Snow? What snow?

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Maybe it is because I grew up in Toronto, where we could get several feet of snow in a winter, maybe it is because my mother made me put on my snowsuit and boots and walk to school. Maybe it was the nature of the times. Regardless, compared to today, I would like to think we as a society were hardier than we are now.  Dare I say we have become weather wimps?

On Tuesday, we had a forecast that predicted we would get between 5 and 8 inches of snow in the region. And the forecasters, as a group, were certain that we would get at least five inches. They said we could take it to the bank. Everyone would get at least this much snow. It would start around 8 AM and be heaviest by noon, tapering off by midnight. Reports around my office in Herndon at noon were saying there was as much as six inches on the ground, roads were slippery and people should stay home. In preparation for this, the Federal Government closed, schools closed, and people huddled together as if tanks were patrolling the streets looking for radicals.  Oh, and it was going to be cold. Single digit wind chills.

I remember a picture from the 1970s.  I might have been 7 or 8, it is hard to tell, and I am bundled up in my blue snowsuit.  The driveway in front of the house is clear and there are piles of snow more than five feet high behind me.  I remember digging tunnels in the snow because it was so high.  There are several of these pictures from different years.  I have strong memories of walking to school in the snow, cursing under my breath about those who could not be bothered to shovel their sidewalks as I trudged through them, snow up to my knees.  And yes, it was uphill, one way.  And I was not older than 13, because I went to a boarding school when I was 13. I walked to school, about a half a mile, through rain, snow, and heat.  Oh, and wind chill.

The morning after

The morning after

Today, Thursday, is the third weather related closure of the schools in Northern Virginia, with only a couple of exceptions. I supposed you could argue that the side streets are too slippery for the buses to safely negotiate. You could argue that it is too cold for the poor little children to stand waiting for that same school bus. I am not sure I believe either. Yes, it is cold. Officially it is supposed to be -2 before you add in the wind chill. I am not sure I believe that temperature as most of the outside thermometers were considerably above that and there is not much wind.  Most of the side streets are really not that bad, certainly negotiable by garbage trucks, and Priuses alike, even the hills, which the buses do not go down. So I am not particularly sure what the reason for closing the schools is. Perhaps it is as simple as people just not having the right clothes?

In 2014, I would have expected that the ability to get children to school, safely, and in most types of weather would have improved over my slogging up a hill in the snow. Clearly, it has not only not improved, but has gotten considerably worse. We bus our children from across the street to the school door (or drive them an equally short distance) and then bemoan the fact that they are overweight.  We complain about lousy traffic, yet fail to properly equip our cars for winter driving by making sure our windshield washer fluid is full and we have sunglasses at the ready for glare. Is it any wonder that when a real disaster strikes, people throw up their hands and demand the government help them? Especially when it is clear they cannot even handle a little snow.

If you wondered, is the US a Police State? The answer is – yes.

Over the last few months, the citizens, residents, and visitors to the United States have been regaled with stories of how the Government of the United States has been invading their privacy, opening their mail, listening to their phone calls, and generally monitoring their daily lives.  Of course, this is all in the name of security and to protect the public from the bad guys.

Up to this point in time, the revelations have been about how the National Security Administration are capturing your metadata, but not actually listening to your calls or reading your mail in real-time – they claim. But we have always suspected that other aspects of our life were under scrutiny.

Today, we got our answer:

The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information. (New York Times)

What starches my socks is not that the TSA is doing this.  We pretty much knew they were doing this, even if we did not know they were doing this. No, what really galls me is that the TSA has a new program, called TSA Pre, which:

…allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.

And to get this benefit, you have to fill out an on-line application, have an in-person interview and, most importantly, pay the TSA for the privilege every five years!  Currently the fee is $85.  Now some frequent flyer programs include this in the ticket price, but for the average Joe Flyer, you are on the hook.  Yet the TSA is already doing a complete scan before you board for free!  OK, so it is not really free.  I have already paid for it with my taxes, fees, and other departure costs rolled into the ticket.

So what is the point?  Already, the United States has more secure screening processes in place, compared to the rest of the world.  I can leave my shoes and belt on in Europe and Canada.  The x-ray machines can already pick out my laptop.  And frankly the screening outside the US is much better than what the TSA is doing.  So why should I be paying the TSA?  They already know more about me than I do.  I have already paid the fee, several times over, and they already have done the in-person interview, every single time I fly.

I am opposed to the police state the United States has become.  There are a number of reasons for this. But to charge the flying public to go through security is really taking the cake. As the saying goes: There’s a sucker born every minute. Clearly the American public is the sucker, and their own government is taking advantage.

Congress Has One Job

onejobThe Congress of the United States, the House of Representatives in particular, has one job, spelled out in the Constitution.

In Section 7 of the Constitution:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

And Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

So, it is the House of Representatives sole job to allocate the resources that allows the government to function.  This is everything from keeping the lights turned on to keeping the web sites operational and more importantly, serving the American people. And they have failed.

The Affordable Care Act, which the Tea Party is holding the country over a barrel for, is a flawed law. It has issues, bugs, and serious problems. And frankly, I do not think it will do what it was designed to do.  It is not Universal Health Care as it is known in Canada or the EU.  It is not a panacea. But at the moment, it is the law, and the Tea Party does not have the votes to repeal it.  You would think that after more than 40 attempts at repealing the law they would get the message, but clearly they have not. And the Republican leadership is certainly not doing their job, which is leading. Instead they have caved and are following the lemmings over the cliff and taking the rest of the nation with them.

Congress has one job.  And it cannot even manage to do that effectively.  Again.

Srsly?

If you have been following along with me for any period of time, you know that I have a thing about language.  And not only language but formal use of language. And a few people will tell you that I cannot spell to save my life (thank goodness for the red wavy line).  That being said, when I get an email like this, I cringe:

BABE… i guess your not getting any of my email huh? ive been tryign to email u so many times but this dam laptop is such a piece of garbage and keeps freezing.. anyways how u been?

Of course, it is a spam message. At the bottom of a very long, almost unreadable, 1000 word message is a come on link that I assure you, you do not want to click. It is a typical example of this sort of thing, but what really surprises me is how bad the language is.  Not just the random capitalization (and lack there of) and the slang shortcuts but just bad English. It concerns me that someone thinks this is the right way to to send mail. And since they have sent it, that people might actually write and talk this way!  If this is the future of the English language, I have a very dim view of the next generation.
Not to mention the spammers.

On Snowden

Whether or not you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain, he is getting the politicians to say a number of interesting things.  Take for instance, this blurb from Paul Ryan (R-WI) that was replayed on the CBC news on Monday evening:

If we are not able to convince our allies or other countries to help us with this, that doesn’t speak very well to how we are being viewed in the world, it does speak well to our credibility.

Let me highlight one part of this: …it does not speak well to our credibility.  What Mr. Ryan does not understand, or at least does not seem to grasp, is that the credibility of the United States is pretty much a joke in the rest of the world.  And the Snowden leaks are only the latest example of why the United States is the butt of the world’s jokes.

There have been several reports, reported by the BBC, and the CBC, but surprisingly not by any US news outlet of how trade with the EU and the United States is in rough shape because of US policies, public or not, on issues like transparency of government, crime and punishment, climate and environmental issues,  and of course, privacy.  The Snowden revelations are only the latest bit of glass being thrown into the international communities eyes.

This is a global economy.  Information is, for the most part, is available with a few key strokes, not just the unclassified, but much of the so called classified information, if you have the time and patience to sort through the minutia to find it.  Big data sifting can be done with almost any server today, so if you want to know what is going on, it is not hard to find out.

Yet there are many in the United States that do not want to know what is going on and see all of this as a great blow to the efforts and image of the United States.  To these individuals, Mr. Ryan included, I say this.  The image of the United States was irreparably damaged when the United States invaded a sovereign nation with little more provocation that they might have had weapons of mass destruction, and, having found nothing, did not so much as say sorry. Further, has left the country in worse shape economically and socially than when they invaded it.  And that is only one of many events I can point at.

I cannot help but laugh at the politicians and other pundits that are worried about the credibility of the United States.  You should worry more about other, more critical things.  This one is a tempest in a tea pot, designed to distract from the fact that these same politicians are the same ones that allowed the NSA to do this in the first place.

The NSA is listening – quelle surprise!

Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. (Washington Post)

I am trying hard not to laugh. No really, I am. Someone, and I am not sure who, has suddenly decided to release (sorry, a document was leaked) information that via FISA, under the Patriot Act, the National Surveillance Agency is listening to phone calls made by Americans, to Americans, within the United States, as well as filtering ISP pipes, social media sites and reading your email. What I find funny is the absurd level of outrage being vented by Congress (who knew all along about this) and the American public, who, despite having a short memory about things, should know better by now that the United States is one nation under surveillance.  And this is all to protect us from terrorists. Whatever that means.

If you find this offensive, well, the horses are well gone and the barn has burned down, the ashes already scattered to the four winds.  If you find this offensive, it really is too late to do much about it.

But if you want to keep most of your traffic safe, use encryption.  At least that way you are not publishing everything on a postcard and they have to at least work at it.

Feel free to use my PGP key for any correspondence.  The fingerprint is: 2428 CE82 2E0C E6B7 E1E3 8D84 85BD BF93 B6CF CE1B

 

Inconceivable! I do not think you know what this word means.

The quote, from the movie The Princess Bride was uttered after several, so called inconceivable events had occurred.  I had similar thoughts this morning when I read in USA today, this quote by Mohammad Umma:

I see the US government allowed the Web to spread this link all over the world without limiting freedom, without banning it…America tells us they are the country of freedom, democracy, and tolerance…

The link he is referring too is a short video that apparently paints the Islamic prophet Mohammed in a vulgar, insulting manner, which, as we all know by now is a no no, at least if you are the least bit Islamic.  I have not seen the video, nor do I really care about the video.  But I need to point out to Mr. Umma that he might want to pick up a copy of a dictionary since he clearly has some misconceptions about what  freedom, democracy, and tolerance mean.  One thing it does not mean is that the government, or anyone else on the Internet, would ban or otherwise impinge on the distribution of any link, video, document, or picture, regardless of who it made fun of, up to and including her own President.  In fact there is a small cottage industry devoted to mocking the President, various religions, and radical groups out to better the world.  To think that the United States would block the distribution of a video mocking Mohammed is in fact counter to all of the foundations of the words democratic and free.

If you put yourself on the public stage, you are going to be subject to ridicule.  If you do not wish this, you have two options: 1) Get off the stage, or 2) Get a better message.  Clearly Mr. Umma, and others of his ilk do not like those options because they have chosen what is behind door number 3: Violence.  And unfortunately for Mr. Umma, and the band of thugs that follow this path, it only puts them forward on the public stage, and subjects them to yet more, well deserved ridicule.  Inconceivable! 

Conservatives threaten to move to Canada following the SCOTUS Upholding the US Health Care Law

I am Canadian.  I am not going to discuss the merits of the United States Health Care law.  There are enough people talking about it.  But I am going to bring up one interesting point that I found in an article on yahoo.

An alarming number of Twitter users, Buzzfeed noted, declared their intent to move to Canada

It should be noted, in the context of the article, that this group of individuals threatening to invade Canada are those who were opposed to the health care law.  As George Carlin might say, these people seem to be of a group that left their brains at home, or did not have a lot to work with to begin with.  Canada has, at the provincial level, mandated health care.  Each province handles it differently.  In Ontario, where I grew up, it is a payroll tax that covers the payments for medical needs.

Fortunately, most of these conservatives will find that living in Canada is much harsher than the cushy life they are enjoying in the United States.  For example, there is a lovely tax, called the Harmonized GST.  That is a combined provincial and federal tax on good.  And it is very inexpensive. Only 14%, down from I believe 16% before it was harmonized and the carbon tax removed.  If they move to Toronto, they will have to sort their garbage, carry their own bags (Toronto has enacted legislation to ban single use bags, like the ones you get in grocery stores) and pay restaurant tax, provincial income tax, federal income tax and if I read the story right, TTC tax (a percentage of the residential tax in Toronto goes to funding the Toronto Transit Commission.  That amount went up, and thus, property taxes are going up).

So be my guest.  Welcome to Canada.  Please leave a credit card on file with Revenue Canada so we can more easily collect what you owe.