The Ultimate End of the United States

14 04 2011

At the front of the chamber of the House of Representatives, on either side of the national flag, are two symbols of power, known as fasces.  These are relief sculptures of the image of an axe embedded in a bundle of sticks and tied together with a strap.  For those who know history, this comes as an obvious reference to the old Roman Empire.  Wherever Caesar went, the fasces were carried before him as a symbol of power.  In the image, here, is also another symbol of power derived from the Roman legacy.  Just to the left and in front of the fasces is a mace with the image of an eagle atop it.  Hitler was in love with this symbolism and used it often, but what he did with it is not relevant, here.  These may be fascist symbols, or they may not be, depending on what meaning we ascribe to them, but one thing they do reference is Rome.

The United States is currently the oldest existing democracy in the world.  This representative democracy was, in fact, modeled after the old Roman design, and for good reason.  The Romans were the first to successfully establish a government that actually served the people.  The ancient Greeks tried democracy, but their efforts were short-lived.  Prior to the Romans, every government had existed for itself.  The citizenry existed to serve the government, and not the other way around.  A king was, essentially, the most successful thief and the most powerful warlord.  He took from the people, and then he took the people.  The people had their property, but the king owned both the people and their property.  Rome turned the entire system on its head.  One can read in the First Book of the Maccabees how the Jews were amazed that a city-state across the sea was managed by consent of the people.  Such a thing was stunning in its uniqueness.  The people of Rome were actually quite content with their way of life, especially compared with nearly all previous civilizations.  Therefore, the Roman model had to be the best possible choice for the creation of a new and happy nation that was to be called the United States of America.

France followed closely after.  Nation after nation followed in the footsteps of the United States.  This experiment has proved successful, at least thus far.  It is still a young nation, and we would like to keep it that way, but all people are mortals, and everything they make is destined to die.  We do well to know our weaknesses.  Democracy may have many moral weaknesses, but only two of them are truly mortal.

The first and greatest weakness of democracy is the tendency for the strongest political leaders to become stronger, while the weakest leaders become even weaker.  In the case of Rome, as with us, the strongest person in government is always the head of the executive branch.  We know him as the president.  They knew him as Caesar.  Our founders attempted to counter this by giving most of the powers of governance to the legislative branch.  It was a nice gesture, at best.  Congress makes a preferable seat of power, because it divides that power among many people.  No single person has enough of it to dominate the whole country.  The most powerful branch, in this case, is also the weakest.  It’s a delicate balance.  Everyone in power has that power because they strove for it.  We can guarantee that they will continue to fight for more power.  Therefore, the people with the most power will continue to take it from people with less of that power.  The legislature, as a whole, may be more powerful than the presidency, at least initially, but the president has far more power than any member of Congress.  The same was true for Caesar.  Consequently, both Caesar and the president naturally tend toward acquiring more power.  Responsibilities originally assigned to the legislature gradually migrate over to the executive.  For example, the act of declaring war, once a legislative function, has given way to “police action,” otherwise known as the president sending troops anywhere to fight for any reason he wants.  Eventually, the president could become powerful enough to remain in power indefinitely, and he might find that he can do exactly as he chooses with his nation.  Rome turned this course over hundreds of years.  Nazi Germany did it in a matter of a few years.  Most Middle-Eastern “democracies” started out this way.  When it happens, whether it changes over the course of several terms, or only one, we will find ourselves as Rome, engaged in expansion, foreign wars, and pretty much all manner of insanity associated with self-aggrandizement, the symptom of someone’s bloated ego.  The nation may not be a kingdom, but it will behave as one.

The second weakness of democracy, the one that actually might make the nation cease to exist, is the tendency to spend itself into oblivion.  Rome fell to the tyranny of the imperial Caesar, but it continued to exist for several years before ultimately crumbling under the weight of its own debt.  That is the hallmark of democracy, unfortunately.  We can see it everywhere we look.  Some nations rushed into it.  Others took their time.  All of them are headed in the same direction, and all of them have the same destination.  Rome died the slow death of depleting funds.  Government suffered from what might be called the grab-bag mentality.  It’s our own hand, even now.  Everyone wants as much as they can get.  No one wants to give more than they must.  Cutting taxes looks good.  Creating programs looks good.  No democracy ever seems to shrink its role, and no democracy ever does naught but slide further into debt.  The third-party payer weakness can be seen in the insurance industry, driving up the cost of health care, and it can be seen in the loan industry, driving up the cost of homes.  Wherever people are detached from their own expenditures, costs are sure to soar.

Even beyond the money issue, we have the problem of diminishing priorities.  Every priority that we have, even our highest priorities, are hurt by every new priority we add.  Each time we add an objective, all previous objectives become a little more neglected as a result.  Hence, even if the national defense is still our highest priority, the addition of environmentalism takes away from our ability to defend ourselves.  On a personal scale, we might consider the automobile: if we want it fast and relatively safe, then we run on gasoline.  If we want it to burn cleanly, then we run it on methane, but then it is less safe and less strong.  Occasionally, people kill themselves while pumping natural gas, while gasoline rarely causes injury during fueling.  We could make the car more efficient by making it smaller and lighter, but then, again, it has a weaker engine, and it gets deadly in a collision.  Each new priority added weakens all preexisting priorities.  As a nation gets older, it continues to add priorities.  Each priority costs something, whether money, human resources, natural resources, or just attention.

We need to be aware of our weakness as a democracy, and we need to vote accordingly.  This means we need to keep our debt in check.  We absolutely need to curb our innate tendency to always add new programs.  We’ve got to focus on the fundamentals, the things that government must provide.  Lastly, we need to vigilantly reign-in the presidency.  This great experiment will eventually come to an end, if only because it was made by humans, but it doesn’t have to end today, or tomorrow, next year or next century.  It doesn’t have to, but it will if we don’t learn from history.

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The Single-Use Cipher

27 12 2009

No ship is too big to sink, as the passengers of the Titanic discovered.  No freedom is so well founded as to be impervious to corruption.  Every government and every establishment throughout history is and has been doomed to eventual collapse.  Freedom as we know it in a representative government will last only until someone strong enough manages to consolidate the power for himself.  When that happens, we will find ourselves back under the rule of a dictator.  Like Russia, it may still be paraded as a representative government, but it will, in truth, be governed by a select few, if not a singular individual.  This is the end that cannot be avoided.  Lament it later.  We don’t have time.  For all we know, we may already be there.  Our aim, then, should be to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.  We hope that it will not happen in our lifetime, but we fear that it might.

A key objective for us will be the development of a method for transmitting information secretly.  The strongest of encryption methods involve the use of computers and special software.  In the event of a complete social meltdown or an iron-fisted shutdown of the Internet, we must be prepared for the possibility that computers will not be available to all of us.  Further, we might find strength in an encryption technique that does not require special equipment, especially software, so that we might reach as many people as we require and under as many varied circumstances as we might encounter.

Probably the most widely-used and weakest of encryption techniques is the simple letter-substitution method.  You may have seen one in your local newspaper.  It’s so bad that a person of modest intelligence can solve it without a key.  Take the following example:

SRIRW JHR D HZUETR TRKKRW HJGHKZKJKZLS JSTRHH OLJ NDSK KL FRK BDJFVK

Translates to:

Never use a simple letter substitution unless you want to get caught.

Even if the spaces are removed, letter patterns and relative occurrence of letters is enough to allow the wrong person to decrypt it.  In the example above, the key was as follows:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Q C F A P G B S V U T O D W Y J K E N L M H R Z X I

Despite the weakness of the simple letter substitution method, one of the best codes is a modification of this idea, called the single-use cipher.  It’s the same as a letter substitution, except that the key changes with every letter.  The letter A could represent the letter T one time and represent the letter X the next time.  Doing this requires a lot of keys, being that we need a new one for each letter.  If we wrote a key like the one above for each letter in the message, then the key would be a lot longer than the actual message.  It would hardly be worth the trouble.  To simplify things, the key is always a simple shifting of the alphabet, like the following:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J

In this example, the letter A is shifted over sixteen spaces.  So is every other letter.  If we were to use this key for the above message, then the letter N would be written as the letter D.  We try to think backward when writing it so that the receiver doesn’t have to.  Hence, we encrypt it from the bottom set to the top set, and they decrypt it from the top set to the bottom set.  They see the D, and they translate it to an N.  Like I said, though, the key changes with every letter to prevent anyone from detecting a pattern.  It’s always a simple shift of the alphabet, as above.

In order to not have to write an entire alphabet twice for each and every letter of the message, we can simplify the key to a single letter.  All we need to do to write the key is to simply answer the question, “What does A equal?”  If we know what A equals, then we know what all of the other letters equal, because they’re all shifted over the same number of spaces.  In this case, A equals K.  The letter K can then represent the entire key.  The following is the B key:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A

In this case, A = B.  Therefore, the letter D represents the second letter in our message, the letter E of the word, “Never.”  For every letter of our message, we have one letter that needs to be translated, and we have one letter that tells us which key we use to translate it.  We could generate a random series of letters to represent our random selection of keys:

KBDIEURYASUEJDKQPELXMRUHYXRWHICKMENWLOPQUAYHENRICOVIRUMPU

Each letter tells us what A equals for that key.  Each key is used only once, to decipher only one letter of the message.  Also, we always remove spaces and punctuation.  Using the series of keys, above, the message now translates to the following:

DDSWN ABG A AOIGIU VPPIHF BAUUWRXNLGEB QAPTED IUU YTJG CG EQY UJAUSZ

In a real situation, we would have removed the spaces, but they were used here for the sake of explanation.  In order to easily translate the message, a good practice is to type the alphabet twice in courier font, so that it all fits on one line.  Then, copy that line to the next line.  Print it out and cut the paper between the lines so that they can be shifted relative to each other.  Circle the middle letter A of the top line so you can find it easily.  Using the key, above, you would align the letter A with K for the first letter of the message.  Then align it with B for the next letter of the message.  Then align it with D, and so on.  Cross off each letter of the key as you use it, and never recycle it.  Each time you shift the alphabet, you translate a letter of the message.

Originally, when this method was devised, the single-use keys were printed as booklets of randomly generated letters.  Each booklet would only have two copies.  You would keep one and send the other to the recipient.  Each letter would be used once to translate a letter in a message, and it would never be used again.  The next message, probably the reply, would start where the other left off, until eventually the whole booklet was used up and a new one had to be sent.  It was virtually unbreakable, unless someone intercepted the book along the way and made copies.

Then someone got the bright idea of using common literature as a key.  That way, no special book was required to decipher the message.  The only thing that needed to be delivered was the encrypted message, itself.  If the other party knew which classic you were going to use, then they could find it in their local library, so long as you chose a work that was common, or that you knew they already had.  Better yet, you could tell them with one encrypted message what the key for the next encrypted message would be.  Once you finished using The Grapes Of Wrath to encrypt your messages, you could mention in the last message that you were switching to A Tale Of Two Cities.  After a long correspondence, there would be no way for anyone to know what you were using to encrypt your messages, because you will have only mentioned it in another encrypted message.  Only the first book would be mentioned, and you might even do that through a subtle hint.  Be careful to avoid using abridged versions or books translated from other languages, because they tend not to be the same from one publication to the next.  Let’s take A Tale Of Two Cities as our key:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdo….

In this case, A equals I, then T, then W, and so on.  If A equals I, then N equals F.  If A equals T, then E equals L.  If A equals W, then V equals Z, and so on.

FLZEZ BLA Z OQTBGL DSPBWY WUJZMEXGCQVZ PUDSOA QVY WIUM PO AAF XEMOEF

Again, we leave the spaces in place for now.  Normally we would remove them.  So, there you have it.  Take the message, “Never use a simple letter substitution unless you want to get caught,” and cross it with the line from Dickens’ book, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdo…” and what you have left is a code that would be hard to break.  The other person’s reply would start where you left off, at “…m, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….” Then, even if the enemy knew what book you were using to decode with, they probably would have trouble finding the right part of the book to use.

Now, the only problem is getting the message to the other person.  Unfortunately, the message still looks like a secret message.  It would be up to the sender to be creative and find a way to hide the fact that it’s a coded message.  For example, it could be hidden in a web page.  To find it, you select from the menu bar View/Source, which will give you a long list of HTML.  Look for the message to be contained between “<!–“ and “–>”.  If the enemy knows that you have a web site, then they might find the code there, but they would neither be able to decode it, nor would they know whom you were talking to.  Anyone could access the page, and there’s no knowing which of them was the recipient and which was someone just visiting the site for what it appeared to be.  Moreover, unless they already suspected you, they would not be likely to find you by accident this way.  As an added plus, you could send the same message to several parties at once, and you would not have to jeopardize them by knowing dangerous information about who or where they are, in the event that you are captured and forced to leak their whereabouts.  Otherwise, one might consider the use of watermarks or invisible ink.

One might also consider a reverse-order cipher, whereby the two alphabets run in opposite directions to one another, as such:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A

The advantage to this is that it works in both directions.  You can’t get confused as to whether you’re translating from the top to the bottom line, or the other way around, because it’s the same both ways.  The disadvantage is that it only provides half as much encryption strength.  I prefer the previous method, though, in all honesty, I hope we never need to use this.