Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why my Smart Phone.......Might not be.

 I am one of those souls who was dragged backwards, kicking and screaming, into the Digital Age.  I steadfastly resisted digital photography, despite the urging of friends who insisted I was missing out.  Of course, the fact that I had about $15K tied up in Nikon film cameras and lenses might have had something to do with that.  But, today those cameras are nearly worthless, unless you like having high-tech paperweights or bookends.

As a matter of course it was inevitable that I did finally accept that the digital revolution--and it is that--was inevitable and now I wouldn't dream of using film again. I have become a great admirer of how accessible and how amazingly effective the symbiotic combination of a decent digital camera and Photoshop is. What was once the province of expensive custom labs and printers is now available to anyone who wants to make stunningly fine images.

When it came to cell-phones, I was also reluctant, but my dear wife insisted that the convenience and added security of having one of these little devices in your pocket far outweighed the cost and my underlying resistance to climbing on board any movement that creates dependency on big corporate America.  So, I started out with a very basic little phone, eventually up-graded to a nicer one that could actually take half-decent pictures, and I was fine with it....although I do detest seeing people using them when they are also trying to convey a very large and shiney SUV through traffic.  Stats show that they are driving about as well as someone who just loaded up on Margaritas.

Recently, it became obvious that Abby was becoming sort of a 'texting monster', her phone always close to hand and a steady stream of communications happening that involved hammering teensy keys and sending out messages to our kids, her friends and to whomever she wished.  I did feel a little left out, and I feared that I was showing symptoms of 'old fartism', being a curmudgeon about this way of messaging.  So, I finally let her know that I was interested.....and she was wise enough to get me down to our local cell-phone store before I could change my mind.

Well, the options and choices were pretty overwhelming.  There are 'sliders', 'Blackberries', 'Androids', 'touch screens', 'qwerty' keypads...and on and on.  But, I did manage to narrow it down and I was pleased to now be joining the rest of the family as a 'smart phone' user.  I brought the device home, wrapped in a sharp, metallic red protective case--a must have for all savy users apparently--and I began sorting out how to use the many features.  By and by I could stand out under the night sky and have the little glowing screen tell me the names of all the constellations....and even where the moon was, yes, at that moment.  Anywhere I pointed the phone/computer, it indicated the horizon and showed me a map of the sky.  It also can tell me where I am standing, within a very few meters, and keep me abreast of the weather, my bank accounts, and probably read my mind.....if I am willing to download the appropriate 'app'.

In fact, this little device could easily become the central focus of my entire life, hooking me up with all the social networking I could ever not want....keep me 'tweeting', facebooking, etc., etc. ad infinitum....or ad nauseum, depending on how you view it.  I am not really sure what it CAN'T do...but, I am told that there are over EIGHTY-THREE THOUSAND apps available, most of them for free, so it isn't clear that there is much on that list...if anything.  Holy Cow, Batman!!!

But, here's the thing: at what point do I begin to feel that I have a little MONSTER in my pocket?  Apparently, this device can tell anybody who is clever enough to hack it, where I am, what I am doing on it, what I have said and typed, and give them access to all of my records and private life in its entirety. The wicked ones out there who are using the ever growing world of communication, global positioning, financial  dealings and everything else are finding more and more clever ways to learn what they need to know about us. I am not even going to go into the idea that government intelligence agencies may be among the most active purloiners of information and data....but, I can tell you that there are now over 1200 private intelligence consulting contractors to the U.S. government...and I sincerely doubt if all of them are well regulated and tightly controlled, much less feeling constrained by any sense of what is 'right and wrong'.

After having this 'thing' for only a few days, I noticed that it didn't seem to hold a charge for very long, necessitating putting it on the charger every night.  My old and ignorant cell-phone needed charging about once a week, if that.  So, I began exploring on the web, and soon realized that this 'smart' phone is on all the time and was running about THIRTY apps, even ones that I do not use and have no desire to.  They were just hovering in the background, waiting for me to discover them and become a fanatical user....of whatever.  Thankfully, my brother-in-law, Jody--who is much more tech-savy than I--said, "Download 'App Killer' and shut them down.  So, even as he sat across the dinner table from me, I did so.  Of course, each time I check to see if these supposedly disabled apps are behaving, several or many of them have fired themselves back up and are again sucking my battery's vital juices out.

Whoever created and got in bed with the cell-phone's maker and provider doesn't give a damn if I want their app.  They are going to be there regardless of whether or not I want whatever they are foisting on me. It doesn't take much imagination to suppose that there are aspects of this phone and the network that it is ALWAYS either searching for or connected to that I am not privy to.  Internet monsters like Google are now collecting data on our spending habits, shopping preferences, communications....and who the hell knows what else.

I am beginning to wonder if the best use for this device is to lock it up in a lead-lined box for most of the time, and only take it out to use when I really need it.  I do like texting; the phone aspect is no different that it was with my little 'dumb phone'....but, I am starting to feel that using a 'smart phone' is opening a window into my life that I don't really know about in any depth.

Is that really the 'smart' thing to do in these times?  I have some doubt about that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh, Sarah.....let me count the ways you are so unqualified.

If you click on the header above it will take you to an article written by Paul Begala, and published on Huffington Post.  He describes his reaction to the speech put online by Sarah at the same time that President Obama was in Arizona to give what turned out to be a very powerful and sensitive address at the memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.

Previously, I have outlined the idea that Sarah Palin seems to have some clear symptoms of NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  While I am not a qualified psychologist, I do--and so do you--have the ability to look up and study the list of symptoms that are commonly associated with this affliction.  In my studied opinion, the Begala piece notes in Palin's response to the shooting......a very extensive list of those symptoms.

NPD is becoming more common, or perhaps we are simply more aware of it and recognize it more frequently now.  But, it is not something that is poorly understood by the mental health profession.  When a person persistently draws attention back to themselves....even when one might think that was oddly inappropriate...a red flag should pop up.  Her vitriolic attacks on anybody whom she perceives as against her or in disagreement with her opinion in any given matter are also predictable by now, and this is another hallmark of a person who suffers from NPD.  It is all about Sarah, in damn near any situation she is in.

On her 'reality' show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska", she invited Kate Gosselin and her eight now famous kids, to go out camping in the Alaskan bush.  It happened to be--as it is so much of the time during part of the year--raining, cold and with lots of those pesky Alaskan mosquitoes, just for good measure.  Well, this was not something that Kate Gosselin was really ready to tolerate; she was shivering, getting eaten alive by the bugs, and she let Sarah know that the entire situation SUCKED.  Finally, she decided that she couldn't take any more and packed it in.  Instead of showing concern for Gosselin, Palin made it all about how much she loved being out there, how she'd grown up this way, and that was what Alaskans did for fun.  Once again, it was all about Palin.

In the preparations for going out camping, they went and took a course in how to protect themselves from the possibility of a brown bear coming into camp.  This was essentially a familiarization with the loading and firing of a 12 gauge shotgun, though I did notice that Sarah declined to use any shotgun provided by the instructor....in favor of her own, which was, of course, equipped with a special recoil reducing stock.  Again, Sarah put herself in the primary role, that of 'protector' of the group, and showed that she could handle the fairly stout recoil of such a gun...sort of (see above).  It was also obvious to this life-time shooter that she was a complete novice at this. And this is despite all the hoopla about having grown up spending large amounts of time in the bush.  Nah.

During the show on her now infamous caribou hunt, they went to a remote, fly-in camp above the Arctic Circle, and the woman running the camp, alone, was what Sarah has wanted us to believe she is: a real Alaskan outdoorswoman.  In fact, this woman had been attacked by a brown bear, struggled back to camp and stitched up HER OWN SCALP....and then got another gun and went after the bear.  Now, that is guts and persistence!!!  I have no idea if Sarah realized that she appeared like a diva in comparison to this woman.  I am surprised that she thought she would benefit from going hunting and looking so utterly amateurish (see previous post: "Diva with a Gun").

So, as dear Sarah prepares--in her own mind--to make the big decision about 2012, bear in mind who this woman really is.  She, in so many ways, is giving us all the information we need to see the truth about her.  The "blood libel' remark was just another piece of that.  In so mis-using that antiquarian term--synonymous with Antisemitism and a perverse justification of persecution of the Jews--she gives us one more indication that she is just plain OFF THE WALL.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Addendum.......

After writing the previous entry in this blog, I read that Arizona is one of a very few states that has a law that enables any citizen to report someone who seems to have mental issues, seems unstable or otherwise a cause for concern--for them or the community--and the state is then required to assess that person and take appropriate action to get them the help they need, even to incarcerate them in a mental  health facility if necessary.

HOWEVER....and this is huge, in the last year over 45% of the Arizonans who were receiving any kind of treatment or aid from the state's mental health agencies..........were dropped.  Of course, Jan Brewer, the new conservative governor, and her legislators who all have decided that state budgets are out of control and must be slashed, have done this in the name of fiscal responsibility.  And, while that is a real consideration, the trade-off would seem to be one of potentially severe and painful problems erupting in a society that has decided to deny help where it would clearly be needed and make a vast difference.

The fact remains: NOBODY who knew that Jared Loughner was acting weird and disturbingly took advantage of this law and brought him to the attention of state or city agencies that could have made a difference.

Until we start caring about each other in a way that seems impossibly remote right now, we can expect the increased isolation of troubled individuals to inflict greater and greater pain on ALL OF US.  The "not my problem" attitude has become not only callous and cynical, but very painful to our society at large.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Into the Breech....one more time.

Six Americans who died in Tucson last Saturday morning

Like most Americans, I was deeply saddened and even distraught when I heard the news of the shootings in Tucson.  It felt like a heavy weight had just dropped on my chest, and as I found out more about the victims that feeling only got heavier.  You have heard perhaps too much already as the media go into their usual feeding frenzy, digging up as many stories as possible.  I am praying that Gabby Giffords does not merely survive, but that she recovers in a fashion that will leave the medical types scratching their heads at the fullness of her recovery.

So, what are we going to do to address the fact that this kind of scenario seems to be happening with such regularity?  I don't have the stats--don't really want them--but it feels like this kind of darkness descends on our country at least two or three times a year.  This time it is higher profile, because of the prominence of one of the victims, and the number of them.  But, there are mass shootings with a handful of victims that pretty much circulate through the media with monotonous regularity...so much so that we almost don't notice them anymore.  A disgruntled former employee returns to his (it is almost always a male) workplace and shoots a few people and then kills himself.....not news now, too common.

But, here's the thing: we are getting so inured to people who are disturbed, disgruntled, angry, fist-shaking and just plain out to lunch, that we have learned how to ignore them, for the most part.  Yes, they make the people around them 'uncomfortable', and a few people are always interviewed who say, "I just knew this would happen someday."  But, nothing, seemingly EVER, happens to interdict the final violent onslaught that so many people saw coming.  Why?

Well, we had a fellow in our community who was one of these cases.  He was hostile, unstable, implied that violence would come to those who offended him....and he had a 9mm.  I spoke with our local sheriff, a long-time law enforcement professional, much liked and respected in the community, and he told me, with apologies, that there was nothing that could be done until this guy acted out his threats.  As long as the threats were generalized and not specifically directed at an individual, and as long as this fellow didn't wave his pistol at someone........he was free to just continue making a whole community feel under threat.

He was also free--without having any record of felonious misconduct, or mental health issues on the books--to buy all the guns and ammo that he might want.  Eventually, he moved away and a lot of folks breathed a big sigh of relief.  So, my point is this, we are helpless to turn to law enforcement even when we perceive a real threat developing in our own community.  This sicko in Tuscon gave lots and lots of signals that he was mentally disturbed in a way that was very threatening...and nobody could or would do a damn thing about it.  Where this really sticks in my craw is that he also went into that sporting goods store and bought a Glock without showing up on the background check. 

When somebody has put that many people on edge, and posted so much non-sensical blather on the web, been kicked out of a local college and told not to return without some mental health evaluation, it is my feeling that there needs to be some kind of a safety net.....for him, and for all of us.  A case-worker from the Department of Public Safety should have the ability and the responsibility to receive complaints, and to look into them.  If it is apparent that the individual in question is headed in a dire direction, there should be a follow-up that AT THE VERY LEAST, puts the person in a data-base where it would show up when they go to buy instruments of destruction.  We don't let drunk drivers go until they kill someone....at least we TRY not to.....and we should not let a person who is showing all the signs of becoming dangerous just twist in the wind until something happens like last Saturday morning in Tucson.

And, putting in place a safety-net of this kind would not have to be a systematic, bureaucratic, heartless mechanism.  It could actually be driven by compassion and intelligence...but, I do realize that these qualities are either fleeting or totally absent from most governmental agencies....so maybe I am asking for pie in the sky.

But, I DO NOT accept the idea that we all just wait around for the next massacre with our hands tied.  Not good enough, my friends....not good enough.