Getting Outdoors During a Time of High Anxiety

It is a time of reckoning for some of us as Americans. It is safe to say that there has never been a situation like this in the USA in the past. It is also tempting to say that there has never been an election like this in the USA in the past, but I do not know enough about American history to be sure about that. It is definitely true though that we as a country have been sinking into a dark hole the last few years, now accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that we might have a chance during the next few days to grab on to something on the side, even as we fall further into the hole, to try to at least stabilize the situation for some period of time. Perhaps we could even attempt to climb out of the hole, but that might be too much to ask for in the short run considering how far we have fallen. There is always hope!

We have seen strategies for winning an election that have never been used to this extent in this country in the past. The electronic media has made it easy for official campaigns to distribute manipulated audio/visual content, content that is designed to deceive, content that supporters of the president lap up. The president himself spews out lies and misinformation. As Steve Bannon once said – “flood the zone with sh*t”. And, sadly, we tend to not see the truth even if it is in front of our faces because we live in our own bubbles. The republican party apparatus has also gone into high gear to try to disenfranchise voters, and to prevent votes from being cast and/or counted. Lawsuits have been filed, and more have been promised. Armed vigilantes try to intimidate voters and people going about their daily business. The US Post office is failing to deliver mail-in votes in a timely fashion. (The person in charge of the post office is a recent political appointee. His actions could lead you to believe that what is happening is deliberate.)

One worries about the possible aftermath of these elections in ways that one never did before.

We had to find relief from our anxieties in other activities. Last week was a bad time for our usual outdoor pursuits. I am still adjusting to the fact that the weather is turning colder slowly but surely. The cloudy and damp conditions killed all of my motivation to try to get out. It was finally the weekend by the time we overcame our reluctance to face the seasonal forces of nature.

We went out to Edwards Ferry on Sunday in spite of the fact that rain was expected later that morning. The weather was still OK at the time we got on the trail. As you can see from this picture of the lock house for Lock 25, there were still patches of clear sky to be seen near Edwards Ferry.

As we started our walk, we could see the rising sun behind us struggling to pierce through the clouds that were coming our way. It was, ultimately, an unsuccessful effort! The skies continued to darken as we walked north towards Whites Ferry. We finished the last couple of miles of the walk in light rain. I had to put away the camera in my backpack at that point. I don’t mind walking in light rain even though it tends to impair my vision somewhat because of the water collecting on my glasses. For that matter, I am not sure that even heavy rain would necessarily stop me on the trail. My friends and I rode our bikes in the pouring rain during our ride last year. It was done deliberately, and it was also fun!

It was somewhat anticlimactic to be on the trail after the autumnal change in foliage. Whatever bright colors there might have been on the trees are almost all gone in these parts. Bare tree trunks are visible everywhere.

The only remaining color in this section of the trail was mostly due to the presence of the pawpaw trees.

There is a certain beauty in foliage that is primarily yellow in color, but I think I might be feeling this beauty more intensely because of its transient nature. After all, I do not talk about the green trees all summer long – or, do I?!

And we got to see some strange looking fruit on the trail for the first time. I would be curious to know if anybody can recognize these.

That’s it for this blog. Tomorrow is election day. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

On Fire

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.
..

Billy Joel

Meanwhile, the chaos spreads, the country burns, the flames fanned by our clueless and self-centered leader – the conman!

Pandemic!
COVID-19
Presidential incompetence
Presidential ignorance
Presidential lack of responsibility
Absence of National strategy
Absence of oversight
The blame game
China, WHO
Massive Death count, still increasing
Massive unemployment
Recession
Depression?
Corruption in government
Politics of Stimulus
Poverty
Hunger
Homelessness
Inequality
Prejudice
Social Injustice
Race History
Racial Injustice
Oppression
Broken Justice System
The 13th Amendment
White Privilege
Systemic Violence
Broken Policing system
Police Violence
Inhumanity
Death
Video recordings
Qualified Immunity
Anger
Protest
Agitation
Opportunism
Vandalism
Destruction
Violence
Chaos
Rioting
Sabotage
Crimes
Losing sight of the message!
Policing Strategies
Police training
Crowd Control Techniques
Empathy?
Humanity?
Confrontation
Tension
On The Razor’s Edge
Action and Reaction
Death
The National Guard
The military police
The military
Broken government
Chaotic leadership
Missing leadership
Divisive leadership
Cowardly leadership
Deadly leadership
Tinder for the flames
More Anger
Burn, burn, burn
From Coronavirus to race relations,
Clueless in America

vote, Vote, VOTE, VOTE!

We may not have not have started the fire, we have to try to put it out. We have to come together in Solidarity.

It was heartwarming to see pictures of police and protesters coming together in solidarity in some cities. These are signs of hope.

This morning, it was heartwarming to see a older white lady standing all by herself on the grass near the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Kentlands Boulevard holding up a sign that said BLACK LIVES MATTER to anybody who cared to turn and look. For some reason, it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.

We shall overcome.

Dear World, We Are So Sorry

Dear World,

We are so sorry we cannot cooperate and work with the rest of you in this time of the COVID-19 crisis.  This is because, unfortunately, our government has broken down and become completely dysfunctional.  In the past, in times of disasters, we were happy to take on a leadership role – to help with the direction and coordination, to provide support and assistance to the rest of the world as needed.   With our outstanding capabilities in science, medicine, and technology, with our robust government structures, and with our access to plentiful resources, we used to be well positioned to respond when needed.

But times have changed.  We have a big mess on our hands over here right now.  It looks like we cannot even take care of ourselves properly.  Our leaders have no idea what leading means, even within the context of our own country.  The president is missing in action.  We have set out on a destructive path that will lead to people dying in large numbers.

We are incapable of coming up with any kind of real plan to tackle the coronavirus.  Instead of doing the hard work that is needed on so many different fronts to fight the fight, the career conman who is in charge is engaged in preening and self-aggrandizement, and in trying to find ways to get a leg up in the coming elections. There is not a concern for the fact that too many people are dying.   They are collateral damage.  Bluster and bombast and outright lies rule the day.  Inputs from scientists and doctors are being ignored in policy decisions.  The apparatus of the government bureaucracy that has been so effective in the past has been damaged in a bad way.  Politically appointed hacks and yes-men, many unqualified, rule the roost, and they run amok playing their games for the benefit of our master of the con game. There is also nepotism going on at the highest level. It would be comical if it were not so sad.  There is no going back for the next few months.  It is a complete disaster.

Dear World, I hope you now better understand why we are unable to work with you.  In fact, our leader has made it clear that he is not interested in cooperation with any of you in any real sense.  Also, quite clearly, many of you are doing a much, much, better job than us in handling the pandemic.  I know that all of you are getting restless with the current situation – just like those of us here in the USA.  How much of social distancing can one take?  You want to break out of isolation, engage with other human beings person-to-person, and get on with life like it used to be. Please keep the faith and do what is right for humanity.  Know that many of us in the US are being quite reckless in our behaviors in this regard, unfortunately often at the prompting of our supreme leader and his minions. It is definitely resulting in a death toll that is unprecedented in recent times.

I would guess that even after all of you have managed to get this contagion under some kind of control, we will still be scrambling – flailing in various directions, wasting our time and energies, fighting. Many will probably still be dying.  There is no common strategy or set of rules in our country to handle the situation.  At some point in time, I expect that neighboring states that have different approaches to handling the pandemic could even end up tussling with each other in order to make sure that their own borders are protected from contagion.  Fissures have even developed within state boundaries. These are, in fact, encouraged by our great leader, the “stable genius”. In fact, even after you guys open up your economies and your borders, you are going to have to watch out for us.  We are not likely to be as prepared as you are.  We may be in a position to cause further worldwide damage.

Do not worry about us.  I will admit that the situation is scary, and somehow seems unreal, but we will manage. The mortality rate with this virus being what it is, many of us will still survive in spite of the astounding overall stupidity. People who believe in the science are themselves trying to be careful. We also have some sensible governors.  And the percentages are still relatively low.

We are OK.  One does not have to dwell on the absurdity of the situation all the time.  We can compartmentalize things in the mind.  Other aspects of life still go on.   For example, there is interesting news on the space exploration front.  Did you know that SpaceX and NASA are scheduled to jointly launch the first manned US space flight since 2011 this month?  The two-member crew entered pre-flight quarantine (standard operation procedure as I understand it) yesterday. 

On a personal note, it was warm enough for me to go running outside the house yesterday.  Did so for the first time this year.  I had been using the treadmill thus far.  Covered 6 miles, and I felt great. It was certainly an endorphin high!  There was also less traffic on the road. I think I must have also been breathing cleaner air.

Before I end, I would be remiss not to mention, once again,  the major positive that has come out of all of this, which is the response of the many citizens on the front lines who are doing their jobs and protecting the rest of us, all of this while the national leadership flounders. People are stepping up to help others.  Citizenship includes working for the common good.

Dear World, some day, after a vaccine is developed, we can join you guys in closer fellowship.  Or perhaps the elections will allow us to bring some sense to the conversation more quickly.  This too shall pass.  In the meantime, we would not blame you, the rest of the world, if you felt it essential for your own safety to maintain a travel ban to and from the USA for a longer period of time than expected.  That would be sad for those of us who have very close connections all over the world, but some of us would understand.

Once again, sorry for our mess, and sorry that we cannot work with the rest of you. We have our own battles to fight.  We wish you all the best.

With you in solidarity during these troubled times.

American Opinions on a Tough Topic

In my opinion, this is a subject that our politicians and religious organizations, in general, have made very difficult to address rationally. The citizenship seem to have a more nuanced set of opinions on this subject than you are led to believe, opinions that seem to change little over time. In my mind, the topic also seems to dominate the national discussion excessively, to the detriment of other issues that can more critically impact the well being of the nation.  But it does seem to be a good topic to push agendas and foster divisiveness.  The politicians of today are mostly a bunch of hypocrites.

First of all, the results of a survey.

I was led to the survey by this article.

The last section of the article seems to suggest that attempts to legislate in this regard may make little or no difference in a practical sense in the final count.

Here’s How the End of Net Neutrality Will Change the Internet | WIRED

Ajit Pai should be ashamed of himself.
via Here’s How the End of Net Neutrality Will Change the Internet | WIRED

I wrote a blog on this topic myself a while back.

Here is another relevant link.
https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/22/16689838/fcc-net-neutrality-comments-were-largely-ignored

We can still speak up.
https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now

 

Is Health Care a Right? | The New Yorker

This is a fairly long article, but it is a worthwhile read, especially for those of us who live in the US.   It could give you a window into viewpoints about the healthcare debate outside the bubble of our own existences and thinking.

via Is Health Care a Right? | The New Yorker

An American Tragedy – The Story of Kalief Browder

This is probably one of those postings which justifies the use of the tagline “Anything Goes” for my blog pages.  You should perhaps not continue any further if you are concerned about becoming unduly disturbed by unpleasant stuff.  In case you continue, please realize that what happened in this case was not an isolated incident.  This story points to systemic issues at many different levels. It is a result of the society, the politics, and the way of life, that we are willing to accept, for not just ourselves, but for everybody around us.
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/8/traumatized_by_3_years_at_rikers

If you are looking for more in-depth reporting on the case, and getting an better understanding for how truly screwed up our criminal justice system is, you can find it in the following articles.
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015

I heard this story while watching a documentary about the 13th Amendment on Netflix.   I recommend it!

Apple and Privacy

Privacy is something that none of us who live in the digital connected world really have.  While we would like to believe that we are safe from prying eyes by using the tools provided by the different vendors who design security solutions that incorporate into our systems, I think that this ship has sailed.  The moment you decided to be a part of the Internet, be it on the social media, or be it for simple browsing, or e-mail, or chatting, you created a door into your device, and a means for your information to become available to the snoops, and also for folks who want to misuse your device. The security solutions I mentioned before can barely keep up with the hacking world in this regard. And it only takes one mistake to open the backdoor into your system! The best you can do is try to limit the damage.

There are all kinds of snoops.  There are the ones trying to get at your confidential information to do something bad to you. There are those who are trying to misuse your personal information for other illicit purposes. There are those who are trying to legally or illegally gain some commercial advantage, trying to sell things to you by learning more about you from your computer.  And then there is the government that might suspect you of doing something illegal on your computer.

Why has it been so easy for people to get into our private systems?  For one thing, most of the systems that we work with have fundamental software design flaws that can be exploited.   Next, whenever you are connected into the Internet, you have an address at which you can be reached.  Then, for reasons of convenience, and for supporting required functionalities, systems also include means for others to get access to your working environment for legitimate purposes.  (For example, remote login capability exists for debugging purposes.)

Once you have an identity on the network, there are ways for people to try to access your system for both legitimate and nefarious purposes.  Every time you visit a website you are executing code from the website on your computer.  Websites leave cookies on your computer regularly when you browse them.  And sometimes you give outsiders access inadvertently by going to a website that interacts with your computer in a malicious manner.  Once you have have hit the wrong button on the browser screen, or in an e-mail, or even opened a malicious application file that you downloaded, you could be at the mercy of the entity on the the other side of the communication link established.

And then there are many of us who are willing to give up our privacy willingly in return for something  that we want.  It happens all the time when you give your information to companies like Facebook, or Google, or LinkedIn or Microsoft, to name a few.  It happens when you make a purchase at any online shopping  site like Amazon or even an Expedia.  And then the systems that these organizations use for storing all this information are not foolproof.  Personal information for millions of people have been stolen from the records of more than one government agency.

Your digital communications are themselves not safe from snooping.  Communications from your smart phone can be intercepted by fake cell towers, and communications through an ISP can be snooped upon directly.  Both the bad guys and the good guys take advantage of this approach.

There are rules and regulations meant to address many of the above scenarios to try to protect your privacy, but in many cases rules cannot keep up with either the technologies nor the human ingenuity when it comes to creating problems and creating chaos. Then there are the human tendencies that make us disregard the speed-bumps in the  processes that are meant to make us slow down and think for a minute.  We make mistakes that allow our privacy to be compromised. When was the last time one read a EULA?   When was the last time one read and reacted to the privacy statement (mandated by law) they received from their financial organization?  Do we accept and store all cookies offered up when browsing a website?

Tim Cook at Apple has decided that the privacy of the owner of a device must be protected at all costs.  In this case, he is talking about access to the contents of a device by a third party that has your device in their hands and wants to look into its contents without asking you.  They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do something like this. Recently Apple introduced the concept of having all the contents of the device encrypted, and limiting access to the decryption key to the the owner of the device (i.e., even Apple does not know what it is).  In order to be able to use the key, the user has to first get access to his or her device with a password.  If somebody tries to hack the password too many times, the device stops working completely.  The system is “bricked“.  The only way to break the system is to guess the password without too many attempts.  Apple does not have a back door in its current software that lets it bypass this security.

This is where government access to a device becomes the topic of discussion.  What the FBI has asked Apple to do is to hack into their own system so that they can read the contents of another person’s smartphone.  Apple is refusing in spite of being under a court order.  They are in a difficult place. If they attempt to break their own system and are successful, it could indicate that others could also find a way to hack into their supposedly super-secure system.  They designed the system to work this way for a reason!

Is Apple justified in refusing to cooperate with the FBI?  Under ideal conditions I would say that they are not, since once you become a part of a society and its systems and use it to your benefit, you have some responsibilities to the system also.  But we also know that the system is not infallible, and can easily be manipulated and misused (as shown by Edward Snowden).   And the tendency for misuse is somehow inbuilt into the system because of human nature and can perhaps never be fixed.

Where should the line be drawn with regards to trying to protect privacy under these circumstances? It is certainly a dilemma…