Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Circle by Dave Eggers – Book

The Circle

I may have been sounding really modern and really wedded to the march towards the future in some of my past articles, but I have always had one foot in the future and one in the past. I am nostalgic about the days when there were only four channels on TV. I am not too nostalgic about typewriters because word processors are too convenient for a less than great typist, but I do love photos with that old sepia tone, and I do experience a certain amount of computer shock in my life. I like paper newspapers and I really did not think that editors and publishers and even actual paper books would practically disappear before I got to publish a book. After reading Dave Eggers new book The Circle, I may have to start to separate from this computer which has so invaded and changed my lifestyle.

We notice every time our new friend Google or Facebook informs us of a new feature that promises to whittle away at our privacy, but sometimes we let it slide because the invasion seems small, or the steps to opt out of the invasion are too complicated to remember. We let the internet steal our photos, use them in ads, use our names in ads. We have become accustomed to “liking” things; so many likes, so many things and we are never asked to dislike things so it doesn’t really seem so bad. Except someone, somewhere could be compiling all of our likes and making a profile of our personality, which would not really represent our personality much at all. This is all a build up to talking about the book The Circle, so you must be starting to get a clue as to the subject of the book. Be patient, I’ll get there. What do we call those squares that we see on menus and products everywhere, the ones that look like coded bit maps? I found out they are called QR codes or Quick Response Codes. People are enjoying scanning these coded squares into their phones because these codes translate into product endorsements on Facebook or the code tells your friends how exciting your social life is based on the number of restaurants, stores, and clubs that you frequent. (You may also earn perks.) However, they also tell the person who sponsors the QR code a lot about you.

We know we are losing privacy. We know that the internet is trying to zero in on us, pinpoint where we are and what we do and what we buy and what we like and what we read and what we wear and perhaps the state of our health, our age, our gender, our sexual orientation, our address, our phone numbers, our history. Where does it end? When do we cry “enough”? These internet social sites have voracious appetites for data. They are equally hungry to find ways to sell this data to data miners and advertisers and maybe even spy organizations. We give them the data gratis, because they make us feel that we will no longer be able to use social media unless we comply and we do it. We may worry a bit that someone will steal the data and steal our identity, but we don’t often think about the fact that our identity has already been stolen by the social media. And while they may not have plans to invade our bank accounts, they often invade our lives in other ways.

This is the situation that we find in The Circle (a company with some frightening similarities to Google). Dave Eggers takes us along with Mae (Maebelline) when she gets a job at The Circle. She finally asks her college roommate Annie to help her get hired because she hates her nowhere job at the local utility. Mae begins working in Customer Experience which is basically the call center where complaints are handled. Her success on every call is rated right away and she must follow up immediately if the rating is low, find out why, and get a new rating, hopefully higher. At first Mae is nervous, but this girl is competitive, and she hates negative feedback, craves praise and high grades and high scores. She is made for this job.

She works her way up quickly through the company hierarchy and manages to find time to deal with her father’s multiple sclerosis (she believes) and meet a mysterious man who she finds very attractive but who seems to be a subversive figure working against The Circle. She is fitted with a very fine medical bracelet which constantly monitors her health and which we the reader can’t help but covet because it harkens back to that all-purpose body scanner in Star Trek. The idea that someone will lock a bracelet around your wrist that will always broadcast vitals and that is never removed also creeps us out a little. We see the potential for abuse almost immediately and we see that such control may escalate.

If, as you continue reading The Circle, you don’t get the heebie-jeebies, then you are made of stern stuff indeed. All I will say is, “wait until you get to the part with the giant blind shark”. Talk about the obvious, yet highly effective use of a symbol. Wait to you see what happens to Annie. Between the shark and Annie and a few other surprising outcomes I began to think that perhaps we should throw out our computers and back out of the internet. Is it too late to back out? Probably. But old school is looking better every moment after recent real life changes announced by Google, and recent revelations about the NSA, and then this book which is more frightening than anything we will see on Halloween, this coming Wednesday. When change is so incremental and logical it is very difficult to know when to call a halt and so when (of course I mean if) it begins to engulf our freedom and our democracy will we object? Will we be able to escape the all-knowing eye of our computer at that point? Read the book. It’s short. It has a few flaws but such a quick pace that you won’t be able to put it down. What you decide to do after you read it is on you.

The Circle by Dave Eggers – Book

 
 

I may have been sounding really modern and really wedded to the march towards the future in some of my past articles, but I have always had one foot in the future and one in the past. I am nostalgic about the days when there were only four channels on TV. I am not too nostalgic about typewriters because word processors are too convenient for a less than great typist, but I do love photos with that old sepia tone, and I do experience a certain amount of computer shock in my life. I like paper newspapers and I really did not think that editors and publishers and even actual paper books would practically disappear before I got to publish a book. After reading Dave Eggers new book The Circle, I may have to start to separate from this computer which has so invaded and changed my lifestyle.

We notice every time our new friend Google or Facebook informs us of a new feature that promises to whittle away at our privacy, but sometimes we let it slide because the invasion seems small, or the steps to opt out of the invasion are too complicated to remember. We let the internet steal our photos, use them in ads, use our names in ads. We have become accustomed to “liking” things; so many likes, so many things and we are never asked to dislike things so it doesn’t really seem so bad. Except someone, somewhere could be compiling all of our likes and making a profile of our personality, which would not really represent our personality much at all. This is all a build up to talking about the book The Circle, so you must be starting to get a clue as to the subject of the book. Be patient, I’ll get there. What do we call those squares that we see on menus and products everywhere, the ones that look like coded bit maps? I found out they are called QR codes or Quick Response Codes. People are enjoying scanning these coded squares into their phones because these codes translate into product endorsements on Facebook or the code tells your friends how exciting your social life is based on the number of restaurants, stores, and clubs that you frequent. (You may also earn perks.) However, they also tell the person who sponsors the QR code a lot about you.

We know we are losing privacy. We know that the internet is trying to zero in on us, pinpoint where we are and what we do and what we buy and what we like and what we read and what we wear and perhaps the state of our health, our age, our gender, our sexual orientation, our address, our phone numbers, our history. Where does it end? When do we cry “enough”? These internet social sites have voracious appetites for data. They are equally hungry to find ways to sell this data to data miners and advertisers and maybe even spy organizations. We give them the data gratis, because they make us feel that we will no longer be able to use social media unless we comply and we do it. We may worry a bit that someone will steal the data and steal our identity, but we don’t often think about the fact that our identity has already been stolen by the social media. And while they may not have plans to invade our bank accounts, they often invade our lives in other ways.

This is the situation that we find in The Circle (a company with some frightening similarities to Google). Dave Eggers takes us along with Mae (Maebelline) when she gets a job at The Circle. She finally asks her college roommate Annie to help her get hired because she hates her nowhere job at the local utility. Mae begins working in Customer Experience which is basically the call center where complaints are handled. Her success on every call is rated right away and she must follow up immediately if the rating is low, find out why, and get a new rating, hopefully higher. At first Mae is nervous, but this girl is competitive, and she hates negative feedback, craves praise and high grades and high scores. She is made for this job.

She works her way up quickly through the company hierarchy and manages to find time to deal with her father’s multiple sclerosis (she believes) and meet a mysterious man who she finds very attractive but who seems to be a subversive figure working against The Circle. She is fitted with a very fine medical bracelet which constantly monitors her health and which we the reader can’t help but covet because it harkens back to that all-purpose body scanner in Star Trek. The idea that someone will lock a bracelet around your wrist that will always broadcast vitals and that is never removed also creeps us out a little. We see the potential for abuse almost immediately and we see that such control may escalate.

If, as you continue reading The Circle, you don’t get the heebie-jeebies, then you are made of stern stuff indeed. All I will say is, “wait until you get to the part with the giant blind shark”. Talk about the obvious, yet highly effective use of a symbol. Wait to you see what happens to Annie. Between the shark and Annie and a few other surprising outcomes I began to think that perhaps we should throw out our computers and back out of the internet. Is it too late to back out? Probably. But old school is looking better every moment after recent real life changes announced by Google, and recent revelations about the NSA, and then this book which is more frightening than anything we will see on Halloween, this coming Wednesday. When change is so incremental and logical it is very difficult to know when to call a halt and so when (of course I mean if) it begins to engulf our freedom and our democracy will we object? Will we be able to escape the all-knowing eye of our computer at that point? Read the book. It’s short. It has a few flaws but such a quick pace that you won’t be able to put it down. What you decide to do after you read it is on you.  

More Tools from the Obstructionist’s Toolbox

 

gatekeepers5

 

Republicans are playing “delay and distract” again and they are very good at it. The strategy: make a big deal about the buggy roll-out of the ACA first, so they can delay getting anything done (and they definitely do not plan to get anything done unless it is something they want, like cutting funds for food stamps) and second, so that no one will notice that nothing is getting done (even though it is obvious to just about all of us all of the time). It’s like the magician who distracts you with what he is saying or what his left hand is doing, while his right hand is doing something else.

The hearings and the negative commentary about the ACA; this type of activity is the equivalent of twiddling their thumbs as they wait for the clock to run down, first on the next crisis for the CR and debt ceiling, second for the end of the Obama Presidency in either 2016 or through his impeachment that they so devoutly wish for every day. They will pontificate, stall, criticize, complain, meet, show off, repeat their talking points whenever TV news people will let them and they will look very busy (because they are busy raising money for future elections); but nothing will get done in Congress unless it cuts a budget line item or obstructs the attempts of the President or any Democrat to bring any laws or Presidential appointments whatsoever to the floor of the House or of the Senate.

They have, by using their obstructive position, made themselves the gatekeepers over the country’s legislation. If it is something they want they can let it through (but few things sparkle enough to attract their approval and get them to open that gate and there is always that risk that the gate, once opened, will be hard to shut). We have to remember that, as these folks have proven, our Constitution apparently allows a majority in one house of Congress to put a stick in the spokes of the wheel of government and stop progress so that the party with the stick can wait out the clock in hopes of a better election outcome in the future. This should not be possible and I see it as a flaw in our Constitution; an oversight that should be fixed with some type of Constitutional patch. However, I accept that we cannot even patch the Constitution while our government is in standstill mode. We will have to elect Democrats in 2014 in order to fix this loophole and prevent one minority party from continuing to block the majority agenda.

If all that happens after an election is that we get ready for the next election; if no laws are passed and no business conducted, then we can save ourselves a lot of time and money by not having any more elections. The only problem is that this will ruin our country and we will end up with no government, which is what these obstructers want anyway. Perhaps we need to meet and design a new Legislative body that represents the increased complexity of a 21st century America and closes the loopholes that are appearing in the current design. The American people want the obstructionist practices to end, for government to return to “regular order”, and for the tools in the obstruction’s toolbox to be left to rust with disuse.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at thebrissioniblog.blogspot.com

 

 

More Tools from the Obstructionist’s Toolbox

 

 
 

Republicans are playing “delay and distract” again and they are very good at it. The strategy: make a big deal about the buggy roll-out of the ACA first, so they can delay getting anything done (and they definitely do not plan to get anything done unless it is something they want, like cutting funds for food stamps) and second, so that no one will notice that nothing is getting done (even though it is obvious to just about all of us all of the time). It’s like the magician who distracts you with what he is saying or what his left hand is doing, while his right hand is doing something else.

The hearings and the negative commentary about the ACA; this type of activity is the equivalent of twiddling their thumbs as they wait for the clock to run down, first on the next crisis for the CR and debt ceiling, second for the end of the Obama Presidency in either 2016 or through his impeachment that they so devoutly wish for every day. They will pontificate, stall, criticize, complain, meet, show off, repeat their talking points whenever TV news people will let them and they will look very busy (because they are busy raising money for future elections); but nothing will get done in Congress unless it cuts a budget line item or obstructs the attempts of the President or any Democrat to bring any laws or Presidential appointments whatsoever to the floor of the House or of the Senate.

They have, by using their obstructive position, made themselves the gatekeepers over the country’s legislation. If it is something they want they can let it through (but few things sparkle enough to attract their approval and get them to open that gate and there is always that risk that the gate, once opened, will be hard to shut). We have to remember that, as these folks have proven, our Constitution apparently allows a majority in one house of Congress to put a stick in the spokes of the wheel of government and stop progress so that the party with the stick can wait out the clock in hopes of a better election outcome in the future. This should not be possible and I see it as a flaw in our Constitution; an oversight that should be fixed with some type of Constitutional patch. However, I accept that we cannot even patch the Constitution while our government is in standstill mode. We will have to elect Democrats in 2014 in order to fix this loophole and prevent one minority party from continuing to block the majority agenda.

If all that happens after an election is that we get ready for the next election; if no laws are passed and no business conducted, then we can save ourselves a lot of time and money by not having any more elections. The only problem is that this will ruin our country and we will end up with no government, which is what these obstructers want anyway. Perhaps we need to meet and design a new Legislative body that represents the increased complexity of a 21st century America and closes the loopholes that are appearing in the current design. The American people want the obstructionist practices to end, for government to return to “regular order”, and for the tools in the obstruction’s toolbox to be left to rust with disuse.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

 

The NSA – Living Without Privacy

spying3

The NSA is the brick and mortar incarnation of the Patriot Act. I naively thought that the Patriot Acts would be overturned when Democrats took office. But the Patriot Acts are part of our reaction to the “War on Terror” and the “War on Terror” will be with us for quite a while.

Being under surveillance by government is, however, a recurring American nightmare. We have lost lots of our freedoms and much of our privacy. Cell phones and computers and perhaps even cable TV inure us to an acceptance of privacy leaks that can be anywhere from tiny drips to floods of information encompassing every aspect of our lives. No, we do not see someone (like Big Brother) every day monitoring us and lecturing us and threatening us, but the citizens in 1984 at least understood that they had zero privacy. We don’t know when, or if, or how much we are being watched. Do we have 95% privacy, 20% privacy or none? Is your phone tapped, is someone capturing your texts, is someone following you on your GPS or phone, can people see you through the video cam on your computer? I know they can ask to see our reading history at the library, but can they reach into our computers and see our search history? If you use a debit card every purchase you make with it is public; can this routinely be accessed by authorities? Does the NSA know all your meds which would basically reveal your medical history? Computers make spying, both domestic and foreign very easy. Even very secure computers have been hacked. The limits on spying are not made public, although nonspecific public assurances are offered.

I don’t go anywhere on the internet that could be considered subversive but I do write this blog, which frequently takes a certain political point of view. Does this make me more interesting? Does it make me a likely target of domestic espionage? I usually try not to think about it.

I like to assume that our government has much bigger fish to fry than little me. I like to assume that our government’s interest in Americans is benign, unless and until it can’t afford to be. But it would be oh so easy to overstep. Overstepping could start out small and gradually snowball into an authoritarian horror story. What guarantees are there for the American people? There should be some secure oversight.

This technique our government uses of sweeping in all data and putting it through a sieve of key words or search terms or suspect language is an enormous undertaking. Will we gradually be able to refine how much info must be taken in? Then we have to store the info in case we need future access to it. This is also a vast exercise in overkill which we will hopefully lessen by learning more about what needs to be saved. The temptation will be very great to save data that seems criminal, but not necessarily terrorist. Is that already happening? That would be a betrayal of the trust of the American people because it was not the original purpose of the “spying” operations.

As to foreign “spying”, or information scanning and storage, I’m sure our allies appreciate that terrorists have staged some devastating violence in those country’s belonging to our allies. However, I don’t blame them for being shocked and angry that we have been collecting foreign data. This is not a joint allied operation. This is America rolling its old spy network into its new digital locate-and-disable-terrorists network and no one knew that we were saving records for foreign citizens (let alone foreign leaders). Don’t we trust their spying operations? This seems like more of that arrogance the world bemoans in Americans. And we got caught, out-ed. We definitely “have some ‘splaining to do.” So far, we have not used the info we gathered (hopefully) in any inappropriate ways. But the damage is not what we did with the information but that we collected info that we could have probably asked for permission to collect from our allies, but we did not do that.

I don’t believe that America will dismantle its spy network, tear down that whole huge new campus built to house some of the NSA and fire all those listeners. (The New York Times today suggests that we just might consider doing this.) Truthfully, this week I have come to wish that we could get over our love affair with the internet and computers. I don’t want to go backwards on everything, but I would like to go back to the ways we used to spy and other old technology. Given that we will not be doing that, how do people stay vigilant; will we know when to draw the line, when to say no, when to make rules about how much the government can weasel its way into our private business. It’s a tough one and we are so passive. I don’t think we will be able to backstop this. Good-bye freedom, it was nice knowing you.

The NSA – Living Without Privacy

 
 

The NSA is the brick and mortar incarnation of the Patriot Act. I naively thought that the Patriot Acts would be overturned when Democrats took office. But the Patriot Acts are part of our reaction to the “War on Terror” and the “War on Terror” will be with us for quite a while.

Being under surveillance by government is, however, a recurring American nightmare. We have lost lots of our freedoms and much of our privacy. Cell phones and computers and perhaps even cable TV inure us to an acceptance of privacy leaks that can be anywhere from tiny drips to floods of information encompassing every aspect of our lives. No, we do not see someone (like Big Brother) every day monitoring us and lecturing us and threatening us, but the citizens in 1984 at least understood that they had zero privacy. We don’t know when, or if, or how much we are being watched. Do we have 95% privacy, 20% privacy or none? Is your phone tapped, is someone capturing your texts, is someone following you on your GPS or phone, can people see you through the video cam on your computer? I know they can ask to see our reading history at the library, but can they reach into our computers and see our search history? If you use a debit card every purchase you make with it is public; can this routinely be accessed by authorities? Does the NSA know all your meds which would basically reveal your medical history? Computers make spying, both domestic and foreign very easy. Even very secure computers have been hacked. The limits on spying are not made public, although nonspecific public assurances are offered.

I don’t go anywhere on the internet that could be considered subversive but I do write this blog, which frequently takes a certain political point of view. Does this make me more interesting? Does it make me a likely target of domestic espionage? I usually try not to think about it.

I like to assume that our government has much bigger fish to fry than little me. I like to assume that our government’s interest in Americans is benign, unless and until it can’t afford to be. But it would be oh so easy to overstep. Overstepping could start out small and gradually snowball into an authoritarian horror story. What guarantees are there for the American people? There should be some secure oversight.

This technique our government uses of sweeping in all data and putting it through a sieve of key words or search terms or suspect language is an enormous undertaking. Will we gradually be able to refine how much info must be taken in? Then we have to store the info in case we need future access to it. This is also a vast exercise in overkill which we will hopefully lessen by learning more about what needs to be saved. The temptation will be very great to save data that seems criminal, but not necessarily terrorist. Is that already happening? That would be a betrayal of the trust of the American people because it was not the original purpose of the “spying” operations.

As to foreign “spying”, or information scanning and storage, I’m sure our allies appreciate that terrorists have staged some devastating violence in those country’s belonging to our allies. However, I don’t blame them for being shocked and angry that we have been collecting foreign data. This is not a joint allied operation. This is America rolling its old spy network into its new digital locate-and-disable-terrorists network and no one knew that we were saving records for foreign citizens (let alone foreign leaders). Don’t we trust their spying operations? This seems like more of that arrogance the world bemoans in Americans. And we got caught, out-ed. We definitely “have some ‘splaining to do.” So far, we have not used the info we gathered (hopefully) in any inappropriate ways. But the damage is not what we did with the information but that we collected info that we could have probably asked for permission to collect from our allies, but we did not do that.

I don’t believe that America will dismantle its spy network, tear down that whole huge new campus built to house some of the NSA and fire all those listeners. (The New York Times today suggests that we just might consider doing this.) Truthfully, this week I have come to wish that we could get over our love affair with the internet and computers. I don’t want to go backwards on everything, but I would like to go back to the ways we used to spy and other old technology. Given that we will not be doing that, how do people stay vigilant; will we know when to draw the line, when to say no, when to make rules about how much the government can weasel its way into our private business. It’s a tough one and we are so passive. I don’t think we will be able to backstop this. Good-bye freedom, it was nice knowing you.

Responses to the Anti-ACA Obsessed

shhh3

When Republicans say that the ACA will turn people in to slaves they are using that Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand view that when the government takes care of people it turns them into unmotivated dependents who remain perpetually at the bottom of the economy.

Perhaps offering “respect” to these people the Republicans call “takers” in the form of actually caring about their health care will not rob them of initiative; perhaps it will actually tell them that they are valued by their society. Isn’t it possible that this new regard could help people value their own health and eventually their own future and actually serve to lift them up rather than keep them down?

The absolutely adamant opposition that has stalked the Affordable Health Care Plan since its inception seems several degrees tougher than laws that were stonewalled in the past. Most of those bills raised strong protests only until they became laws and they were usually opposed by those who labeled them “socialist” and those who keep constant eyes on America’s bottom line instead of on the citizens who struggle at the bottom of America’s economy (in other words, by the same people who oppose the ACA). The antipathy to the ACA has been several orders of magnitude more intense than was the disapproval campaign leveled against Welfare, or Medicare, or food stamps.

Of course we are talking about people who are just as interested in dismantling WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) a combination of citizens that it seems particularly cold-hearted to remove from the social safety net. I suppose the reasoning is that women, so supported, will continue to produce offspring that they could never afford if limited to their own resources. Of course, it still seems true that very few women will pull out a calculator before getting pregnant and this is still unlikely to happen even when help with prenatal vitamins and formulas is taken away. Most of us thought that America funded WIC because we are people who do not starve babies and young children, and because healthy moms produce healthier babies.

Clearly the web site for the ACA has been a terrible disappointment because it frustrates those who need health insurance and it provides fodder for the haters to continue crabbing about what a “disaster”, “train wreck” “everything horrible” this program, the Affordable Health Care Act, will be; it won’t work, it will be too costly, there won’t be enough doctors, forget getting scheduled for that procedure you need. Having a non-working web site lends credence to all of these arguments and makes us doubt this law. However, we realize that it  also just went into effect, that it has been hyped as the worst thing to happen to America, ever and that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal it 40+ times. Is the law cursed? Should Kathleen Sebelius be fired?

Is there any way on earth that we could just stop talking about this law for a while and let it roll out if it can and have all the good effects we hope it will have on people and on our economy and fail if it will? We are thoroughly sick of listening to the GOP harangue us about this program they call Obamacare. We are done with it, the law is law, the roll out has begun. We will see if it works or fails soon enough. I don’t need to see Katherine Sebelius get fired. We are also sick of all this “heads will roll” stuff. We are not completely sure that you haven’t hired people to sabotage the Health Care website (although I accept that this is really just wishful/paranoid thinking).

I’m not sure why there isn’t a table in every pharmacy where people can look over the plans and do the kind of registering that is needed. If we can give flu shots in Walmart and sell cable in Walmart why can’t we wheel in a locking file and a table and register people in Walmart, or at the grocery store? If new tech won’t work, why can’t we go old school? The news about the computer sites just keeps getting worse. On the evening news this Sunday we were told that Verizon had an outage and the web site was down again. I don’t really want a blow by blow description. Let’s talk about something else, please. Maybe if we aren’t commenting on every move the process will come together. Let’s talk about this NSA stuff for a while. That needs to have some light shined on it and some guidelines discussed that will not put our personal privacy at DEF CON 1 for at least another 50 years.

 

Here’s a link to a blog post that will give you some alternate ways to apply for health insurance under the ACA:

http://everywhereonce.com/2013/10/28/buying-obamacare-health-insurance/

 

Responses to the Anti-ACA Obsessed

 
 
When Republicans say that the ACA will turn people in to slaves they are using that Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand view that when the government takes care of people it turns them into unmotivated dependents who remain perpetually at the bottom of the economy.

Perhaps offering “respect” to these people the Republicans call “takers” in the form of actually caring about their health care will not rob them of initiative; perhaps it will actually tell them that they are valued by their society. Isn’t it possible that this new regard could help people value their own health and eventually their own future and actually serve to lift them up rather than keep them down?

The absolutely adamant opposition that has stalked the Affordable Health Care Plan since its inception seems several degrees tougher than laws that were stonewalled in the past. Most of those bills raised strong protests only until they became laws and they were usually opposed by those who labeled them “socialist” and those who keep constant eyes on America’s bottom line instead of on the citizens who struggle at the bottom of America’s economy (in other words, by the same people who oppose the ACA). The antipathy to the ACA has been several orders of magnitude more intense than was the disapproval campaign leveled against Welfare, or Medicare, or food stamps.

Of course we are talking about people who are just as interested in dismantling WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) a combination of citizens that it seems particularly cold-hearted to remove from the social safety net. I suppose the reasoning is that women, so supported, will continue to produce offspring that they could never afford if limited to their own resources. Of course, it still seems true that very few women will pull out a calculator before getting pregnant and this is still unlikely to happen even when help with prenatal vitamins and formulas is taken away. Most of us thought that America funded WIC because we are people who do not starve babies and young children, and because healthy moms produce healthier babies.

Clearly the web site for the ACA has been a terrible disappointment because it frustrates those who need health insurance and it provides fodder for the haters to continue crabbing about what a “disaster”, “train wreck” “everything horrible” this program, the Affordable Health Care Act, will be; it won’t work, it will be too costly, there won’t be enough doctors, forget getting scheduled for that procedure you need. Having a non-working web site lends credence to all of these arguments and makes us doubt this law. However, we realize that it  also just went into effect, that it has been hyped as the worst thing to happen to America, ever and that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal it 40+ times. Is the law cursed? Should Kathleen Sebelius be fired?

Is there any way on earth that we could just stop talking about this law for a while and let it roll out if it can and have all the good effects we hope it will have on people and on our economy and fail if it will? We are thoroughly sick of listening to the GOP harangue us about this program they call Obamacare. We are done with it, the law is law, the roll out has begun. We will see if it works or fails soon enough. I don’t need to see Katherine Sebelius get fired. We are also sick of all this “heads will roll” stuff. We are not completely sure that you haven’t hired people to sabotage the Health Care website (although I accept that this is really just wishful/paranoid thinking).

I’m not sure why there isn’t a table in every pharmacy where people can look over the plans and do the kind of registering that is needed. If we can give flu shots in Walmart and sell cable in Walmart why can’t we wheel in a locking file and a table and register people in Walmart, or at the grocery store? If new tech won’t work, why can’t we go old school? The news about the computer sites just keeps getting worse. On the evening news this Sunday we were told that Verizon had an outage and the web site was down again. I don’t really want a blow by blow description. Let’s talk about something else, please. Maybe if we aren’t commenting on every move the process will come together. Let’s talk about this NSA stuff for a while. That needs to have some light shined on it and some guidelines discussed that will not put our personal privacy at DEF CON 1 for at least another 50 years.

Here’s an interesting link about alternate ways to apply for health insurance under the ACA:

 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book

The Lowland

 

Jhumpa Lahiri is an author who writes of India. But if you believe that her stories have no significance for the rest of the world’s readers, you would be wrong. Her newest book The Lowland introduces us to two brothers, Subhash (the older) and Udayan (the younger). They live in Calcutta, but not the teeming middle of this giant city; they live in the suburbs across from two lowland ponds that fill with water and water hyacinths during the rainy season. We would call this lowland a wetlands area. It is visited, in the days of their childhood, by egrets and frogs and other creatures attracted by water, including two little boys who spend many days around these ponds, especially in this very hot land.

Their family is not wealthy. Their house is small. Behind or near their house is a wall that separates the boys from the Tollygunge Golf Club, a remnant of when India was a British colony. The boys are not supposed to enter the grounds of the Tollygunge Golf Club; it is still a club for white people and the few Indian people who work there. But they are boys and what boy will not be attracted to what is forbidden. With the help of two tin kerosene cans (one on either side of the wall) the boys come and go across the wall until they are discovered by the police. The police don’t just give the boys a lecture and let them go; they cane at least one of the boys across his bare calves.

The two boys look much alike but they do not have the same personalities. Udayan shows more spirit and is less bound by social rules, but people enjoy his spontaneity. Subhash is more conforming and studious and quiet.

So I won’t say which one of the boys grows up to leave India and attend school in America, Rhode Island to be exact. This brother majors in Ocean Sciences and lives sparely, near campus. He sends money home and occasionally writes but he does not return to India for several years.

The other brother meets some firebrands who are revolutionary thinkers. They see the extreme unfairness in Indian Society, the inequality, with its very poor and very rich. They begin to be Maoists who think Mao’s brand of Communism will help India. This brother visits the countryside for a while and shares the hardscrabble lives of the villagers. He becomes radicalized, even as he falls in love with the sister of one of his fellow insurgents. He moves on from thinking to action, he moves from political graffiti to bomb making. He marries Guari and moves into his parent’s home.

How do two brothers from the same family go such different ways? Is this the old nature/nurture controversy at work or would a merger of nature and nurture more adequately explain these two brothers who have such widely divergent lives? We admire the revolutionary brother a bit; we feel that he is a dreamer, an idealist; that he wants to be a hero and help the poorest Indians by changing the government of India. There are the days of Indira Ghandi and Nehru. Do our sympathies stay with him when we learn that he has committed terrorist acts? What is the difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist? Is there any difference? Do we admire the brother who takes responsibility for the pregnant Guari when her new husband is shot by police? Do we admire this brother who lives the staid, quiet, academic (boring you might say) life or do we admire the brother with conviction, the brother who adopts an ideology and stays with it? Do your feelings change and evolve as you learn more about the lives of these two brothers?

This is an excellent book and perfectly suited to these times in which we have difficulty deciding sometimes who is a hero and who is just a criminal and if there is any room for a category between these two extremes. In fact, if someone tried to end your freedom could you become a revolutionary? In an age of terrorists and “whistle blowers” like Snowden and Assange, these questions are not abstract and remote; we face our answers to these questions frequently and usually there is no easy answer.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book

 
 
Jhumpa Lahiri is an author who writes of India. But if you believe that her stories have no significance for the rest of the world’s readers, you would be wrong. Her newest book The Lowland introduces us to two brothers, Subhash (the older) and Udayan (the younger). They live in Calcutta, but not the teeming middle of this giant city; they live in the suburbs across from two lowland ponds that fill with water and water hyacinths during the rainy season. We would call this lowland a wetlands area. It is visited, in the days of their childhood, by egrets and frogs and other creatures attracted by water, including two little boys who spend many days around these ponds, especially in this very hot land.

Their family is not wealthy. Their house is small. Behind or near their house is a wall that separates the boys from the Tollygunge Golf Club, a remnant of when India was a British colony. The boys are not supposed to enter the grounds of the Tollygunge Golf Club; it is still a club for white people and the few Indian people who work there. But they are boys and what boy will not be attracted to what is forbidden. With the help of two tin kerosene cans (one on either side of the wall) the boys come and go across the wall until they are discovered by the police. The police don’t just give the boys a lecture and let them go; they cane at least one of the boys across his bare calves.

The two boys look much alike but they do not have the same personalities. Udayan shows more spirit and is less bound by social rules, but people enjoy his spontaneity. Subhash is more conforming and studious and quiet.

So I won’t say which one of the boys grows up to leave India and attend school in America, Rhode Island to be exact. This brother majors in Ocean Sciences and lives sparely, near campus. He sends money home and occasionally writes but he does not return to India for several years.

The other brother meets some firebrands who are revolutionary thinkers. They see the extreme unfairness in Indian Society, the inequality, with its very poor and very rich. They begin to be Maoists who think Mao’s brand of Communism will help India. This brother visits the countryside for a while and shares the hardscrabble lives of the villagers. He becomes radicalized, even as he falls in love with the sister of one of his fellow insurgents. He moves on from thinking to action, he moves from political graffiti to bomb making. He marries Guari and moves into his parent’s home.

How do two brothers from the same family go such different ways? Is this the old nature/nurture controversy at work or would a merger of nature and nurture more adequately explain these two brothers who have such widely divergent lives? We admire the revolutionary brother a bit; we feel that he is a dreamer, an idealist; that he wants to be a hero and help the poorest Indians by changing the government of India. There are the days of Indira Ghandi and Nehru. Do our sympathies stay with him when we learn that he has committed terrorist acts? What is the difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist? Is there any difference? Do we admire the brother who takes responsibility for the pregnant Guari when her new husband is shot by police? Do we admire this brother who lives the staid, quiet, academic (boring you might say) life or do we admire the brother with conviction, the brother who adopts an ideology and stays with it? Do your feelings change and evolve as you learn more about the lives of these two brothers?

This is an excellent book and perfectly suited to these times in which we have difficulty deciding sometimes who is a hero and who is just a criminal and if there is any room for a category between these two extremes. In fact, if someone tried to end your freedom could you become a revolutionary? In an age of terrorists and “whistle blowers” like Snowden and Assange, these questions are not abstract and remote; we face our answers to these questions frequently and usually there is no easy answer.