If This Is Satire, Please Bring Me Seriousness. If This Is Seriousness, Please Bring Me Satire.

Effluvia

In the course of an extremely awkwardly worded post about quality problems with Skype, PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak offers us this:

Personally, I would not be surprised if one of the reasons why Microsoft bought Skype was to outfit the product with backdoor access for the US government's top eavesdropping agency, the National Security Agency.

This may be a good thing, but let me explain why because it's not what you think.

. . . .[a dozen tortured sentences omitted] . . . .

Hopefully, Microsoft is in bed with various governments to allow them to listen in on our calls. This sounds crazy, but no. It would be an ironic twist, but if it were the case, Microsoft would be required to keep the quality high so everyone doesn't bail out and go elsewhere.

A wacky theory, but it does make sense.

As I see it, there are three possibilities:

1. John C. Dvorak is being serious, and is an awful American.
2. John C. Dvorak is satirizing an awful American, but is an awful writer and worse satirist.
3. John C. Dvorak is satirizing both awful Americans and awful writers, and is actually brilliant.

Good luck with it being #3, John.

Edited to add: This is not to say that Skype isn't potentially creepy.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

46 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Glenn Fleishman  •  Jul 24, 2012 @7:41 pm

    Dvorak is seriously a troll for page views, but I think he also lost a couple screws several years ago.

  2. Jack B.  •  Jul 24, 2012 @7:50 pm

    Personally, I think he's on to something. I mean, look at how much air travel has improved since the government got the TSA involved.

  3. wazmo  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:21 pm

    Back when CompuServe ruled the nascent version of cyberspace before there even was an internet, he created an alter ego known as 'david willows' and trolled a heavily traffic forum hosted by Will Zachmann. He was eventually outed by an IBMer and apologized for his actions.

  4. Grant Brunner  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:24 pm

    Keep in mind this is the same human being who publically poo-pooed the potential success of the mouse and the iPhone. Amusing as his linkbait may be, nothing he says should be taken seriously.

  5. tom  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:26 pm

    Dvorak stopped making sense long ago.

  6. Chris R.  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:56 pm

    I hope the NSA is wire tapping my home internet so it'll have to go faster then.

  7. EH  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:59 pm

    And by "long ago," I would say 20 years ago. Maybe the hype around Windows 95 broke his brain.

  8. M.  •  Jul 24, 2012 @8:59 pm

    I unthinkingly Googled the phrase "atomic missile recipe" the other day. I'm still here, so the NSA must be getting lazy. Or is secretly funded by Al-Qaeda. Whatever.

  9. Pete  •  Jul 24, 2012 @9:07 pm

    4. John C. Dvorak is an employee of the NSA.

    Never mind, I guess that would be redundant with choice 2, the "awful American".

  10. Jack B.  •  Jul 24, 2012 @9:13 pm

    Sadly, one of the few things he got right in the article was this:

    Since the public doesn't seem to care much about snooping one way or the other, though, it's silly to complain about it.

  11. David  •  Jul 24, 2012 @9:37 pm

    How to measure the article's gravity?
    Is it satire or statist depravity?
    With an eavesdropping polity
    Comes assurance of quality
    Per what Dvorak pulled out of some cavity.

  12. schmiel  •  Jul 24, 2012 @10:38 pm

    [Pointy-Haired Boss]
    Are any of you NOT Libertarian?
    [/Pointy-Haired Boss]

  13. Roger Smart  •  Jul 24, 2012 @11:04 pm

    He needs a job change. Should be flipping burgers which would be far more useful than what he is doing now. Previous comments nailed it re:
    he has lost a a couple of screws. This would be an appropriate juncture to cue up the Talking Heads, "Stop making sense."

  14. David Schwartz  •  Jul 25, 2012 @4:20 am

    Before 9/11, a lot of individuals and companies cooperated with the NSA. We all have secrets from law enforcement (we speed, cheat on our taxes, commit nine felonies a day, etectera). But really, what secrets do you have from the NSA? If you really did know something that had real use to a national security organization, would you really mind them knowing it?

    However, all that stopped after 9/11. Now there there is no wall between national intelligence and law enforcement, everyone in the industry (at least, to my knowledge) has stopped cooperating with the NSA.

    I'm about as Libertarian is they come, but I still like the US a lot better than a lot of other countries. I have no need to keep anything secret from the folks who handle national intelligence and make the *real* bad guys disappear. But like every American, I have to keep lots of things secret from law enforcement.

  15. M.  •  Jul 25, 2012 @4:24 am

    I am not a libertarian. I'm a liberal prone to bouts of nannyist fascism.

  16. alexa-blue  •  Jul 25, 2012 @5:32 am

    The article is a post-modern masterpiece. His "argument" is the punch-line of a joke, delivered in the second to last sentence. Offhandedly thrown out earlier is an unsupported claim that people don't care about government snooping, directly contradicting the premise of the piece. And the bulk of the thing, where the argument would typically go, is a drawn out anecdote about asking him to upgrade and crashing that has nothing to do with anything, but does make one wonder how anyone would pay him to write about tech issues.

    Clearly, a genius satirizing tech writers who truly have nothing to say. Like Chris Matysczyck

  17. tom  •  Jul 25, 2012 @5:36 am

    @wazmo I remember Zachmann's Canopus forum well. I was a regular on it.

  18. Nicholas Weaver  •  Jul 25, 2012 @7:10 am

    There is #4: Dvorak is a troll. And he's always been a troll.

  19. Phe0n1x  •  Jul 25, 2012 @7:39 am

    Well, if they're listening in on my calls then I simply need to (troll) say many more keywords like bomb, terrorism, anarchy, chemical warfare, national security.

  20. Gavin  •  Jul 25, 2012 @7:57 am

    So this is what happens when a conspiracy theorist who writes poorly is given a popular writing media platform to rant on? I'm not so sure this isn't a social experiment in which Dvorak is an unwitting participant. Don't let him know about the fluoride conspiracy or he'll start convincing dumb people to stop brushing their teeth and they're already bad to be around as is.

  21. Zachary  •  Jul 25, 2012 @8:24 am

    @David Schwartz

    I'm american, and have nothing to hide from law enforcement. I'll give you a list of the worst things I've ever done, from the most to the least serious:

    1. Punched a laptop's screen at college and broke it. The professor understood it was a stupid move on my part- he allowed me to fix it by spending my own money to buy a new screen for it. No legal issues there, and in civil court, I have financial records to show I replaced the screen if they really wanted to get legalistic for some reason. He recommended I get therapy, and I went to the college counselling center for help with anger issues.

    2. Got into fairly frequent disciplinary trouble in high, middle, and elementary school, partially because of anger issues, but mostly because of my inability to debate civilly and a couple boatloads of stubbornness.

    3. When I was 4 or so (I don't remember the exact age), I took a little fake plastic mustard container from the preschool I was at home because I thought it was neat and I wanted to show mom and dad. They asked me where I got it, I told them the truth, and I returned it the next day.

    That's the sum of everything I can remember that comes at all close to legal trouble. I make a conscious effort never to break the law; when my dorm mates put alcohol in the fridge, I told them I was making a sandwich- when I finished it, I was going downstairs to inform the RA's of what was in our fridge, and that it was their choice what they did in the interval.

    I've never sped (partially because I never drive), and wouldn't speed if I drove. I've never done drugs, never touched cigarettes (unless my mother smoking like a chimney counts), and I had exactly two shots of sake on my 21st birthday- no alcohol before, because it would've been illegal, and none since, because I didn't like the taste.

    I'll be honest: If you have something to hide from law enforcement because you've committed a crime, of any magnitude, you're a part of the problem. You're a part of why the police feel like they need such latitude- and you help them justify it. Not that this makes you any worse of a person, just it's something I hope you'd think about and I hope you'd reconsider continuing in your current behaviors if you commit crimes today.

    If you have something to hide from law enforcement just because you're a private person, and don't like people in your business, then I can understand and accept that. If you have something to hide because you're afraid they'll discriminate against you or falsely accuse you or frame you because of your race, sex, or orientation, I can accept that too.

    Being private is fine. Riding the edge of the law is fine. But I would ask you- and everyone- to reconsider committing a crime if you could help it.

    It's fine to think a law is unjust- but the remedy in a democratic society is to convince 51% of the people that the law is unjust, and change it, and civil disobedience is a legitimate method of doing that, as long as you accept 2 things:
    1. You are going to jail if you perform civil disobedience. It's a part of the package.
    2. Civil disobedience only works if it's visible. If you're not trying to be visible, it's not civil disobedience, it's mere criminal behavior.

    If you're not breaking the law as a form of protest, then you're a mere criminal. We don't get to decide what laws do and do not apply to us.

    TLDR version:

    1. I have nothing to hide, so your idea that all americans have something to hide is incorrect.

    2.If you commit a crime, accept the consequences. Civil disobedience is fine to help change people's minds, but it doesn't change the fact that you're going to jail based on a legitimate law (however good or however evil) imposed by a democratically elected government (however fair or however unjust).

  22. desconhecido  •  Jul 25, 2012 @8:48 am

    It's not a masterpiece of prose writing, but I think it's funny. Without knowing more about Dvorak, it's impossible to tell from this whether he's an awful American or not.

  23. Pamala  •  Jul 25, 2012 @8:56 am

    They're just getting more information for the Machine.

    No on a more serious thought, maybe I'm paranoid, but I think the government is already listening in to everything we do.

  24. M.  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:07 am

    @Zachary: It's great for you if you don't find any of the prevailing laws to be really stupid, but that's not the case for everyone.

  25. Grifter  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:09 am

    @Zachary:

    Considering the abundance of laws on the books today, it is almost impossible for you to not have broken any of them…which is the point.

  26. Gavin  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:25 am

    @Zachary:

    Thank you for including the TLDR version. I think the idea is that I don't want the government encrouching in my personal business. I don't have anything to hide at all. I just don't want some person I don't know listening in on conversations between me and my wife. How is that a problem? Why am I not entitled to private conversations with my wife or anyone else for that matter?

  27. Kelly  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:32 am

    @Zachary: Go and look up what laws are still on the books for your state, county, city/town and then get back to us on how you've broken no laws. http://www.dumblaws.com/

    Just to have an example. In the course of my life I have broken these laws by no fault of my own- I simply did not know such things were illegal.

    1. Waitresses may not carry drinks into a restaurant or bar.
    2.Anyone 14 or older who profanely curses, damns or swears by the name of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, shall be fined one to three dollars for each offense, with a maximum fine of ten dollars per day.
    3.A three dollar fine per pack will be imposed on anyone playing cards in Indiana under the Act for the Prevention of Gaming.
    4. The value of Pi is 3.
    5.Baths may not be taken between the months of October and March.
    6. It is against the law to pass a horse on the street.
    7. You are not allowed to carry a cocktail from the bar to a table.
    8. Drinking from your own bottle in a bar can lead to your arrest.
    because…
    9. You are supposed to drink from a glass.

    I could go on, but that is just a small taste of the laws I have broken by not knowing they even exist. Oh, and I have lived in three other states as well and traveled far and wide… jeez, wonder how big of a 'criminal' I am.

  28. Dan Weber  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:38 am

    Zachary might want to look up "three felonies a day."

    I can see the POV that it's okay if the NSA knows some private things. If the NSA knew, say, that I was cheating on my wife via some secret wiretapping program, they wouldn't do anything with it, because keeping their secret wiretapping program secret is waaaaaay more important to them, and they'd have serious internal controls on just who can leak information that could possibly prove that they have a secret wiretapping program underway.

    During WWII the Allies broke the German ciphers, but purposefully didn't react to some information unless there was another way they could have known it, because it was really important not to let the Germans know the ciphers were broken.

    I have no such confidence in local law enforcement.

    All that said, there's still the attitude that we shouldn't tolerate people collecting information on us because we're Americans and it's the government's job to prove it needs the information, not our job to prove we deserve our rights.

  29. Grifter  •  Jul 25, 2012 @9:46 am

    @Zachary, @Dan Weber:

    I found a link: http://threefelonies.com/Youtoo/tabid/86/Default.aspx (Don't know if this specifically is what you were referring to, Dan, since there's also a book on it)

    The "Obstruction of Justice" one makes your "I'm going to eat a sandwich, then go to the RA" warning interesting, Zachary…

  30. Z  •  Jul 25, 2012 @12:06 pm

    Hopefully, if Microsoft teams up with the FBI to violate our 4th Amendment rights and conduct massive surveillance, the latter will demand high quality recordings, leading to a substantially improved product.

    Kill me now.

  31. Ripley  •  Jul 25, 2012 @12:19 pm

    Skype's proprietary encryption was believed secure by the industry. While not the preferred open source, based on peer reviewed algorithms, it was thought to give LE fits.

    Microsoft acquired Skype.

    Microsoft them applied for a patent on 'Legal Intercept'.

    Microsoft then changed the Skype topography on 'Super Nodes', got rid of direct, peer to peer, and now controls all the Super Nodes that your conversations go through.

    Punch this into Google Maps:

    1 Sony Pl, San Antonio, Texas 78245 to 5150 Rogers Rd, San Antonio, Texas 78251

    That is one of Microsoft's largest data centers, 5.4 miles away from an NSA annex.

    Kill the messenger if you must, but if anyone doesn't think that the population at large aren't the new 'persons of interest'…I don't know what to tell you.

    R

  32. Ripley  •  Jul 25, 2012 @12:42 pm
  33. John David Galt  •  Jul 25, 2012 @6:38 pm

    @David Schwartz: Before 9/11, a lot of individuals and companies cooperated with the NSA. We all have secrets from law enforcement (we speed, cheat on our taxes, commit nine felonies a day, etectera). But really, what secrets do you have from the NSA? If you really did know something that had real use to a national security organization, would you really mind them knowing it?

    That depends on whether "real use" means what I think it means or what the agency thinks it means.

    When the US government permanently abandons the War on Drugs and takes the worse-than-useless Keystone Gestapo out of our airports and the checkpoints off our freeways, I'll begin to believe they have the best interests of Americans at heart.

    But even then, I'll want to deny them half of what they ask for, because they are too dimwitted to be trusted with more than one bullet. Barney Fifes all.

  34. azteclady  •  Jul 25, 2012 @6:51 pm

    Zachary, you may have nothing to hide. Does that mean you don't care who is privy to everything in your life?

    If so, dandy–for you.

    Most of us rather value our privacy, and not because we have "something" to hide.

  35. Robert White  •  Jul 25, 2012 @7:12 pm

    @Zachary — you have plenty to hide, you just may not know it yet. You may not even know it because it doesn't -yet- need to be hidden.

    This Guy owned the house on the land that was cut out from my property some years ago. I hung out with this guy like twice. I hired his building contractor to work on my house after watching that contractor do an excellent job build an out-building on that property.

    So if there was "guilt by association" in this country, that guys bad deeds could have cost me my security clearances and stuff. Our connections were incredibly weak.

    So what if -your- neighbor that you invited in for a beer once turned out to be a "known associate of a terrorist organization"? Guilt by association would "Get You".

    Thing is, most "guilt by association" events in history happen "after the fact". The entire comunist witch hunt thing was built on following associations that happened years before anybody decided "Communism was bad". Ten years you thought (some chick) was hot, so you let her drag you to a party. Five years ago (some dude) decides that communism needs to be "rooted out". One month ago (some chick) gets in trouble for knowing (some guy) but gets told she can get off the hook by telling All She Knows™. She tells (some dude) that she too you to (some guy)'s party. You find yourself summoned before the house Committee on Un-American Affairs.

    You just wanted to get laid!

    Retroactive guilt is a bitch.

    ===

    If you have ever bought anything off the internet and it didn't have sales tax assessed, then you are a tax evader. I'll bet you don't even -know- that -you- are required to pay the sales tax to your local government when you weren't charged for it online. So you are a tax evader, guaranteed.

    We are all awash in things that are both below the law and beneath notice. We don't usually even know it.

    Giving "law enforcement" the right to traipse through your life without grounds is bad because it only takes one guy who decides he doesn't like you to turn "all that nothing" into a life crippling something.

    You have plenty to hide.

  36. David Schwartz  •  Jul 26, 2012 @2:36 am

    John David Galt: The NSA, DIA, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) CIA used to be different. They are not anymore. That is a huge loss. One of the consequences of this loss is that people can no longer cooperate with these agencies without fear that the information will wind up in the hands of law enforcement. I believe that national security has significantly suffered as a consequence. I've been repeating this message for more than a decade now, since it was first suggested (by Richard Best, after 9/11) that intelligence agencies be required to notify law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activity.

  37. D.  •  Jul 26, 2012 @5:36 pm

    Well, it has been confirmed that the NSA _can_ listen to your Skype calls at any time. I have no idea who this Dvorak is, and I don't really know what he's saying exactly, but yes the NSA is tapping your calls.

    Also, I don't live anywhere near the US (I'm not even on the same landmass), and they have the possibility of listening to my calls too – and that is not okay. They have no jurisdiction over my country or myself. I am not an American citizen and therefore I have nothing to answer to them.

    Anyway. Ken, I just picked up your blog and I love that you do pro-bono work for the things that matter (such as that student who was about to get sued by a naturopath and his wife) and that, also, you've been a lawyer for ~20 years and you use words I wouldn't expect a lawyer to use.
    But please, please tell me that by "he's an awful american" you're not saying "he's not trusting the government so he's an awful american".

    Even if the NSA doesn't come after you specifically, they have that power. Obama stripped terrorist suspects of their writ of Habeas Corpus (no lawyer, no trial, even if they're american citizens). The CIA can barge in any hearing in progress and tell the judge that they have proof you're guilty of whatever it is they're charging you with, but they can't reveal it AND they can get away with that.
    And so, even if it is never used against you OR against a fellow citizen in your lifetime, it's still a dangerous power to have. They're just waiting for an opportunity, and when they have it, you're screwed.
    Also, no system is perfect – even my country doesn't have a perfect judiciary system. Charging the wrong person of a crime they did not commit has been done, is being done, and will continue being done. Usually, they're found innocent after a trial is done – *that is the whole point of a trial*.
    Consider the Colorado Cinema tragedy… the guy is clearly a home terrorist, and had things gone differently and there had been more suspects, none of them could have had the opportunity of hiring a lawyer since they're terrorists.
    On another topic, a UK citizen was questioned by the TSA after he made a comment prior to his visit to the US (he wrote on Facebook: "NY here I come! I'm gonna burn down the city!" – if not that, then something that showed he was excited about visiting NY, not excited about actually bombing the place). A citizen not from the US. On his Facebook wall.

    I'm rambling I guess… Well, I do want to make clear that giving that much power to a governmental insitution is not a good thing, even if they never use that power. They have the right to, there's never gonna be consequences if they do, it's just a matter of time.

  38. D.  •  Jul 26, 2012 @5:53 pm

    Edit (well, as much as it can be one):
    I read the source, and their comments, and I now know where Ken stands – or at least where I think he stands.
    To me it's quite clear he's not on the side of the writer who says that invading our privacy leads to better quality calls (on top of that, it's also a bullshit article).

    Well, there's not much else to say I guess. Ken, you keep getting more awesome by the minute.

  39. William Sutton  •  Jul 26, 2012 @6:32 pm

    I've been aware of John C. Dvorak since 1993 or so. He has always been bombastic and willing to say things to get readers. I suppose you could call him a troll, but I don't think he quite rises to that level. I wouldn't bother reading anything he writes, and if I did, I'd take it with a pallet load of salt.

  40. wrk  •  Jul 27, 2012 @1:07 am

    Please keep in mind that this is the same Dvorak who complained that "System Idle Process" was taking up 95% of his computer's CPU.

  41. wrk  •  Jul 27, 2012 @1:07 am

    Link didn't work in previous post. He really said this in an article:

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1304348,00.asp

  42. Bolognesus  •  Jul 28, 2012 @1:26 pm

    D, read a little closer; he's actually saying Dvorak would be an "awful American" for not minding the NSA listening in on his communication.

  43. David Schwartz  •  Jul 29, 2012 @5:03 am

    ""Please keep in mind that this is the same Dvorak who complained that "System Idle Process" was taking up 95% of his computer's CPU.""

    There's no reason the System Idle Process should be taking up 95% of the computer's CPU when the computer is supposed to be doing useful work. He was specifically talking about a case where real tasks appeared to be CPU starved.

  44. Chris Sherlock  •  Aug 10, 2012 @8:16 pm

    This is the same John C. Dvorak who claimed that the idle process was hogging 100% of his CPU, which was a major bug in Windows… and the guy who said:

    Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation — as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I dont want one of these new fangled devices.

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