Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dueling Excerpts

Sooner or later I think people will actually start reading What So Proudly We Hailed. Sooner would be nice. Until then, the lines between a fictional novel and a factual reality continue to blur together in alarming fashion. Hopefully, reality will shift away from its parallel course at some point. If not, we're all in a lot more trouble than we could ever imagine.

excerpt from "ID cards for foreigners launched":
LONDON (AFP) – The government launched the first phase of a controversial new identity card scheme Tuesday, forcing certain foreign nationals to start carrying the documents from later this week.

The documents will feature the holder's name and date of birth, their visa status and right to work, as well as a photograph, fingerprint record, and other biometric data.

excerpt from "What So Proudly We Hailed":
The Real ID for instance, when it did go into effect in 2008, wasn’t the “end of freedom for all” like some had said it would be. It was painless. Nobody even got a national ID card, much less one with a radio frequency chip or a DNA sample or a retinal scan. There were no roadblocks or checkpoints. Nothing like they said it would be. All that happened is that a positive form of ID was added to the driver’s license that everybody had already anyway: a fingerprint.

No big deal.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Coming Soon to a "Good Cause" Near You

How can we use implantable Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology? Let me count the ways . . .

1 – Implant them into your pets – of course – unless you are an irresponsible, unloving owner
2 – Implant them into our soldiers so that we will never have to leave a body behind
3 – Implant them into people who have access to areas requiring security clearances

What else? What else?

Oh, here’s one! How about implant them into everyday people so that their entire medical history and all of their records can be accessed through a software program just in case they arrive at a hospital unable to communicate:

VeriChip Corporation, a provider of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for healthcare and patient-related needs, today announced that its personal health record used in conjunction with its VeriMed Health Link system will be accessible through Microsoft(R) HealthVault(TM), an online platform designed to put consumers in control of their health information. Through this agreement, Health Link members will have the ability to open free HealthVault accounts and input, store, view and interact with their health data. Further, the data within Health Link members' existing accounts will be directly accessible through their HealthVault accounts.

VeriChip Corporation, headquartered in Delray Beach, Florida, markets its VeriMed(TM) Health Link System for rapidly and accurately identifying people who arrive in an emergency room and are unable to communicate. This system uses the first human-implantable passive RFID microchip, cleared for medical use in October 2004 by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Full Story: VeriChip Corporation Selected by Microsoft to Offer Personal Health Record through Microsoft HealthVault

Oh, and here’s another great use. Let’s stick ‘em in “HIV positive” folks so we can keep tabs on their nefarious activities. And track them down and punish them if need be:

“ . . . legislator John Manangsang said by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of "sexually aggressive" patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others . . . ”

Full Story: Indonesian AIDS patients face microchip monitoring

What other “Good Causes” can we think of for these things? Ex-convicts & parolees? Gun owners? Children? Babies? You & me?

I guess time will tell. In the interim, feel free to use your imagination, and as you do so, don't forget that a knife can cut both ways.

* * *

UPDATE (11/25/08) - Boy, time apparently tells quick! Saw the below story just this morning. Granted, it doesn't deal with RFID chips that are physically implanted into the human body, but wouldn't that just be the next logical step?
New machines scan IDs at border crossings

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Less Than Human

Note: The following is an article that I wrote for the Casey County News as part of my ongoing attempts to encourage people (myself included) to turn their backs on the corporate giants in favor of small town businesses. Green River Builders & the Casey Print Shop are the local hardware & office supply stores here in Liberty, KY. The Lowe's & Office Depot mentioned are located in Danville, KY, 25 miles away.

I have a confession to make, and an apology to give.

Not too long ago I needed some odd sized PVC fittings for a project. Green River Builders didn’t have the pieces I needed in stock, but even though I knew they would have gotten them for me, my own neglect & procrastination had made waiting a luxury that I could no longer afford.

So – for my first sin – I went to Lowe’s, and yes, in their smorgasbord of “everything” they did indeed have the fittings that I needed. I was feeling fine. Until I went to checkout.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to Lowe’s, and somewhere in my absence they have installed four new “self-checkout” machines. Maybe I think too much of myself, but the thought that a store would present me with a machine so that I can check myself out is degrading; almost as if I’m not important enough for them to provide me with a living, human being to assist. Apparently Lowe’s doesn’t feel the same way though, because other than the four machines, there was only one register open that was staffed by an actual person.

So I got in her line intent to wait – as much to show my appreciation for her as to show my disdain for the automated devices – and the first thing she did was tell me that I could check myself out on one of the new machines. I said “no, thank you”, and continued waiting in line. Then, as she was waiting for someone to approve a check for the customer she currently had, she offered to help me use the self-checkout machine.

I had to digest this for a moment. Then I got it: She didn’t want to help me; she wanted me to use the machine, even if she had to help me do it.

Completely disenchanted with her reaction, I walked to the other side of the store and stood in line for 5 minutes at the Customer Service desk to make my purchase with the only other living person I saw standing next to a register.

Obviously not content with how badly I’d been treated at Lowe’s and apparently determined to sin yet again, I then went next door to Office Depot. As before, what I was looking for was not something that I couldn’t have bought from the Casey Print Shop, but I knew Office Depot would probably have it in stock, and I was right there after all.

This time I had a real person to check me out, but as I started writing the date on my check, she told me that to “save time” I didn’t have to fill it out; at all. Not a single line.

Curious, I handed her my blank check, she ran it through the machine, asked me to sign on the little computer screen (on which I made an unintelligible scrawl), and then handed back the blank check along with the receipt. It’s important to let you know that she never asked me for any form of ID at all. All she needed – or wanted – was my blank check, which, by the way, could have belonged to anyone.

Granted, Elaine Wood doesn’t check my ID at the Casey Print Shop either, but that’s because Elaine doesn’t have to; she knows who I am. The blank check I gave to Office Depot could have belonged to anybody. It could have been yours. Maybe it was.

Through the combined efforts of Lowe’s and Office Depot, it took them less than 20 minutes to make me feel a little less than human – a machine at one store; an account & routing number at the other – and despite myself, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling that I was the one who had done something wrong.

In truth, I guess I had, because I’d never even given my own hometown businesses a chance. My mother had a corny saying when I was a boy; “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

I should probably listen to her more often.

But in the meantime, please let me express my sincere apologies to both Green River Builders and the Casey Print Shop. Both of your businesses always treat me as if I have value. I should do a better job returning the favor.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome Home (Small Town Style)

My wife Catherine & I were walking over to church Sunday evening at about 6:00 p.m. when I heard the sirens – a lot of them – wailing in the distance and coming our way fast. What was it this time? A fire? A car wreck? So sad; these things happen all to often in our little corner of the world.

Then I saw the flashing lights turn the corner and head down the street towards us, making the biggest racket you ever heard. The dusk was shattered by a convoy of strobing flashes of blue, white, & red light stretching back several blocks down the street. A multitude of differing sirens loudly competed with each other for attention; horns were blaring to clear the way.

The Fire Chief’s bright red pickup truck led the procession, followed by an assortment of six fire trucks from across the county, a police cruiser, EMS, and a half-dozen unmarked cars, all lit up like Christmas trees and making enough noise to wake the dead.

“What’s going on?” Catherine asked. “What is that?”

I smiled. “It’s an escort,” I said. “Somebody just came home.”

And indeed someone had. Cade Shackelford, a 2006 graduate of Casey County High School and current member of the National Guard’s 617th Military Police Unit was home after serving a tour of duty in Iraq.

Welcome Home, Cade. Small town style.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

16 & Life to Go

Please take a moment to read the following article:
Should Kids Be Able to Graduate After 10th Grade?

When you're finished, consider these "words of wisdom" from the article:
As more and more jobs head overseas, Brock and others on the commission can't stress enough how dire the need is for educational reform. "The nation is running out of time," he says.

I have news for Mr. Brock; American jobs have not been going overseas because of an uneducated workforce. They have been going overseas because of the corporate bottom line. Period.

And this:
But to achieve the goal of sending kids to college at 16, Tracy and his colleagues recognize preparation will have to start early. Nearly four years ago, New Hampshire began an initiative called Follow the Child. Starting practically from birth, educators are expected to chart children's educational progress year to year.

Allowing the government to get their hooks into our children "practically from birth"; That's just sweet to think about.

More important than the tripe actually contained in the ariticle, however, are the things that are not mentioned at all. Take a moment to think about some of the things that they're not addressing: Will these 16 year olds be considered adults? Will they be able to vote? Drink? Serve on a jury? Be tried as adults in criminal court? Oh, and what if - by some mere chance - instead of going on to college, they decide that they might like to pursue a career in the military? Hmmmmm. Well, they are high school graduates after all . . . .

And if they are old enough to join voluntarily, might it also be safe to assume that - only in the case of a dire emergency, of course - they might also be old enough to join involuntarily?

Why would that thought ever occur to me? Read the below passage from What So Proudly We Hailed and you'll understand. What really upsets me is that I keep seeing things that I wrote about happening in real life. Could this be yet another, if only in its infancy?

* * *
from the book "What So Proudly We Hailed":
The tide of our little war ebbed and flowed, periodically quieting down for a time only to then rise up again in a flurry of activity. It just went on and on and on. Buildings burned. Dams were blown. People died. And no matter how many men would embrace me or shake my hand, or how many words of encouragement I would give, we all somehow just ignored the fact that none of it would ever change anything.

It was all just a distraction. Just activity to keep everyone occupied until the stone that was needed to end it all could be found. We were just passing time, and as the months clipped by, I began to fear that our time was starting to run out. Because the world continued to turn for the other side as well, and I could sense the hand squeezing, the screws continuing to turn.

Some of it didn’t directly affect us. Land reclamation – as the government called it – for instance, really made no difference to us at all. It had been going on slowly and quietly for quite some years anyway. Whether it was by declaring areas as wildlife sanctuaries for endangered species, or claiming land under imminent domain for roads, border fences, public buildings and other projects, or “protecting” the water supply by taking control of all properties that bordered a river, creek, lake, pond or even a seasonal spring, the government took their fair share. What they didn’t get, the banks would pick and choose by foreclosure, and whatever was left, the corporations snapped up for agriculture, oil drilling, or mineral resources. The only thing that was different now was that by the end of 2025, fully three states – Alabama, Maryland, and Mississippi – did not have a single acre of privately owned property within their borders. Others would follow close behind the following year.

And when the work week was extended to sixty hours to halve the gap between the US and Mexican workforces (we were in a union now you know and we had to do our fair share too) to maintain our global competitiveness and keep the coffers full for the war effort – which now included the fight against these internal terrorists – we really didn’t care. Our workweek, while more flexible, was already well over sixty hours.

However, there were other things that were more ominous. When the Department of Education deemed that students were now able to graduate high school at age sixteen (since public schooling had been pushed back to start at age three many years ago), I didn’t initially see reason to worry. It was just another thing, I thought, though I should have known better, because it would prove to be yet another “first step” for something else, like so many others I had witnessed in our recent history.

It didn’t take long to figure out. Six months after lowering the graduation age, the legal voting age was lowered as well. Of course it was. Didn’t that make perfect sense? And when the draft age was lowered to sixteen years old two months after that, well, that made perfect sense too.

There was a war going on you know. Wars need men to fight it, but boys will do in a pinch.

I still held out hope that some of these things would push people over the edge, that they would all stand up as one and end the madness for us, but though they would sometimes get angry, they never did rise together. Decade upon decade of always having someone else to do their dirty work for them kept them complacent and inline, and their anger always faded away and left them looking around for someone else – and the choices were either the AG or us – to come to their rescue rather than risk losing what fragile existence they had left.

Every day I prayed for the successful creation of my stone, and every day the sun would set and I would hear no word at all.

And still the world kept turning. And still we kept waiting.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The First Step Down a Slippery Slope?

The legislation mentioned in this particular article from the Netherlands probably won't happen, but the fact that the "unfit parent" concept continues to keep popping up - in topics ranging from homeschooling to global warming - worries me that sooner or later some of the rhetoric will start to stick.

I realize the potential good that something like this could do, however, if history is to be an indicator, I cannot underestimate man's capacity to do evil with anything that has ever come under his control:

Women in the Netherlands who are deemed by the state to be unfit mothers should be sentenced to take contraception for a prescribed period of two years, according to a draft bill before the Dutch parliament.

The proposed legislation would further punish parents who defied it by taking away their newborn infant.

Have we got the right to exercise pre-emptive "justice" – and could this be the first step towards a "minority report" approach to parental "precrime"? And, perhaps, given the Dutch penchant for social engineering, this could prove to be the prelude for the professionalisation of parenting, where in the distant future only certified and trained "fathers" and "mothers" would be allowed to raise children in special facilities.

Less fantastically, could this not be the first step down a slippery slope?

Read entire article: Guardians of the unborn

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Cost of "Saving" (Part 2)

Note: This is the second of two articles I wrote for the Casey County News. Read the first one here: The Cost of Saving (Part 1)

In Part 1 of this article, I made the argument that any “savings” we gain in the short term by making our purchases outside of Casey County are offset by the long term economic damage that we inflict upon our community by indulging in that behavior.

Of course, if we all had plenty of money we might be perfectly willing to spend more of it at home rather than mortgaging our future just to save a few bucks upfront, but the reality is that we don’t all have plenty of money and the future is still the future after all; our problem is the present. We have real needs that cannot wait, and – all philosophical arguments aside – we need to save money right now, even if we know that by doing so we will ultimately lose later on down the road.

A valid point. And if we were really saving money right now, it might even be worth the risk. But are we? To find out, let’s take a look at what a City of Liberty resident actually “saves” by shopping at Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and self-heralded low price leader.

First, think about the price we pay just to have the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart. By today’s averages, every round-trip to Danville and back will cost you about $12 in gas, 50 miles in wear & tear on your vehicle, and a full hour of your time.

To put that in perspective, by making only 2 trips a month, over the course of a year you will spend almost $300 in fuel, drive 1,200 miles (the same as a road trip to Denver, CO), and expend a full 24 hours of your non-refundable life. And all of that before you even get a chance to open your wallet.

Next, we have to consider just how much extra money most people will spend by being immersed in a “one-stop shopping” world. Everyone’s situation will be different, but by studying the spending habits of my own family, I’ve noticed that when we purchase our groceries at Wal-Mart, we spend about $150 on average. When we buy groceries in Liberty, we spend about $80. The interesting thing is that either way, we still run out of food at about the same time.

How does that happen? What did that other $70 pay for?

Much of it is spent on impulse buys. Things we didn’t need, didn’t plan to purchase, and could certainly have lived without, but were so “cheap” we just couldn’t pass them by. It is a rare individual who is disciplined enough to make a list and stick to it under the constant bombardment of temptation that is experienced while shopping in a Wal-Mart store. But even if you can, you probably still aren’t saving any money.

That’s because Wal-Mart executes a sales strategy that utilizes what are known as “loss leaders”. A loss leader is an item that is priced so low it seems almost too good to be true. These items are indeed priced much lower than what other retailers can compete with, and because Wal-Mart offers so many of these loss leaders, we automatically assume that everything else in the store is also priced less than we could find anywhere else. But that isn’t necessarily true.

According to a 2005 study by Zenith Management Consulting, “only 15% to 20% of the items Wal-Mart sells are actually priced lower than competing retailers. [The other] 80% to 85% of the items Wal-Mart sells are more expensive than at other retailers”.

The reason this strategy works is that we as consumers no longer question whether or not Wal-Mart actually has the best prices or not. We have been conditioned to believe that they do. Wal-Mart tells us that they have the lowest prices, and then to reinforce that message they vigorously promote their loss leaders as proof, knowing that most people will never actually take the time to comparison shop on anything else that they sell.

And if Wal-Mart’s $11 billion in profits last year is any indication, they are correct; we won’t check. If we did, however, what we would find is that we probably could have gotten exactly what we wanted from one of our neighborhood retailers right here at home for a better price and a lot less time & trouble.

In the end, it makes no difference whether we look at the long term economic picture or the short term details; the math works out the same either way: We all save when we buy local.