways to get your luggage: With the original airport design, you walk ten minutes, but when you finally get to the carousel, your baggage gets there a minute after you (taking 11 minutes). In the other, you walk three minutes, but when you arrive you have to wait five minutes for your luggage (taking 8 minutes). The second scenario is faster, but people become more annoyed with the process because they have more idle time. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sr. noted, “I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely.

The “good news” is that airports quickly reverted to their former (inefficient) system, and we now walk farther to our suitcases just to avoid the frustrations of idleness.

Talk about Markdown to SLUUG this Wednesday

I’ll be giving a talk to the St. Louis UNIX Users Group next Wednesday night about Markdown, a tool I absolutely love.

You’re invited to come. Please do – I think you’ll definitely learn a lot.

Date: Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
Time: 6:30 – 9 pm
Where: 11885 Lackland Rd., St Louis, MO 63146
Map: http://g.co/maps/6gg9g
Directions: http://www.sluug.org/resources/meeting_info/map_graybar.shtml

Here’s the description:

John Gruber, the inventor of Markdown, describes it this way: “Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML). Thus, ‘Markdown’ is two things: (1) a plain text formatting syntax; and (2) a software tool, written in Perl, that converts the plain text formatting to HTML. … The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.”

This talk by Scott Granneman & Bill Odom will cover the basics of Markdown’s syntax, key variants of Markdown, tools for composing Markdown (including vim, of course!), and ways you can easily transform a plain text file written in Markdown into HTML, JSON, TXT, LaTeX, man, MediaWiki, Textile, DocBook XML, ODT, EPUB, Slidy and S5 HTML and JavaScript slide shows, RTF, or even Word!

If you have any questions, please contact me. Hope to see you there!

Steve Jobs, genius

From Stephen Fry’s “Steve Jobs” (The New Adventures of Stephen Fry: 6 October 2011):

Henry Ford didn’t invent the motor car, Rockefeller didn’t discover how to crack crude oil into petrol, Disney didn’t invent animation, the Macdonald brothers didn’t invent the hamburger, Martin Luther King didn’t invent oratory, neither Jane Austen, Tolstoy nor Flaubert invented the novel and D. W. Griffith, the Warner Brothers, Irving Thalberg and Steven Spielberg didn’t invent film-making. Steve Jobs didn’t invent computers and he didn’t invent packet switching or the mouse. But he saw that there were no limits to the power that creative combinations of technology and design could accomplish.

I once heard George Melly, on a programme about Louis Armstrong, do that dangerous thing and give his own definition of a genius. “A genius,” he said, “is someone who enters a field and works in it and when they leave it, it is different. By that token, Satchmo was a genius.” I don’t think any reasonable person could deny that Steve Jobs, by that same token, was a genius too.

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003):

Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not know. If you will allow me to use such a metaphor, a library is the best possible imitation, by human beings, of a divine mind, where the whole universe is viewed and understood at the same time. A person able to store in his or her mind the information provided by a great library would emulate in some way the mind of God. In other words, we have invented libraries because we know that we do not have divine powers, but we try to do our best to imitate them. …

First of all, we know that books are not ways of making somebody else think in our place; on the contrary, they are machines that provoke further thoughts. Only after the invention of writing was it possible to write such a masterpiece of spontaneous memory as Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Secondly, if once upon a time people needed to train their memories in order to remember things, after the invention of writing they had also to train their memories in order to remember books. Books challenge and improve memory; they do not narcotise it. …

YET IT IS EXACTLY AT THIS POINT that our unravelling activity must start because by hypertextual structure we usually mean two very different phenomena. First, there is the textual hypertext. In a traditional book one must read from left to right (or right to left, or up to down, according to different cultures) in a linear way. One can obviously skip through the pages, one—once arrived at page 300—can go back to check or re- read something at page 10—but this implies physical labour. In contrast to this, a hypertextual text is a multidimensional network or a maze in which every point or node can be potentially connected with any other node. Second, there is the systemic hypertext. The WWW is the Great Mother of All Hypertexts, a world-wide library where you can, or you will in short time, pick up all the books you wish. The Web is the general system of all existing hypertexts. …

Simply, books have proved to be the most suitable instrument for transmitting information. There are two sorts of book: those to be read and those to be consulted. As far as books-to-be-read are concerned, the normal way of reading them is the one that I would call the ‘detective story way’. You start from page one, where the author tells you that a crime has been committed, you follow every path of the detection process until the end, and finally you discover that the guilty one was the butler. End of the book and end of your reading experience. …

Then they are books to be consulted, like handbooks and encyclopaedias. Encyclopaedias are conceived in order to be consulted and never read from the first to the last page. …

Hypertexts will certainly render encyclopaedias and handbooks obsolete. Yesterday, it was possible to have a whole encyclopaedia on a CD-ROM; today, it is possible to have it on line with the advantage that this permits cross references and the non-linear retrieval of information. …

Books belong to those kinds of instruments that, once invented, have not been further improved because they are already alright, such as the hammer, the knife, spoon or scissors. …

TWO NEW INVENTIONS, however, are on the verge of being industrially exploited. One is printing on demand: after scanning the catalogues of many libraries or publishing houses a reader can select the book he needs, and the operator will push a button, and the machine will print and bind a single copy using the font the reader likes. … Simply put: every book will be tailored according to the desires of the buyer, as happened with old manuscripts.

The second invention is the e-book where by inserting a micro- cassette in the book’s spine or by connecting it to the internet one can have a book printed out in front of us. Even in this case, however, we shall still have a book, though as different from our current ones as ours are different from old manuscripts on parchment, and as the first Shakespeare folio of 1623 is different from the last Penguin edition. Yet, up to now e-books have not proved to be commercially successful as their inventors hoped. … E-books will probably prove to be useful for consulting information, as happens with dictionaries or special documents. …

Indeed, there are a lot of new technological devices that have not made previous ones obsolete. Cars run faster than bicycles, but they have not rendered bicycles obsolete, and no new technological improvements can make a bicycle better than it was before. The idea that a new technology abolishes a previous one is frequently too simplistic. Though after the invention of photography painters did not feel obliged to serve any longer as craftsmen reproducing reality, this did not mean that Daguerre’s invention only encouraged abstract painting. There is a whole tradition in modern painting that could not have existed without photographic models: think, for instance, of hyper-realism. Here, reality is seen by the painter’s eye through the photographic eye. This means that in the history of culture it has never been the case that something has simply killed something else. Rather, a new invention has always profoundly changed an older one. …

The computer creates new modes of production and diffusion of printed documents. …

Today there are new hypertextual poetics according to which even a book-to-read, even a poem, can be transformed to hypertext. At this point we are shifting to question two, since the problem is no longer, or not only, a physical one, but rather one that concerns the very nature of creative activity, of the reading process, and in order to unravel this skein of questions we have first of all to decide what we mean by a hypertextual link. …

In order to understand how texts of this genre can work we should decide whether the textual universe we are discussing is limited and finite, limited but virtually infinite, infinite but limited, or unlimited and infinite.

First of all, we should make a distinction between systems and texts. A system, for instance a linguistic system, is the whole of the possibilities displayed by a given natural language. A finite set of grammatical rules allows the speaker to produce an infinite number of sentences, and every linguistic item can be interpreted in terms of other linguistic or other semiotic items—a word by a definition, an event by an example, an animal or a flower by an image, and so on and so forth. …

Grammars, dictionaries and encyclopaedias are systems: by using them you can produce all the texts you like. But a text itself is not a linguistic or an encyclopaedic system. A given text reduces the infinite or indefinite possibilities of a system to make up a closed universe. If I utter the sentence, ‘This morning I had for breakfast…’, for example, the dictionary allows me to list many possible items, provided they are all organic. But if I definitely produce my text and utter, ‘This morning I had for breakfast bread and butter’, then I have excluded cheese, caviar, pastrami and apples. A text castrates the infinite possibilities of a system. …

Take a fairy tale, like Little Red Riding Hood. The text starts from a given set of characters and situations—a little girl, a mother, a grandmother, a wolf, a wood—and through a series of finite steps arrives at a solution. Certainly, you can read the fairy tale as an allegory and attribute different moral meanings to the events and to the actions of the characters, but you cannot transform Little Red Riding Hood into Cinderella. … This seems trivial, but the radical mistake of many deconstructionists was to believe that you can do anything you want with a text. This is blatantly false. …

Now suppose that a finite and limited text is organised hypertextually by many links connecting given words with other words. In a dictionary or an encyclopaedia the word wolf is potentially connected to every other word that makes up part of its possible definition or description (wolf is connected to animal, to mammal to ferocious, to legs, to fur, to eyes, to woods, to the names of the countries in which wolves exist, etc.). In Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf can be connected only with the textual sections in which it shows up or in which it is explicitly evoked. The series of possible links is finite and limited. How can hypertextual strategies be used to ‘open’ up a finite and limited text?

The first possibility is to make the text physically unlimited, in the sense that a story can be enriched by the successive contributions of different authors and in a double sense, let us say either two-dimensionally or three-dimensionally. By this I mean that given, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood, the first author proposes a starting situation (the girl enters the wood) and different contributors can then develop the story one after the other, for example, by having the girl meet not the wolf but Ali Baba, by having both enter an enchanted castle, having a confrontation with a magic crocodile, and so on, so that the story can continue for years. But the text can also be infinite in the sense that at every narrative disjunction, for instance, when the girl enters the wood, many authors can make many different choices. For one author, the girl may meet Pinocchio, for another she may be transformed into a swan, or enter the Pyramids and discover the treasury of the son of Tutankhamen. …

AT THIS POINT one can raise a question about the survival of the very notion of authorship and of the work of art, as an organic whole. And I want simply to inform my audience that this has already happened in the past without disturbing either authorship or organic wholes. The first example is that of the Italian Commedia dell’arte, in which upon a canovaccio, that is, a summary of the basic story, every performance, depending on the mood and fantasy of the actors, was different from every other so that we cannot identify any single work by a single author called Arlecchino servo di due padroni and can only record an uninterrupted series of performances, most of them definitely lost and all certainly different one from another.

Another example would be a jazz jam session. … What I want to say is that we are already accustomed to the idea of the absence of authorship in popular collective art in which every participant adds something, with experiences of jazz-like unending stories. …

A hypertext can give the illusion of opening up even a closed text: a detective story can be structured in such a way that its readers can select their own solution, deciding at the end if the guilty one should be the butler, the bishop, the detective, the narrator, the author or the reader. They can thus build up their own personal story. Such an idea is not a new one. Before the invention of computers, poets and narrators dreamt of a totally open text that readers could infinitely re-compose in different ways. Such was the idea of Le Livre, as extolled by Mallarmé. Raymond Queneau also invented a combinatorial algorithm by virtue of which it was possible to compose, from a finite set of lines, millions of poems. In the early sixties, Max Saporta wrote and published a novel whose pages could be displaced to compose different stories, and Nanni Balestrini gave a computer a disconnected list of verses that the machine combined in different ways to compose different poems. …

All these physically moveable texts give an impression of absolute freedom on the part of the reader, but this is only an impression, an illusion of freedom. The machinery that allows one to produce an infinite text with a finite number of elements has existed for millennia, and this is the alphabet. Using an alphabet with a limited number of letters one can produce billions of texts, and this is exactly what has been done from Homer to the present days. In contrast, a stimulus-text that provides us not with letters, or words, but with pre-established sequences of words, or of pages, does not set us free to invent anything we want. …

At the last borderline of free textuality there can be a text that starts as a closed one, let us say, Little Red Riding Hood or The Arabian Nights, and that I, the reader, can modify according to my inclinations, thus elaborating a second text, which is no longer the same as the original one, whose author is myself, even though the affirmation of my authorship is a weapon against the concept of definite authorship. …

A BOOK OFFERS US A TEXT which, while being open to multiple interpretations, tells us something that cannot be modified. … Alas, with an already written book, whose fate is determined by repressive, authorial decision, we cannot do this. We are obliged to accept fate and to realise that we are unable to change destiny. A hypertextual and interactive novel allows us to practice freedom and creativity, and I hope that such inventive activity will be implemented in the schools of the future. But the already and definitely written novel War and Peace does not confront us with the unlimited possibilities of our imagination, but with the severe laws governing life and death. …

Computer security people try to solve problems with technology

From Bruce Schneier in The Evolution of a Cryptographer:

Computer security folks are always trying to solve problems with technology, which explains why so many computer solutions fail so miserably.

Eavesdropping with your cell phone

From David S. Bennahum’s “Hope You Like Jamming, Too” (Slate):

…innovative industrial spies, who have several neat new tricks. These days, a boardroom Mata Hari can purchase a specially designed cell phone that will answer incoming calls while appearing to be switched off. In a business meeting, she could casually leave her phone on the table while excusing herself to go to the bathroom. Once she’s gone, she can call the phone she left behind and eavesdrop on what the other side is saying in her absence.

How an email account without passwords can be good for security

From Robert X. Cringely’s “Stream On“:

Mailinator is ad hoc e-mail for those times when just maybe you don’t want to use your regular e-mail address. Say you are snitching on the boss, buying inflatable people, or want 32 different PayPal accounts. Just tell someone—anyone—that your e-mail address is fatman@mailinator.com or skinnykid@mailinator.com, or clueless@mailinator.com or any other address you like at mailinator.com. But this is no dead-end. When people write to you at that address the message will go through. That’s because Mailinator accepts any message going to that domain and automatically assigns an e-mail account to it. But what about passwords? There are none. Anyone can go to Mailinator and check the mail for clueless or any other name. But with so many names and the idea that Mailinator is only for occasional use, who cares?

Better security = reduced efficiency

From Robert X. Cringely’s “Stream On“:

Yet nearly everything we do to combat crime or enhance safety comes at the expense of reduced efficiency. So we build airports to make possible efficient air transportation, then set up metal detectors to slow down the flow of passengers. We build highways to make car travel faster, then set speed limits to make it slower.

The email dead drop

From the L.A. Times‘ “Cyberspace Gives Al Qaeda Refuge“:

Simplicity seems to work best. One common method of communicating over the Internet is essentially an e-mail version of the classic dead drop.

Members of a cell are all given the same prearranged username and password for an e-mail account on an Internet service provider, or ISP, such as Hotmail or Yahoo, according to the recent joint report by the Treasury and Justice departments.

One member writes a message, but instead of sending it, he puts it in the ‘draft’ file and then logs off. Someone else can then sign onto the account using the same username and password, read the draft and then delete it.

‘Because the draft was never sent, the ISP does not retain a copy of it and there is no record of it traversing the Internet—it never went anywhere, its recipients came to it,’ the report said.

American Express’ security policies made things more insecure

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 August 2003:

When I called to activate an American Express credit card I had received in the mail, the automated system told me that I would have to associate a PIN with it. The system told me that other users liked the idea of using their mother’s birthday as a four digit PIN. After some experimentation, I discovered that the system would accept only those four digit PINs that corresponded to dates: 0229 was acceptable but not 0230 and certainly not 3112 (New Year’s Eve, European style.) Thus the system policy administrators had reduced the 10,000 possible four-digit PINs to 366.

Getting past security on planes

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 August 2003:

It’s actually easy to fly on someone else’s ticket. Here’s how: First, have an upstanding citizen buy an e-ticket. (This also works if you steal someone’s identity or credit card.) Second, on the morning of the flight print the boarding pass at home. (Most airlines now offer this convenient feature.) Third, change the name on the e-ticket boarding pass you print out at home to your own. (You can do this with any half-way decent graphics software package.) Fourth, go to the airport, go through security, and get on the airplane.

You can even make a knife on board the plane. Buy some steel epoxy glue at a local hardware store. It comes in two tubes: a base with steel dust and a hardener. Make a knifelike mold by folding a piece of cardboard in half. Then mix equal parts from each tube and form into a knife shape, using a metal fork from your first-class dinner service (or a metal spoon you carry aboard) for the handle. Fifteen minutes later you’ve got a reasonably sharp, very pointy, black steel knife.

Laundering a car’s VIN

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 October 2003:

Precision stripping: criminal steals car, chop shop strips car completely down to chassis, chassis dumped on street, cops tow chassis away, chassis sold at auction, criminal buys chassis, chop shop reattaches parts. Result: legitimate car that can be legally sold used. The VIN has been ‘laundered’.

What seems obvious in security often is not

From Russell Nelson’s comment to Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 November 2003:

> A New York detective was once asked whether pickpockets in
> Manhattan dressed in suits and ties to facilitate their crimes
> subsequent escape. He responded by saying that in twenty years
> he had never arrested even one pickpocket in a tie.

Do you mean this as evidence to bolster your point or to counter it? It seems to me that if he never arrested even one pickpocket in a tie, that would be very good evidence that pickpockets wearing ties escape arrest.

A nanny’s man-in-the-middle attack

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 April 2004:

Here’s a story of a woman who posts an ad requesting a nanny. When a potential nanny responds, she asks for references for a background check. Then she places another ad, using the reference material as a fake identity. She gets a job with the good references—they’re real, although for another person—and then robs the family who hires her. And then she repeats the process.

Look what’s going on here. She inserts herself in the middle of a communication between the real nanny and the real employer, pretending to be one to the other. The nanny sends her references to someone she assumes to be a potential employer, not realizing that it is a criminal. The employer receives the references and checks them, not realizing that they don’t actually belong to the person who is sending them.

Problems with ID cards

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 April 2004:

My argument may not be obvious, but it’s not hard to follow, either. It centers around the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails.

It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by the hundreds of millions of honest people that would carry it. What matters is how the system might fail when used by someone intent on subverting that system: how it fails naturally, how it can be made to fail, and how failures might be exploited.

The first problem is the card itself. No matter how unforgeable we make it, it will be forged. And even worse, people will get legitimate cards in fraudulent names. …

Not that there would ever be such thing as a single ID card. Currently about 20 percent of all identity documents are lost per year. An entirely separate security system would have to be developed for people who lost their card, a system that itself is capable of abuse. …

But the main problem with any ID system is that it requires the existence of a database. In this case it would have to be an immense database of private and sensitive information on every American—one widely and instantaneously accessible from airline check-in stations, police cars, schools, and so on.

The security risks are enormous. Such a database would be a kludge of existing databases; databases that are incompatible, full of erroneous data, and unreliable. …

What good would it have been to know the names of Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, or the DC snipers before they were arrested? Palestinian suicide bombers generally have no history of terrorism. The goal is here is to know someone’s intentions, and their identity has very little to do with that.