Thoughts about watching old movies

If you are a fan of older horror movies, this is probably your favorite time of year. The time leading up to Halloween has become the period when the cable movie channels insert the older horror movies into their schedule. If you are in your 60s you probably have seen all these before but if you are in your 60s you probably haven’t seen some in more than 30 years and the last time you saw them you were seeing worn out prints.  With digitization many of those movies are available on clean restored prints.

One of the oldest and strangest movies I saw recently is ‘Vampyr’ (also called ‘Vampire: the Dream of Allan Grey’). This is a German movie made in 1930 but not released until 1932. It was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer who is well known for the ‘Passion of Joan of Arc’. The movie was filmed in the style of silent movies and it had title cards to explain parts of the story. There was dialog dubbed in but the effect is of a silent movie. The story is about what Alan sees and later dreams as he is led by shadows from the inn in which he is spending the night to a castle and then a manor. A young woman is slowly being drained by a vampire. Alan discovers this and tries to stop it.

If you are familiar with silent movies you would probably enjoy this. If you are a fan of modern vampire movies, I don’t think you would know what to make of this. It is slow moving and ambiguous. It was a flop when it was released, I doubt audiences were as familiar with the horror genre as we are today. Many modern reviewers praise it.  I found it visually striking.  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys antique horror movies.

Another older movie I saw recently is ‘I Walked With A Zombie’. This is a ‘B’ movie whose odd title probably explains some of the strange reviews (‘B’ movies are movies designed to be part of double bills, they were made quickly, they were usually genre films that could find an easy audience). It is the story of a nurse who is hired by a sugar plantation owner to take care of his ill wife.

When she goes into town she hears a calypso singer and she discovers through this songs that something happened between the owner and his brother that resulted in the near death of the owner’s wife.  Most of the islanders are of African ancestry and have their own folk beliefs about voodoo (very much Hollywoodized in a not very pc way). If you are expecting zombie flesh eaters you are out of luck here. It is a story of romance and tragedy. The style is old fashioned and the acting can seem corny to modern viewers.

The producer was Val Lewton. This was his follow up to Cat People. This is classed as horror but it isn’t horror as we would know it today.  It is more of a mystery. Oddly given how highly Lewton’s movies are thought of today, he was hired to make cheap short movies that would make an easy profit.  This movie makes fine use of the young nurse’s unfamiliarity with the world and culture of the island she is now living on. Certainly viewers of the time would be pleased by the run up to the ending which leaves us in the dark  as to whether the death of the lovers was from voodoo or from natural causes.

Contemporary reviews were strange. I wonder if the NY Times reviewer even saw movie, he seems to be reviewing the concept of the movie. Perhaps he saw it on a double bill and snoozed through it.

Would younger viewers like these and other ‘classics’?  I don’t know. In one review of ‘Cat People’, Roger Ebert wondered if these were too quiet for today’s viewer.   If you need red blood to have fun, stay away, but if atmospheric story telling works for you this is a movie you should see.


Posted in Old Movies, wierd stuff | Comments Off on Thoughts about watching old movies

Fairness – left and right

After the government shutdown there has been talk that both sides must compromise. Of course that will probably happen since the system that balances power has been gamed to make the Republicans in the House more powerful than their real numbers. The Democrats will try to stop the Republicans to win in budget negotiations what that haven’t won at the ballot box.

The Republicans have only 2 ideas today: oppose Obama and keep the tax cuts of the last generation permanent. There is no justification in terms of policy behind the blanket opposition of Obama. He isn’t a socialist. He is not even left of center. Only in the US are corporate oriented politicians like Obama or Clinton regarded as a leftist. In Europe he would be considered right of center. There more justification for keeping the tax cuts. The economy is still weak. Our ‘recovery’ has been a jobless one and many of the jobs that are available are low paid jobs.

In the coverage of the budget crisis, the press has tried to split the difference without considering if both sides hold an equal portion of the truth. The roots of the budget problem arose with the Bush era tax cuts (one can make an argument that they arose during the Reagan administration but I won’t go that far). One practical justification for the tax cuts was to make sure the government didn’t take in too much money in a time of surplus. That surplus was short lived. Once the US went to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq that surplus was over. Normally when one goes to war on increases taxes, lowering them is unheard of. The wars have ended up being one of the largest unfunded mandate we have.

With the last recession, as expected, tax receipts plummeted and short term deficits rose. The GOP has made the quick reduction of the deficits their banner issue but they point their fingers at the wrong culprit. There was a looming issue with the baby boomers reaching retirement but that has nothing to do with the current budget deficit at all. The combined Bush tax cuts, the economic collapse and the underfunded wars must be considered as the prime causes of our budget problem. We need to pay for the mess, not use the mess as a justification to destroy necessary programs.

One Republican idea is that any future tax increase must be even across society. That does seem logical until one realizes that the previous tax cuts weren’t even across society and that income increases in the last generation have been skewed towards the top.

We are now in an era of faith based politics, and I don’t mean religious faith. At all levels of government efforts were made to reduce government spending and reduce associated taxes. The idea was that this reduction would lead to an increased level of tax collections. All of this is based on a misunderstanding of the Kennedy era tax cuts. Taxes in the US were much higher in 1960 than they are today. The reason for those taxes, the high cost of WWII, no longer existed. The boom in the US economy of the 1950’s meant that we could turn down the tax collection spigot. By the 1980’s federal taxes were no longer high and were no longer depressing growth.

In states like MN, where I live, taxes were cut during the Ventura administration mostly by adding rebates. That didn’t lead to an era of higher prosperity and it recent years has lead to difficult budget cuts. In recent years a Democratic governor and legislature has started to reverse that trend, but much damage has been done. Cuts in state aid to towns have forced increases in local property taxes particularly in rural areas. In states like Texas the GOP is still going forward with cuts. Just this year they have decreased business taxes while they are decreasing school funding and road repair (a typical Texas solution has been to convert some paved roads to unpaved status and lower speed limits).

We have had a decade or more of forced government cuts at all levels of society. The magical growth that was supposed to occur has not occurred. We need to re-assess our needs and start rebuilding services where they have been cut and increase taxes to pay for what we need.

Posted in Economic policy, politics, Post election | Comments Off on Fairness – left and right

Sometimes the GOP is right, almost.

Sometimes the GOP is right, almost.  We are spending too much on a government program initiated to cover an emergency but which ended up having a life of its own.  The program I am talking about is the large standing army we have (and my army I mean the entire military not just the ‘army’).   Before World War II the US army was small, ranking 17th in the world in size.  During the pre-war period the US was not under many direct threats. Our border with Canada was peaceful.   The revolution in Mexico was over by 1920 and there wasn’t any danger of a Mexican attack on the US.  The problem with Mexico was not attacks by Mexico but Mexicans often fleeing an unstable or poor country.

The US military was already increasing in size before the start of WWII as a result of the Selective Service act of 1940.  I understand why the US fought in WWII, I don’t think there would have been any way to avoid it.  I also understand why we kept up the military at the end of the 1940s.  By the mid 1950s, once Stalin was dead and Europe and Japan started to recover those who really ran the US knew that the threat of a full scale war was decreasing.  Eisenhower knew how few missiles the Soviets. Unfortunately Eisenhower seemed not to trust the intelligence he had and kept going for more. Hence the disastrous U-2 flight with Francis Gary Powers and a reversal in what appeared to be improving US-Soviet relations.

I am sure everyone knows the sorry history of the Vietnam war.  The US was still enamored with the Domino theory and felt it needed to stop the world-wide spread of communism.  That was a fun waste of 50,000+ lives.

Except for the first Gulf War, our military history since then is a series of small skirmishes that did little and larger skirmishes that did little good.   Does anyone at this point have anything good to say about the Iraq War?

At this point the US has an enviable security position.  We have no immediate enemies on our doorstep.  The wars we fought in  1918 and in the 1940’s are truly over.  We have good relations with our former enemies.   There is no international power who would even think of attacking the US in a conventional sense.  Most of our current threats aren’t something one needs a very large military to address.  The only serious threats, and by that I mean Iran and North Korea, aren’t local.  Iran only has power against us because it can attack US military personnel based in the region. It has helped fund Iraqi Shiite militias. It seems to even fund some al Qaeda operatives in the region.  If we weren’t in the region we could not be easily attacked. North Korea is a bit of a wild card, but as far a launching a large scale attack against the US, that is impossible.  It has a large army and would be a formidable country to attack but it has very well armed and wealthy neighbors in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Those countries hardly need the US to protect them.

Does anyone know why we need such a large army these days?  Isn’t it a perfect target to reduce this massive government program that wastes billions every year?

Posted in military, politics, security | Comments Off on Sometimes the GOP is right, almost.

Syria? What are we thinking?

One wonders what our leaders in Washington are thinking these days?   Why are we attacking Syria over chemical weapons?  Since when is Syria a threat to the US?  Yes, it is a threat to Israel, but that shouldn’t make it our issue.  The Syrian government is brutal and nasty, but they’ve been killing rebels for years.  I hate to put it this way but but killing civilians with bombs is just as bad as killing them with chemicals. We have no interests in Syria. The Syrian opposition is almost as vile as the government (and they would be as vile if they had the resources).

I wonder if Obama has any concept of foreign policy. Is this civil war destabilizing the region? Not really, at least not any more than all the other messes going on right now (see: Yemen, Libya, Egypt etc.). The key word is region. Syria is surrounded with well armed nations: Israel, Turkey, Iran, Egypt. I don’t see the mess spreading in those countries. Our foreign policy should be about our interests, I don’t see anything here that is in our interest.

The Gulf states (in particular Saudi Arabia) are pushing for action. The Gulf Arab states are wealthy. If they wish to buy bombs and guns, let us sell them some, but let them kill the Syrians not us. 

Posted in politics, security | 4 Comments

We have become the Germans

No, not the modern efficient pacifists, but the martial tribe who felt that military might was the way to run foreign policy.

A few days ago my wife and I were watching a PBS show about a bombing raid against London on December 29th 1940.  It was one of the largest if not the largest.  There wasn’t anything I was completely unfamiliar with. I’ve read British novels about the WWII in which the firefighters are described as modern novelists (in this real story there are 2 firefighters tackling a bad fire together, one is a novelist and one an artist).  I’ve seen descriptions of ordinary nightlife going on while the bombs were dropping (in the fictional world it is at a club, here it is at the Savoy hotel).  What I had never done was consider these events as if they were happening in real time to real people.  In a comic novel these scenes are funny, especially to an American reader who has never seen a real war.  Here most of a family is killed in shelter by a single bomb.  There a troop of men keep St. Paul’s safe.  In another place two foreign correspondents are trying to cross London and get back to their hotels.  London should have been destroyed by the second wave, but a change in weather prevented that and allowed the firefighters to win the battle.

The US wars haven’t done anything quite as dramatic as the blitz.  In 1940 the Germans were  purposely trying to kill civilians.  The US claims it civilian deaths are all collateral damage, but damage is only collateral if it isn’t your family and friends.

Does anyone today remember that the German strategy was ineffective?  They killed upwards of 40,000 people but they didn’t destroy the country or cause the British to sue for peace.

Since the first Gulf War the US had had a policy of projecting power as part of its foreign policy.  Has it been successful at all?  Well, we did get Bin Laden, but did we need to run a decade long war in Afghanistan to get him and now that BL is toast, why are we still there?  In Iraq we made Iraq safe for Iranians, that was hardly our goal.

We have forgotten why WWII was successful.  It had a simple goal, to move the German military out of Western Europe.  It was different in the East. There wasn’t clear Eastern strategy when the war started because when it started in Poland, Germany and USSR were still allies.  The desire to minimize US casualties meant that the Soviets were the ones who made war on Germany in the East and that gave them a lot of power at the end of the war (it was Russian soldiers who died taking Berlin, not Americans) So, the Eastern portion of Europe was under Soviet domination.  There was no way for the US and its allies to stop it.  Luckily for us, it only took 45 years for the Soviet Union to collapse and for Eastern Europe to get self-government back.  The Reaganites always claim that the rise in US military expenses caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they never discuss the steep drop in oil prices as being a large part of it.

With WWII the US went to war reluctantly.  While not a purely defensive war,  it was mostly a defensive one for us.  Our current wars are different. We aren’t going to war reluctantly.  With Iraq a case was created through fraud and lies. Afghanistan was different. It wasn’t fraud but it was foolishness.  More foolish once one realizes that our ally Pakistan was hosting Bin Laden for all those years (does anyone believe the intelligence services didn’t know where Bin Laden was all that time?).   What was the point of putting troops in Afghanistan, what was the goal then and what is the goal now?

We now have an open-ended war with shifting targets.  Yemeni jihadis are now being targeted.  Nobody would deny their hatred for the US, but in what universe are they a real threat?   Would they even exist as a threat to American if we weren’t sending in drones?

How is this policy of never ending war any different from Germany in the 1940’s?  We also share the same arrogant belief that we are better than our enemies. The Germans thought the English were weak and would surrender quickly, they also thought Americans wouldn’t fight.

Our enemies will fight. They have no choice since we are attacking them at home. What did we expect the results of our actions to be?  There is no way to ever bring peace back without an acknowledgment of how our own policies have created a permanent war.

The only way to bring peace is to stop projecting power.


Posted in military, politics | 2 Comments

Guns, Killing and Male Bravado

Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of a felony.  Many people are blaming racism, and there is little doubt that George Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because he was a young black male, but other factors are involved in why Martin died. We have a culture that now encourages people to carry guns for personal protection.  One would be only slightly off to refer to the Republican platform as guns and Jesus.  We also have old fashioned male bravado.  Racism existed for both parties, Zimmerman was a racist, but so was Trayvon.  If one can belief testimony in court, Trayvon Martin referred to Zimmerman as a ‘creepy-ass cracker’. 

I’ve been a young man who looked suspicious when out at night.  When I worked for the US Census Bureau over 30 years ago as a field interviewer, I worked mostly in the evenings.  I ran into civilian patrols (never in truly dangerous neighborhoods by the way).   People reported my presence to the police (even though my car had a US Census Bureau card prominently in the window).  In almost all cases the police were professional and many times they were quite pleasant to talk too, it probably helped when I showed my Id badge.  When I was young I used to take long walks at night and  sometimes long runs.  I’ve had the police stop me and ask me why I was running (was that a trick question?).  I don’t know what I would have done if I encountered someone who kept following me. In the 1970s and early 1980s there were almost no cell phones but today a person being followed can easily call 911.  When I was young I know that I tried to avoid confrontations. If Trayvon really felt he was being followed by a creepy person, why didn’t he call the police?  That is not meant to excuse George Zimmerman, but as a risk averse person, I am always looking for a way out.

The reason why Martin is dead is that people carry guns and feel free to use them with impunity.  If you are on a neighborhood watch you should watch and not act.  Call the police if you see something suspicious.  Don’t get out of your car.  Zimmerman wanted to be a hero instead of letting the police investigate.   If Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, and citizen patrols in NJ during the 1970’s would not have had guns, there would have been no shooting.  Too bad this was Florida with its stand your ground laws.  Stand your ground laws are an invitation to violence. If Zimmerman was required to leave the scene there would have been no shooting.

This isn’t just a racial thing. In Minnesota where I live there was an incident last year involving a man shooting at an intruder. In Rochester Minnesota a man ended up shooting his granddaughter.   She snuck out of the house to see friends and tried to sneak back in.  Luckily nobody was killed.    The grandfather is a pastor of a church. He should have the age and experience to understand the implications of shooting a gun without knowing what your target is.  A noise isn’t always a threat and not all threats should be addressed with lethal force.   

In the US we would be appalled if the police routinely shot criminals in the street without trial.  We don’t live in a war zone.   The right to self-defense is not a license to kill.  George Zimmerman is only not guilty because Florida has created a set of laws that are designed to allow middle class gun owners to shoot without question.

Posted in Gun violence, politics | Comments Off on Guns, Killing and Male Bravado

School Reform

I have been spending a lot of time in the last few months reading about the school reform movement.   There is a common understanding in the US that our school system is failing.  That begs the question as to what one means about school system in a country that doesn’t have a national curriculum and that has 50 independent state systems (and those state systems aren’t one system per state either, in a state like NJ each city has its own education system subject to state guidelines).   Anyone looking at data would probably alter that statement and say that many suburban schools are doing fine, but large urban schools systems are not. The question for the public is how to fix them and how much it will cost. In NJ people are suffering from very high property taxes and the cost of schools is an issue.   If we can cut cost, so be it, if not we need to find a way to generate more tax income from other than house prices.

Even though I didn’t pay that much attention to it when it was proposed, I was familiar with the “no child left behind” regime.  Given where it came from, Texas, and who proposed it, George Bush, I was skeptical of its value (Texas is not a high performing state).  The premise of NCLB is that the teacher is the biggest problem with performance and by testing the students we can locate underperforming schools and underperforming teachers. 

The Some time ago, I saw a program on NPR about Michelle Rhee and her experiences as chancellor of the D.C public school system.   Michelle Rhee was the poster child for school reform for quite a while but quite a bit of luster has been removed from her halo recently once it was revealed that test scores for her school system were faked.  Diane Ravitch, a well known education historian has both written and spoken quite a bit about Rhee and the reasons for her failure.   Ravitch used to be on the conservative side but is now soundly in the liberal camp.  (The word conservative and liberal aren’t quite accurate since so many reformers are Democrats, but the money behind the reform movement comes from big business controlled foundations.) 

If I might summarize Diane Ravitch’s arguments they are fourfold. 1.  Imposition of a high stakes testing regime creates a temptation to cheat.  2.  The idea that US schools are routinely bad and that they are getting worse is not demonstrated by data, in fact US schools have been improving over time.   The international testing shows little since the US has never been a high performer on international tests.  3.  Entrenched poverty has far more to do with poor education results than any other factor including having bad teachers.  4. The idea that bright people can come in an make more of  a difference than experienced teachers has no basis in fact.

I would mostly agree with Ravitch, in particular her criticisms of reformers like Rhee and her distaste for dilettante efforts like “Teach for America”.  Where I part company with Ravitch is when she seems to lump all reformers together.  There are basically 2 kinds of reformers. 1. The conservative ones, like the Walton foundation who wish to cut the cost of schools by destroying unions.  So they favor charter schools (non-unionized schools who have cheap teachers and inexperienced teachers). 2. Tech oriented ones, such as Bill Gates, who assume that given the high cost of education, that more use of modern technology can make it cheaper.  Gates favors things the are easily defined, such as mathematics and sciences.  I don’ t know if he even considers the importance of music and the visual arts.  There is also an implicit understanding that the new format school may not produce the same things as the old format school much as new technology changes both the method of production and what is produced. For example, we have books with better picture but cheaper binding than in the distant past.

The Gates foundation favors well trained teachers in larger classes.   What puts both reformers in the same boat is that neither has a tried and tested method of improving education.   I have a lot of sympathy towards Gates’s idea, that if one devotes resources to solving a problem, one can get close to solving it.  The downside is that most initial proposals are crap (anyone ever use windows 1.1).  The other downside is that problems with education are not as easily stated as the requirements of a software application.

Korea, have larger class sizes than other systems that do well  (ie: Finland).   The tech oriented reformers by and large do not have experience as educators.   All of them went to elite colleges, some of them, like Gates, came from wealthy backgrounds and have no personal experience with ‘failing’ schools.  In my own case I went to Catholic schools for my primary and secondary education.  I did go on Saturday’s to the Saturday Junior Art school run by the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. This was a Newark run school so it was subject to  all the ills that the reformers talk about. There was certainly corruption in Newark, at least in the purchasing area.  My experience  at the public school was entirely positive.   This was all going on while Newark was falling apart.   The schools at that time could still teach well. 

My own take on the issue is to be suspicious of the school reformers offering simple answers.  So many of  people involved are simply looking to make a buck.  There is an article  on a few days ago about the cost of providing Ipads in Los Angeles.  E-Textbooks will not be cheaper in the long run than paper books.  The testing proposals seem to be driven by the needs of those who make testing software to have easy to produce and grade tests. 

Where I agree completely with Ravitch is the contempt she has for the high stakes testing movement, that is the idea that teachers are judged by how well their students do on single tests, a single test whose performance is made worse because it doesn’t affect the students grade at all.  I have nothing against having some standardized tests (after all if the US is providing the money they might want to see how the kids are doing).  

There is a pernicious idea that testing and competition by themselves will improve schools.  There seem to be no reform proposals that actually discuss teaching. (I won’t discuss Common Core, since it seems to be a rather amorphous curriculum not something the changes how people teach.)   I haven’t seen an real ideas how to lower costs of education by adding computing technology to the classroom. The only way that will increase effiency is if the class size is increased, something Mike Bloomberg and Bill Gates must be aware of when they proposed it.  I will note that in my own field, web development, all the courses are classroom based very few professional  computer training is via software.  I don’t think I have ever seen a software training class with more than 20 people in it.

We need to decide if we wish to provide an efficient old style education with limited resources or provide more resources appropriate to a more demanding modern curriculum.

Posted in Economic policy, education | Comments Off on School Reform

Cheap Chinese Junk

My wife decided to get another dog earlier this January.  We adopted Molly, a mix breed Lab/Boxer.  When our previous dog, Sierra, died, Shawnne threw away some of her accessories, so we needed to purchase new ones.   As part of  the drill we purchased a number of items: a dog dish, a leash and a longer wire to hold her outside, dog food and treats.  I don’t think the first leash lasted a half our.  Molly is a very strong dog and her first pull broke the retractable leash (rated for a 75 lb dog, our was about 60 lbs).  We shortly afterward purchased another leash.   This one was a step up, rated for 100 lbs.  It lasted a few weeks but still broke. I took it apart and found out the ratchet inside was plastic.  Not fixable.  Even the wires and chains we purchased have been crappy. Our current lead has a clasp that keeps getting stuck.  It isn’t visibly rusted or corroded it just gets stuck.

All of this stuff is made in China. If you want a hint about China and quality one should know that middle-class Chinese try to buy Western made baby formula, Chinese stuff is possible tainted with dangerous adulterants. 

It is a shame.  The original retractable leash we purchased in Sierra was something we just bought, we didn’t think about it.  It lasted over 12 years and was only thrown out because we didn’t have a need for it and didn’t think we would get another dog so quickly.  I don’t think Shawnne and  I even thought about quality when we bought the stuff for Sierra.  Now I have been researching online and see the better quality leashes seem to be made in Germany.   Not everything made in China is crap. I have a 4 year of Olympus camera that has taken thousands of photos without any glitches.  The body is made in China.  I will note that the lens is made in Japan.   But that kind of thing is the exception. It is a premium branded product that has a real guarantee.

My point is that all this search for cheap prices has had a price.  The commodity end of the dog accessories market has really changed.  Who thinks of brand names for dog accessories?   We probably should have just bought the high end leash and we would have been satisfied on day one.  It is just sad that so much mental effort has to be spent on things like dog stuff.  I know that our dog Molly is a particularly challenging dog but hardly any more than other shelter dogs, and she isn’t doing anything to make the clasp on her outdoor chain stick. 

Ok, rant over for today.

After writing this I found a post written last year that says what I am saying in a far better way, but I will stick with my version.  I promise that I didn’t steal anything.

Posted in China, Personal | 1 Comment

Remembrances: photos and family memories.

Yesterday I saw a photo on facebook of one of my relatives, John McKenna (aka Jack) that was posted by his son Steve in remembrance of Father’s Day. Jack was the son of my uncle Frank, my father’s older brother. In the photo he is looking at his grandson. It is amazing how many memories a photo can stir up. I see a bit of uncle Frank in him. I have happy memories from the few times we did meet. At this point they are mostly a collection of images. He spent a bit of time with us when my father died and his presence made a difference at the wake and funeral. The Irish do wakes very well. Neither Jack nor I are 100% Irish but I think this trait/gene is a dominant one. He obviously liked family but our generational differences meant we didn’t have many occasions to meet. The last time I saw him was at a party to celebrate a baptism (not sure who but the party was at Mary Jane’s so it was probably my niece Patty). In any event it was both sad and happy to look at that photo. Sad because I never knew him well and never will now, happy because it is a pleasure to recall the times he spent with my family. Luckily for Steve his father met at least one grandchild.

I have few photos of my father now. I do have some negatives in storage somewhere and if I ever got a film scanner I could digitize them. Since I don’t have children, I never participated in the kinds of family events that people canonize on film. Since I have been an amateur photographer for years, I have taken hundreds of family photos for other peoples canonical events, but few for me. So, I have little to jog my memory. Sometimes the stray TV show will impress itself on me (when I was working away from home and living in hotels, I loved watching the Sopranos, it felt as if I was home again), but little is truly personal.

Some years ago in Brooklyn (was it at a graduation party), I heard my older cousins reminisce about my father and grandfather. They knew my father when my parents still lived in Paterson. They said some nice things about my grandfather, who was in his late 80’s at the time they are talking about. All a vanished world I no longer have any access to.

So, here is my Father’s day, few photos and fading memories.

Posted in family, Personal | Comments Off on Remembrances: photos and family memories.

Getting Upset With Obama

Should we all be upset with Obama and cry in our chosen beverage (which is a beer in my case)?

My initial reaction was to be upset. If I understand it correctly the Obama administration wants to collect phone logs for all calls made by Verizon customers in the US. The news stories made it seem as if all call logs were being requested. Given the amount of traffic Verizon handles, it probably is a large percentage of US traffic but not all of it. If I can trust some of the links I read this has been going on since April of this year.

I am still upset, not quite cry in my beer status, but upset. What annoys me about the coverage is that only the privacy issue is being discussed not the ongoing war on terror and the restrictions on activity that the Patriot Act caused. Is there any reason why we need to identify ourselves on domestic flights? The aircraft captain’s cabin has a locked door, they x-ray us before boarding. Why do they need to know who we are?

In our current society privacy is almost dead. Web pages identify us, or at least they identify where our request is coming from. If you allow cookies (and to use most websites one must allow some form of cookie) the site will remember the ip address. That may not give a name but it will give a rough location. If you actually have a transaction with a website that website would not have a difficult time connecting that ip address with a logged in client.

Big businesses are already data mining (and that isn’t so much an invasion of privacy as a way to use intelligence to get around the barriers that privacy provides us). The news story here is about an effort of the government to do a bit of data mining with phone logs. (The only reason one would need these kinds of logs is for data mining.) The various phone companies have been doing research on handling large datasets for quite some time. I worked for AT&T for 20 years and near the end of my tenure there I read an abstract of a paper about data mining with large flat files (and a phone log is a flatfile and so are web logs). This was in 2000 or 2001. So the phone companies themselves have been working on strategies to mine this data, now the Federal government is getting into the act. It doesn’t matter what one is looking for the techniques are identical. Companies like AT&T were always looking for ways to feed at the government trough. They ran Sandia National Laboratories for 45 years.

I would love to know if any former AT&T or Bell Labs people are working for Booz Allen.

In any event privacy is slowly dying in the private realm. If you look at Google maps at place you know, you can recognize cars parked on the street. Unless you use cash almost all of your transactions could be tracked.

I do offer one cheer for Obama. Like Bill Clinton, he has been a better Republican than the Republicans. He did get Osama bin Laden, and he is probably better at prosecuting the current set of wars than W.

Getting back to security. One wonders what they mean to use the phone logs for. The Russians gave our government the names or names of the Chechen terrorists. Even with advance information, a hot tip, the government was either unwilling or unable to stop them. I am sure the data mining is fun and there is lots of good billable business for fancy contracting firms.

Don’t worry none of this data will actually be put to good use.

Posted in politics, security | Comments Off on Getting Upset With Obama