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June 19, 2005 - Conversations About Odd News Items

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On Flag Day, June 14, this item by Mark Follman appeared in the "War Room" column over at SALON.COM – and it is interesting –


Back in April, two U.S. Secret Service agents paid a visit to a controversial art exhibit in Chicago, which included an image of President Bush with a revolver pointed at his head. No evidence was reported of any threat to the president emanating from the mock 37-cent stamp on display, titled "Patriot Act." But there was considerable public outcry about the chilling effect the visit could have on artistic expression -- especially after the agents pursued not only the exhibit's curator, but also asked the museum director for the names and phone numbers of all 47 artists whose work was on display.


Well, such things happen these days.  It is what to expect.

But then we get this –


Meanwhile, Jeremy Lassen, the publisher of a small book imprint in Portland, Oregon, responded to the news of the Chicago incident by creating a series of photo collages entitled "Bush and Guns," and posted them to the photo-sharing site, Flikr.

Last week, he says, he himself was paid a visit by the Secret Service. "On June 7th, two Secret Service agents showed up at my place of employment and asked to speak with me," Lassen wrote on his blog on Sunday. "One agent said they wanted to talk about something I posted online. I asked what, [and] one responded 'You post a lot of stuff online, don’t you?' and then showed me some color printouts of my 'Bush and Guns' pictures. I was as helpful as possible, and explained to them the about the incident in Chicago, and the context of those pictures."


That should do it, right?  Artistic expression.  Freedom to make political comment, even about our guns laws.

Not exactly…


Lassen says the agents started out friendly enough, listening to his explanation that the work was political commentary, but that they soon made him feel "cold as ice." He says they asked him about his psychological history, and for permission to access his medical records. He says they also suggested that he "retract" the pictures.

"After speaking to me," Lassen wrote, "they asked to interview my boss. They also asked me to help put them in touch with my wife, who was out of town - they would need to interview her also. They also mentioned the possibility of interviewing members of my family... my mother in particular. I’ll admit it. I was very freaked out. The first thing I did when I got back to my desk was delete the pictures from Flikr. Then I deleted my LiveJournal account, because in it, I talk a lot about politics, and how unhappy I am with the Bush regime."


Perhaps rather than folding he might have called the ACLU or something?

Some columns here evince a bit of dissatisfaction with the current crew in power.  Time to worry?  No.  This site is "under the radar" with only 12,000 readers each month, and much of the content is pretty pictures.  Small potatoes.  And my two ex-wives are long gone, and my mother passed away years ago, and I'm retired so there's no boss to call.  What are they going to do, harass my surly housecat, Harriet?  And there's nothing on guns and Bush, so far.

Not to worry.

Who should worry?

There's the woman mentioned mid-week in the CURSOR.ORG roundup of news stories:


A Kentucky newspaper reports on a speech by a mother who lost a son in Iraq, in which she "ridiculed Bush for saying that it's 'hard work' comforting the widow of a soldier who's been killed in Iraq," and read from a letter she sent to Bush that said, "Beating a political stake in your black heart will be the fulfillment of my life ..."


That snippet isn't the half of it.  She said more –


"Hard work is seeing your son's murder on CNN one Sunday evening while you're enjoying the last supper you'll ever truly enjoy again. Hard work is having three military officers come to your house a few hours later to confirm the aforementioned murder of your son, your first-born, your kind and gentle sweet baby. Hard work is burying your child 46 days before his 25th birthday. Hard work is holding your other three children as they lower the body of their big (brother) into the ground. Hard work is not jumping in the grave with him and having the earth cover you both."

"We're watching you very carefully and we're going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people."


Not nice, but she's from Vacaville, out here in California.  We all know about California.  And she is president of Gold Star Families for Peace, and any organization whose name ends in "for Peace" is kind of hippy-sixties, right?

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, wonders what the chances are that she gets a visit tomorrow from two secret service agents.

Pretty slim.  That would look real bad, harassing a grieving mom, and there are enough other ways to marginalize her.

My friend the business school guru suggests I not worry about what is on my site, but what he sees in emails I send my friends.  I do have contacts in the aerospace industry, as I worked in the world for decades, and contacts in the military at fairly high rank, and, yes, I was once related by marriage to someone near the top of the Defense Department and have done the Pentagon thing.  One hears things.

But I don't publish those things.  And I won't.

Still, the Patriot Act has not been much changed yet, nor most provisions allowed to expire, so all email from anyone to anyone can be monitored by the government without any warrant at any time for any reason, or no particular reason.  Luckily, the data mining software they designed, or commissioned really, to track everyone's email coast to coast, and internationally, is crap - it just doesn't work.  Yet.  I forget who has the contract.

And last week, Monday, the Supreme Court refused to take up the matter of the president claiming the right to declare any US citizen an "enemy combatant" - even one born here and living here - and to arrest that person even on US soil, jail that person without charges, for as long as he wants, incommunicado, without legal recourse at all.  The court is not going to touch that.  There's a war on, remember?

But I'm not worried.  Worse case?  I could be a test case - the one "enemy combatant" case that does get taken up by these SCOTUS folks.  It'd be fun.  And my Wall Street attorney friend could try out his fourth amendment chops - and do some barrister work, not this solicitor crap.  Ah, but he's not my other friend has been admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court.  My Wall Street attorney friend would have to fill out lots of paperwork.

And curiously enough, something for a later issue, I came across some right-side stuff about original intent and the constitution.  The new idea?  We need to follow what the framers intended - and since the Bill of Rights consists of "amendments" one to ten, that stuff is not actually part of the document.  This press freedom stuff and establishing no state religion are NOT part of the constitution, really. T hey are an "add on" so to speak.  It's an interesting argument.  How would the late Peter Rodino respond?

My business school guru responds:


"Luckily, the data mining software they designed, or commissioned really, to track everyone's email coast to coast, and internationally, is crap - it just doesn't work."
Without knowing the contractor, smart money says any corporate entity capable of winning the bid would fail at the design stage because the work typically starts at the end-point and works back to the data, instead of starting at the point of fine granularity and working outwards. You see, the latter requires hard manual work and automates only what's proven to work in manual beta testing; the former begins with automation and trusts programming to create solutions.

So yes, the results don't work time and again.

"The court is not going to touch that. There's a war on, remember?"

Yeah - the war between the Republican Party and the constitution!

"The new idea? We need to follow what the framers intended - and since the Bill of Rights consists of "amendments" one to ten, that stuff is not actually part of the document."

Interesting? OK - literal interpretations of the bible set the stage for literal translation of 18th century political context, for Americans deserve the PURE-itan life of our forefathers. Back to the days before Crapper set the stage for indoor plumbing or Ford created a life for a "middle" folks in America via automation. These are evils we need to erase (hey, they demonstrate potential for a concept called evolution, we can't have that in our children's heads). We must devolve all the evils brought about over the centuries where we allowed science to define our state of progress. Change doesn't happen? Not here. Why the wording of the Patriot Act shows that we always get everything right the very first time we draft it. Nothing need change (China and Arab nations will surely stand still while we do!)

OK America, swallow this... along with 2 aspirin... and see what the world looks like when you wake tomorrow...

Sucker!  Goodbye American Pie!


I think I upset him.

Now on this software thing - "…the bid would fail at the design stage because the work typically starts at the end-point and works back to the data, instead of starting at the point of fine granularity and working outwards."

Been there, done that. When I worked at Computer Science Corporation (CSC) - and I still have friend who work for them - the whole problem was always what my business school friend says.  Some sales slime had sold a systems solution and turned to the programmers to save his ass - but he had no clue what could be done, or needed to be done, only his hazy "vision" of what the ideal end-state would be.  At CSC I used to teach business process reengineering - and that had nothing to do with programming.  You sat down with those who did the work and charted out just what the job was - tasks and what came in and what when out, and for whom and for what reason.  You built a representation - usually a big flow chart - of what the hell you were actually doing and why - and all the systems crap came later.  Lots of stuff didn't need automated, just rationalized.  Programming code was not needed.  But few folks do that.  Mostly - particularly up in Canada at a locomotive plant where I managed a systems shop - you got line guys saying, "Wouldn't it be neat if we had a system that did X, or Y, or Z?"  Yeah, but why?  My friends and I remember a warehouse pick-list system we were working on - melding a vendor Visual Basic warehouse system to the in-house mainframe MRP system with the idea somehow the right parts would get to the shop floor like magic.  I remember presenting the prototype, and head of production saying, well, it does what we asked, but it's really not what we wanted.  Huh?

Well, I've left that world.  I don't miss it.

As for the constitution business – my friend touches on something interesting.  Is the key conflict today between literalists and those more flexible and, perhaps, metaphoric? Is a conservative always attempting "fix in time" a truth, and a liberal bent on "dislocation" and flux to see what can be done?

From the business school fellow –


The software design dilemma we both recognize is one reason I find value in teaching info-driven marketing to smart people who someday may control tons of assets - the notion of implanting (or at best exposing) rational solutions thinking BEFORE they become entrapped in the mind-think of their professional cultures!

On the constitutional topic - I'm glad you saw through my tirade to the fundamental issues of fundamentalism versus relativism. Now here's an ironic thought for you: Here we have neo-cons who don't want to recognize evolution, yet Darwin would predict that if we're patient, that in time (like the Shakers) neo-cons themselves will die out! (Of course Shakers die out for a much more simplistic biologic truth than evolution, even. But you get the gist of my parallel thinking.)


I get the gist, but I'm not that patient.

And from one of my CSC friends at the locomotive plant?


Not much has changed since you left. Actually what you just described is summed up in the one Dilbert cartoon hanging in my cube...

Dilbert: "I'll design the system as soon as you give me the user requirements."
Project requestor: "Better yet... you could build the system, then I'll tell your boss that it doesn't meet my needs."
Dilbert: "I don't mean to frighten you, but you'll have to do some actual work."
Project requestor: "That's crazy talk."


As my business school friend says, "Dilbert wouldn't be in business if it weren't so!"

To sum up?

Dissent is becoming dangerous.  Fundamentalists are everywhere.  And they cannot track us all because they cannot build the tools to do it.

Freedom is sometimes not won, but inadvertently handed to you by the general incompetence of those who would limit you.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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