Posts Tagged ‘Big Government’

Where Have You Been?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Bits in the Wind

Being a less than enthusiastic fan of popular culture, I sometimes get dragged into conversations on subjects about which I know roughly nothing, and they frequently resemble something like this:  “Did you see [TV-Show] last night?”  Me: “No, I’ve never heard of it.”  Questioner: “Where have you been?”  The implication is that I’m some kind of a dolt because I don’t watch much of the pop-culture garbage being spewed out of television networks and movie studios.  It’s true, but only if your standard of reckoning is measured against knowing what had been on television last night.  In light of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, there has been a good deal of shock and a widespread sense of contempt for a government that is able and willing to spy on the intimate details of the daily lives of Americans.  Stories have been cranking out about the degree to which government is able to record all the daily activities of citizens, and the extent to which large corporations have climbed into bed with government to provide information on their own customers.  Perhaps it is because I have a little of the Devil in me, or perhaps it’s because I have this innate compulsion to say “I told you so,” but either way, to all those Americans who are breathlessly gobsmacked over the spying our government does on its own people, I can ask only: “Where have you been?”

Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is that in some form or fashion, this has been going on for years.  I fully expected that government would be in bed with every cellular provider and you should have expected it too.  After all, those companies have broadcasting facilities dotting the countryside, and just as you asked the government to do, these companies are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.  Is it really so incomprehensible that with a little twisting of licensees’ corporate arms, government would be given access to this data?  Every networking device in the country bears an FCC label, from the Network Interface Card in your computer to the routers and switches through which your Internet traffic passes.  These devices and anything like them are all subject to some form of regulation by the FCC.  Did you think that would never come back to bite you?  You didn’t know?  Where have you been?

From the moment government first put its claws into the regulation of communications, it was inevitable that the government would begin the process of controlling, managing, monitoring, and even shaping communications to its own ends.  It was a temptation too great to avoid, because those who seek power seek it for a reason: Control.  This is the nature of government, but it is the key element in building the sort of command-and-control structures that even now have become too large to be concealed in the shadows.  The sad, sickening reality is that in one form or another, you’ve asked for this, and in many cases, you’ve been driven into demanding it.

If you’re alive in 2013, for the span of your entire life, you have been told (and you have mostly accepted) that the government has a natural interest in regulating everything that goes over the air, or through public spaces.  You’ve accepted the notion that the Federal Communications Commission should have the unlimited authority to exert control on radio and television programming, and aghast at some of the content you’ve seen on the Internet in the past two decades, you’ve even asked the government to intervene in that medium as well.  Seldom does anybody question the primary premise on which all this regulation is based:  The government, acting on behalf of the public, must have effective ownership of all means of transmission through the public spaces with users, whether individual or corporate, are merely licensees in some form or fashion.  It needn’t have been true, and the fact is that this assumption has caused the aggregation of vast wealth into a few hands when it need not have been.  Just as we had “land rushes” sponsored by government to populate our Western landscape, we might just as easily have done something similar with frequencies in well-described locales, conferring ownership of airwaves rather than licensing of them.

Unfortunately, there will be no going back.  Every website you’ve ever visited has been recorded.  Every phone call you’ve placed or text message you’ve sent has been open to monitoring and recording, and it has grown to such an extent that now your electric meter may well record spikes in usage that denote a pattern of when you are home, when you’re awake, when you’re watching the TV, and when you’re microwaving your supper.  In some places, water metering devices can now reliably discern between a quick washing of the hands or a flushing of a toilet, and all of this information being gathered is said to improve the ability to serve customers.  Meanwhile, the US government builds alliances with corporations, mostly coercive in nature despite any carrots offered to sooth the blow, and those enticements to businesses include the sharing of government data that will be helpful in marketing to customers.  It’s very cozy, but it’s nothing new, and it’s been done this way since the advent of mass mobile communications and Internet access, and in truth, for many years before.

The disclosures provided by Edward Snowden should only really shock you if you’ve been doing as I’ve been accused when I can’t identify a movie actor: “Living under a rock.”  For decades now, it has been supposed that anybody who believed all this monitoring is possible was some sort of “conspiracy kook,” but the problem is that those of us in the technology fields have understood that this was a growing reality from which there could be no escape, in part because we have helped to build it. Others imagine that the bulk of information being captured is just so large that it is unmanageable, and that there is no possible way in which any sense can be made of it in a thoroughly threatening way, but if they believe that, I think they’ve significantly underestimated the ability of government to aggregate and correlate data.  Vast government server farms exist that are devoted to nothing but the accumulation and storage of this data, for eventual analysis and correlation.

One young woman recently asked me what good it would do the government to have all of this data on all Americans, and how it would constitute a threat to their privacy, since in her view, she doesn’t do anything unusual or threatening.  Frankly, knowing all I do about how government collects data, and how corporations are the continual source for so much of that information, I could not fathom how she did not see and understand the threats to her privacy.  In order to impress upon her how thoroughly oppressive this could become, I asked her to detail her day, and at each step along her daily course, I explained how that information could be used to build a picture not only of how she lived on a particular day, but would also provide a very good set of red flags that she had an atypical day.  How much information do you think is necessary when collected at the level of granularity now available to build a complete picture of your average day?  Once your “normal” daily routine is established, spotting anything out of the ordinary is not difficult.

What this means to the average citizen of the United States is that there are few ways to escape the “grid.” Do you work? Do you have a bank account? Credit cards? Cell phone?  Smart meter on your electric service?  Ditto for water?  Cable television?  Satellite?  Is your car recording driving data that can and will be used against you if there’s a mishap?  Now, add to this your medical records that will soon come to be under wall-to-wall Federal management, and then consider retailers able to link your purchases to all of these, and the picture that results should be shocking to every person:  There is virtually nothing that you may now do alone, and without company of some spying eye, whether direct governmental watching, or through a third party like your cell-phone company.  You can scarcely go to the bathroom without somebody knowing it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not pretend to you that I know much about popular culture, but I am intensely aware of technology and its use in tracking human activity.  There is virtually nothing we do in this modern frame that isn’t being collected as an event, analyzed, and categorized for later recall.  The reason this is possible is because for the most part, when you hear of the details, you shrug and go on, feeling helpless to do anything about it.  The truth is, however, that to a larger degree, it is born of our intellectual sloth.  To the degree we’re unaware, it’s only because we don’t want to know.

It’s 6am, and a light turns on.  It’s 6:05, and a toilet flushes and moments later, there are the connections necessary to check email on some distant server. The email is downloaded and read while a cup of coffee is consumed, the brewing machine having activated at 5:45am sharp in anticipation of your impending alarm, and then the television comes on, and a news channel is selected.  There is the running of more water, consistent with a shower, and then a burst of electric demand, indicating something being heated in a standard microwave.  There is some flipping of channels, and then there’s the first phone call of the day, and the first three text messages too, the first to the office, the other three in a hurried, playful exchange with a lover.  Then there’s another flush, because the spouse has arisen.  Another television pops on and another smart phone comes to life, as the earlier riser rushes out the door.  The central air kicks in because a door has opened and closed, the exchange of the warmer air outside triggering the thermostat, and thus recording the power spike as the compressor motor turns on.

An engine comes to life. Down the road it goes. Triangulation from the cellular towers in the vicinity record the strength of the signal from the driver’s phone, recording distance.  One tower knows only your distance from it.  Two towers with overlapping range fix your position to one of two possible points at the intersections of their coverage, and a third tower now finalizes location, permitting your speed and direction of travel to be recorded.  Overlaid on a map, this information can tell us if you were speeding, since on that stretch of roadway, the speed is set to 60mph, but you were moving much too quickly for that.  More texts come in, again from the lover, to whose home you’re speeding for a quick stop on the way to your job.  The conversation is noted, and the exact location of each device is recorded, and as the monitors watch, one device converges on the other.

The spouse calls to say “Don’t forget, we have a PTA meeting tonight.”  This too is recorded, and so is the sound of the driver saying, “Okay, talk to you later… Love you too… Bye…”  Another text comes in… “How long?”  The response: “5.”  The driver turns off the highway, and down a side-street, pulls into a gas station, using the ATM. Location for the transaction is recorded, along with the face of the banking customer.  No time for gas, have enough until later.  Just a minute away now.  A warm embrace, cellular networks respectively recording the correlation of locations on distinct devices complete with timestamps.  A few painfully short minutes later, back in the car, down the road, now running late for work because the driver tried to steal more minutes from the day than should be possible. The logging device in the car records a near-stop, as the driver artfully rolls a stop-sign.  A watching police officer falls in behind, the lights turns on, and a traffic stop is born. 

“In a hurry?” asks the officer.  “License, insurance, registration, please.” In a dispatch center miles away, the radio traffic between dispatchers and the officer buzzes with information.  License, license plate. Warrants?  Clean? Okay.  The officer compares the picture on his screen to the one on the license to the driver he’s just stopped.  Checks out okay – same person. “I’m letting you go with a warning, but watch those stops, okay?”  In a records management system, the completed event now registers time, date, location, make, model, driver, infraction, and links to the dash-cam video that would be used in defense against a civil suit if you had been unhappy about your treatment by the officer.  As it is, the driver is late, but in the hurry to get to work, a drivers’ license is dropped.

 The officer is understanding.  People are in a hurry in this economy.  When he gets a moment, he sends a terminal message to dispatch to look up the driver again, and see if there’s a listed number.  There is, a home phone number, and three seconds later, that phone rings.  A person answers, and in the background, the dispatcher can hear the sounds of children getting ready for school, and a breathless parent saying: “Dropped the license where?”  Meanwhile, a driver arrives at the office.  The missing license is finally noticed, but it’s too late to turn back.  It’s probably fallen between the seat and the door anyway.  One minute later, after explaining to the boss that except for an unfortunate traffic stop, the driver would have been on time, a cell phone rings.  It’s the spouse.  “Lose something?”  Having dropped the children at school, the spouse’s location is noted by a cellular network, as the car converges with another point on the map: A private investigator’s office.

So it goes. In barely more than two hours, a family is in danger of disintegration, a cheat is revealed, and all of it is recorded somewhere, waiting for somebody to notice the links. If you think this is impossible, think again.  If you think that the government hasn’t the capacity to sort and correlate all such data, you don’t understand the technology.  Any one of these tiny electronic transactions would be meaningless in most contexts, but in the aggregate, they can be used to build a fairly complete picture of a given subject.  Does the government need your cooperation?  How can they twist your arm if they do?  How can the institutions of government control you?  How can they manage you?  How much will you take?  What will cause you to bend? What can be exchanged for your silence or compliance?  This form of unlimited control of a populace has always been a subject of much speculation and fear, but now, we are on the cusp of its birth as a real, ordinary process of daily life.  We empower it.  We permit it.  We feed it, and we give our silent assent to all of it.  Mostly, we’ve permitted them to build it in utter contempt of our wishes to the contrary.  We’ve listened to the promises of safety and security, and we’ve permitted the governing class to use social programs as a facade behind which to build this vast network of command-and-control structure, with nothing so secret as to avoid detection.

After a brief stop at the PI’s office, it’s time to get on to the doctor.  That appointment has been nagging since it was scheduled.  Ten years and three children into the marriage, that same feeling is back, and while it’s not certain, somehow, chemistry being what it is, she knows.  The doctor beams at her. He’s delivered her three children, and the news is now noted that there is a fourth growing inside her, but the tears into which she bursts are not those of joy.  The children at school are going blissfully about their day, but she has a mortal decision to make. She knew her husband was stepping out.  That’s why she hadn’t let him touch her in months.  The cellphone chimes with a text as her best friend asks: “Well?”  She sobs uncontrollably, and rushes from the doctor’s office.  She calls him, his number concealed in her phone under “Pool Service,” he answers, not sure who she is, at first.  How could he?  It was just that once for her, and now she’s faced with what to tell him, whether to tell him anything, or what to do.  The phone signal tapers away.  He asks her “Well, what do you want to do?  I don’t want to be a father…”  A few minutes later, her cellular service records her arrival on the seedier side of town.  There’s a clinic there, and for an hour, she sits there looking at the clinic, but trying to see her future.  She does Internet searches, looking up terms like “abortion, adoption, divorce lawyer, marriage counseling, and Plan B.”

If you think the government can’t learn a great deal about you, even from much less dramatic information, remember that there are only really three things they need to know:  Name, time, location.  Associating those three attributes with any given event, also fixed in location and time, gives them all they need to know to build the most complete picture.  It’s a puzzle made up of multidimensional pixels, where time and location define four, but the color of the pixel reveals one more bit of the overall picture of you.  If you’re not frightened, you’re a fool.  If you think that you live a perfect, upstanding life, and that you are beyond reproach and much beyond the aims of any extortion or coercion, remember that all of this information is recorded, but there is nothing that says it cannot be modified to invent times, places, and events associated with you for which there had been no factual record.  Who would a court or a jury believe?  You, or the machine?  After all, what possible interest could government have in framing you?  What possible interest could any people prone towards freakishly controlling behavior have in managing you in a direction they find more appropriate to their own ends?

This is the searing question raised by Edward Snowden’s disclosures, but I it mystifying that it’s taken this long for the discussion to gain attention in the popular culture.  In our popular culture, it’s always the dark and sinister CEO of some corporation driving these monstrous “conspiracies” that now appear uncomfortably too much like the reality we are coming to know.  The question we never ask is: “If they’re pulling our strings, who is pulling theirs?”  If you’re the head of a multinational corporate entity, why would you cooperate with government?  A quid pro quo?  This for that?  What are these people buying with their cooperation with government?  Silence?  Coordination?  Profit?  Whatever your inclination, you can rest assured it will be all of these and more.  Do you need to eliminate or hamper a competitor?  Do you need to quash a earnings report?  Do you wish to preserve your reputation in front of the world?  What is your price?  How can you help us?

Naturally, such global-scale thinking needn’t be the sole function or motive of such systems as PRISM or those like it.  Sometimes, it’s about a broader, more general compliance among the populace, and if you don’t believe you’re the target of that, I can only repeat my earlier question: “Where have you been?”

 

 

 

 

 

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Do You Fear Obama?

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Do You Fear This Guy?

Listening to conservative commentators, one can witness a kind of fear of Barack Obama that I’ve never encountered in domestic politics before.  Sure, back in the 1990s, there were some conservatives who were fearful about the things Bill Clinton might do, given a chance, but the unmistakable terror some exhibit at the mere idea that Barack Obama would somehow be re-elected is astonishing to me.  Is he horrible?  Yes.  Is he actively undermining our nation?  Certainly.  Is he a demagogue?  You bet!  Nevertheless, I do not understand the fear that seems to grip so many on the right side of the political divide.  I don’t fear Barack Obama.  He doesn’t impress me that much, and if he takes the country all the way to and over the brink, patriotic Americans will stop him.  I’m not scared of Barack Obama.  I’m not threatened by a temporary political hack.  The thing that makes me fearful is the tendency among conservatives to imagine more power on the part of Obama than he actually possesses, but worse, the willingness on the part of establishment Republicans to cede to him such power.  The power of the presidency doesn’t belong to any man, but to the people, and all it takes to stop any President is their will.

Fear is an important tool used to herd us in the direction of the establishment’s favored candidates.  I am not driven by that sort of thing.  What makes me fear for my country is the endless parade of candidates who are put up by the Republican establishment every four years who leave us with a choice between the wholly unpalatable and the unconscionably unpalatable.  It’s like a perpetual taste test between excrement sandwiches where the only question is whether the prime course originated with a horse or a bull.  What drives me to something like real fear is when I see the uncritical thinking that pervades so much of our culture.  When I hear alleged conservatives saying that they think George W. Bush was a “real conservative,” I shake my head and walk away.  There’s no point to an argument over the matter.  He wasn’t a conservative, but for those who think he was, there’s no convincing them, no matter how many instances of his big-government statism his record provides as evidence.

I don’t fear Barack Obama because we already have an example of how to make a leftist President ineffective.  Newt Gingrich showed us through determined leadership in the middle 1990s, and except for betrayals from the establishment wing of his own party, he might well have accomplished more.  The problem is that the same people who destroyed his campaign this year by one act of dishonest infamy after the other are representatives of that same group that undercut him nearly two decades ago.  Even at this late date, with Gingrich effectively out of the running, still there are attacks by the Romney campaign on Gingrich.  Why fear Barack Obama?  With “friends” like this, who needs enemies?  Still, Gingrich showed us what we can do by his example in 1994.  To do it, we will need to change the face of the Senate.  That’s where Gingrich ran into the most trouble, and apart from our tepid House leadership today, I think this is where we must begin.

We need to eject RINOs like Dick Lugar from the Senate, and send in conservatives like his opponent Richard Mourdock, and just as Kay Bailey-Hutchison is departing the Senate, I will be happy to send Ted Cruz there rather than establishment tool David Dewhurst.  I was a bit astonished, after his appeal to Tea Party types, to see Rick Perry endorse Dewhurst.  Of course, Friday, he also endorsed Romney. I guess we know all we need to about that, but it’s another example of our problem:  We need to defeat not only Democrats who are holding Senate seats, but also a number of Republicans who shouldn’t be left in charge of anything.  You see, we don’t need the Presidency to run the country.  We merely need a large enough majority in both houses of Congress, but that will still only help us if they’re not a pack of establishment types.  While John McCain came out to endorse Dick Lugar, Sarah Palin instead endorsed Richard Mourdock, continuing to demonstrate that one needn’t have a title to be effective, and we need more of that kind of leadership from high profile conservatives.  From the Republicans’ presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney? Silence.

I don’t fear Obama, but if you want to see me afraid, observe my reaction to the wasted effort the GOP establishment has made of the Tea Party’s victories in 2010.  There was momentum and vigor, but by a long list of sorry surrenders, Boehner and McConnell have sapped the energy out of the movement.  I fear that the Tea Party waited and waited for a Presidential candidate to emerge who would carry their banner, and when one didn’t appear, or at least didn’t stick around, and while the establishment undermined conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney, the Tea Party seems as though much of its energy has been spent.  I hope I’m wrong, but with Romney emerging as the probable nominee, it’s hard to imagine the Tea Party getting very excited.  Who can blame them?  The establishment of the GOP is intent upon giving us a guy who lost to Ted Kennedy by double digits in 1994, a year Republicans made huge strides and took both houses of Congress.  Do we expect to defeat Barack Obama, and even if we do, to what end?

I don’t fear Obama because I know that he’s just one more step down a path our country and culture has been following all my life.  If it wasn’t Obama, it would be somebody like him.  If it wasn’t Romney, it would be somebody like him.  They fit their respective templates, and they fulfill their respective roles.  We’ve been railroaded into a notion of America that is top-down, and I simply don’t buy it.  There are three-hundred millions of us.  Do you really think Washington DC can impose anything on us that we(or some sizable number of us) refuse to do?  The problem I see is that the longer we let this fester, the more foot-soldiers for the cause they breed.  Do you really wonder why neither party is serious about controlling illegal immigration?  Do you really wonder why it is that our social safety nets are encouraging more of the same, now largely hammocks in which too many people recline endlessly, while you work like rented mules to carry their burdens?

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t believe we need a third party.  I’d be happy with two.  Unfortunately, from my point of view, I’m finding it impossible to discern much difference at the upper echelons, apart from the much too rare sort best exemplified by Sarah Palin.  The establishment in DC plays both sides of the street, and neither side is composed of conservatives.  This whole system is full of corruption, and it’s not because the system was built to be corrupted, but because we the people, by our shameful inattention, and our general unwillingness to do our homework have left the store undefended, the till untended, and our alleged ‘public servants’ unaccountable.  When I say “we,” I don’t mean you and I, though we surely should do more, but I look around at the popular culture, and I note with dismay that there are hundreds of television channels available, and apart from C-Span, there are perhaps a dozen or so that cover public affairs, politics, and political news, and none of those garner as many viewers as the average prime-time sitcom.

If you want to know why America is in decline, you need only observe the priorities of most people.  The amount of time daily that most Americans devote to public affairs is minuscule.  Most of them can’t recite so much as the preamble to the constitution, and few can recite, verbatim, any of the amendments, even the first ten.  Don’t ask them to provide from memory some notion of the structure of the constitution, and don’t ask them to tell you anything about the enumerated powers of Congress, the President, or the courts.  As long as this remains true, there is no chance to reform the country. You and I can go to Tea Party rallies, and the GOP establishment will do its best to co-opt them.  The broad body of the American people remains unmoved, and nothing short of catastrophe is likely to move them, but as with most such things, the catastrophe will be evidence that they’ve been roused from their slumber too late.  We say we believe in citizen-legislators, and the form of self-governance our founders gave to us, but too few of us who are able step forward to take the risk.

On the other hand, I don’t fear Obama in part because I know that common sense will eventually trump him.  A good example of this is the proposed regulation out of the Department of Labor that would have made it illegal for anybody under 18 to perform certain chores or work in certain jobs in an agricultural setting.  The backlash was so strong, even among Democrats, that the Obama administration actually rescinded the proposed regulation, at least for the time being.   The administration and the Department of Labor were deluged with a huge number of tersely worded communications from across America telling them to back off or else.  One farmer I know locally, whose two sons routinely help him operate tractors and so on actually called and told some government stooge in Washington DC that he was free to come and impose his regulations if he thought he could. Ladies and gentlemen, there are three-hundred millions of us.  Even if fully half have “gone over to the dark side,” the government can’t impose anything on the rest of us if we refuse.  People wonder why I don’t quake in fear about Obama, or any other tin-pot dictator who might set up shop in DC, but this is the reason.

A government loses its legitimate claim to authority at some point, and small incidents like the backlash over farm labor rules is just one such instance.  Another bit of evidence comes in the form of gun and ammunition sales, still at record levels these last three years as people prepare for…come what may.  Sure, it’s only a small fraction of Americans who are preparing to any substantial degree, but that’s still a goodly number.  As they liquidate debt, pull assets out of markets, buy durable commodities and stored goods, and make ready for the possibility that this society may break down.  The core that keeps this country afloat is doing what it has always done: Through prudence, thrift, and industry, they are preparing to the best of their ability for the worst that the world may throw at them.  They don’t fear Obama either.  Like me, they’re more inclined to fear the legion of unprepared network television viewers who will be standing there with one hand out-stretched, gun in the other, issuing pleas for help in the form of demands, if and when things go even more badly for our country.

The thing we must all remember is that as bad as Obama is, he is temporary.  He may do this or that, and he may make a wreck of things for the nation, but he’s temporary, and there’s nothing he can inflict that we can’t undo.  The only thing that makes a guy like Obama dangerous are the people ostensibly on our side who seek to collaborate with him.  It’s the moderates who undo us each and every time.  I offer the debt ceiling debate of last July to any who doubt me.  No, I don’t fear Obama, bad as he may be, nearly so much as I live in terror at the prospects of the next surrender of the Republican establishment.  That’s what makes our situation seem hopeless.  Who among you harbors the delusion of John Boehner riding in to save us?  Mitch McConnell?   Mitt Romney?  That’s what demoralizes our conservative activism.  That’s what cuts the heart out of the resistance.  We won’t be delivered into communistic despotism by Barack Obama, but instead by some gutless cabal of establishment Republicans hurriedly cutting a deal to save their own necks, thereby damning the rest of us into servitude.  It is ever the betrayers, the surrendering class, clamoring to hold onto some vestige of what they see as their rightful place, or even merely to save their own hides.  I see this as the most pressing issue we face.  Barack Obama is only possible because of the sell-outs.

For all appearances, Mitt Romney seems to be part of that class of Republicans, and if you ask me what it is that I fear, it is that once again, we will be saddled with a nominee who is not one of us, doesn’t understand us, and doesn’t see the world from the point of view we mostly share, out here, where the country is made to work by the choices, the goals, and the devotion of millions of individual Americans, each working to better his or her own life, and the life of their families, but actions that also redound to the benefit of the nation at large.  When I listen to Romney, I am left with the unmistakable impression that I am hearing a man who wants to rule over me, the same as Obama, but with slightly different aims.  I hear a man who is speaking to collectivized notions of American greatness that defy 250 years of the history of individual achievements linked by the consent and volition of the achievers.  What I hear is: “New boss, same as the old boss.”  If you tell me you fear Obama more, I can’t help but wonder why.  Nothing is more terrifying to me than the thought that Mitt Romney is the best we could do in the face of Barack Obama’s four years of rampant destruction.  If true, it may mean we’ve already lost the country, and there is nothing about Barack Obama so frightening as that possibility.

 

Romney to Leno: Make Big Government More Efficient But Maintain Its Reach

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Secretary of Deck Chairs

Mitt Romney isn’t interested in reducing the reach of government into Americans’ lives, but instead making it more efficient.  That’s part of the message Romney delivered to Jay Leno’s audience on Tuesday evening, and what you need to realize about all of this is that Romney is not a conservative.  He’s a technocrat, and he’s a businessman, but his interest in making various programs and agencies of government more efficient does not make him conservative.  Conservatives realize that to save this nation, we must re-make the government in a smaller, less intrusive, and less-encompassing form.  We need to eliminate programs, bureaus and agencies, and discard their functions.  Romney won’t do any of that, and in fact, he will likely extend their reach. Here’s the video. The relevant portion is the last thirty seconds:


This is typical of Mitt Romney, and it demonstrates the concerns of conservatives in nominating this moderate.  If you wonder why conservatives do not trust Romney, this is part of substantiating their distrust. It’s not as though conservatives oppose efficiency, but it’s important to understand why inefficiency alone is not the problem with big government.

Government’s Foolish Contempt of Nature: Daylight Savings Time

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

What Do We Gain?

I don’t think much of the time-shifts associated with Daylight Savings Time.  I think they cause too many people to have too many problems in adjusting, and I’m not talking about resetting their alarm clocks. Humans are like most other animals on the planet, in that our bodies adjust slowly to new schedules, and it’s simply no good for people to be compelled to wake up an hour earlier just on the whim of some government’s say-so.  It wreaks havoc with shift schedules in the workplace, and it causes all sorts of computer troubles as systems flip over, particularly where systems must remain synchronized.  I have no problem with the idea that we want more useful daylight working hours in the evening, as that’s helpful to me on the farm in some instances, but then let us just leave it there, permanently.  One way or the other, let us adjust our clocks as many as one more time, but then let us leave it alone.

As most of you will have already known, Daylight Savings Time grew out of an era of war.  It was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, but it wasn’t implemented in the US until the First World War.  The idea was simple: By shifting the clock one hour in Spring, one could lengthen the hours of daylight available in the evening, the idea being to save energy and permit longer work hours in a lengthened period of evening daylight.  That might have made sense at the time, and under the necessities of war, but no longer.  In the 1970s, the Federal Government looked at the energy savings of the procedure and found them to be negligible.

At the same time, let us consider the huge expense imposed. I would argue that if we want the day with longer periods of light at the end, that we should simply do this current switch to DST and simply leave it there indefinitely, because the costs imposed by flipping back and forth is too great in human terms.  The incidence of heart attacks and suicides increases after the spring change, and in addition, as a computing professional, I know well the costs of systems changing their time.  Each year, in my own organization, the changing of the time results in a number of unavoidable failures among systems that must remain within twenty seconds of synchronization at all times to function.  There are manufacturing systems in which the time-sync is even more critical, but in any event, the organization in which I work requires one of we technical folks to be standing-by, ready to intervene if some system doesn’t make the shift in a timely manner.

Our systems experience a real jolt in the Fall, because whereas in Spring, we just lose an hour in our records, in Autumn, as the clocks jump back one hour, we gain those records but we have two sets of records tagged with timestamps from 01:00 to 01:59.  This creates significant confusion despite the appending of other markers, using sequential fields on records, because when we query the system for review of various events, we get multiple returns by time that make it difficult to sort out what’s gone on. Of course, this difficulty exists in Spring too, as an event that begins at 01:59 and ends at 03:05 will be recorded as having taken one hour and six minutes when it actually took just six minutes.  All of these things are repairable but it’s a good deal of work that my organization incurs twice yearly, and it’s really unproductive, lost, wasted work that gains nothing for the organization but headaches.  Frankly, I’m waiting for the Obama administration to propose bi-weekly time changes as a ‘stimulus’ program, given the uselessness of it all.

The whole time-change event can cause serious malfunction in manufacturing.  One steel plant in Germany suffered significant damage after a load of steel was poured an hour too soon due to the time change.  In a world where precision now dominates, and systems operate continuously, arbitrarily monkeying around with the time can be a dangerous affair, particularly when the costs all seem to militate against flipping it.  Of course, it’s too late to put a stop to it this time, but I would like to see more discussion of this.

Nowadays, Daylight Savings Time seems to be more of a sad tradition than a proposition serving any real and useful purpose.  Russia liked DST so well that they simply moved the time, and left it there.  I’d be happy with that, knowing this would be the last spring in which the society at large was compelled to endure all of the displacements.  In human terms alone, if we never do this again, we will at least prevent another season of time loss, expense, and aggravation, and while it’s too late to save those who will now account for this year’s spike in heart attacks and suicides, at least we will never endure it again.

The real culprit in all of this is a government that never tires of tinkering with our lives, down to the minute and second.  There are whole departments of government that deal with nothing but this issue, and I expect that if we view it through that lens alone, we could probably save a good deal of money.  In fact, in the computer industry alone, there are thousands of people who serve this time-shift and work throughout the year to minimize the sort of outages and disruptions that could get people killed.  If all of those clever people were freed to work at some much more useful purpose, imagine how much better our lives would be.  It’s like almost anything else imposed by a top-down view of governance, in that what once might have served some reasonable purpose has become a yoke around the necks of the people.

I don’t know anybody who likes the time changes associated with Daylight Savings Time, because for virtually all of them, it imposes more trouble in their lives than it is worth.  Some would like us to stay on Standard Time permanently, but most to whom I speak would prefer Daylight Savings Time on a permanent basis.  As one co-worker explained, “So in the winter, I’d be arriving at work as the sun comes up.  What does that matter to me?  I’m at work.  I’m indoors and the florescent lights are burning either way. At least I won’t be driving home as darkness falls in December.” That seems to be the attitude of many, and I couldn’t agree more. As we endure this interruption twice annually, we should ask if the costs of the time-shift haven’t grown too large, and whether it’s time that we pick one and stick with it.

 

Note to Big Government Statists: Leave Me Be!

Friday, February 17th, 2012

New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Dear Miserable Big-Government Jack-booted Statists:

I don’t know you well enough to give you even the most vaguely intimate details of my life.  Why do you want them?  I don’t love you, and you don’t love me, so why can’t you let me be?  Why is my contract in employment any of your business?  If my employer is happy, and I’m happy, apart from the fact that you’re already taxing both to death, why do you need to know how much I earn per hour, or anything of the sort?  Why are you involved in the question of my health insurance?  Not only do you wish to decide whether I will buy health insurance, but also what it will cover.  Note to jack-boots:  I’m a forty-something man married to a forty-something woman and we’re not interested in contraceptive coverage.

Why will my health-insurer be forced to cover it?  Florescent lighting gives me a headache.  CFL’s particularly are the bane of my existence.  Why may I not choose what kind of light-bulb I will purchase? I don’t mind paying extra for the slight difference in efficiency. Why must I be condemned to a life of headaches triggered by these lights, just to suit you?

Of course, you’re not satisfied with this, are you?  Hardly.  You don’t want me to buy weapons, but to the degree you permit it, you don’t want me to buy too many at once, and you want gun stores to report me if I buy more than one at a time.  Why?  Are you afraid I’ll arm a gang of Narco-terrorists with them?  Like you did?  Of course, since we’re speaking of terrorism, let’s cover your general ineptitude.  You want to scan Granny’s wheelchair, but you refuse to “profile.”  Why?  Profiling has been a crime-fighting technique for generations because it works.  Why is it that you’re willing to subject women to body-scanning abuse by some of your pervert agents?  Will you treat my wife that way?  My adult daughter?  What makes you think we’re chattel for your amusement?

Speaking of our children, you now seem to believe it’s your business what we pack in our kids’ school lunches.  Why is it that elected officials believe that their busy-body spouses should have any say-so in what we eat or drink, or don’t?  We didn’t elect them, but even if we had, why do you believe it’s any of your business?  You don’t buy my food.  You don’t prepare it.  You don’t feed my children, so when you explain to me how you’re seizing my kid’s lunch to be replaced by such meals as you deem suitable, are you confused as to why I might be upset?

As all of this grows and grows, I have begun to wonder if you’re even aware of how sick of you I have become.  If you were a person, I would charge you with theft, stalking, harassment, and torture.  Since you do all of this under color of your official authority, you also do it at the point of a gun.  I wanted you to know this, and to know that I no longer consent. You are in violation of the constitution that acts as the social contract between and among us. You have taken on the role of dictator, and frankly, I’m not interested in being your servant since our compact declares that you will be mine.  I don’t want anything from you.  I don’t want a single commodity.  My state and local governments are going to receive the same talking-to, but since I know you are arrogant and no longer believe you need listen, I’m going to make this explicit:  Leave me alone. I don’t want your hand-outs. I don’t want your iron fist. I don’t want anything but those limited purposes for which you were created: Defend the country against foreign enemies and domestic criminals, and act as an objective arbiters in our own domestic squabbles.  You have no other legitimate purpose.

 

Leave me alone.

 

Romney Still Doesn’t “Get It”

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

"Safety Mitt"

In Romney’s response on CNN Wednesday morning, in which he said he wasn’t “concerned about the very poor,” he went on to make another remark we ought to examine.  I realize what he was trying to say, but what his full statement revealed is that he doesn’t understand why the country is on the verge of total collapse.  In stating his lack of concern, he mentioned that “we have a safety net” and that if it’s broken, he’ll “fix it.”  This is the problem with Romney:  We don’t need to “fix” the safety net.  Instead, we need to dismantle it.  What his reflex reveals is what conservatives have known about Romney from the outset:  He is a big government Republican who wants to “patch” the system, but he has no vision for overhaul of a welfare state that dehumanizes, and converts Americans into a permanent underclass, rather than to help them restore their dignity.

Conservatives understand that the welfare state “safety net” cannot be maintained in its current form because it functions too well as a hammock, but not so much as a trampoline. This difference is something Gingrich well understands, and was at the heart of his rebuke of Juan Williams in the Fox News Debate in South Carolina two weeks ago. Taking the approach of Gingrich was a stunningly successful rebuke of the leftist talking points that will predominate in the general election when the Republican nominee squares off against Barack Obama.  Romney doesn’t seem to grasp this, and it’s because he’s part of the Northeast liberal Republican establishment that tends to view the underclass as the object of their own well-intended welfare statism.  They think that people in poverty cannot lift themselves, and they concede the matter by collaborating on the growth of the welfare state with all the other liberals.

It is this fact that should worry you about Mitt’s alleged “electability,” and it further demonstrates why Mitt simply doesn’t get it.  He can’t identify this thinking, because his blue-blooded reflexes are in agreement with lefties’ views of the poor.  He sees them as the inevitable victims of life’s lottery, and not as people who should be launched into productive, self-sustaining lives of prosperity.  In effect, he sees them with the same underlying contempt as liberals actually feel, and expects them to remain a perpetual burden, with no hope of re-training, education, growth, development, or anything that would lead them to an earned prosperity.  If you want to understand the failings of Mitt Romney, it is here you must begin your journey, because what this small slip-up helps you to understand is that at his fundamental root, he suffers all the same moral and philosophical failings of a leftist.  He is one of them.

This is where his tendency toward allegedly benevolent big-government programs is born, and it is here that he aborts conservatism.  In his first reflex, when it counts most, his response is to push people toward a safety net built not of voluntary private actions by citizens in outreach to others among their own number, but to reckless big-spending government programs that convert individual poor people with momentary life issues into a permanent, institutionalized underclass that will never escape, and can never prosper, and must forever be a burden to their fellow men.  It is a hopeless, wilting view of humanity that surrenders to the notion that some people are helpless, from birth, by virtue of their environment, or both.  It assumes that people may be left in such circumstances until doomsday, with no expectations that they will ever lift themselves from that condition.

This giant hole in Mitt Romney’s understanding of conservatism is one of the larger reasons he cannot win in November 2012, because what it admits is a view of the poor much in line with Barack Obama’s, and it pays homage to the same faulty preconceptions about those who languish in our welfare system, where opportunities are seldom recognized, much less pursued.  It explains his inability to connect with conservatives too, because in this view of the poor, Romney prescribes precisely that which will not help those so-afflicted.  He’s admitting that he will be another governmental enabler, like the government programs in which the methadone substitutes for other chemicals, keeping the user strung out in lifelong stupor, but yielding no rehabilitation, either in addiction, or dignity. This is Mitt Romney, and it’s why after more than a half-decade in pursuit of the presidency, he still doesn’t “get it.”