KingMidget's Ramblings

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Tag Archives: PRISM

They’re Watching You

Probably because of my posts about Prism (here and here), a friend sent me this, suggesting it might be something I’d want to post about.  The community featured in the article, Elk Grove, is where I live.  Kind of.  When I first saw the piece, I was ambivalent about the idea, but the more I think about it, the more it fits in with my evolving view on PRISM and the other “scandals” of the day.

I’m not somebody who fears Big Brother.  I also don’t fear the government.  That said, I also don’t want the government to have access to all of my data.  The reality is, I don’t want anybody to have access to all of my data.  Government, corporation, good guy non-profit.  Nobody.  The problem is that we all lost control on this years, if not decades, ago.

Last year, in California, there was an initiative on the ballot that would have required genetically modified food to be labeled as such.  I voted against it, primarily because we have reached a point on that particular issue where labeling is meaningless.  Corn is genetically modified.  Corn is in everything that is mass produced.  Ergo, everything we eat is genetically modified.  What’s the label going to tell us.  The initiative needed to be on the ballot a decade ago.  Maybe even further back.

It’s the same with PRISM.  It’s the same with cameras on every street corner.  It’s the same with so many things.  There is a certain element of the “battle” that we lost long, long ago.    Plus, with some of these things, there are benefits that outweigh the risks.

Let’s look at the cameras.  Does it bother me that there are cameras everywhere now?  Slightly.  Yes, I don’t want some stooge sitting in a control room somewhere watching me scratch my balls, pick my nose, or engage in other types of unsavory behavior.  But, again, let’s look at the reality.  Everybody, or everybody except for my brother, mom, and dad, has a smart phone.  They’re taking pictures and videos everywhere.  And, guess what?  You’re in them.

That’s one thing.  Here’s another.  Other than the aforementioned ball-scratching and nose-picking, I’m pretty sure those cameras won’t see me doing anything illegal, immoral or unethical.  Why is that?  Because when I’m out in public, I’m a law-abiding, upstanding citizen.  Those cameras aren’t going to find anything on me.  And, if they do — say, I run a red light at an intersection with a camera — well, you got me, how much is the fine?

One of the things I find fascinating about this is that we live in a nation of scofflaws.  Conservatives complain about more gun laws, claiming that those on the books already aren’t enforced.  “Why more laws?” they scream.  So, now technology provides greater tools for enforcing the laws that are on the books and those same people scream, “You’re violating our rights.”

I don’t know.  If you’re out on a public street.  In a restaurant.  Hanging out in a park.  You have no privacy.  Commit a crime and the camera catches you, where’s the problem?


The other thing I saw this week that fascinated me was Obama’s calls for further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States.  I was reminded of Obama’s proposal this afternoon when I read, of all things, a book review.  Theryn posted a book review of it and commented that a portion of the book took place in the ’80’s, when she was in high school and she, like a lot of people then, pretty much were convinced that the world would eventually, probably sooner instead of later, be vaporized in a nuclear holocaust.  As she states

I have to interject here and say this story totally reminded me why/how I spent my high school years thinking nuclear war was an inevitability. To the point I didn’t worry much about long-term consequences not because I thought I was invincible, but because I thought we were all going to be vaporized sooner or later. It’s weird, how this doesn’t get mentioned much, if at all, anymore.

I remember those days as well.  Reading books like Carl Sagan’s The Nuclear Winter.  I took a class in college titled Nuclear War.  That was it.  This was in the mid-80’s.  According to Wikipedia, at the time, the Soviet Union (Reagan’s Evil Empire) and the United States had approximately 45,000 nuclear weapons between them.  I remember maps of targets.  Ours and theirs.  At the time, Sacramento housed two major Air Force bases and was, and still is, the state capitol.  I figured that somewhere in my lifetime, I’d be wiped off the face of the earth as would most of my fellow Sacramentans.  It’s a weird feeling to have and to recall, because as Theryn says, nobody really talks about it anymore.  And I certainly don’t think about it much.

From 45,000 weapons thirty years ago, we’re now at a point where the countries’ combined arsenals could drop below 3,000.  That’s a pretty remarkable feat.  Sadly, it’s still enough to end life on this planet.  Even more sadly — or scarier — is that the proliferation of weapons, while the superpowers reduce their arsenals, continues.  I marvel that no nuclear weapon has been exploded in an attack since 1945.  Sixty-eight years ago.  I’m willing to bet we don’t go another sixty-eight years.  Our survival on this planet will depend significantly on the world’s response the next time one of these bombs goes off.  I wish sometimes that I didn’t think of these things.


Enough Already (Politics a-coming)

I’ve toyed with this post for a week or so.  Ever since my post suggesting that the PRISM controversy might not be as bad as first thought.  That prompted some rebuttal from a couple of voices I respect.  One, a fellow blogger who, although I’ve never met him, has some solid and worthy views on the subject.  The other, a good friend who is outraged by things such as PRISM and Guantanamo and drone strikes and the like.

I get their frustration.  I get their outrage.  On some level, I share those emotions.  They are idealists.  I am one, as well.  The three presidential candidates who inspired me the most over the past thirty years are Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo, and Barack Obama.  Why?  Because as candidates, they were idealists.  As speakers, they were poets.  They could paint pictures with their words and deliver their speeches with such a rhythm and passion that I could actually believe the shining city on the hill might actually be possible instead of the reality of what actually is.

But, I also get this.  Idealists cannot possibly succeed at running a country as complex as the United States in a world that is complex as today’s world.  Even if Barack Obama ran as an idealist, he also realized that fundamental truth.  I believe the single biggest mistake he ever made was to declare victory on that wonderful November 2008 night before the multitudes in Chicago and the millions watching on TV in a way that ratcheted up the idealism of his campaign rather than dialing it down.  Does anybody remember this line from his victory speech back then:

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

Change has come to America.  I have heard about this promise so many times in the years since.  I wish he had never said the words or campaigned so vigorously on the idea of change.  The reality is that most candidates do.  That’s part of the schtick.  But people have held him to that promise at a level unseen for any candidates who ran before him.  “He promised change.  Where is it?”  “Where’s the change the President promised?  I don’t see it.”  These are the kinds of statements I here all too often, most often from people who didn’t vote for him and probably never would.  Yes, I also hear the complaints from those who voted for him.  And to all of them I want to say, “Really?  You actually expected him to turn back the rising oceans, to cure cancer, end unemployment, etc.?  To bring about a new civility in our political discourse?  All on his own?  Really?  Are you that stupid?”

Here’s an example of the type of complaint I here:  One of the frequent complainers I hear from is a friend who is a Republican.  He never, ever would have voted for Obama and he detests him.  We spoke a couple of weeks ago.  He accused Obama of lying and flip-flopping and never sticking to a position.  When I asked for examples, he had nothing specific.  He then moved on to complaining that all Obama does is fly around the country raising money for the Democratic Party.  That he just comes out to California to raise money but he doesn’t actually do anything.  And that GWB never did that.  I pointed out that GWB didn’t come out to California because he wasn’t popular here, but I was willing to bet he did plenty of fundraising in other parts of the country.  We just didn’t hear about it living in California.  (Here’s a little bit of proof …  My point was that this is something they all do, it’s part of the job.  Raise money for the party and the party’s candidates.  His response:  but what about the change he promised.  He was going to change this.  Where’s the change?  My reply:  so, while the other party and candidates are doing this, he’s just supposed to stop?  Really?  And put the Democratic Party at a disadvantage when the other side isn’t willing to make the same change?  Can I repeat myself?  Really?

I’m flummoxed by this.  Change, change, change.  He promised us change!!!!!!

Here’s the deal though.  What Barack Obama has done, if nothing else, since his election, is run this country as a pragmatist and a realist.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have demanded single payer health care.  And lost just as the Clintons did in the ’90s.  If he operated as an idealist, he would have closed down Guantanamo and been decried as weak.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have ended some of these programs we are now learning about rather than allowing them to continue … AS THEY HAVE FOR YEARS AND DECADES PRIOR TO HIS ELECTION.  This is the thing that amazes me about the PRISM and Verizon controversy.  I first learned about the NSA’s reach back in the 1980s — when they had access to all forms of communication back then.  People, it’s a reality.  Plus, imagine the outrage if he had ended these programs and six months later we had a terrorist attack on American soil that could have been prevented if he had not done so.  Change can only happen incrementally.   If he had operated as an idealist, we would have had troops on the ground months ago in Syria to prevent yet another human tragedy.  If he had operated as an idealist, we would be in worse shape than we are and many of the successes he has achieved would have never come to be.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have lost in 2012.  Just think about the things that would be different with a President Romney.  Seriously.  Imagine it and tell me Obama should have led as an idealist.

I would like nothing more than to see an idealist with the vision I have run our country.  That’s impossible.  Better a pragmatist who has the same set of core beliefs, or at least a similar set, than an idealist who could never get anything done.  You want an example of a failed idealist as President … Jimmy Carter.  One of the most decent, intelligent and wonderful human beings we’ll ever see.  But, a horrible President.  I’ll take Obama’s pragmatism and reasoned leadership any day.

What prompted me to finally write this was a piece from Andrew Sullivan’s blog today.  Not written by Mr. Sullivan.  Instead, it is a comment from one of his readers.  A Republican reader, who voted for Romney, defended Obama’s decision to provide arms to the Syrian rebels, even though he, the reader, disagreed with the approach!!  I think it’s one of the best defenses of Obama I’ve seen.  From somebody who doesn’t agree with him.  People should read it every time they get upset that Obama doesn’t go all the way towards the decision they want.  There’s something to be said for the pragmatic middle.  There’s something to be said for seeking incremental improvement.  There’s something to be said for compromise and collaboration.  Obama’s only real “failing” in this regard is that he is serving as President at a time when the opposition has failed to recognize the value in those ideas.

Is Obama perfect?  Of course not.  Have I agreed with every decision he has made?  No.  But I do think he is being held to a different, higher standard than any President before him and I’m tired of it.

You want to know what the alternative is?  Republicans like Bobby Jindal, who was willing to state the following in his never-ending desire to be relevant in the 2016 Republican Presidential race:

Because the left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.

Come on, people.  What do you want?  Adults or petulant teenagers running your country.



A Peek Inside (with a Poll, too!)

My initial reaction to the report that the U.S. Government has access to all sorts of data from Verizon and that it may have some level of ridiculous access to the servers of all sorts of internet behemoths was outrage.  Things have changed since then and it’s this post from Andrew Sullivan that has convinced me of the error of my outrage.  Buried in the post is this nugget:

But are we actually going to prevent government from using Big Data, while Google plumbs its depths even further and Buzzfeed even schedules its content by chasing algorithms? At least there is some minimal check on the government, a judicial court.

I’m no fan of the Patriot Act or FISA or any other law that provides for ridiculous surveillance of American citizens.  I never bought into the “war on terror” and all of the measures that were passed to “protect” us from the enemy.  Virtually one of those measures was an over-reach by a government that was over-eager to assert power in a way that was and probably still is unimaginable.  I am a firm believer that the best way to combat the enemy, whoever it is — terrorists, communists, the boogeyman, is to stay truer to our ideals than we ever have.  Instead, ever since 9/11, this country seems set on a path of eliminating those rights in the name of security.

I get it.  To an extent.  I, too, want our government to be able to stop every terrorist plot it can.  I want no more shoe bombers, Boston Marathon bombers (by the way, if you can get a hole of the July Runner’s World Magazine, read it.  If you struggle with what the marathon bombing means, read it.  You’ll have a renewed faith in humanity).  I don’t want this country to descend into chaos, where a terrorist could strike at any moment, where a suicide bomber can blow himself up at the Starbucks down the street.  But I don’t want to lose my right to privacy, my right to be free from intrusion into my thoughts, my communications, my life … without probable cause.  Many of the latest reports of government action certainly point to an intrusion on those rights.

But, here’s the deal.  Andrew Sullivan has it exactly right.  As he so frequently does.  Google.  And Yahoo.  And Microsoft.  And Amazon.  And Facebook.  They and their internet brethren know more about you and your personal habits than the government ever will.  Where’s the outrage about that?  Why is that OK — for companies in their search for ever-increasing profits to know about every internet move you make — but in the name of security, the government can’t have access to the same data.  If it is acting legally, the only way the government can access the data is with court approval.  Generally speaking, of course.  But these companies, in their search for profits, have unlimited access.  So, the question is … is the outrage properly placed?  Invading your privacy is OK when it’s in search of the almighty dollar, but it’s not OK when it’s about securing you and your family?  Just seems somewhat odd to me.


A while ago, I posted about the American River Bike Trail.  It’s this wonderful oasis in the midst of Sacramento’s urban sprawl.  As long as I’ve ridden on it — which likely means something close to 40 years — there have been stenciled, painted words on the trail reminding users of the trail that there is a 15 miles per hour speed limit.  Problem is a lot of bicyclists would be stifled at 15 MPH.  Problem is it’s not just a bike trail.  It’s multi-use.  Joggers.  Walkers.  Families with children peddling their little bikes furiously and zig-zagging all over the place as they do.  Dog walkers.  It isn’t just about the bicyclist.  While I generally peddle along at a pedestrian 15-17 miles per hour, there are plenty of cyclists who hit 20, 25 and 30 miles per hour.  Plus, there are the group cyclists.  Packs of them, drafting off each other and zipping along at speeds that far exceed the posted speed limit.  The trail is a great place for bicyclists to train away from the danger of street traffic.  What happens?  There are accidents occasionally.  I have no idea how many.

Last week there was an article in the local paper that the rangers who patrol the trail will now be equipped with a radar gun and they will start ticketing bicyclists who exceed the speed limit.  This at a time when budget cuts have reduced the ranger presence on the trail, potentially leading to an increase in criminal activity.  And, of course, cyclists are in an uproar.  I’m not necessarily on their side since I generally stay pretty close to the limit and there have certainly been times when their zipping along has left me feeling less than safe.  There were a few times, years ago, when I took my oldest to the trail.  We’d peddle along slowly at his speed and, as he zigged and zagged as little kids do on a bike, I could only pray that a speeding cyclist didn’t come from behind and smack into him he he zigged when he should have zagged.  So, I get it.

But, why single out the cyclists.  What about the runners who run on the wrong side of the trail?  Or worse, rather than running on the crushed gravel shoulder, insist on running on the paved trail?  What about the walkers with their dogs who let the leash stretch across the trail?  What about the walkers with there dogs that aren’t on a leash?  What about the walkers who walk three wide?

There’s plenty of blame to go around for accidents that happen on the bike trail.  Ticketing bicyclists who exceed the speed limit seems to be right.  But at the same time so incredibly wrong.


In the last 10-12 years, I’ve tried the following:

To learn how to play the harmonica.

To teach myself how to play classical guitar.

Took violin lessons (for about a month).

And then switched to the saxophone.

Considered the bongo drums.  Enough to buy a book to help learn them, but not enough to get very far.

This after a lifetime of being pretty much non-musically-inclined.  Yes, when I was a kid, my sisters took piano lessons and through them I learned how to play the piano.  Nothing more than Christmas Carols and pop songs.  If I really wanted to, maybe piano would be the best option for me, but it doesn’t hold the same allure as other instruments.

I haven’t done much with any of these instruments the last couple of years as a result of the crush of other obligations and interests.  I’ve decided it’s time to change that.  So, you, my loyal readers, get to play a role.

What instrument should I focus on at this point (thank you for your assistance):


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