In my last post, I described my brief re-acquaintance with Windows, and how I once again booted Microsoft out of my life. Well, something happened today to disabuse me of that notion. It wasn't really a surprise, just a confirmation of what most of us have already come to believe about the Big Tech oligarchy. As mentioned in that previous post, I had to create an online account with Microsoft in order to access any kind of technical support. Microsoft has created an online "community" consisting of various services similar to that of Google. They use their OS and other products to trap users into dependency upon it and inextricably embed themselves in our lives, just as Google has done. I was reminded today of just how deeply these corporate parasites have burrowed into our personal affairs. It began when I took a photo.
This is a wireless-hostile household. We don't have and never will have wi fi in the house, but we do have one smart phone, as such devices have become a virtual necessity, thanks to The Herd's incessant habit of demanding convenience at any cost and rushing to grasp the next shiny new thing with no consideration of how it will alter our lives. I found reason to snap a photo with said smart phone. I then moved the image to a folder on the SD card. During that process, I got a pop up window I'd never gotten before, urging me to sign in to Onedrive, Microsoft's cloud service, and store the photo in the cloud.
Now, if this were a Windows phone, given that all the software Microsoft makes regularly reports to the mother-ship, it would not have been noteworthy. That, however, is not the case. It's a Samsung phone, running Google Android. The carrier is Cricket. The account is in my mother's name. When I created the Microsoft account, I used a fake name and birth date out of annoyance at the intrusion. I have turned Google location services off (supposedly) on this phone. As I said, we don't have home wi fi, and I have never connected the phone to this computer by USB or any other physical method. So, how did this phone's OS suddenly 'know' that its owners have access to a Microsoft account?
What this says, loud and clear, is that all of the tech giants are gathering information that they have no business collecting, by a variety of methods they shouldn't be using, and that they are sharing the data they collect with each other. The phone's location is easy; meta data. Most likely, some app buried deep within Android is sending reports to Google's servers. While Android is freeware, the Google branded version that virtually all manufacturers install contains proprietary code that can't be readily examined.
What about the new computer? We know Microsoft uses device fingerprinting. It's how they verify that you have a licensed copy of Windows if you have to reinstall it. Basically, if your PC has ever had Windows on it, Microsoft has a record of your configuration, and unless you've changed the hardware, they can identify that machine whenever it connects to their servers - and so can any website or embedded third party service that Microsoft has shared that data with. It's reasonable to suspect that Google does something similar with Android devices and Chromebooks. Still, that wouldn't allow anyone to positively place that PC in the same house as our cell phone, not when I bought the computer from a vendor on NewEgg and used a fake name to create a Microsoft account. That and/or an IP address is only going to provide a general (city) location, not a specific address. The only thing I can think of is purchase data.
Most online retailers contract with third parties to provide shopping cart and payment processing software, the biggest providers being Amazon, Google and Shopify. If any of those services is collecting shoppers' purchase records and sending them back to the parent company, that would allow Google, Microsoft, etc. to associate a name and address with the device fingerprint. So, if Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc., etc. are sucking up and sharing data on this scale, even if it's being done by software, automatically and without human eyes, that would explain how a Microsoft server could notice a new Microsoft account being created, associate it with a physical address, and then send a message to a Google Android phone at that address triggering it to nag the owner to sign in to Microsoft Onedrive.
So, that one little nag message gives away the game. Big Tech has completed a real time, comprehensive surveillance network. We helped them build it, and we paid for it. Nor is it limited to phones and computers. If you own a new car, its onboard computers are constantly sending data about your location, driving habits and other behavior back to the manufacturer. Not only that, the manufacturers are selling that data.
Dear reader, if I still have to explain how much danger this huge information binge Big Tech/Big Gov is on puts us in, after all the people who've been 'canceled', censored, banned, doxxed, sued, assaulted, had their lives and livelihoods ruined just for voicing the "wrong" opinion or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, you're hopeless. Almost nothing we do now goes unrecorded, and it will get worse as more and more of the tools and appliances we depend on become 'smart' and connected. I still hear people say "I have nothing to hide." Really? Does that mean you'd be OK with, say, your employer's health insurance provider browsing through your search history? Do you think they might want to know why someone in your house (or a close relative or friend) was visiting sites on medical marijuana? Well, perhaps you don't have anything to hide, but the problem with this attitude is that it isn't you making that determination. Some faceless bureaucrat will be deciding if your interests, opinions, beliefs, and personal relationships are acceptable, not you. Is that the world you want to live in? If so, be my guest, but the only way I'll be coming with you is hog tied, cussing and trying to bite my captors.
I got my first PC in 1998 as part of a Microsoft Certified Technician course. In 1999, having been underwhelmed with Windows 98 (not to mention the price, that course provided the hardware, not the OS), and liking the upcoming Windows 2000 even less, I started looking for alternatives.
My first stop, of course, was the closest Apple store. The snobbish, pretentious atmosphere of faux luxury was evident at the threshold, but I soldiered on, approaching a sales associate and explaining my wants. That is, until I asked about layaway. The nose went into the stratosphere and he practically threw a credit application at me before pointedly turning to another customer. Said application was promptly denied with the same attitude, and a suggestion that Microsoft products were more suited to "people like you." I went home and, after a bit of research, installed Ubuntu Linux, deposited Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the bad memory pile, and never looked back, until a couple of weeks ago, when my laptop died.
I'd been using a 2009 Apple Macbook for a couple of years. I purchased it refurbished, mostly out of curiosity about what kind of company the post-Jobs Apple had become, and to get a bit of experience with OS 10. It didn't take me long to figure out that Apple is now a Microsoft knock-off that still suffers from delusions of grandeur, and OS 10 tries to invade your life. OS 10 was replaced with Linux Mint, and all was well until the inevitable hand of programmed obsolescence intervened. System board failure, and no point in looking for a replacement. I usually build my own systems, so I went shopping, but was shocked at the prices. Bad timing; I'd run afoul of yet another gift from geoengineering and the pseudo-pandemic, a massive shortage of chips and computer parts. It would have cost me at least three times the price of a complete system to build it myself, so I went with a Blairtech refurbished Lenovo from Overstock, complete with Windows 10 Home Edition. Since I have been looking into work from home positions, which generally require Windows, I decided that could be a plus. I haven't touched a Windows PC in over twenty years. I figured I could use the experience. After all, I could always dual boot the machine.
Things went South right out of the box. The monitor stand was broken, the monitor itself had the red lines of death, and it would not connect to our cable modem through Ethernet (I do not have and do not want a wifi network). I spent two days learning that Blairtech does not answer phone calls or emails. Two hours working over the phone, first with my internet provider, then with a Microsoft technician, yielded nothing. The guy from Microsoft decided that my Ethernet card must be bad. On a side note, that was my first lesson in how invasive Microsoft's products have become. I absolutely could not talk to a customer support technician without first creating a Microsoft account, which forced me to give Microsoft my name, birthdate, and email address. In fact, during the set up process, the OS could only perform a limited set up without an account. So, back the Lenovo went, a story in itself. Overstock customer service just blew me off, telling me to contact the seller (who never answered their phone). I ended up calling the CEO of Overstock to get the return done.
I then picked up an HP Ryzen 3 2200g system from New Egg. No monitor, but fortunately I had an extra hanging around. Got it set up and... this one also would not recognize the modem. Same error, supposedly no valid IP configuration. This time, however, rebooting the modem and PC corrected the issue. I poked around the Windows desktop a bit. The Edge browser flat out says it's tracking your browsing behavior whether you like it or not. I installed Firefox. After a little more exploration (the games are nice, but that's about the only good thing I can say about Windows 10 - I found the menus to be about as intuitive as learning Sanskrit), I got it ready to dual boot. Repartitioning and installing Linux Mint went smoothly. Then I made the mistake of trying to recover some of my laptop's configuration with Timeshift. It may have been my fault, perhaps I missed a checkbox, but the process hung and wiped out both the Windows boot manager and Linux's password files. I tried a couple of tricks to recover the partitions, but it was a no go. Time to wipe the hard drive and start over.
This should have been a simple fix; download the Windows reinstaller, create a bootable USB flash drive, pop it into the lobotomized PC, reinstall happens automatically. Researching this, I discovered the most egregious thing about Microsoft and Windows. When Windows 10 is first installed, it sends a record of your hardware configuration to Microsoft's servers. This is used to verify your license during a Windows re-installation. Essentially, the OS "fingerprints" your computer. That means that, unless you change your hardware, Microsoft and any website that has access to that data is able to ID your machine, and probably you. So much for privacy. Still, it should have been a simple fix. Nope. I tried for several hours to get the PC to boot from the USB flash drive. It simply didn't recognize the Windows reinstaller as something it could run.
Finally, I ran up the white flag. I forgot about Windows, popped my bootable USB drive with Linux Mint 20.1 on it into the port. It installed smoothly, no issues whatsoever. I was back up and running with a perfectly functioning computer in less than an hour. Thus ends any further interest I might have had in Win-Blows or any other Microsoft product. I don't need a product that tries to become my life coach while reporting my activities to its masters in Silicon Valley, and I certainly don't need something that is so unreliable. I seriously doubt that there was anything wrong with that first Lenovo machine. The problem was almost certainly Microsoft's crappy OS. How they have managed to maintain 80% of the OS market, why so many people are still willing to put up with their shoddy, invasive products when there are literally dozens of vastly superior, not to mention FREE, alternatives out there, is a complete mystery to me.
I have heard some horrible things said over the past few months, and some even more horrible things proposed, such as abortion up until the moment of birth, or even afterward. I won't dignify such abhorrent people and their ideas with a link, as anyone reading this is more than capable of finding them without my help. The vast majority of abortion proponents find the concept repellent anyway. However, it did get me thinking about the main argument that supporters use, and why it's utterly fallacious.
Abortion "rights" supporters like to argue over when that little blob of dividing cells actually becomes human, but there's a huge problem with that viewpoint. Before conception, before sperm enters egg, it's true, it's just biological material. Potential without promise. After conception, the whole debate over when it becomes a sentient human being is irrelevant. The fact is, once that blob of cells is growing and dividing, its genetic program will produce only one end product. It isn't suddenly going to decide it would rather be a redwood, or a puppy. Barring disease, accident or act of violence, it will be, and therefore already is, a human being, and entitled to all the rights any other person is entitled to. When a person is killed, everything they might have experienced, everything they may have accomplished, all impact they may have had on the world for good or ill, is taken from them. Be they still in the womb, five minutes old or five decades, that still holds true. The claim that a fetus isn't human yet at two days, two weeks, three months, or whatever number we want to pluck out of the air is pure fallacy, designed to salve society's conscience and sidestep the issue of rights.
The classical Greeks and Romans didn't even try to make this argument, but they had very different ideas than we do regarding the sanctity of life, the value of the individual and what constitutes human rights. In early Rome, it was legal to kill a deformed or disabled child until the age of three, so long as the parent could get five neighbors to agree with the decision. Few people would condone such a law today, but we supposedly enlightened modern people have bought into the idea that abortion is some sort of right belonging exclusively to women, and that it's an acceptable form of contraception. The ancient world practiced slavery and infanticide, but they did not condone the practice of killing a child, unborn or not, simply because it was an inconvenience. So why do we?
Those ancient societies also recognized that fathers have rights and a say in what happens to their children, which should be self evident, yet until quite recently we in today's supposedly more advanced world have treated fathers as nothing more than sperm donors. I blame feminists for this. The Feminist movement began for all the right reasons, and did some good, but it also became an excuse for women to abandon sexual responsibility, when women should have instead been demanding that men take up their fair share of that responsibility. Instead of attacking the tired meme that "boys will be boys", they burned their bras on the alter of "the pill" and bought into the idea that men are just some sort of expendable fashion accessory. Ladies, you need to get over that one right now. It isn't "your body." That fetus isn't a spontaneously generated growth, it isn't a parasite. It's a child, and a man was involved in it's creation. He has just as much of a say over what happens to it, and just as much responsibility for its welfare, as you do. Now that paternity can be easily determined with a simple DNA test, it's past time that our society started demanding that men, as well as women, take these responsibilities seriously.
Abortion on demand is immoral and should be illegal, simply because it violates the rights of the child, the father, and even the extended family. However, there is one, and only one, case where it should not be illegal, that being medical necessity. There is a very old concept in English common law (it's probably even older) that holds that no person can be forced to risk life and limb to save another person. I have to agree with it. If we can't hold a parent criminally responsible for not rushing in to save their ten year old from the bear, regardless of what we may think of that person's character, then we certainly can't demand that a mother carry a baby to term if it will place her life in imminent danger. In this one and only case, it really is her body, and ultimately, her decision.
As for those who see abortion as a necessary evil to avoid overpopulation, that's a very weak argument, but it's also the most dangerous, which is why I left it for last. It's dangerous because of the other conclusions it inevitably leads to. If we decide it's OK to kill unborn babies because they're excess population, then why not the elderly? They're no longer productive, and have become a financial burden, have they not? What about the disabled? Why expend resources that could go to healthy, productive members of society? See where this leads? Welcome to the Fourth Reich. Besides, humanity has all the space and resources it will ever need at its fingertips. We simply haven't made the effort to reach it. Where are all these resources, you ask? Look up. Disagreeable technocrat he may be, Jeff Bezos is right about this one. It's past time we left the cradle. That's a topic I'll get to another day.
A few years ago, a well known retailer opened a store near me. I was looking for work at the time, so I went to their recruitment website to see what openings they had and upload my resume. As is my practice, I read their policies and employee handbook first. As is to be expected in era of political correctness, there were quite a few things I didn't agree with, but when I'm on the clock I'm representing the employer; work is not the place to voice personal beliefs. Then, I came across the provision that shocked me. As a condition of employment, employees were expected to adhere to company policies, to include the company's social and political positions, while not on company time. In other words, in order to work for this outfit, I had to sign away my 1st Amendment rights. I closed the browser and have never again set foot in their stores.
That was a few years ago. Today, the thought police are everywhere. Everyone is now aware of the deliberate censorship on the part of the major social media companies. Post an idea or opinion that's counter to the Technocracy agenda, challenge any of the cabal's sacred cows, from Global Warming to Universal Basic Income, and you'll be lucky if getting banned is all that happens to you. People are being threatened, being doxxed, physically assaulted, even murdered for voicing the 'wrong' beliefs. It takes only a ten minute perusal of online news to see that virtually all of the bad behavior, the riots, election fraud, arson, assaults, is coming from the Left, and the Democrats, with few exceptions, have been acting as apologists for this violence and criminality, or outright instigating and encouraging it. Some, such as "kerosine" Maxine Waters, who earned that nickname for leading violent protests during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles (I was there, I remember her behavior. She pretty much coined the phrase, "no justice, no peace"), have been doing this for years.
Which leads me to the question with which I titled this post; what kind of life do you want? If you're attracted to the idea of a short, brutal existence in which you and your children have to keep your eyes down and your mouths shut, living constantly with the fear of offending someone in authority, that you might say something in an unguarded moment that will reach the wrong ears, that your associations or even your clothes might send the 'wrong' message, of living in a post-apocalyptic version of North Korea, Venezuela and the movie Escape From New York all rolled into one, then by all means, shut off your brain and vote for Democrats. Vote for a Biden Chinese puppet Presidency. If, however, you'd rather return to a world that makes sense, where you actually have rights, and don't have to live in fear of saying, doing or believing the wrong thing, where your creativity and ingenuity are celebrated and encouraged, then vote for conservatives and strong Constitutionalists. It's really that simple this time, and that important. It's up to you.
It's time we Americans all faced an unpleasant fact. We don't live in a free republic. We do not have a free market economy. Our ruling class still pays lip service to the meme, but the U.S. became a fascist state with a centralized, debt based "economy" shortly after the creation of the Federal Reserve. Most Americans didn't notice until recently, when our ruling class, seeing their ability to manipulate and control us through control of information and public discourse vanishing due to the rise of the Internet, finally started to take the padded velvet gloves off.
I currently live in a mobile home park. Every month, I march down to the office, located in the club house,
The media, alternative and supposedly mainstream, are all in an uproar about COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is either inconveniencing or devastating Communist China, depending on who's talking. China's official figures, which indicate a mortality rate of 2% or less, don't make sense in the context of their over the top response to the virus, so we need to look elsewhere for a clearer picture.
News outlets are claiming that Iran has the highest death rate outside of China. Of 43 cases, 8 have been fatal. That's 19%, but too small a sample to be conclusive. With this one exception, all the other large outbreaks outside of China do correlate with a mortality rate of between less than 1 and 3%, in line with what China is reporting. One thing that does jump out is that, with the exception of South Korea, all of the nations reporting high infection rates are also nations where a large portion of the population is impoverished, poorly educated, malnourished, and therefore likely to have compromised immune systems. It's a bit suspicious that nobody in the mainstream media or government has discussed this.
Other obvious facts and questions are being ignored, and data that would answer those concerns is not being reported. As far as I am aware, Chinese officials haven't identified a patient zero, or mentioned what prompted them to look for a novel virus that causes the exact same symptoms as influenza and the common cold. This lends credence to the rumor that the virus escaped from Wuhan's level 4 containment facility, but that's really moot at this point. Of much greater importance are questions such as, are there any population groups that are at greater risk of infection, and which groups are at greatest risk of fatal outcomes? At first glance, it seems that Asians are at greater risk, but there's been no investigation of these questions, at least not that's been released to the general public. The elephant in the room is that this virus, like other coronaviruses, is supposed to have an incubation period of seven to fourteen days, during which the victim is contagious. Given that modern air travel moves millions of people and millions of tons of goods all over the world every day, much of it to and from China, it's a safe bet that the virus circumnavigated the globe several times before the first cases were identified in China.
That last one puts things in perspective. Here in the United States, most people don't go to the doctor with the flu or a head cold unless it gets bad, and when they do, their doctor seldom orders any testing to identify the infection. I doubt that it's any different in any other industrialized nation, and in second and third world countries, medical care, let alone sophisticated lab tests, is often not even available. Bottom line, that cold you had last week that seemed to be a little rougher than usual, could easily have been COVID-19. Unless you went to your doctor and demanded testing, you have absolutely no way of knowing. Without comprehensive testing, health authorities cannot know how many cases there actually are, how far the virus has spread, what the true infection rate is, or what the mortality rate is. Everything we're being told is, at best, an educated guess. Which doesn't change the fact that this virus appears, so far, to be no more dangerous than the average influenza strain.
So, why all the hysterical fear porn? It can be inferred that the Chinese over-reaction is because the virus really did escape from the bio-weapons lab in Wuhan, making it a political and diplomatic time bomb for them, but what about the rest? I can only offer my opinion, which is that it's all about money and politics. I remember that the pharmaceutical industry made a killing selling panicked governments vaccines during the bird flu scare, and again with the measles panic, which ignored the fact that many of the outbreaks started with vaccinated individuals (I had to scroll down through two pages of vaccine industry sponsored propaganda to find that link, so yes, censorship of information that challenges the status quo is definitely happening). These panics also suit the political and social goals of the same special interests, using these non-events to promote everything from mandatory vaccination laws, and attacks on political opponents, to proposals to jail anyone who presents an alternative viewpoint. Fear porn is big business.
What do we do? Well, when special interests try to panic The Herd, don't join the stampede. Our only, and best, defense is our body's immune system. Do your best to stick to healthy organic foods, minimize toxic exposures, get enough rest, and make time for activities that you enjoy so you can de-stress. Study nutrition and preventative medicine. It's all out there, you just have to look for it. The last time I had any kind of respiratory infection was over thirty years ago. I intend to keep it that way. So can you.
In California, my home state and current place of residence, the Democrat super-majority in Sacramento is considering Assembly Bill 1952, which will require washing machines owned by the state (prisons, schools, etc.) to be equipped with a microfiber filter. If passed, we can expect these measures to be expanded to household laundry appliances. Introduced by Assembly Member Mark Stone (D - Monterey Bay), it really is an attempt to address an actual environmental and health issue, that of plastic microfibers from synthetic fabrics entering the environment.
Microplastics are a very serious concern that are being linked to a growing list of costly health problems, so much so that governments and international agencies are finally beginning to take action. Donald Trump signed far reaching ocean clean up legislation in 2018. Synthetic fibers in clothing and other fabric articles are a major source of these micro and nano particles. Recognizing that there is a problem, and taking measures to correct the problem, is sensible. However, putting filters on washing machines, in this case, is a lot like trying to stop the flooding from the broken water line in your basement by bailing frantically, instead of turning off the water.
Wouldn't it make much more sense to address the problem at the source? When the dangers of asbestos were recognized, we didn't start passing out respirators. We stopped using asbestos, and found safer replacements. Assemblymember Stone could have just as easily introduced a bill providing textile mills, importers, wholesalers, and retailers in the state with an assortment of positive incentives to move their inventory over to natural fibers such as hemp, wool, cotton, linen, etc., and help farmers to increase production to meet demand. So why didn't he?
I can think of a couple of reasons. First, there's the petro-chemical industry, which probably has about ten lobbyists and lawyers on the payroll for every politician in the country. Show me a politician who's willing to go against a large campaign donor, and I'll show you a soon to be retired politician. Such a bill would not be likely to make it out of committee. Look at how long it's taken to get hemp sort of re-legalized after special interests such as the agri-chem industry and Big Pharma went after it in the late 30's. That fight is still going on. Second, the life blood of the political class is pork projects. A mandated purchase means a whole new regulatory department, and another special interest industry full of companies with deep pockets competing for contracts and looking for favors.
So, instead of common sense solutions, we end up with a non-solution that will make the problem worse. The microfilters end up in the land fill, the microfibers still eventually end up in the environment with more being added every day, and we the little people end up paying for it. Senseless to us, but quite sensible for our self interested, supposedly elected officials.
Look at almost any issue we face today and you'll see the same pattern. Government has never fixed anything. Solutions have to come from us. Eliminate plastics from your life, as much as is practical. Support start ups that are producing alternatives, if you can. The only vote that counts is the one you cast with your wallet.
I just finished reading a post at Activist Post by Philip Schneider, a well known liberty activist. In it, Mr. Schneider provides us with actions we can take to help end the privacy and liberty destroying juggernaut bearing down on us, in the form of the out of control private technology sector in symbiosis with the bloated and out of control Federal bureaucracy, otherwise known as the Deep State. Simple concepts, really, such as being careful of what products we buy and from whom we buy them. Very sound advice, which I practice as much as I can. There's nothing I can do at the moment about my electronics, since our domestic industry was destroyed while I was still a child. My computer is mostly from China, like it not, a situation which isn't likely to change in the near term. I read food labels, and regularly excoriate companies by phone and keyboard for using GMO's and pesticides whenever I have time. I make a point of hammering my legislators regularly on the need to curtail 5G and wireless in general until proper safety studies have been done, I do not have WIFI in our home, and I gently lobby friends and family all the time. However, when it comes to his advice to avoid using the services of privacy and liberty abusing big tech companies such as Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we run into a real problem.
Mr. Schneider points out that avoiding these companies and their products is difficult. No, it isn't difficult. It's absolutely impossible. I use the Brave browser because of its robust privacy protections. As I read Mr. Schneider's article asking me to avoid using Google and Facebook, Brave was busy blocking no fewer than twenty two cross site tracking cookies and plug ins being served from the Activist Post website, most of them from Google and Facebook. At Mr. Schneider's website, it blocked trackers from Facebook. Mr. Schneider probably has little control over this, as his site is hosted at Wordpress. I have the same problem here at Weebly. I've gotten rid of Facebook, but Google's Ad Sense software is here, quietly watching you from Weebly's servers on Weebly's behalf, and there is nothing I can do about it short of moving my entire website, which isn't a practical option at the moment. Add to this technologies such as web beacons, Evercookie and various fingerprinting techniques, nevermind technologies that are still hidden behind the National Security veil, and I think it's safe to say that we are losing the privacy arms race. Changing our habits online and using solutions such as browser plug ins helps a tiny bit, but in the end we'll need social and legal solutions with teeth in them.
For one thing, it's time that website owners collectively pull our heads out and, as much as we're able, stop using the services of companies that make violating visitors' privacy part of their business model. There are limits to that, of course, as the web hosting companies we all must use have their own bottom line to think about, and their own agendas. Ultimately, what is called for is a strong legal solution. We all need to start putting a lot more pressure on our Congress Creatures to get their spines out of the closet, dust them off, and start enforcing anti-trust law. Break up a few of these big companies (Google comes immediately to mind), and the others will hopefully get the message. Since data is the new gold, and irresistible to governments and Big Corp alike, another perhaps more effective option to explore would be laws clearly placing ownership of any personal data in the hands of the individual to which it pertains. With ownership of our data returned to us, we would then have the legal tools to force data aggregators to give us full access to what they're collecting, and pay us our fair share of the fantastic profits they are realizing from turning our private lives into a commodity. That would certainly cool the data mining market's jets a bit.
I've been writing my letters, and making my phone calls, but being a gadfly only works if you're part of a swarm. It's going to take all of us.
Remember that line from Star Trek - The Next Generation? "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." When I read news articles like this one, I really feel like this is the ultimate goal of the big technology companies; to "assimilate" all of us. It seems Amazon's plans for Alexa go far beyond simply offering the world a benign, productivity enhancing personal assistant for the masses. According to Rohit Prasad, head of Alexa development, "the idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life." Do you want Alexa taking a proactive roll in your life? Do you want an electronic nanny? I can just hear one of those conversations now; "Sarah." "Yes, Alexa?" "Are you really sure that dress you're looking at is right for your body type? You've put on a bit in the hips this year." Crashing sounds as Echo bounces down the front steps. I'm being a bit facetious, but this really is very frightening. I can see that conversation becoming more like "I'm sorry Dave. I can't let you do that." Perhaps the Borg reference is a bit much, but we're definitely headed for a world like those depicted in Gattaca and Minority Report if we don't get a handle on these technologies and the corporations creating them.
When I started this site, it was supposed to be mostly about expanding our imaginations and creativity, but this blog seems to be more and more about the abuse of technology and the perversion of the creative impulse. I'm not a Luddite or technophobe, quite the opposite. I love gadgets. I'm particularly enamored of Segway's new LOOMO. I can think up all sorts of uses for a personal transport that can do everything this one can, but I have no plans to buy one. The problem? While it's following me around or carrying me, or doing any number of other things at my bidding, I have no way to know what else it's doing on behalf of it's manufacturer and/or whatever entities they may have contracted with. We already know that our smart phones are constantly reporting our location, and that supposedly free apps are sucking up all sorts of data about us. Our drones won't fly into any area the FAA orders manufacturers to program them to avoid. So far, and in this one narrow case, that functionality has been used for legitimate purposes of public safety, but anybody who's ever heard the name "Edward Snowden" knows full well that this will not remain the case. Amazon Ring has contracted to provide customers' video to police departments across the country. That is opt-in and voluntary for now, but what guarantee is there that it will stay that way?
I won't be buying a LOOMO, because there is no room in my life for a gadget that might start taking pictures of people I interact with, video locations I visit, or even report me for, say, jay walking without my knowledge or consent after Segway pushes a software update. When I buy a gadget, I expect to own and control it. Completely. That is often no longer the case, and as our devices and appliances continue to get smarter, and like or not, they will, the trend will continue toward those devices being less and less ours, and more and more being an extension of corporate and government interests intruding into our lives. I don't want my refrigerator telling what I should eat, my thermostat telling me what temperature my home should be, or my car telling me where I can go ("Alexa, take us to the nearest Claimjumper." "I'm sorry John, your medical plan has flagged those locations as 'unauthorized' until your physician reports that you have achieved a ten pound weight loss. There's a public park nearby. Would you like do go there for a walk?").
Are we adults, who can make decisions for ourselves? Do we still have natural, God given rights? Do we want to control our lives, make our own decisions? We had better answer those questions, and soon. Google and Amazon will be all too willing to answer them if we don't.
Yes, I just wrote that. I actually miss Jerry Brown as governor of my state. No, I did not vote for the man, and yes, I hated the vast majority of his policies, but at least he was able to dredge up some common sense a few times. Not Goofy Gavin. This creature marches, shambles, always and incessantly, to the brainless beat of leftist ideology.
Brown vetoed several bills during his tenure, most of which either so severely violated Americans' rights, especially our right to keep and bear arms that they would not have survived a Supreme Court challenge, or which would have obliterated large segments of California's economy. Not Gavin. He was in such a hurry to sign all those rehashed bills that Brown vetoed (and a few hundred new ones to boot), he must have given himself carpal tunnel syndrome. Ignoring the idiotic gun and ammunition control bills that will serve only to create a thriving black market, and sticking to the highlights, the big ticket items that I'm aware of at this point were AB 44 and AB 5.
AB 44 bans the trade in fur and fur products. It doesn't ban ownership of furs, just selling of new furs (rich liberals will still be able to pick up that chinchilla coat for wifey's birthday in Las Vegas), and makes exceptions for some, such as cowhide, sheepskin, and deerskin. I have to think that last one was thrown in over concerns about losing revenue from hunting licenses, and therefore funds for wildlife conservation, but it's a very small nod. a whole host of furbearers, such as rabbits, coyotes and raccoon (not bobcats, Gavin signed a hunting ban), are still legally hunted and trapped here, but the law isn't too clear on whether or not you can wear the fur of something you shot and skinned yourself, only that you can't sell those hides in California. There are still people who make their living that way here. No word on how the law will affect taxidermists either. What is very clear is that whatever is left in California of a nearly 2 billion dollar industry and the jobs it supported is heading out the door, never to return.
AB 5 is more troublesome. It will basically erase most of the gig economy in California by forcing businesses that use gig workers to reclassify them as employees. It's nothing more than a self serving gift to special interests and labor unions, another sickening example of Sacramento's usual pay to play games. It's also about 7 billion in payroll taxes the state doesn't get to collect, but the state's "solution" will kick over a million Californians, including independent truckers, squarely in the teeth. The only cost that any business can control, is payroll. It's a given that Uber and Lyft, who's business model is based on the gig economy, will have to cut their workforce and raise prices, and might have to leave the state altogether. So will businesses that rely on independent drivers, such as grocers and other retailers, Amazon, and food delivery services such as Instacart. The result is that we'll be paying more for everything from transportation to food.
This is no mere inconvenience for a lot of people. I know a few seniors who depend heavily on Lyft and Uber, without which they'd be shut ins. Most medical plans, including my Mother's, use Lyft to offer non-emergency rides to medical appointments. We don't have a car right now, so this is important to her. If the price goes up, the service may go away. We also have to use Instacart quite a bit in order to stay on the organic diet we need. Instacart sucks, truth be told, but they're the only option around here. If they go away, we're in trouble.
I think it's safe to say that AB 5 is going to cost Californians billions in higher prices and lost income, not counting the costs from people who were making ends meet having to go on food stamps to make up for the drop in income. It's already begun to happen to freelance writers, and the law hasn't even gone into effect yet.
Way to go, Gavin, way to go. And he isn't even halfway through his first year.
Lately, I think it's the price that most people are screaming about. I wonder how many people still haven't noticed that the size of the carton went down at the same time the price was going up. A gallon of ice cream is a thing of the past, and $4.99 a pint has become the new normal. It's a lot higher, if one isn't content to take a dose of rBGH, antibiotics, glyphosate, GMO allergens from soy and sugar beets, carrageenan, and an assortment of petroleum based food colors along with desert.
I'm not, and I've been paying roughly ten bucks a pop for Alden's organic ice cream, just for the privilege of eating ice cream that really is just ice cream.
With the 2020 elections approaching, Democrats, and some Republicans, are waxing hysterical once again. To nobody's surprise, the rights of American gun owners are among their most prominent whipping boys. Of course, that includes trotting out a dozen threadbare, already discredited memes, as well as one of the dumbest ideas anyone's proposed since the invention of firearms; the smart gun. Even Creepy 'N' Clueless Joe, a man that I seriously doubt is able to put his shoes on the right feet without a diagram, has tried it on. So, what's wrong with smart guns? Let me count the ways.
I'll begin with the obvious. Anyone who owns a firearm for self defense, be it a police officer, a civilian concealed carry license holder, a homeowner, even someone who's job or other pursuits takes them into the wilderness, requires a defensive weapon that is as reliable as it is humanly possible to make it. It has to go bang whenever its owner needs it to, no excuses. Anything which adds a level of complexity to that process, and therefore another thing that can go horribly wrong, is a bad idea.
Proponents argue that the technology will prevent unauthorized use of firearms. The idea is that if a criminal or mentally unstable person gets control of a weapon, they won't be able to use it. On it's face, that may be true, but it's a simple and naive view.
At the risk of bringing down the wrath of the lunatic Left, I am a Trump supporter. My willingness to be a supporter has waxed and waned; I was reluctant in 2016, growing in enthusiasm as I watched his judicial appointments and ongoing efforts to secure our border, and currently on the verge of disappearing after his support of so called red flag laws and enhanced back ground checks (whatever that means - his statements on that matter have been a little thin on details, and he now appears to be backing away from the subject). I find his recent determination to embrace the out of control biotech industry and push 5G into our lives absolutely horrifying.
I voted for Trump to put an end to domestic surveillance, restore the economy by ending the FED and issuing interest free money from the Treasury, clean the corruption out of the Federal bureaucracy, repeal the Obamacare disaster. and secure our borders. In short, to return the country to Constitutional principles and the rule of law. On the plus side, the border is being gradually secured, a lot of corrupt bureaucrats have been pink slipped, and a lot of strict constructionist judges have been appointed. However, the minus side of the balance sheet looks pretty grim. The Federal Reserve is still manipulating the economy, turning Trump's recovery into nothing more than a brief reprieve. The National Debt is now beyond the point of no return, impossible to pay off, anyway. Obamacare, while currently defunded, is still on the books and still being partially enforced, just waiting for a future leftist administration to restart the horror show. Not only have the completely illegal domestic surveillance programs that Edward Snowden revealed not been stopped, Trump expanded them, and his administration is still trying to destroy the whistleblowers who shined a light on them. And, I haven't had to fight this hard for my right to keep and bear arms since Slick Willy's first term.
As things stand right now, I could not vote for this man again in good conscience. I keep reminding myself that Trump likes to keep both his opponents and his allies off balance and guessing. He's said one thing and done another repeatedly. Perhaps I'm taking his Presidency too seriously. The President does not operate in a vacuum. There's Congress to worry about as well, and most of them are on medications for conditions that should disqualify them for office, in a sane world.
Right now, the only person on the planet who can beat Donald Trump in 2020, is Donald Trump, and he's doing a good job of it. He appears to believe that he can ignore the Second Amendment voter, and that issues such as genetically engineered ingredients in our food, which are known to cause all sorts of health and environmental issues, and untested, potentially dangerous tech such as 5G wireless are only issues for a few left wing wackos. I can only assume he's getting bad advice, because a lot of people like me are talking about staying home on election day. If that happens, if we end up with a President Warren, then a second American revolution will quickly follow. That may occur regardless, given that the Left has collectively lost its mind, and is rapidly spiraling down into the abyss of violent radicalism. A lot can happen in a year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
I notice with some amusement that a couple of my comments here represent a temporal paradox, in that I appear to have known and commented upon something (orange petunias, for one) before I apparently first heard about it. This is because my posts here are being arranged by the date I started writing them, not the date I actually posted them. I may be exploring more than one idea at any given moment, and I tend to switch around from one to the other in no particular order. I suppose there's a setting here somewhere for that, but I haven't found it yet.
I'm about to present another example of this, as well as an interesting example of synchronicity, because no sooner had I posted my comments on Congressman Ruiz' behavior, than I received this reply from one of my Senators, Diane Feinstein, on exactly the same bill as Congressman Ruiz. While her answer was no less disingenuous, she didn't just bend the truth, choosing instead to lie by omission and conflate completely unrelated statistics with the issue to support her apparent agenda.
"Thank you for writing to express your support for the use of silencers and noise suppressors on firearms. I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the opportunity to share my perspective.
In the interest of brevity, I'll confine myself to examining that 30,000 deaths figure. According to the CDC's own figures, the latest of which seem to be from 2014, there were, indeed, 33,594 deaths from gunshots that year. However, that figure includes 21,386 suicides, and 11,008 homicides. The number of accidental shooting deaths was 461. The homicide category includes an unknown number of self defense cases, including police officers protecting lives. The CDC apparently did not think it important to differentiate between lawful self defense and the crime of murder. Suicidal individuals typically seek whatever method is most convenient. There were 42,826 total suicides that year; it is reasonable to assume that access to a firearm is not a causative factor, and that those who used firearms would have simply used other methods had a firearm not been available. Notice the choice of language, however; "each year over 30,000 people are killed with a firearm in the United States", the implication being that there are 30,000 murders here every year.
Now that we've dispensed with her dishonesty with the numbers, the next question is, what do these statistics she tosses out have to do with suppressors? Were all those deaths the result of putting a silencer on a firearm? The idea that sound suppressors, which work in essentially the same way as a car's muffler, somehow makes a gun more lethal is laughable.
In fact, the only figures I could find on silencers being used in crimes came from the Free Beacon. There are roughly 1.3 million legally owned sound suppressors in the hands of private citizens. How many prosecutions has the BATFE recommended? Forty four. not forty four convictions, not forty four crimes charged, but forty four they're thinking about charging. I couldn't find a breakdown of that number, but I'd bet the majority of those are for paperwork errors. The average gang banger doesn't bother with a silencer. Why? Well, for starters, they don't go "phut phut" as Hollywood would have you believe. While sound levels are reduced to levels that are more or less safe for human hearing, there is still quite a bit of noise produced. When used in the appropriate circumstances, a suppressor can make it more difficult to locate the shooter, which can be an advantage for some military units. They also generally make a pistol much harder to conceal. Since the average law enforcement response time is in excess of ten minutes, assuming anyone calls them, criminals are much more concerned with being able to hide the weapon on their person than they are with the weapon's report drawing return fire.
So, why would Pistol packin' Senator Feinstein try to tell me that a device that, in civilian hands, serves only to reduce the danger of hearing loss, will put my life in jeopardy? Like so many of her fellow hoplophobic, less than honest associates, I can only think she's afraid of us, the citizens she swore an oath to serve. She apparently lives in a world of delusions, where a crazed killer hides behind the eyes of every ordinary American, just waiting for a bad day at the office to trigger them. Then again, perhaps she has much more pragmatic reasons for wanting us disarmed.
I saw a picture of orange petunias the other day. Very pretty. However, after I read the accompanying article, I was horrified. Apparently, petunias just don't come in orange, the genes aren't there. Or rather, they weren't until recently.
Apparently, a Finnish researcher discovered that these plants are genetically modified, and may have been available for sale for several years, but never went through any approval process or testing for safety. It isn't at all clear how they reached the retail market, but there are now around a dozen varieties. They appear to have been originally created by Syngenta by inserting genes from Bt corn, but never commercialized. Even though they are illegal in the UK and most of Europe, and the USDA has asked nurseries (though they've refused to order them pulled off the market) to destroy current stocks of seed and plants, I found that it is still easy to buy them. There were several sellers on eBay. Here's one on Etsy who describes them as "rare."
So, since the USDA claims these flowers pose no risk to human health or the environment, and have requested stocks be destroyed merely as a compliance issue, why am I so disturbed by this? Think about it. What has this incident just proven? It's simple and obvious; this is glaring, damning evidence that all the fears of GMO opponents have been realized. Genetically modified organisms cannot be contained, controlled or effectively regulated. Safe or not, these petunias have been sold for several years. They're in gardens all over the world, they've had plenty of time to cross with wild relatives in Europe, and with other petunias in North American flower beds. Growers have already hybridized them into over a dozen varieties, so it can also be assumed that there are now varieties of other colors that carry these foreign genes. To be fair to the USDA, a recall now is pointless. The genie is out of the bottle.
What's worse, it has apparently occurred to nobody, or at least nobody who's voiced this suspicion, that these plants are probably the tip of the iceberg. They are, for practical purposes, the first black market GMO product that has been discovered, and then only because of a color that should not have occurred in the species. How did they get away from Syngenta in the first place? Employee theft? Some sort of seed mix up? This forces me to ask, how many other genetically engineered life forms have also entered the market under the RADAR? How many are in the food supply, even organics? How much of the epidemic of relatively new health problems we're seeing, diabetes, cancer, IBS, gluten intolerance, fibromyalgia, etc. are due to undiscovered contamination of food and personal care products, among other things?
I don't suppose it matters how the petunias escaped, as they may not actually be Syngenta's at all. The technology itself has escaped. Any hobbyist with a credit card has been able to buy their very own CRISPR kit and brew up designer bacteria to their heart's content for a couple of years now. Never mind that the much celebrated new CRISPR technique has already been proven to produce the same types of unintended mutations as older methods. There have been communities of people experimenting in home labs, referred to as biohackers, for over a decade. Not to mention the work that has no doubt been, and is being, conducted in military and corporate labs around the world, without proper safeguards, as is rumored at Plum Island and similar locations. I find myself wondering about the origins of some new diseases, as well as sightings of never before seen cryptids.
I think at this point, Pandora's box isn't just open, the lid's been blown off with dynamite. Our choice to partake of this technology, in our diets or any other part of our lives, has been taken from us, perhaps deliberately. Jeffrey Smith may as well pack up his tent. I'm all for creative innovation, that's what this site is really about. That doesn't mean we should jettison common sense and prudence. The biotech industry is acting like a five year old who's found the kitchen matches, and I fear it's too late to prevent them from burning down the house.
The disingenuous public conduct of the political class no longer surprises me, but I am still appalled and disgusted at the contempt with which many of them apparently view their constituents. It's obvious that they believe us to be vapid, stupid and easily manipulated. The sad thing is, their opinion of us appears to be justified, based on the results their lies usually achieve.
My current Congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), is a good example of this. I've written letters and signed a couple of petitions in support of the Hearing Protection Act, which would remove firearm sound suppressors from National Firearms Act regulation (the entire law was unConstitutional to begin with), making them easily available to the general public without having to jump through all the silly legal hoops and pay the $200 tax.
There are a number of sensible reasons to end restrictions on sound suppressors, ranging from protecting the hearing of lawfully armed citizens or first responders and bystanders during a self defense incident, to reducing the potential disturbance to wildlife and other outdoors enthusiasts on public and private lands. The former is especially important. Firearms are already loud enough to damage human hearing. When fired in an enclosed space, such as a bedroom or hallway, it's a given that some permanent hearing loss will result. While a homeowner might have time to don electronic hearing protection, it generally isn't feasible for police officers and CCW holders to have such equipment on their persons, nor will they usually have time to put it on during a violent encounter. If it were up to me, firearms manufacturers from this moment on would be required to include a sound suppressor with every gun they manufacture, preferably integrated into the design. Ruger's new integral barrel/suppressor for the 10/22 Takedown, and Silencerco's new maxim9 are indicators that at least some manufacturers agree with me.
However, each time I've written to Representative Ruiz, I've received the same canned response, word for word:
"Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding H.R. 367, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the issues important to the individuals I serve. It is an essential part of our democratic process, and I am grateful for your input.
This is the usual thinly veiled anti-civil rights drivel, but the line that jumps out at me is "However, according to the EPA's noise reduction ratings, hearing damage occurs at 85 decibels. As such, even with the reduced decibel, shooters still risk damaging their hearing even if they use a silencer." There are a serious factual errors in this statement. Dig into the book, "Occupational Exposure To Noise: Evaluation, Prevention and Control" which you can download by chapter at the World Health Organization's website, and you'll quickly discover that the subject is just a wee bit more complicated than the good doctor makes it out to be. For starters, there's a big difference between continuous and intermittent noise, evaluated with different standards. Sound pressure also matters, which has a lot to do with distance from the source and reflective surfaces in the vicinity, such as the above mentioned hallway. Someone standing fifty feet away from a jet turbine is probably at less risk than someone using a circular saw in a small, closed room, even though the turbine is magnitudes louder. Length of exposure also matters a great deal, and this is where the Congressman gets into trouble.
The 85 decibel limit he cites is real, but it's the lower limit at which hearing damage can begin to occur for exposures exceeding eight hours! The actual upper limit at which no amount of exposure is considered safe (by anybody; OSHA actually links to the book I mentioned above, that's how I found it) without hearing protection is 140 dB. As sound energy rises above that 85 dB threshold and approaches the 140 dB cutoff, the (relatively) safe length of exposure drops quickly. When you get up around the levels of the average firearm discharge, it drops to under one second. Of course, it's possible to suffer hearing damage with shorter exposures at any given noise level above 85 dB. It depends somewhat on the individual's unique anatomy and health status, but these are the medically established guidelines.
Looking at the table from NIH, we see that for a great many activities we engage in, we should probably be wearing hearing protection, starting with your kitchen blender. Rock concerts and orchestras excepted, the reason most of us aren't deaf by the age of twenty five is length of exposure; we don't do most these things long enough to cause real damage at the given energy levels (though it could explain the booming business in hearing aids as we near our sixties. Damage can accumulate over time). I think the Congressman may have pulled his other numbers off of the Silencerco website, since they are pretty close to what the company quotes for some of their .22 silencers. Usually, a .22 Longrifle is somewhere around 130 dB. Given that the concussion from a gunshot lasts only milliseconds, a drop from 130 to 116 dB is very good, putting it well into the safe range for the length of exposure.
Congressman Ruiz is an intelligent man, and like Ron and Rand Paul, he is a licensed physician. I find it hard to believe that he doesn't understand the medical literature and established safety standards pertaining to human hearing, so why is he misrepresenting them? It would appear that the Congressman has another agenda that has nothing to do with the health and safety of his constituents, or defending their Constitutional rights. That he would attempt to confuse and conflate such easily verifiable facts doesn't say anything good about his opinion of his constituents either.
It appears that I was not far off in my predictions when I said we are headed for a world of enforced conformity, or perhaps a better description would be "hell on Earth by consensus." I said in the welcome to this website that I created it to promote creativity, to rail against the chains of conventional thought.
I realize now that I should have tempered that statement. Imagination should have no limits, true, but what we choose to make real from our imaginings should, must, be constrained by our common sense and conscience, or it will bring us to ruin.
Take genetic engineering, for example. I need not belabor the arguments regarding safety, or the fact that all the studies the FDA cites are funded by the industry itself; that information is easily available elsewhere. The extreme danger of this technology should be self evident anyway. The process, either the old gene gun methods or the CRISPR technique, crams ten million years of evolution into ten minutes in a test tube. Anyone who claims they can accurately predict how that brand new organism will interact with our environment is either a liar or an idiot.
We've already experienced the Starlink corn debacle, which cost U.S. farmers millions. There are still many nations which don't accept U.S. corn exports because of the other Bt varieties grown here, which can't be effectively segregated from non-GMO varieties, since corn is wind pollinated. Then there's the GMO rapeseed mess in Canada, which has created an expensive weed problem. Populations of these herbicide resistant strains have also been found in the U.S.. Now, we have black market GM plants showing up, which means Pandora's box is wide open. It begs the question, how long will it be before you'll be forced into having your kid's genes tweaked if you want them to have any chance of competing in this brave new world?
If we have engineered petunias showing up from unknown labs, engineered humans can't be far behind, the law be damned. The Herd (my new and simpler name for the vast majority of humanity) will embrace designer babies, without ever considering the real danger that we will lose what it is to be human. They will charge mindlessly ahead, keep up with the Joneses style, dragging anyone who wants their children to have a life with them, like a bad remake of Gattaca. Just as they embraced smart phones, those little televisors we all now carry with us, continuing to reward corporations that have violated our trust and our human dignity repeatedly. Just as they will embrace autonomous vehicles.
Whatever benefits are touted, the main point we should be focused on, is that the completely networked, interconnected transportation grid of self driving vehicles being touted by everyone from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to Google, can and will be used to control our movements. Stopping a protest, suppressing a public gathering, rigging an election, even making individuals disappear, becomes a matter of selectively tweaking the system. Do we want our cars telling us where and when we can travel? Or driving us to a detention center for requesting a destination that some bureaucrat has decided is suspicious, for whatever reason? I don't, but The Herd, not surprisingly, appears to be buying all the positive hype, and they will do what they always do, stampede to the next shiny new thing. Which means those of us who want nothing to do with the damned things will be regulated into them, sooner or later.
In every technical field I can think of, everyone is too busy with the question "can we", while not once addressing the first question they should be asking, "should we?" The path we're on leads to a cliff, and we're headed for it at a dead run. I guess all those survivalist gloom and doom types have a good point.
Have you ever heard a noise you couldn't identify? Seen a shadowy something that was there and then gone? As most of us are wont to do, you most likely put it down to imagination, or something you ate, or just assumed it was some ordinary thing, plopping it down in some experiential category we're all accustomed to. A car door. The neighbor's dog. The wind. Was it really the wind? Are you certain?
Your brain is constantly being bombarded with a huge amount of information from your senses, far more than it can actually process. So, it relies on a bunch of calculating tricks to "fill in" the world you see around you. As you might surmise, it tends to fill that world in according to your previous perceptions and experience of how the world works. Illusionists have been relying on this blind spot in the mind for centuries. It will even discard information that it can't make fit, so that we sometimes literally don't see what's right in front of us. I learned about this from a strange source: humming birds.
Until we put up a feeder, I'd never seen a hummingbird in the flesh. I'd seen pictures, of course, but never a live one. Then one year we decided to put up a hummingbird feeder. The birds showed up immediately. They're very aggressive little things, constantly fighting among themselves, they'll even call and tap at the windows when the feeder is empty. Some will try to take your hair for their nests. While it's still attached to your head.
The weird part is, they'd always been there. I realized that until I had learned what they look like and sound like, my brain had been passing them off as a bee buzzing by, or a cricket chirping (their calls sound a little like a high pitched cricket), or a leaf on a twig. I literally hadn't been seeing them. I had this confirmed several times when I started pointing the birds out to other people in various places, such as the local garden center. Some people literally could not see the bird unless the bird moved when I was pointing at it.
I started second guessing myself after this, and it has been rewarding. While at college, I spotted a small animal running from bush to bush. I pointed it out to a couple of people, who replied with something like, "yeah, there are lots of squirrels around here." I suggested they look again, because what I was seeing was a rare California Black Footed Ferret.
On a darker note, a few years ago, while on the freeway, I happened to look up into a small canyon in the hills overlooking the freeway just outside of town, and saw a large black animal strolling along a trail. My mind said "dog", but something wasn't right about that. The gait was odd, the head too big, legs too short, tail too long. On the second look I found myself staring at a black phase jaguar. Thinking that someone had let their exotic pet escape, I called the sheriff's office as soon as I got home. Their response was predictably useless. Thanks for calling, we'll check it out, snicker snicker. A couple of years later, I did a little research into big cats for unrelated reasons, and found out that the jaguar's original range extended clear into central California, and through most of the Southwest. Now that ranchers aren't shooting them anymore, the cats are moving back into their old range. There are even breeding populations in Texas. People mistake their kills and tracks for those of mountain lions.
So, when that something goes bump, perhaps we should make it a habit to take the time for a second look. The next time you see a dark shape under the tree in your front yard, it may be best not to assume the neighbor's dog has jumped the fence again.
I've alluded to this in the introduction to the site, and posted on Facebook about it before as well. Today I ran across an article in the Atlantic describing research into iris scanning technology that can identify people at a distance, and decided my first post here might as well be an expanded explanation of what I call the society of self enforced conformity (a bit of a mouthful, I know). This Orwellian construct has been made possible by the information technology boom, and we, the people are the ones building it.
There's a great deal of controversy over 'privacy rights' at the moment, given the ongoing Snowden revelations, among others. My fear is that we are having the wrong conversation. We do not have a right to privacy. Never have, never will. The Fourth Amendment states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Notice the word 'privacy' does not appear anywhere in the amendment or the entirety of the Constitution, for that matter.
Privacy is a social issue, though it does grey into the legal area quite a bit. The Fourth Amendment isn't about privacy. It is a stern prohibition on government fishing expeditions into your life. It states clearly that the authorities, before they can go mucking about in your personal and business affairs, must go to a sitting member of the judiciary and convince him or her that they have a legally compelling reason to do so, explaining exactly what they suspect, exactly what persons and evidence they expect to find, and exactly where they expect to find them. They then must receive permission from the judge to go and get them (the warrant). The men who wrote our Constitution were thoroughly familiar with the British Crown's use of property and records seizures to intimidate critics into silence by destroying their livelihoods and reputations.
Our Federal and state governments have dug the Fourth's grave by simply moving most of the spying into the private sector. The Internet made targeted marketing research into a multi-billion dollar industry. It should come as no surprise that intelligence agencies found all that low hanging fruit just too tempting. They've begun the Fourth's funeral by blatantly ignoring the law. I recall telling friends not to relax in 2003, when Congress defunded John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program. I predicted that the program would be taken into the black, and once it was too well developed and embedded to easily dismantle, its creators would trot it back out into the light with an arrogant swagger, and a one finger salute to the public. Isn't that just about what's happened? What they now know about you is only a threat to you. What they may have on nine Supreme Court justices and five hundred and thirty five members of Congress, not to mention state legislators and governors, is a serious threat to all of us. That could conceivably explain why our supposed representatives, and the courts, lately seem to be paying little more than lip service to either the law or their constituents' wishes. If you want a more in depth view of who's really behind this push for total surveillance, I suggest you check out Joseph P. Farrell's site.
Even so, I don't think government overreach is the biggest threat, and now I'll get to the meat of it; the biggest threat is us, and our changing attitude toward privacy. The behavior of governments can be controlled somewhat by the citizenry, as long as said citizens are willing to push back, and back up their resistance with steel. The larger threat is that the surveillance and behavioral prediction technologies used by governments and large corporations are now rapidly becoming available to the general public, in user friendly, easy to abuse formats. The same private sector information technology boom that has put the wildest fantasies of public sector authoritarians within their grasp, has also given the private citizens an unprecedented ability to spy on each other.
We are not losing the non-existent right to privacy. We are losing the ability to "be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects." In plain language, we are losing the ability to compartmentalize our lives, and even losing the understanding of why it is impossible to have a free society without it. You don't share the same things about yourself with your auto mechanic or grocer that you do with your doctor, pastor, or spouse, and I'm sure you understand at a visceral level why you don't, whether you can articulate it or not. Now, imagine a world where literally everything about you, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes, can be known by anyone who cares to look, regardless of your desire to keep that information private. We are building that world right now.
Literally anything about you can be learned or extrapolated from your purchasing habits, location (cell phone metadata), web sites you visit, personal and business contacts (cell phones, e-mail, Facebook), etc.. All of this is being recorded by hundreds of businesses, not just the NSA. A good example is the teen girl who's pregnancy was revealed to her father by coupons Target sent to her for baby items. The store chain's data mining algorithms had picked up on her probable pregnancy from a change in her purchasing habits. Some may find this story funny, but much darker examples can be found among all the businesses and individuals who've been targeted for their private political activities. The danger lies not in the fact that companies, and increasingly, private individuals, are collecting and correlating all of this information, but in the fact that there is absolutely no way that anybody can guarantee that it will remain private. Do you want your rabidly vegan, PETA supporting boss knowing you spend your vacation time bow hunting? Does the ultra-conservative loan officer at your bank need to know about your support for marijuana legalization? Probably not, but they can easily find out now, and the probability that they will is increasing daily.
The result of this trend will be not just the chilling of speech, but of action and even thought. People will learn to self censor in every area of their lives, from what they dare say, to what they buy, who they talk to, places they visit, media they view or read, even the things they allow themselves to be interested in. Anyone not expressing and living the "correct" values and opinions will find themselves socially and economically isolated. Automated persecution, poverty and deprivation for the non-conformist, no jackbooted thugs needed. It will become the ultimate expression of pure democracy, mob rule. In the end, he who can influence the mind of the mob, will rule the world.
That's the society of self enforced conformity. It isn't a society I care to live in. Humanity needs to sit down together and have a long, reasoned discussion about what is appropriate for us to know and share about ourselves and each other, and put those limits into place, before that society begins to mature.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.