The Public’s Domain

 

Police employees in Beverly Hills, California, have gotten the clever idea that they can effectively jam a live streaming broadcast of their activities by playing copyrighted music from their phones, thereby causing the automated filters of a platform such as Instagram to shut the video down for copyright infringement. The filters have been around for several years, and they can be either too aggressive or too timid unless monitored by a human being, presumably one with common sense.

RKO Radio Pictures transmitter ident
The RKO Radio Pictures transmitter logo that signaled the beginning of a motion picture from that studio from 1929 to 1957. This image is now in the public domain.

But monitoring and moderating by a human being comes after the fact; to shut down a video in real time, the filters have to be automated and act independently. The police employees have figured this out and are now counting on the filters being set too aggressively so that they can exploit the feature for the purpose of frustrating citizens’ rights to film them as they go about their public duties at the behest and expense of the public. This tangled mess will surely end up in the courts.

Meanwhile, at this time like no other before, technology bestows benefits on those who enjoy listening to radio programs from around the world, whether that involves copyrighted music or not. Internet streaming of radio broadcasts has been around for decades, but never has access been as easy for casual listeners or the choices as broad as they are now. Radio Garden is a Dutch non-profit project that makes picking out a radio station anywhere in the world to listen to as easy as spinning the globe and then jabbing a finger at a green dot somewhere on it. Let police employees everywhere know that they are in the public’s domain, and that copyright – as easy as access to copyrighted works may be – is not theirs to wield as a baton.

— Techly


The first clip here is from the 1963 Blake Edwards film, The Pink Panther. The second clip is from the 1964 film, A Shot in the Dark, also directed by Mr. Edwards. Both films starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

 

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Sing a New Song

White-crownedSparrow-24JAN2017
A white-crowned sparrow in Sacramento, California, in January 2017. Photo by ADJ82.

Researchers studying white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) in the San Francisco area this past spring during California’s coronavirus shutdown found that the males had changed their song, presumably because it was easier for them to make themselves heard on account of the drop in human-caused noise. The birds no longer had to trill high and loud to pierce through the cacophony. The researchers noted that the calmer, quieter environment allowed the males to use a wider range of sounds in their calls, increasing their chances of mating success since the females find the wider range, with more low frequency notes, more appealing. The white-crowned sparrows in the Bay Area benefited from the reduction in human activity, and there have been similar stories from around the world this past year of animals enjoying a world less in conflict with people.


A video from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology of a male white-crowned sparrow singing.


Eaux Claires is a social activist group in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, that also hosts an annual music festival. This video of the singer, Feist, covering the Yusuf/Cat Stevens song “Trouble”, was filmed on November 1, 2020, as part of the group’s efforts to encourage people – particularly young people – to vote in the November 3rd election.

The political events of the past week in the United States herald a calmer, quieter environment to come, one in which everyone can be heard, not just those who tweet the loudest in ALL CAPS on social media, sowing hatred and tumult. Through the majority of their votes, Americans elected to step back from the brink of authoritarianism. While a disturbing number of their fellow citizens voted their support for climate destruction, white supremacy, and a sneering contempt for the rights of women and minorities, thankfully a greater number turned out to vote in favor of progress down the road of reason and empathy, not continuing on a death march. Those voters, many of them young people voting for the first time, have given all of us another chance to sing a new song.


“Oh Very Young”, a 1974 song by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. The haunting backup vocal was performed by Suzanne Lynch.


Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens performs “Oh Very Young” in December 2008.

— Izzy

Song of the white-crowned sparrow as recorded by Jonathan Jongsma for the Xeno-canto Foundation in April 2012 in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, California.

 

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All Lines Are Busy

 

Filing an unemployment claim online is the modern way, and few people bother about calling to file their claim. At least they don’t bother until they reach the last step of filing online when they may be confronted by a request from the unemployment office to call them in order to answer some questions for clarification of their claim. By the way, the claim is not complete and official until the applicant makes that call. *CLICK*

Jobless Men Lined up for the First Time in California to File Claims for Unemployment Compensation - NARA - 7716670 (page 1)
Jobless men lined up for the first time in California in 1936 to file claims for unemployment compensation under the Social Security Act of 1935. Photo for the Social Security Administration by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).

 

Making that call and actually getting through to a live human presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle when tens of thousands of other applicants are trying to do the same thing at the same time, overwhelming a system that was meant to handle only hundreds of calls each day, or maybe a few thousand calls a day at best. Since Department of Labor guidelines for unemployment claims dictate that many, possibly most, applications require follow up questions for clarification, there are now hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of unemployment applicants around the country whose claims have been in limbo for weeks because they cannot get through on the phone to their state’s unemployment agency, at the agency’s request. “We’re sorry we can’t take your call at this time, as all operators are currently busy assisting other applicants. Please try again later.” *CLICK*


In the 1979 PBS television show Previn and the Pittsburgh, Miklós Rózsa conducts a suite from his score for the 1959 film Ben-Hur, performed here by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If you’re going to be on hold with a phone call, you might as well listen to some glorious music, and particularly at this time of year if it’s related to Easter.

 

No one knows exactly how many people are trying to call and not getting through. The online claims are in limbo, and so how would anybody know? The current estimate of approximately 10 million new unemployment claims nationwide is almost certainly a low ball figure. The technology exists for handling such a high volume of online claims and the phone calls they generate, but state governments didn’t want to spend the money for technology and employees that would have been underused most of the time. State officials would have had difficulty selling preparation for the absolute worst case scenario. “The party you have reached is not taking any more calls.” *CLICK*

Rózsa’s “Overture” to Ben-Hur, recorded in 2017 using state of the art technology. For all that, music like this is performed by musicians on instruments that have changed little for centuries. Note the fellow filming the proceedings on a digital video camera no bigger than a tablet computer, which nonetheless delivers excellent optical quality and smooth motion. If you’re stuck at home for days and weeks at a time, it’s nice to have technology like this available as a compensation.

They could have come along part of the way, however, mainly in improving their ability to scale up quickly in response to a crisis. Instead, in some states like Florida, led by Republicans, officials actively undermined the capabilities of agencies, like unemployment offices, which were meant to aid workers. In times of low unemployment the agencies adequately supported the needs of claimants, but as soon as the load increased the system buckled and the agencies’ inadequacies became apparent. “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line to speak to the next available representative.” *CLICK*

Like the infectious disease advisory boards and the equipment and facilities necessary for coping with a pandemic, the state unemployment agencies appeared in quieter, safer times to be unnecessary expenses in the view of the kleptocrats currently occupying public office throughout much of the land. But wiser heads understand these are services that, when you need them, you really need them. Dumbkopfs don’t understand and are unwilling to admit these services can’t be brought up to speed overnight to handle a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. Primarily they don’t care. Trumpkins do understand military defense preparedness, but then that has more to do with maintaining the gravy train of defense contract boondoggles than with the actual requirements for defending our country. They think defending our country means ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and throwing the parents and children into separate concentration camps. Trillions for defense, but no more than pennies for scientific and humanitarian concerns. “All lines are busy. Good-bye.” *CLICK*
— Techly



Finally, an analysis of Rózsa’s “Prelude” to Ben-Hur, the music that played during the opening credits. To all those who must sit and wait while technology catches up, may your call finally get through.

 

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So Long, Joe

 

The Democratic Party establishment is in a panic after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s convincing victory in the Nevada presidential primary on February 22. An easy way to gauge the reaction of the Democratic Party old guard is to watch their mouthpieces spout off on MSNBC, the network that pretends to be at the forefront of liberal politics but in reality protects the interests of corporate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. MSNBC is, with some reservations due to being more grounded in the real world, the opinion molder for many Democrats in a similar fashion to how Fox News affects Republicans.

 

This year the Democratic Party establishment had the fix in for former vice president Joe Biden the same way they had the fix in for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost the election, but hey, she won the popular vote! So what? So a surplus of a few million people, mostly in California and New York, voted for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter because their votes didn’t count as much as the votes of a few tens of thousands of people in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So the Democratic Party establishment had decided to do it all over again, this time with Joe Biden as their old guard hack.

CTU Strike 'Democratic Party, Where Are You?'
A banner displayed by striking Chicago teachers in September 2012 questioning the real interests of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his Democratic Party colleagues. Photo by Flickr user Groupuscule.

The old guard claims their anointed one is the most electable in the general election, a higher priority than ever now that everyone has had nearly four years experience of the alternative, the current president. Everyone, progressive and corporate Democrat alike, agrees four more years of that will destroy the republic as well as the Democratic Party. The old guard deploys fear of four more years of the current president to maintain themselves in power at whatever cost in lies and money. Claiming that only their front person has electability in the general election didn’t work in 2016, and it won’t work in 2020.

The reason is lack of broad appeal to potential voters who are inclined to sit on the sidelines instead of getting behind a corporate Democrat like Joe Biden. The Democratic Party establishment persists in under counting and under cutting the progressive, Socialist portion of the party because it scares off their backers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. The country, and the Democratic Party in particular, are more liberal than the establishment and the corporate media will admit.

Woody Guthrie wrote and performed “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust)” in 1935. The policies and appeal of the president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, would not look out of place today in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, yet conservative corporate interests in politics and in the media persist in portraying Senator Sanders and his supporters as fringe radicals.

The resulting propaganda from outlets like MSNBC convinces some voters that a presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders would represent only a fringe of the Democratic Party, while Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg would represent the mainstream of the Party, and therefore would be the only electable choice for the more conservative general populace. That’s not true. Look at the results in Nevada.
— Ed.

 

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The Sound of Their Voices

 

A documentary retrospective called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice has been making the rounds of film festivals this summer, most recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was a popular offering. Linda Ronstadt came to prominence in the 1970s covering songs in a style so distinctively her own that listeners could be forgiven for thinking the songs originated with her. Her first big hit, for example, was “Different Drum”, which she recorded in 1967 with the Stone Poneys. The song was first recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1966, and it was written in 1965 by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.

 

An interesting twist to the story of “Different Drum” being written by Michael Nesmith is that most of the Monkees own hit songs were written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. One hit for the Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, was written by another Brill Building songwriting team, Carole King and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin. Those two wrote many hit songs for various artists during the 1960s, and after their divorce in 1969 Ms. King went on to a distinguished solo career singing her own songs.

CaroleKingHWOFDec2012
Carole King at the ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2012. Photo by Angela George.

Her 1971 album, Tapestry, became an enormous success, enjoyed by both men and women, but it made its greatest connection with women who came of age in the 1960s, and in the 1970s were staking claims to have their voices acknowledged and heard independently of men. The female singer-songwriters of the 1970s enjoyed popular and critical success in a music industry dominated by men, and despite the obstacles, such as male promoters encouraging them to push their sexual allure ahead of their singing and songwriting talents, they persevered and became strong, independent voices.

In this 1974 episode of the television show The Midnight Special, Melissa Manchester performed “Midnight Blue”, a song she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, an alumna of the Brill Building. Ms. Manchester released an album including “Midnight Blue” the following year, and the song became her first hit. It takes skill and artistry to sustain intensity and interest in a slow song, as Ms. Manchester did beautifully in this rendition.

The list of women who made indelible marks in the popular music of the 1970s is long and would inevitably leave out some names. Not all of them wrote the majority of the songs they made famous, but in the song choices they made they exhibited an independent spirit. Linda Ronstadt, for instance, as she expanded her repertoire to include the Great American Songbook, chose songs that reflected character, strength, and respect. Melissa Manchester, who learned songwriting in a course taught in the early 1970s at New York University by another Brill Building alumnus, Paul Simon, had several hits with songs she co-wrote, and has also been a song stylist like Ms. Ronstadt and has followed a similar path since the 1970s and ’80s with distinctive renditions of standards.

Carole King’s Tapestry, with its well-known cover photo of her, barefooted and wild-haired, on a window seat with her cat, started out a decade of great music from female singer-songwriters with songs that eventually became standards themselves, covered dozens of times by other artists, male and female. Incidentally, that famous cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary at Ms. King’s home in Laurel Canyon, outside Los Angeles, and in the 1970s Laurel Canyon became the locus of much musical talent, and especially singer-songwriters.

In a 1993 concert at Bushnell Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, Carole King performed “You’ve Got a Friend”, one of the several hit songs from her 1971 album, Tapestry.

The decade closed with Linda Ronstadt, another inhabitant of Laurel Canyon in the ’70s, as the most successful female rock and pop singer of the time. Singing out throughout the time in between, and whether coming from the cramped quarters of the Brill Building in New York City or the openness of sunny southern California in Laurel Canyon, were Melissa Manchester and dozens of others every bit as talented, and all with new and interesting statements to make, creating music that expressed their unique times and has lasted beyond, affirmation of their skill and artistry in giving voice to their experience.


— Vita


A story from a February 2019 edition of the television magazine show CBS Sunday Morning.

 

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We Gotcha

 

Anyone who uses the internet regularly has likely encountered a CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA gatekeeper at a website requiring a login, and the puzzles they present to the user are meant to distinguish human visitors from bots, which is a good idea. Another good idea from the standpoint of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, is the use of unpaid labor from solvers of the puzzles to train artificial intelligence for tasks such as digitizing books or driving cars.

Waymo self-driving car side view.gk
A Waymo self-driving car on the road in Mountain View, California, headquarters of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. Waymo is a division within the technology behemoth, and logically it would be filed under “W”. Photo by Grendelkhan.

 

Ten years ago, internet users mostly encountered CAPTCHAs, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHAs were text-based puzzles, and Google put people to work solving them in the interests of both internet security and of training artificial intelligence to recognize letters and numbers in all sorts of peculiar configurations, such as might be found in all the books Google was digitizing. Now reCAPTCHAs are more common, and they are handy for training self-driving cars because they are image-based, and the images are most often of street scenes.

No doubt the engineers and executives at Google count themselves as quite clever for employing digital security puzzles to help amass the enormous amount of data necessary to train artificial intelligence without spending a penny, at least for labor. It’s a good bet most internet users are unaware of their exploitation at the hands of that technology behemoth or of other ones, like Facebook, which uses photographs uploaded by its users to train facial recognition software. Of those who are aware of what’s going on, some may not care. The technology companies, in that case, have little concern for the possibility of a public outcry over their exploitative practices; people are so eager to hand over their personal data for purposes they perceive as benefiting themselves that they don’t notice or don’t care how the companies are using the mountains of freely given information.

Artificial intelligence requires so much data to be effective that not even all the free data sneakily gleaned from internet users is enough, and therefore the technology companies have to pay some laborers, however poorly, to do the monotonous tasks necessary to train artificial intelligence for every imaginable scenario. The weakness of artificial intelligence, being nothing more than an extremely powerful computer, is its incapability of imagining scenarios outside of logic, or of imagining anything at all. Powerful as it is, it is still only a number cruncher.



John Cleese in conversation with Appian CEO Matt Calkins at a technology conference in 2018. In another video, John Cleese demonstrates the leaps of imagination and intuition that set the human brain apart from artificial intelligence.

 

Google’s reCAPTCHA sometimes gets the wrong message from its images, for example by insisting a diagonally striped no parking zone is a pedestrian crosswalk. There is no arguing with it. All the internet user can do in order to move on then is play along with the error or try reloading a different image. One has to wonder if training one’s replacement for free is not enough of an indignity without also suffering the insult of having to humor an insufficiently intelligent automaton that is nonetheless a humorless and dully unimaginative know-it-all.
— Techly

 

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Enough Already

 

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.


All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.

In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.

A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
— Vita

 

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None So Blind

 

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.


Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.

There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.

It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.

One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.

“Israelites”, a 1968 song by Desmond Dekker & The Aces.

Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
— Ed.

 

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Look at This Idiot

 

Instagram influencers are multiplying like flies, and their presence is merely annoying to most reasonable people who are not unduly affected by their activities, that is until the influencers started sitting in Joshua trees and trampling fields of California poppies. The young woman who posed for pictures while sitting in a Joshua tree often exhibits outlandish behavior to slake her thirst for attention and to cynically exploit her fans for money, and both outcomes have until now been a sideshow within the larger culture. Plants and animals don’t share any interest in Instagram idiocy, though, and when they are drawn into it and abused, then it’s up to people with common sense and a sense of decency to defend them.

 

Large Blue Joshua-B
A Joshua tree silhouetted by a summer sunset in the California high desert. Photo by Jessie Eastland. This Yucca brevifolia looks quite noble in its own right, and would not be improved by the addition of some attention-seeking nitwit hanging out in its branches.

There appears to be no National Park Service rule explicitly forbidding visitors to Joshua Tree National Park from climbing on and sitting in the fragile trees. Maybe the Park Service assumed people had more sense and more decency than to do those things. Most people do; but rules, like locks, are not made for most people – they are made for the few without any sense or decency. The Park Service does have a rule requiring a permit for commercial photography, which Instagram photos of celebrities surely are, and if the Joshua tree sitter did bother to get a permit, the Park Service must have asked her plans, or should have. If Park Service employees granted her permission anyway, then the rules need to change, even if Joshua trees are not yet on the Endangered Species List.

The fields of wildflowers currently blooming in California are largely under the jurisdiction of California’s park system. California State Parks have rules protecting the wildflowers from being trampled by the thousands of visitors that come to see them. The main rule Instagram influencers appear to violate states that visitors should stay on the trails and not traipse off into the fields. One person going off a trail may not cause much damage, but thousands and tens of thousands doing it causes damage that can take years for nature to repair, if it ever does. Like the National Park Service, California State Parks also have a rule requiring a permit for commercial photography. The Instagram influencers and their photography crews are probably violating rules both by straying off the trails and by not getting a permit, because again, if they sought a permit they might have to be honest about their plans.

As the recent government shutdown demonstrated, the nation’s parks are staffed lightly – a Thin Gray and Green Line, if you will – and it doesn’t take much reduction in staffing to incur a breakdown in order and civility caused by a destructive minority of visitors who sneer at the idea of conservation and whose idea of enjoying nature involves only callous, swaggering domination over it. Park employees, whether at National or State Parks, have always had their hands full keeping that crowd under control so that they don’t destroy the environment along with the peaceful enjoyment of it by other visitors. Now they also have to cope with Instagram influencers, swooping in like flies, and following after them the swarms they have influenced, all bent on twisting nature to their own perverse, fairy tale vision of it. These are the self-absorbed people accidentally plunging to their deaths off cliffs in the Grand Canyon and in Yosemite while foolishly trying to take unsafe selfies.

Presumably no poppies were harmed in overlaying Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”, from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, on this scene from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The original editions of both survive intact and can be enjoyed by themselves. It is possible to create without trampling and destroying in a pathetic attempt to call attention to oneself.

If people want to behave foolishly and others want to watch them do it, that’s their own business. Most of it is relatively harmless, even when influencers have taken to extorting hotel and restaurant owners for free lodging and food and drinks. They’re not doing anything journalists haven’t always done. It’s just that since it is easier to declare oneself an Instagram or YouTube influencer than it is to gain employment with an organization churning out reputable journalism, there are now hordes of them, descending like ravenous flies on resorts worldwide. Even the shallow influencer whose parents bought her way into a university she was supremely unqualified to enter, even she is harmless in most ways other than as any kind of role model, because in addition to her other selfish behavior, she has displayed a dearth of moral character by throwing her parents under the bus soon after the scandal made news. It is when these influencers trespass on nature that reasonable people have to object and draw a line, warning them they have gone too far and disturbed what really matters in the world. As for that fickle portion of the public, the easily influenced, they might consider how altering the title of this post applies to them, as in “Look at this, Idiot!”
— Izzy

 

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Know Your Privileges

 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been detaining journalists and immigration lawyers at checkpoints in Arizona and Texas and questioning them about their political beliefs. These are nothing more than intimidation tactics by government employees who don’t appear overly concerned that they work for all citizens of the United States, not merely the current presidential administration and its far right supporters.

 

CBP has long had too broad an authority, and particularly after World War II when Congress passed laws giving the agency the ability to regularly trespass on citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. In 1953, without public review, the Justice Department specified the zone within which CBP could operate fast and loose with the Constitution at 100 air miles of the United States border. That’s 100 miles within the United States, all around the perimeter, an area encompassing nearly two thirds of the populace.

Oh America -WomensMarch -WomensMarch2018 -SenecaFalls -NY (38908982905)
A sign at the January 2018 Womens’ March in Seneca Falls, New York. Photo by Marc Nozell.

It’s incredible these laws and rules have stayed on the books as long as they have and have withstood review by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has often interpreted the Constitution with an eye toward sustaining the power of the government over the citizen, however, despite the recent miraculous lapse in its ruling on Timbs v. Indiana, which rescinded civil asset forfeiture, also known as cops’ legalized stealing of citizens’ property. That ruling can best be considered an anomaly, at least from the Court’s five conservative justices, who with an even more recent ruling, in Nielsen v. Preap, are back to their usual shoring up of police state encroachments on the Constitution.

George Carlin performing in 2008 in Santa Rosa, California, just months before he died. “You Have No Rights” is the closing bit, and for the album made from this Home Box Office (HBO) special, It’s Bad for Ya, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy. Warning: foul language.

Supposedly these laws are meant to be enforced against illegal immigrants, who after all are not citizens. In practice, their overly broad authority allows enough room for CBP employees with a political agenda to harass and intimidate anyone they care to, citizens and non-citizens alike. The CBP employees can always claim some legal rationale for their capricious actions, and even after offering the flimsiest excuses, they know legal redress of their abuse of power will take years, if it comes at all. This is what happens when fear guides the writing of laws, giving too much authority to law enforcement agencies, and then a lawless presidential administration grasps the reins of all that power. Meanwhile the nation’s courts have too often upheld police prerogatives over citizens’ rights, eroding the meaning of those rights and mocking their supposed inviolability.
— Vita

 

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