Sunday, July 28, 2013

Whatever happened to "citizen journalism"?

I've been wracking the lump of meat I jokingly call a "brain," trying to figure out when, exactly, we turned the corner, as a country, with regards to whistleblowers.

I've been wondering this for a while. It crops up in weird places: earlier this year, a hacker revealed that the police were ignoring blatant evidence that a rape had been committed. He's facing ten years in jail, while the now-convicted rapists only got two years each. Was exposing the rape a worse crime than committing it?

At what point did we start to think it was more important to keep secrets hidden, instead of dealing with the crimes being covered up by those secrets?

Edward Snowden is currently hiding in a Moscow airport, living on vending machine borcht and energy drinks (I assume); he's under fire for disclosing the fact that the American government is spying on American citizens. And everybody else on the planet. His guilt is just accepted, at this point: the focus of the argument against him seems to be "well, he ran to another country! And he's a traitor!"

But what's being ignored here? Maybe the nature of his crime? Maybe the fact that... well, let me just quote from some people who were much smarter than me.
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.
Does anybody remember what the phrase "probable cause" means? I'm pretty sure that a global, sweeping review of every phone call in America isn't covered by "describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Yeah, but fuck that Fourth Amendment, right? The Second Amendment is the only important one!

I think the best response came from the Rude Pundit:
The reaction that most infuriates the Rude Pundit is that Snowden didn't do the nation any favors because, well, fuck, we all knew that our phone calls and other information was being monitored... Yeah, but there's a huge difference between strongly suspecting that your husband is fucking around and being shown pictures of him balling the babysitter. There's vast gulf between "knowing" and knowledge. The intelligence services have been forced to say, "Okay, yeah, you caught us." The twist is that they're adding, "And, oh, by the way, we're gonna keep boning the babysitter. Just try to stop us from fucking her."
But if we're honest with ourselves, Snowden isn't the problem. His story is just a symptom of a larger problem.

In Maryland, the closing arguments in the Bradley Manning trial have been made, and as I write this, we await the judge's decision. Was Manning guilty of espionage?

Let's remember what he's guilty of, shall we? He leaked documents that showed that, despite our noble words and fine sentiments, America was still torturing and killing innocent people. He didn't damage our war effort, or put any spies in danger. He just told us that the American government was lying to us. He showed us what our tax dollars are paying for. He didn't commit espionage - he committed journalism.

Julian Assange, who's "guilty" of the same "crimes," held a press conference by telephone last week, where reporters also got to hear from Daniel Ellsberg - Ellsberg, you may or may not remember, was "guilty" of a similar "crime." He leaked the Pentagon Papers, embarrassing the US government; he never went to jail for telling the truth. Why should Manning? Why should Snowden?

Why should it be a criminal act to tell the truth?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Adventures in shopping

I got thrown out of a K-Mart last week. But I ain't even mad.

I'll admit, I don't shop at K-Mart much - the ones around me are pretty much giant Dollar Stores, and I can usually get higher-quality items for around the same price somewhere else. But there's this one store to the north that's closing down, with the usual signs everywhere:
Everything up to 50% Off!!!
And here I was with this shopping list that included "Scratching post." (We have cats - I don't know if you're aware...) And I figured "what the hell, right?" So I wandered in, and, sure enough, I found a budget-priced post for a cat to try and destroy. Seemed like a win to me, so I took it to the checkout line.

Now, I'm not sure that you've lived in the Southwest in the summer, but it's not known for being cold in these parts. And I'm not sure if you've considered the problem, but when a store is closing, the owner isn't overly worried about repeat customers, so the air conditioning may not be running at peak efficiency, if you know what I mean.

So, by the time I get to the front of the line, I'm hot and cranky. But the girl behind the register has been there for hours, probably, and she's doing her best. So I figure why act like an ass, right? So I engage Smalltalk Mode.

"So, do they at least move you to a different store when this one closes?"

"If you've been here for six months, yeah."

That answer didn't seem to make her happy. "How long have you been here?"

"Five months."

Oh, damn. I literally had nothing to respond with at that point. So she rang me through and started into her rehearsed spiel. "All sales are final. Make sure you have the receipt available." And then she made the mistake of taking a breath, and... well, I have this genetic failing. I'm a smart-ass.

"What good does the receipt do me if all sales are final?"

That seemed to take her by surprise - as far as I could tell, nobody was supposed to ask questions at this point. "Oh... um... well, they're checking receipts at the door... and... um..."

That was apparently the point where the douchebag behind me with the sunglasses on his carefully-moussed hair lost patience. I guess he was late for his prostate exam or something. "Look, can we move it along here?!? Some of us have places to be!!"

You know, I'm not the most sympathetic of bastards, but I've never seen where it was a great idea to be a prick to the underpaid people who were ringing up my purchases. And this self-important fucknozzle just grated against my last overheated nerve.

So I turned to look him right in the eye, and I said, loudly and clearly, "You know, asshole, this store is closing. And these people might not have a job in a few weeks. So maybe they have problems of their own. In fact, maybe the last thing they need is another problem. Like you being an ass. So maybe you should just back the fuck off, OK?"

And I stared at him for just long enough for him to flinch and turn away.

It was right about then that I felt a tap on my arm, and the guy from Security asked me to please come with him.

You know, maybe I shouldn't have been as loud as I was. Maybe I shouldn't have cursed. And I've been thrown out of better places. But everybody waited as the cashier hit the last few buttons and handed me my receipt. And you know, the guy throwing me out never thanked me as he escorted me to the door before.

I don't make it a habit of getting thrown out of stores. But sometimes, that's what needs to happen.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Fly Me To The Moon

I was born in the Sixties. You might have heard that there was a musical revolution going on at the time, but there was also a second one, slightly less ground-breaking, that occurred around the same time. (Technically it started earlier, but was going strong during this period.)

Yes, there was a revolution in schlock.

By saying "it started earlier," please understand that Muzak Holdings, LLC was started in 1934. But although they are related, they aren't the focus of this little rant.

Frank Sinatra first got big as a teen idol in the Forties, but then had a career resurgence in the Fifties when he refocused his music to appeal to an older audience.

Unfortunately, because he was popular, a lot of people with significantly less talent felt that they should try to sound just like him. And they put out albums and appeared on TV shows, and the result was a style of "music" that culminated in Michael Buble: the "crooner," a.k.a., "lounge lizard."

There are certain songs that I can't listen to any more. They are indelibly associated in my mind with slicked-back singers in cheap tuxedos (possibly in pastel colors, possibly not), looking either earnest or with big cheese-eating grins, belting out certain "old standards," as if they had been possessed by the spirit of Old Blue Eyes himself.

That being said, there are some musicians who should have been more successful than they were. Who should have become household names, instead of just a legend among musicians. His name is Paul Gilbert, and he was featured in Guitar Player magazine at the age of 15. And he managed, in just a throwaway performance, to perform the only version of "Fly Me To The Moon" that I've been able to listen to, by choice, in years.