Communion Of Dreams


Caring for demented America.

The eighty-something man fumbled with the pocket knife he had carried his whole life. His hands trembled with age, rage, and fear, but if the hulking stranger refused to leave his house, well, then by God he’d force the man to leave!

The stranger easily took away the knife, and told the man to go back upstairs. Then he sat down on the mechanic’s stool next to his motorcycle and began to weep.

I was about 14, and had just witnessed age-related dementia for the first time.

The hulking stranger was my uncle, whom I had come to live with. The elderly man was his grandfather. We were at his grandparent’s home, using the garage under the house as a warm place to get a little work done on his bike. He and his grandparents were close, always had been. He had lived with them for a while when he was young.

* * *

President Trump is certain that he was cheated out of a popular election mandate due to voter fraud. Almost no one else agrees, and even members of his own party who are responsible for elections at the state and local level have said that there is virtually no evidence of actual fraud.

The President has also claimed that his inauguration had more people in attendance and watching around the world than any previous. The best evidence and estimates available from multiple sources do not support this claim.

I could go on.

* * *

I remember Martha Sr getting fixated on things which were weird, unpredictable. Fixated in such a way that no matter what we tried to  say or do, she was certain that we were wrong. Or just lying to her. Or something.

It was almost always some strange idea or memory or object which would catch her attention seemingly out of the blue and often at the most inconvenient times. The idea that the strawberry seeds in her yogurt were necessary for completing a crossword puzzle, so she had to pick them out and keep them. Or that she was going on a train trip, and had to make sure to go get her tickets right now. It drove us completely nuts, and was one of the more difficult challenges of being care-givers. We’d try to distract her with other things, or explain that we already had her tickets and she didn’t need to worry. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes she’d go on and on and on about whatever it was which had captured her attention, returning to it for days on end.

* * *

In the aftermath of the presidential election, many people who had supported Secretary Clinton were shocked, stunned, at the outcome.

Some started looking for ways to challenge the results. First there was an effort to get the Electoral College to not affirm Donald Trump as the winner, on the basis that Russia had influenced the election. Then there was a hope that the House of Representatives would not confirm the results of the Electoral College vote. Then there were challenges made to whether President Trump could hold the office, since he was in violation of the Constitution.

I could go on.

* * *

It seems like the long-respected norms of civic behavior are finally starting to break down. They’ve been stressed for a very long time, like a marriage which has gone badly wrong, but is held together out of fear for what would actually happen if one partner were to confront the other over perceived slights or suspected betrayal.

But now someone has had enough, and said words which cannot be taken back.

The shouting, the screaming, the breaking of china in anger and frustration has begun.

Young children stand in the doorway to the kitchen, tears streaming down their face, unsure what this means or what will happen next.

* * *

Someone punched a neo-Nazi. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer when Nazis get punched.

The day after the inauguration, millions of people marched in protest of the new president and his administration. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer the affirmation of civil rights and political empowerment.

The day after that, a top-level presidential advisor ill-advisedly used the term “alternative facts” when disagreeing about the turnout at the inauguration. Plenty of people jeered at her for doing so. It’s hard not to mock something straight out of 1984.

The day after that saw the start of a number of Executive Orders and memoranda signed by President Trump, putting into motion the changes which he and other members of his party had promised. Plenty of people cheered to see the change they wanted starting. Plenty of people jeered both the spirit and the letter of the changes.

* * *

I’m not saying that President Trump has age-related dementia. Not even the first signs of it. I’m a bookbinder, not a doctor, and am in no way qualified to make such an assessment.

And I’m not saying that the rhetoric and actions from those who oppose the new administration are equivalent to the rhetoric and actions of those who have supported it.

I am saying that things have changed. I think that we are on the precipice of something akin to Heinlein’s “The Crazy Years”. Things have changed so much, and so quickly, that I have had to go back and make substantial revisions to St Cybi’s Well. Because what before was a challenge to the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ has been completely superseded by our reality. It’s not the president who is showing signs of dementia — it’s our society.

And I am saying that when you accept and embrace the use of violence against a political opponent, you open yourself up to the use of violence against you by your political opponents. Because there are always justifications and rationalizations for such use, and human history is filled with the resultant wars civil and decidedly uncivil. Be very careful what you wish for.

Jim Downey



Penny for the Guy?*

Hmm. Perhaps it’s time to invest in companies which make those Guy Fawkes masks

Even better, we can set up an investment fund which holds stock in companies which make yarn, knitting needles, Maalox, poster board, magic markers, etc. Just to hedge our bets, it should also look at firms which deal in security consultation, drones, police & military equipment, private prisons, and so forth. Pity there’s no way to own stock in the ACLU.

Oh, and I wish I held the copyright on 1984

Who’s in?

 

Jim Downey

*



“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.



All us zombies.*

I wouldn’t have the nerve to include this kind of thing in a novel … no one would believe that such an agency would have such a twisted sense of humor.

The magazine printed several slides alleged to have come from an NSA presentation referencing the film “1984,” based on George Orwell’s book set in a totalitarian surveillance state. The slides – which show stills from the film, former Apple Inc. chairman Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, and iPhone buyers celebrating their purchase – are captioned: “Who knew in 1984…that this would be big brother…and the zombies would be paying customers?”

 

Jim Downey

*Referencing this, of course.



Privacy: R.I.P.

This is getting a bit of news attention, so it isn’t completely normalized in society yet, but I think that is just a matter of time:

Could employers begin asking for Facebook passwords on applications?

For all the good it can do, social networking also has its share of downsides. Putting personal information of any kind on the internet raises plenty of privacy concerns on its own, and handing over your username and password can be like giving away the keys to your very identity. But if you’re in the process of seeking new employment, that may be exactly what you’ll have to do.

The image below is a snapshot of an application from North Carolina for a clerical position at a police department. One of the required pieces of information is a disclosure of any social networking accounts, along with the username and password to access them.

That was last November 30. This was yesterday:

Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords

* * *

In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state’s Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall.

Previously, applicants were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.

Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to “friend” a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.

Given how many people increasingly rely on social media outlets such as Facebook or Twiter for routine communications, this is just a very small step from requiring access to email.

Far-fetched?

Look how commonplace drug-testing policies have become in schools and workplaces. That started out as being only required for sensitive jobs or in the case of some kind of accident/criminal event. It’s to the point now where such testing is being required for access to welfare programs, and is considered absolutely routine and non-controversial in many workplaces.

Or think about the widespread use of surveillance cameras. Again, they were initially used only in high-security situations. Then they became commonplace in banks. Then to monitor intersections. Then for general use in public areas which were supposedly “high crime.” Then just generally, to the point where in many cities you’re under constant observation, and can be tracked from your home to just about anywhere you go.

Then there was the recent news that the FBI was trying to recover all of their 3,000 GPS units used to track “suspects” under their warrantless monitoring of vehicles. Police Drones. Echelon. Routine searches of cell phones. And God help you if you want to cross the border. Or even just travel here inside the US.

Yeah, tell me again how it’s far-fetched to think that employers will routinely demand access to not only your social media accounts but to your email and other communications.

Jim Downey

(Prompted by MeFi, but of course this isn’t a new topic for me.)



I spy, with my little eye . . .

I’m beginning to think that Orwell was an optimist:

Oxford taxi conversations to be recorded, council rules

By April 2015 it will be mandatory for all of the city’s 600 plus cabs to have cameras fitted to record passengers.

The council said the cameras would run continuously, but only view footage relating to police matters would be reviewed.

Big Brother Watch said it was “a total disregard for civil liberties”.

When I first saw this on BoingBoing, I thought “oh, another DailyMail exaggeration piece, blowing something relatively innocuous all out of proportion.” Then I saw it was from the BBC. Reading the full article makes it quite clear that this is not exaggerated in the slightest.

>sigh<

How long before you think someplace in the US follows suit? I give it five years.

Jim Downey



I am the maker of rules.*

The Miami-Dade Police Department recently finalized a deal to buy a drone, which is an unmanned plane equipped with cameras. Drones have been used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war against terror.

* * *

MDPD purchased a drone named T-hawk from defense firm Honeywell to assist with the department’s Special Response Team’s operations. The 20-pound drone can fly for 40 minutes, reach heights of 10,500 feet and cruise in the air at 46 miles an hour. “It gives us a good opportunity to have an eye up there. Not a surveilling eye, not a spying eye. Let’s make the distinction. A surveilling eye to help us to do the things we need to do, honestly, to keep people safe,” said Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus.

This quotation, slightly altered, is inscribed on a plaque in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(CNN) — If you get arrested in California, better hope there are no incriminating texts or e-mails or sensitive data stored on your phone.

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that police in that state can search the contents of an arrested person’s cell phone.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the ruling contends that “The loss of privacy upon arrest extends beyond the arrestee’s body to include ‘personal property … immediately associated with the person of the arrestee’ at the time of arrest.”

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.”

Metro anti-terrorism teams will immediately start random inspections of passengers’ bags and packages to try to protect the rail and bus system from attack, transit officials said Thursday.

Police using explosives-screening equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs will pull aside people carrying bags for the inspections according to a random number, Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said. The searches might be conducted at one location at a time or at several places simultaneously. If people refuse, they will be barred from entering the rail station or boarding a bus with the item, Taborn said. The inspections will be conducted “indefinitely,” he said.

You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.”

If you’ve ridden the subway in New York City any time in the past few years, you’ve probably seen the signs: “If You See Something, Say Something.”

In Washington, D.C., Metro riders are treated to a recording of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging them to report suspicious sights to the proper authorities.

Now, Wal-Mart shoppers across the country will see Napolitano’s message in a video as they stand in the checkout line.

“We are expanding ‘See Something, Say Something’ in a number of venues,” Napolitano tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “It’s Wal-Mart, it’s Mall of America, it’s different sports and sporting arenas, it’s transit systems. It’s a catchy phrase, but it reminds people that our security is a shared responsibility.”

All this means that the people of any country have the right, and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell; that freedom of speech and thought should reign; that courts of justice, independent of the executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time and custom. Here are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home. Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practice — let us practice — what we preach.”

In ancient times, Gorgon was a mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them. In modern times, Gorgon may be one of the military’s most valuable new tools.

* * *

This winter, the Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

Bryce Williams wasn’t expecting to walk through a metal detector or have his bags screened for explosives at the Greyhound bus terminal near downtown Orlando.

But Williams and 689 other passengers went through tougher-than-normal security procedures Thursday as part of a random check coordinated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

The idea is to keep off guard terrorists and others who mean harm, thereby improving safety for passengers and workers. There was no specific threat to the bus station on John Young Parkway south of Colonial Drive.

I can’t help but feel that we took a wrong turn somewhere.

Jim Downey
*Of course. Cross posted to dKos.