Archive for July, 2013

Warning: This Column May Be Bugged

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Bob Gaydosstock-photo-eye-spying-trough-a-computer-monitor-85320868

Hi there. Thanks for clicking on this article. I feel obliged to warn you right off that you and I are probably not alone in this seemingly intimate connection. Odds are this interchange is being monitored by some government or private computer for the purpose of, well, maybe for the sole purpose of demonstrating that it can be done.

And it is done, routinely, to anyone and everyone who uses a computer, lap top, tablet or cell phone. Privacy has become a quaint concept, an anachronism, in the computer era. The very tool that has freed us to a world of instant information and communication has also stripped us of something we cherish, our privacy.

Let me amend that. The tool is not to blame. It’s the people using it. They have entered our lives — admittedly often at our initial invitation — to such an extent that savvy technicians can put together accurate profiles of us in short order. Mostly, these people work for private companies that want to sell us something based on our computer behavior. Of course, those with malice in their heart can and do use their skills and the gathered data for nefarious purposes such as identity theft or simply installing a computer virus for no apparent reason.

This is not news to you, I’m sure. What’s perhaps new and most troubling to me is the extent to which our own government is involved in spying on us. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden of a massive cell phone data collection program run by the National Security Agency targeting average American citizens has been followed up with revelations of the extent to which the NSA also has used popular Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Apple, Facebook and YouTube, to compile information on private citizens.


Why national security, of course. There could very well be potential terrorists lurking out there among those cute cat photos and it is part of our eternal war on terrorism to try to find them among the billions of clicks per day on computers.

That’s the company line and there is a small element of truth in it. But we can’t assess how valuable the snooping has been because the government (the White House and Congress) won’t tell us anything that can be verified by uninvolved parties. (And the head of the CIA lies to Congress without getting fired.)

Mostly, though, I have come to believe (and this is why I warn you this column may be bugged) that our government snoops do this kind of thing because they can and they really don’t see it is an invasion of privacy and most certainly do not consider the massive potential for abuse it presents. This is scary. When the computer spies forget that they, too, are American citizens and also suffer from any erosion of individual privacy along with the rest of us, the slippery slope to total control of the citizenry has begun. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.

Too alarmist?

Well, consider the reaction of President Obama when Snowden subsequently revealed that the United States was snooping on countries in the European Union and elsewhere. These are our friends, mind, our allies. The EU folks erupted with indignant surprise. They were outraged, etc. Obama said, in effect, what’s the big deal? Everybody does it.

Which is in large part true. The EU huffing and puffing was largely for show. They knew they were bugged and some of them also bugged official United States locations for the purpose of … what?

The nonchalant nature of the practice on an international scale bespeaks an inability and/or unwillingness to trust friends at their word or to get some kind of edge on them in international diplomacy. So I ask, why would this attitude not translate into domestic spying? It’s no big deal. Everybody does it. National security, you know? Trust us, we mean you no harm.

Really? Well then, why is the entire process sealed in secrecy, with a special court granting rubber stamp warrants for the government bugging private citizens? Why is the court answerable to no one in the public? Why are its rulings free from challenge? Why are private contractors (Snowden was one), not actual government employees, given access to such highly classified information? What happens to the data collected on U.S. citizens who turn out to be really just “average” Americans connecting with friends or venting frustration on Facebook? Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens?

And why should we not be concerned that instructions are available on line on how to turn computer cameras (yes, Skype, too) and cell phone cameras into devices that can spy on their owners, a weapon that obviously could be used by serious government computer spies? And probably is. (Put tape over the lens without actually touching it. Shut it off in the bedroom.)

We “average citizens” have definitely been complicit in creating this situation, but most of were also a bit naïve: I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry about putting personal information on line? That may have been a valid view at one time, but it ignored the reality that those with a certain amount of power inevitably seek to expand their power.

Our government is supposed to protect us from this. When it is the offending party, we need to challenge it. We have no choice. We must do this peaceably, but vigorously, through public demonstrations (as the Occupy movement tried), petitions, messages to elected officials, support for candidates who want to shine light on such programs and eliminate abuses, rejection of candidates who support the spying, protest to and boycott of companies that cooperate with spying efforts, And by voicing opinions of protest on line.

Which is where I came in. Thanks for reading this. Don’t bother deleting; Big Brother already knows you were here.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 07/11/13

Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Safe at Anchor Oil on canvas, 12x48

Safe at Anchor
Oil on canvas, 12×48

By Carrie Jacobson

The storms move in, and with them comes the promise of relief, a cooling off, a waning of humidity.
In these thick days, the slightest effort leaves me slick and stained with sweat. I train myself to consider it cleansing, a gift, a way to chase the toxins out. Native Americans use sweat lodges. Norsemen use saunas. This year, all of us on the East Coast simply use the summer.
Even painting raises perspiration. And it is OK. What I don’t like are the bugs, the ticks, the wasps, the huge green flies that take chunks out of me.
So I use the bug spray, and I use the sun screen, and I use deodorant, and I drink water All The Time, and I remember to be grateful.
This summer, I am outdoors. This summer, July’s heat has crept into my skin and into my bones. This summer, the long arcs of evening aren’t wasted on me. I am out in them, and savoring them, and sweating in them.

Just Happened to See This

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Valerie Jarrett also just happened to work for the city of Chicago, and just happened to hire Michelle LaVaughan Robinson (later Mrs. Obama), who just happened to have worked at the Sidley Austin law firm, where former fugitive from the FBI Bernardine Dohrn also just happened to work, and where Barack Obama just happened to get a summer job.

An old friend sent me that tirade – there are 13 more paragraphs, but not enough time to discuss them all here – with the explanation that he receives a lot of similar stuff and that I might get a kick out of looking it over and maybe discussing it at Zest of Orange.

The material displayed in italics was just one of 14 similar paragraphs that, I think, serve to show that some people have entirely too much time on their hands, and ought to consider studying the oboe or 18th Century religious poetry.

The title for this stuff is “Coincidence? No not really,” and I suppose its purpose is to plant in the American consciousness the idea that President Obama is not who he claims to be.

They have coincidences? I have questions.

So here are some annotations to the Jarrett paragraph. By the way, Jarrett is one of President Obama’s closet advisers.

–Questions: Aside from Jarrett, how many other people worked for the city of Chicago? How long did she work there? What did she do? Was she a deputy mayor? A trigonometry teacher? Maybe a meter maid?

–Questions: Surely Michelle Robinson had a life before she married Obama. For what purpose did Jarrett hire her? Wasn’t Jarrett entitled to legal representation? Was Jarrett charged with trying to overthrow the government? Or had she decided to draw up her will and looked for counsel to assist her? She is allowed to have a will, right?

–Questions: Did Bernardine Dohrn bust into the offices of Sidley Austin with a loaded .38 and demand a job? Or did she go through the usual dreary process of applying through H.R.?

 –Questions: Didn’t Dohrn have the right to work at any place in the world that would hire her?

 –Questions: Was Barack Obama allowed to apply for, and keep, a summer job at Sidley Austin? Didn’t he come in on time, fill out honest time cards, and abide by workplace rules? Or is the Coincidence gang saying that Obama robbed the petty cash box?

The signature on these 14 paragraphs is “Don and Mary Moore.” Does anyone know who they are? I don’t.

The last line of the Coincidence paragraphs is attributed to Aristotle, but does not say from which of his writing it is taken. Not good scholarship.

“Tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society,” Aristotle is alleged to have said. I think the use of a supposed grim quote like that from Aristotle is meant to make readers think, “Oh boy, this guy Moore is a smarty.”

Frankly, I end my questioning of the Jarrett paragraph with a quote closer to home. In a lecture series entitled “New England Reformers” in 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared:

“Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner, or before taking their rest, when they are sick, or aged. In the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience have been aroused, when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals.”

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 7/4/2013

Thursday, July 4th, 2013


By Carrie Jacobson

Land of the free, home of the brave.

Sometimes, I get really frustrated with America. I want this to be a better place, more like what it could be. More like what it should be.

Peter and I talk sometimes about moving to Canada, but we always end up remembering how cold it is there.

And so we stay here, and when I am not sulking that I don’t already have government-sponsored health care, that Fox News exists at all, and that the roads around Norfolk are about as good as in a third-world country, I do rejoice.

Government-run health care, for better or worse, is on its way. While I don’t agree with Fox News, I do relish its right to exist. And if the roads around Norfolk are in terrible shape, it’s because the people of Norfolk have voted on tax issues that result in those roads.

I rejoice, most of all, in the fact that I have had the freedom to leave my steady job and take up life as an artist. And that as an artist, I have the freedom to make new kinds of paintings – like the one above – to experiment, to try, and to fail or succeed, with all that each possibility entails.

Today, with all the bravery and confidence I have, I shall celebrate every inch of my freedom, and cheer a silent – or maybe not so silent – cheer for all that is good about America.