Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for January 22nd, 2007

Trust, but verify

Posted by metaphorical on 22 January 2007

The question has come up whether the phrase “trust but verify” is meaningless, and if it’s meaningful (which I think it is), what it’s meaning is.

ThinkExist.com attributes it to Damon Runyon, but the phrase is indelibly associated with Ronald Reagan, specifically his farewell address to the nation on 11 January 1989.

We must keep up our guard, but we must also continue to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust. My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well. And we’ll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this. I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don’t, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It’s still trust but verify. It’s still play, but cut the cards. It’s still watch closely. And don’t be afraid to see what you see.

A little earlier in history, Oliver Cromwell is alleged to have said,

While preparing to cross a river to attack the enemy one day, Oliver Cromwell stopped and turned to address his troops. “Put your trust in God,” he famously declared, “but mind you, keep your powder dry.”

Finally, to judge from the Google results, the phrase has become common in computer security circles.

Trust but verify: authorization for web services

This paper introduces a trust-but-verify framework for web services authorization, and provides an implementation example. In the trust-but-verify framework, each web service maintains authorization policies. In addition, there is a global set of “trust transformation” rules, each of which has an associated transformation condition.

If I understand it (not so very likely), the problem is that a web service may require information that’s only obtainable through an intermediary. So A asks B for information that B will request of C. The web service (A), essentially tells B what sorts of conditions ought to be placed on C. B gets the information from C and reports back to A that the conditions were met.

That’s not really different from what Reagan apparently meant by it. Trust is a behavior—I accept what you say, or what you do, but I’m monitoring the situation.

The people who object to the phrase don’t see trust that way. Acceptance is one thing, trust is another. On the mailing list where this came up, one person said, “Which part of that situation is ‘trust’? I see accept and verify.” On this view, trust seems to be blind, an acceptance without verification.

When it comes to the meaning of ordinary words, you can, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, hear a lot just by listening.

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Not getting the massage

Posted by metaphorical on 22 January 2007

It started in the climbing gym a week ago. I pointed out a new hard route in a section of the gym that I usually enjoy. Mike couldn’t get it, then I told him how I thought it ought to go, and it worked. So then I had to try it. There’s a weird part where two walls meet at an angle. I wedged myself in to get the weight off my arms., pressing my back hard against one wall—so hard that I hurt it pretty badly. I finally just let go, but the damage was done.

That was a week ago Sunday. I got to the chiropractor on Tuesday with muscles so tight it was hard to walk. He loosened them, which is when the real pain started. It turns out those muscles were tense for a reason—to protect the one severely pulled muscle underneath. It was not going to be the best week to spend fourteen and a half hours on single plane. Even a comfortable plane.

I don’t know whether seat 26H was designed by the top sadist over at Boeing or just an idiot. Have you ever slept on a pull-out sofa bed where there’s a bar running across the middle of your spine? This was a sitting-up version of that. For fourteen and a half hours. Then came the 40 minute queue at Customs. Have you ever been at JFK and looked over at the lines for everyone with a foreign passport and thanked god you weren’t one of them? That’s the line I was on at the Shanghai airport. If JFK and PVG are in some kind of retaliatory arms race, then we need a new round of strategic abuse limitations talks. I only mention this because I had to pick up my bags and move them, and me, two feet up about 230 times during those 40 minutes. Then came the taxi line.

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