Waiting for Dystopia

I’m bemused and a bit bewildered at the furor over how the NSA is spying on American citizens. As a long-time faithful fan of NCIS, Law & Order and so many other cop shows, I’ve become familiar with how easy it is for government agents to get our phone and computer records. Our photos are easy to find on traffic cameras and security footage. It’s the meat and potatoes of television crime shows, so I can’t believe there’s anyone over the age of 5 who doesn’t know when someone is compromising evidence or has forgotten to wear his or her gloves at the crime scene.

Portrait of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (no ...

Feared FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – Rumor has it he wore a dress when he wasn’t accusing Americans of being Communists.

We know there are cameras trained on us everywhere we go. It’s even more intense in Great Britain and most parts of Europe, so this isn’t just an American aberration. It’s everywhere.

It must have been 20 years since we first learned about the trap door in Windows. You remember. That’s the security hole designed to let the government peek into our computers. All operating systems have holes in them. Any 14-year old hacker can find them, so surely the FBI can do almost as well. Did anyone think that the holes in our operating systems have gone away? Been patched up? Really?

Blaming one political party or the other, one president or another for extending and expanding the surveillance that’s been ongoing  for decades is pointless. It’s not going to stop no matter what they say or who is in the White House. The agencies that run the surveillance will merely improve their ability to camouflage their activities. Our governments are not going to stop monitoring our computers, telephones, bank accounts, or anything else. We can’t even stop Google and Facebook from having their way with us, so what makes you think we can stop the FBI or Scotland Yard?

It is wrong that governments spy on their citizens? Isn’t that a gross violation of our privacy? In theory I agree. They shouldn’t listen to our boring phone calls. I think it’s possible the cruelest punishment of all would be monitoring the phone calls of adolescent girls, but I digress.

My opinion is (a) it’s not up to me or you, and (b) we can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand more and better security yet expect the government to accomplish it without compromising our privacy.

So, we are faced with a theoretical (but not real) choice. Do we want security or privacy? As for the theoretical but not real aspect of the choice: it’s not up to us. In the United States, agencies of the government are in charge of national security. It’s their job. This didn’t start with Obama , Bush or even Regan. It goes back a long way, at least as far back as when J. Edgar Hoover was The Man and probably long before that too.

This is not an area on which we get to vote. It has been this way since before any of us were born and will continue to be this way after all of us are dead and gone.

Continuing to whine and bitch about it isn’t going to change anything. If you don’t want to be monitored, stop using the Internet. Give up your cell phones. Keep your money under the mattress. Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Grow your own food and generate your own electricity. Don’t have a mortgage. Pay all your bills in cash. Better yet, don’t have bills.

Don’t work a regular job and move frequently. Don’t collect social security, Medicare or for that matter, file an income tax return. Don’t register a car and don’t vote. Should you have kids, home school them. Even if you do all these things, if THEY want to find you, they will. Because sooner or later you have to interact with other people and people talk.

75-FireAndIcePoem

I have friends who are awaiting the end the civilization, if not the world. They are planning against the day when they will live in the Dystopia of their nightmares. They want to make sure they have enough guns.

Personally, I think lots of bottled water and canned goods would be more useful. And blankets, first aid supplies, and warm clothing. But I’m not expecting the world to end, and if it does, I figure it will just wither away. Not with a bang, nope, uh-uh. I’m leaning toward the long, tired whimper.

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Inauguration Day 2013

While I was deep into the A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time), the final volume of Robert Jordan, now Brandon Sanderson‘s epic story of good versus evil, Garry was watching the Inauguration. I had forgotten today was Inauguration day but he had not. My bad.

When you aren’t working or going to school, it’s easy to not know what day of the week it is, much less if it’s a holiday. I often don’t know what day of the week it is, though because I blog and pay bills, I’m pretty aware of the day of month.

Inauguration on Capitol Hill

Inauguration

As much as Garry dislikes political mud-slinging, he loves the ceremonies that mark America‘s traditions. For him, an inauguration is not the inauguration of a Democrat or a Republican … it’s the inauguration of an American President and he enjoys it, even if it isn’t a candidate for whom he voted. It’s American, not political.

He wrote something about it on Facebook and at least one person went into a political tirade about how he voted for Obama but wished he’d had another choice. Garry pointed out this wasn’t political. It was a celebration, the peaceful affirmation of our power that is far more American than apple pie.

Granted that other countries now have peaceful transfers of power, but only the U.S. from its birth made this a symbol of what we are as a nation … that no matter how hard-fought the campaign, when the votes are counted, the winner takes his place in the White House without violence or bloodshed. The ballot box is where we settle our differences, not the streets and not with weapons.

My take on this is simple: there are far too many people who have forgotten how to be Americans. They are so wedded to party politics, to a set of “positions,” that they are incapable, even for a single day, of just being Americans.

It seems that these folks are constantly gloating (“my guy is IN and your guy is OUT nyah nyah nyah!”) or whining (“We wuz cheated!”). Whether you fall on the side of the gloaters or whiners, if you want to make any claim to being an American or any kind of patriot, you need to be an American first and foremost, with your political affiliation secondary.

If you cannot do that, you really have no idea what this country is about.

MEETING A PRESIDENT

Back in 1993, a lifetime ago, our world was different. We were different. Whatever future we had in mind, I think we didn’t imagine the one in which we find ourselves.

Us with President Clinton on Martha’s Vineyard.

It had been a hard year. Licking our collective and individual wounds, Garry and I wobbled tentatively into summer. Our first long vacation at the Vineyard in mid-June was splendid. The weather was perfection without a single rainy day to mar its beauty. Garry darkened into his best-ever deep brown sun tan while I turned slightly freckled beige with a hint of hot pink.

After our second long vacation in July had come and gone, and we had spent too much money, ate, drank, and made excessively merry and were reconciled with having finished our last long stay on the Vineyard, President Clinton and his family chose Martha’s Vineyard for their August holiday. Guess who was selected to cover the story for Channel 7?

Garry might have gotten a swelled head over this apparently plum assignment. Except Garry knew that the real reason he and that particular crew were chosen. They had their own accommodations in Oak Bluffs. A place to stay for which Channel 7 wouldn’t have to pay, saving Channel 7 megabucks in housing costs for the 11 days of the Clinton family visit. Regardless, chasing the First Family around the Vineyard trumped following the muggers, child molesters, murderers, arsonists, and other scum-of-the-earth newsmakers. The hours might be long and the material lean, but the setting was lovely and the story was filled with rounds of golf, sailing, and celebrity stuff.

After 12 days of on duty, Garry finally got a couple of days off. I came down for the weekend and we hit the “hot spots.” Such as they were., little knowing that the next night would be much better.

When word came around there would be a party for the press on Thursday evening to which family and friends were invited, Garry first announced he’d rather stay at the house and catch some rays. I explained, carefully, that this was not an option, after which he decided a presidential party sounded like a great idea.

A party hosted by The President of the United States is not  any old party. You don’t just drive up to the door. We had to gather at the Press Center, the Edgartown Elementary School which had served as press headquarters during the President’s visit. From there, we were loaded into buses and taken, under heavy security, to the actual location. We got on the first bus, which was fortunate. The later buses never left the parking lot. If you weren’t on the first bus, you didn’t go to the party. No, I don’t know why.

We hoped to get a glimpse of the First Family. We got a lot more than a glimpse. Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea were all there for the entire shindig. They stayed for three hours and gave everyone the opportunity to actually talk with them. They were gracious, smiling, friendly and human. Wow. Real people!

We got pictures — Marilyn and Garry with the President all taken by a White House photographer and later delivered with White House insignia  and all.

The food was good — ribs and chicken and collard greens. Mashed potatoes, gravy, corn-on-the-cob, corn bread, and salads. Margaritas. Beer. Wine. Warm blueberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream to top it off. Carly Simon sang “Summertime” and the prez played the saxophone. It was fine. Super fine. I wished I brought my camera. I hadn’t thought they’d let us bring them, but I was wrong … they did. Oh well.

Real food, real people, and at a palatial home of on a high bluff overlooking the sound. Does it get better than this? I don’t think so.

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And that’s the way it was … August, 1993. It wasn’t so long ago … it doesn’t feel so long ago. Yet it was, if not in years, then in the amount that everything has changed.

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Blame Everyone and Don’t Forget to Look in the Mirror

Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else: Where did our jobs go?

Hey people, you know perfectly well where our jobs went. They went to the far east, to China, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia … wherever child labor laws are loose or non-existent and people work cheap. The exodus of American jobs began long ago, but became a mighty river under Bush senior, went into higher gear under Clinton (who I loved but IS responsible). Bush II pushed the throttle higher, and although Obama hasn’t made it worse, he also hasn’t stopped it. I’m not sure he could if he wanted to. These are largely corporate decisions, not governmental.

English: In January 2009, President of the Uni...

January 2009: President George W. Bush invited President-Elect Barack Obama, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for lunch at the White House. (Photo: Wikipedia)

There’s plenty of blame to go around if you’re big on pointing fingers. Rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas was an idea so awful that most normal people could see the looming disaster without any special economic education, but we had nothing to say about. No one asked US.

This is a “bottom line” driven society. Until and unless something becomes more important to our nation than maximizing profits, if and when such a miracle should occur, then there is some a very small chance we’ll start to re-employ Americans, maybe even rebuild a few of the dusty, closed factories where we used to work.

Until then … IF then ever arrives … jobs will remain scarce no matter who is in the White House. You can’t fix the economy without places to employ people. We’ve sent our manufacturing base overseas where labor is cheap. You can and should blame the entire government for this one, Democrats and Republicans share in the blame … but mostly, the blame fall solidly on Capitalism implemented without the human cost being calculated as part of the equation.

English: Photograph from the records of the Na...

From records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

As long as the goal of business isn’t merely making a profit, but making the biggest possible profits, as long as employers feel no responsibility to their workers and do not care whether they live or die, we will continue to have massive unemployment.

It’s not Obama. And sadly, if elected, it wouldn’t be Romney’s fault either. It’s the system itself that’s broken.

It does not have to be this way. Capitalism does not require utter ruthlessness. Profits can be made without completely ignoring any semblance of morality or conscience. But that is the way we do it here … and it no longer works for any but those who own the companies making the big profits.

It sort of worked to some degree as long as we only exploited Americans who at least got jobs as part of the deal, but now that we can exploit anyone anywhere, U.S. workers don’t reap any benefit at all.

Two girls protesting child labour (by calling ...

Two girls protesting child labour (by calling it child slavery) in the 1909 New York City Labor Day parade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can say whatever you like about our socialist European friends: their systems do calculate the human cost of doing business. We don’t. If you like what you have, keep mouthing the same stupid platitudes and you will get the same, stupid poverty, unemployment, and loss of American prestige on the world stage.

It’s payback time, except guess what? YOU are the one paying the bill, not the guys who ran up the tab. Funny how that’s the way it always seems to work out.