Category Archives: General

03252014 Privacy? Ha, Ha !

A week doesn’t pass when someone doesn’t seem shocked that much of their “privacy” is available either online or through the government. People who lock down their social media are no more protected than those who post everything publicly. But I can see that it is easier to believe that your privacy is protected. One of the most common errors I find, especially among the more educated, is foregoing Facebook or Twitter but relying on services such as LinkedIn. While Facebook can be locked down and used even jokingly, LinkedIn (as an example) contains your real information. Many users don’t think twice about exposing their résumé on such services, voluntarily, yet don’t feel exposed because it is a ‘better’ service than other social media. The same logic extends toward ALL professional associations and clubs. History teaches us that smart people tend to exploit their environment, too.

Do you own property? Chances are that your name, address, taxes, children’s school district, and even a floor map of your house are a couple of clicks away, online, via your local property records. Most searches allow you to use last name only or for multiple guesses. (The more unusual any of your names are, the more easily you are found. Worse still, these property listings are VERY likely to include your middle names, or legal versions of your name that are otherwise more difficult to ascertain casually) On top of that, if you click on deed links, you can see the full legal signatures of everyone involved. Sometimes, your banking institution is listed, as well as other information you wouldn’t expect to be publicly available, such as the location of your garage, where the doors and windows to your house are and whether you have a basement. Almost always, there is also a “map it” link on the property, so anyone can click it and get a detailed map, including street view, of how exactly to get to your property.

1st Place to Look For Property Records in Arkansas  (Link…)
2nd Place to Look    (Link…)

If you own property, you are tacitly agreeing to forgo much of the illusion of privacy.

(Some lawn care services now simply look up your address to quote a price to maintain your lawn based on your lot size and layout, as they can use google street view and satellite imagery to see everything in and around your yard.)

-Marriage licenses? Public.
-Almost all divorce proceedings? Public.
-Voter Registration information? Public.
-If you sue or get sued, chances are all of it is public, including all the motions and filings.
-A lot of people’s job applications are public (even if you don’t get the job!)
-If you’ve ever been charged with a crime, much less convicted, that information is out there for basically anyone to find.
-If you own a business, your business license, incorporation papers and anything similar is a matter of public record.

Want to check your own voter registration (or that of someone else?) Watch what information pops up…  Check Your Voter Registration Information Here                  (This can be a useful link, regardless of privacy, as you can look over candidate information and sample ballots.) But for anyone who can just GUESS your birthday, they can find you without any real effort. You might think you are safer listing only your day and month of birth in multiple places, but it’s an easy guess as to what year you were born, based on schools and other data.

If you know where someone went to school, many yearbooks are available online, for free. If you don’t mind paying for the information, your options expand exponentially. School pictures are in the public domain and are basically impossible to stop from being disseminated. Using Google or DuckDuckGo search engines unveils another universe of photos. Even if you aren’t sharing on Facebook, chances are that your picture has appeared many times in newspapers, LinkedIn, professional newsletters, etc. Databases usually don’t forget you, regardless of the amount of time that has passed. If you learn to use search engines creatively, you are guaranteed to find pictures of anyone. If you don’t mind physically searching at libraries, courthouses and newspapers, you can access anything. We all have pictures of us floating around in real and cyberspace. Worrying about it is no longer meaningful. If you factor in how many times you’ve been filmed or photographed passively by CCTV or surveillance, the probability of you being identified using facial recognition software is 100%.

I’ve known a few people who have public and professional jobs who think their information is safe. “Safe” is a relative word in today’s world. Much of the information being collected is a result of our own tax dollars being used to create ever-increasing databases of information. Your specialized job doesn’t insulate you from exposure to the crazy world. I have yet to find anyone immune from the limelight of information exposure, no matter how careful they think they are being. Regardless of what any government agency collects, each of us is daily doing our part to add information to our database, whether we do so willingly or not.

Even using the most basic functions on Intelius, Zabasearch, PeopleFinder, Pipl or any other common search option yields a lot of information about people – all without paying. Examples sometimes include your age, address, places you’ve lived, professional associations, schools, etc. If you are willing to pay, the amount of information you have available increases considerably. Using the free services usually yields enough background information to confirm your search and to develop leads originating from the confirmed information.

If you make more money or enjoy a better professional standing, your exposure increases, as you are very likely to have been pictured and mentioned in a dozen different formats. Anyone with professional affiliations such as police, real estate, lawyers, or teachers is almost guaranteed to be found without fuss. (The very people who would be most likely to fuss about privacy are also the most likely to have their particulars splattered all over cyberspace and realspace. You are noteworthy and if it’s being noted, it is being saved for later.)

As for social media, it is amazing how many tools are out there to analyze the who, what, when and where of what you say on Facebook and Twitter, among other services. No matter what your privacy settings, listen to that little voice in your head telling you it is all floating around out there anyway. That little voice is correct. No matter how careful you are, at some point the certainly of all information eventually being exposed becomes unavoidable. Even if companies share just your metadata, the algorithms which monitor everything already “know” you. People who aren’t on Facebook, for example, are still identified. Facebook has a huge repository of information that connects you to family and friends. It “knows” who you are – even if you’ve never had an account. It knows what you look like, then and now. People think I’m making that part up, but it’s true.There are geniuses who can subvert any privacy settings on social media and get past the protocols for privacy.

In many places, once you put your trash on the curb, it is available for anyone to pick up and take. Yes, that includes your five years of tax papers, bank statements, personal letters – all of which you knew you should have shredded, but didn’t.

Since I starting doing genealogy, I have been constantly astonished about what is out there in cyberspace – much of it listed willingly by real people. Having access to some of it has allowed me to genuinely help people. I’ve been able to locate people’s “lost” birth certificates, find their biological relatives, locate people who were once important to them, provide information that has allowed people to substantiate claims for grants and Native American registration and so forth. Some of it has been very rewarding. But the more I learn, the weirder that nagging feeling in the back of my head gets. It’s telling me that privacy is an illusion that we are trying to collectively believe in, despite all the evidence. I’ve found pictures of people who have erroneously claimed to have never been photographed and found information and pictures of those who do jobs that require secrecy. Many times, some of this information that should be protected vigorously is offered by local, state, and federal agencies without consideration for content or identification. (As an example, investigators who have been recognized or rewarded or even been in the news for heroic acts.)

If you aren’t checking at least one of your major credit reports yearly, you are inviting misery into your lives. A copy can be obtained freely from all 3 major credit bureaus. Even if they aren’t a total solution, getting yours should be the minimum, every year. If you aren’t doing it, you might as well be writing your social security number on the wall at the bus station.

As far as I know, I’ve never broken any laws regarding privacy, nor have I used any paid services, even legal ones, much less illegal ones, to obtain information. (Employing a private investigator, for example, is legal and opens up virtually any avenue of inquiry you would want to pursue.) I’ve found that for almost all inquiries, enough is out there already to eliminate the need for complex searching.

And such is our plight – in a world of information overload, each of our lives is spilled out across the world in little pieces, waiting for the wrong crazy puzzle-solver to pick them up. Hiding in seclusion isn’t the answer as it ignores the fact that horse if already galloping out of the barn.

Lifehacker Link To Delete Oneself From the Internet…
It won’t “really” work unless you devote a lot of time to it!

 

Meat Safety and General Opinion

(This blog post was written quite a while ago.) The average person doesn’t know how food is produced. And that’s a good thing. It’s easier to assume safeguards are followed and that food is generally safe to eat. We are at the mercy of giant corporations whose commitment to safe food is not always a given. We hope that circumstances in facilities producing our food are not operated in an undesirable way- but we know in our hearts that it probably isn’t true.

I don’t want to complain about Meatsack Inc (fake name, of course), as it pays the bills for a lot of people. Despite the rough work environment, I ran into a lot of great people when I worked in a meat plant. Most of the people were great. A lot of those great people would be shocked at the conditions that existed under their noses. And the environment seemed to promote and reward people who were able to cross the food safety line. Speed kills – both on the road and in food production. It injures human beings and it injures the ability to take appropriate safety measures for food consumption. Day in and day out I watched as management said and did the most asinine and unsafe things. Nothing got in the way of the efficiency god and cost was trumped by safety only when unavoidable. It was like watching a preacher give a sermon and rob the congregation at gunpoint.

However, is it wrong of me to feel happy that the company has suffered a least a degree of bad publicity lately? I know that it’s almost impossible to guarantee a safe food supply. The “however” comes into play because when you personally see avoidable and ignored conditions that lead to unsafe food practices, it tends to carry a different significance. Mistakes can and do happen. Willful misapplications and failures to follow rules and guidelines can’t be hidden as “mistakes.” (Even if the marketing and legal departments spends millions attempting to convince us of this.)
While much of my criticism is my OPINION, the reality is that meat facilities of any kind aren’t really operated in a manner that I agree with, to put it nicely. They are generally dehumanizing, dirty, and even established procedures are blithely ignored in order to increase efficiency and allegedly, profits. Or they were back in my day. I have to admit that my opinion could be 100% inaccurate now. Based on what I am told by people I trust, the same objections I once raised are still being shouted today as well.
One positive: Meatsack, Inc. left me with an appreciation for other jobs. Even simple acts such as being able to go to the  restroom can’t be taken for granted for many meat facility employees. Need a drink of water? Have a muscle cramp? Good luck getting human attention.There is a huge gap between the expectation of an honest day’s work for honest pay and the human exploitation of designing processes that don’t fundamentally address the physical effects of long-term repetitive motion issues, among others, on employees. Regardless of cost – even if higher prices result. Of what purpose is the perpetuation of any industry that doesn’t address profit as a result of human-oriented activity?
Working for so many years at a meat facility also demonstrated to me that management cannot survive without “open secrets” behind every aspect of operations. Don’t have time to document inspections, much less do them? How will anyone know it’s done if you document it, but don’t do it? That’s why publicized issues with cleanliness and disease always at first seem credible to me. I’m sure I’ve been mistaken in my contempt for some of the businesses embroiled in these food safety debacles. There must be companies dedicated to cleanliness at any cost. There must be…
It’s not that people who work at meat facilities are bad. It’s that the production method itself inspires nonsensical behavior. Add management who literally can’t communicate with much of the workforce and who know, but can’t acknowledge, that every day must be run one small second away from a disaster. Good people have to adjust a lot of behavior in order to work long-term at meat facilities. In dehumanizing jobs, it is difficult to avoid the pull downward in regards to what you can not only personally put up with, but what you can stomach doing to others. It becomes easier to disconnect from the consequences of doing things wrong. We’re not the ones making the decisions, we tell ourselves.
Daily, however, I saw and participated in processes that simply failed to be hygienic. Managers would become angry if you stopped and pointed out that the way we were doing things was just WRONG. Production seemed to consistently run on the edge of disaster, products needed to be shipped before they were even made and the “get it out the door” mentality was the dominant mantra, even if it was implemented with a wink. Everyone “knew” that rules had to be bent to make production. Discussion of these exceptions was simply not acceptable. (I won’t digress too much into  how SAFETY is considered in exactly the same way, but I worked in an area where someone with decades of experience was almost decapitated. I, too, was exposed many times to the extra SAME danger. Honestly speaking, my exposure was worse than the person who was almost mortally injured in that area. Everything about that area was operated in direct opposition to its inherent dangers and people were injured because of management’s mentality about it.)
Worse still, I had to actively participate in the “overlooking” sometimes, even when I knew beyond a doubt that it was contributing to the likelihood of a degraded food product. On many occasions, I was threatened directly and indirectly to stop talking and do as I was told, even though it was my name on the line. Working in a couple of areas was a course in counter-espionage, with the enemy being anyone or anything standing in the way of MAXIMUM production. A couple of the best people I ever met were inspectors of one kind or another and it was toward them that management ordered me to not only not answer questions, but to actively engage in behavior that was questionable and to falsify inspections and data. If I were under subpoena, I of course could name some of them after all these years. They would have a different recollection. Guess what? There would be no documented proof, as we falsified it all! I got the ‘wink’ from management so often I forgot that it was possible to do things correctly without cooking the books, so to speak. Repeatedly. Like dirty ceilings dripping directly into the food supply, meat spilled onto the floor and then shoveled up off of the floor without being reported, chill coolers being way too hot for storage, fresh product being frozen solid and then sneaked through production to avoid temperature inspection, etc. Did really bad things happen every day? No, of course. Very often? Yes.People don’t like to be reminded that they were involved in the shenanigans, as they feel like they had no choice. But when you are the one making the decisions, the buck can’t be passed.
I’ll never forget the summer when someone was putting a contaminant into cooked deli. Despite our supposedly rigorous detection procedures, we shipped a lot of this stuff out the door to customers. We had to work a lot of overtime to run it all through detectors again – after the contaminant was being found for the second time in cooked meat that we had already processed twice. And even missed some the second time. Yet, at each point, our procedures were documented, our machines calibrated. Or were they? Did speed trump safety? To ask is to answer affirmatively. Someone was paying for all that overtime. We also had lie detectors being used on us during this period, to catch the person contaminating the cooked food supply with metal. At the outset, I knew that only a select few could have been guilty. Management knew my crazy reputation so I wasn’t a suspect. But it bothered a couple of them that an idiot from line production like me could take a cursory look at the circumstances and correctly narrow the suspect pool to a handful of people. Nevertheless, they wasted a lot of resources chasing phantoms instead of taking an honest look at how they were producing food. Any real emphasis on checking the food supply more carefully would have guaranteed a safe food supply. Instead, we focused on production speed. So focused on the necessity of production to keep their respective jobs that sensible group safety thinking among managers often disappeared. Being well-educated, many of the management team could fast-talk themselves and others into forgetting that many of us on the front lines of production knew better than to drink the “we’re doing things right” kool-aid. We didn’t inspect the cooked end enough to guarantee no trapped air or holes in the packaging. If we sliced a box accidentally and into the meat or bird below the cardboard, we often ignored it. Did we use the wrong broth formulation because we knew it couldn’t be proven? Yes, of course. Time was always trumping quality. Yet, we had to listen to paradoxical exhortations to be safe and to treat the food products safely – until we couldn’t, at which point every objection people had to doing things correctly was treated as insubordination. As I was quite the ass when younger, many times it was me doing the objecting and listening to the stupidity of their “shhhh system” of dealing with problems.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Can any of this be true?” Just remember that I am heavily censoring and editing what I say. It is not a specific company or person I want to comment on, even though I am addressing my situation. I’d rather you focus on the idea that if it happened one place it happened many places. Which of course it did. I could tell some hypnotic and horrifying stories of what was done to the food supply. Most of them can be summed up this way: Management said to do it and to shut up about it – or else.
I’ve long said that the way to determine a company’s true values and purpose can be learned by listening, watching, and experiencing things as they happen. If you are in a meat facility, go to where the less-educated workers are holding knives and cutting. It’s the best place to start. Talk to them, in their language, if it isn’t English. Patterns image. You can’t blame all of the negativity on the people expressing their opinions.
(Reading the lofty statements on plaques near the front door only serves to confuse your vocabulary.)
With meat facilities, at least in my past experience, the emphasis is on maximum production. This is the case with most businesses. People forget that a critical difference is that meat plants produce food that can either nourish or kill someone.

Meatsack, Inc hopefully will be reminded to be more careful. Not because of the public spectacle of hurting people avoidably. But because it’s the right thing to do. Again, I’m writing this years later. Maybe the entire business has changed and maybe I was just in the right place at the right time, exposed to a specific set of people who aren’t and weren’t representative of how things should be done in the food supply.

On the other hand, I still see the same stories and allegations about meat suppliers. I’m not sure what an acceptable number of bad companies might be.

Life Is a “Frankenbite”

…Frankenbite (n): An edited reality show snippet, most often found in contestant testimonials, that splices together several disparate strands of an interview, or even multiple interviews, into a single clip. A frankenbite allows editors to manufacture “story” efficiently and dramatically by extracting the salient elements of a lengthy, nuanced interview or exchange into a seemingly blunt, revealing confession or argument. While the frankenbite’s origins certainly don’t reside in reality TV, this is a reality show editor’s most potent tool for manipulating viewer perception of a contestant...”  (From an article on Slate by Kevin Arnovitz)

Don’t we all do this, even with memories, recollections of conversations and the timeline of events?

As you would probably agree, some people are more likely to use frankenbites, as well as being more adept at it. Some people do it so convincingly that I think they might be unaware of their edits to real life. 

I know that I’m making a comparison to real life here, but reality television is terrible enough without learning all this cool lingo to state EXACTLY why some of it annoys me. (I’m looking at you, “Duck Dynasty” and any pawnshop show on television.)

04232014 Backwards Clocks

Backwards clocks are a reminder to stop assuming that there is a “normal” orientation for things. Even if there such a thing, it is a poor reason to insist on conformity. A huge dose of craziness is what makes life interesting.

You can order one through Amazon, among other places.

Please keep an eye on your friends or family if they are drinking while looking at these clocks. They’ve been known to cause brain freeze and bewilderment.

Spider Salad, The N.R.A., World Cup FIFA, Pinterest and the NFL on Thanksgiving

Spider Salad, The N.R.A., World Cup FIFA, Pinterest and the NFL on Thanksgiving

Warning: this post is just plain weird… I apologize for the weird title, but it will likely drive in random traffic. Anyone coming to this blog post by accident needs a good surprise. Sometimes I like to unwind by writing creatively and coming up with purportedly clever things to say and then randomly call people and whisper the pithy quotes to them. Or put them on the internet, where time and human dignity intertwine to create something both interesting and horrifying simultaneously.

My new book, “Spider Salad” will be published soon, possibly the first ever to be printed in invisible ink on pre-recycled paper. (Is that joke too layered?) A lot people don’t know that I make a living writing. A terrible living, perhaps, but one not aspiring to glamor or box seats at some ignominious sporting event. True, I punch a clock daily to buy my daily bread; believe me, the clock deserves a good punch or two on a routine basis – and I owe it no loyalty for having conspired to steal my creative life in lumps of 8 hours at a time, year after year.

If I were going to write a book, I mean. The Braille edition might come out first. The plan is to pull a prank on those needing it and use small, sharp tacks instead of exclamation marks. As they read, their fingers tracing the bumps and indentations, they will involuntarily provide the “!” when the sharp points hit them. This might cause a problem in libraries, as random shouts of exclamation are generally met with disfavor there.

“Spider Salad” has all the suspense and vague implications that a great book should possess, minus all the words, plot and nonsense to get in the way. It could be a cookbook, a societal diatribe or even a murder-mystery.

This title has something for everyone, unless you are a nihilist, in which case it literally has nothing that will interest you.

It could be a book about self-reflection. I could put a small mirror on page 98 so that it could literally be self-reflective.

I could glue 4 or 5 coins to the inside cover, so it could literally bring change to your life.

“Spider Salad: A Recipe for Disaster”  (A FEMA manual.)
“Spider Salad: Oops, Sorry I Shot You Twice” (An NRA pamphlet.)
“Spider Salad: Why Teaching Isn’t a Real Job” (A Workaholic’s Daily Motivational.)
“Spider Salad:  Why Do I Bother With Rhetorical Questions?” (A Debate Guide.)
“Ensalada de Araña:Y Tú No Me Compras?” (A Marketing Book for Hispanics.)

This book is going to have everything – except a plot, words, or content. (The Republicans among you are already familiar with this glaring lack of substance and content. If you are Republican, please mentally go back and insert the word “Democrat” in lieu of “Republican.” If that’s too many steps, you probably are either a sports fan or management of some sort. We know who you are – you lips are moving as your read this. If you are a Tea Partier, then you are still staring at the first few words of this post, wondering where all the pictures might be.)

09272014 ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”

‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’

Where was this idea when I was writing the Miley Cyrus-inspired diatribe?

Imagine having enough “talking back” money or the ability to live life exactly according to your own standards – a life without ethical compromise or stupid adherence to the idea that selling one’s personality in exchange for cash is a great way for all of us to squander our lives. I’m going out on a clichéd limb here and speculating that much of our lives would look nothing like what they currently resemble if each of us had sufficient “talking back” money.
(“Talking back” money is an old idea that indicates that you have enough resources to do what you want, despite circumstances trying to align to force you to do what you don’t want to do – usually associated with employment.)
My point isn’t so much toward what type of work we are doing, as work tends to be the unifying factor in our lives, whether we like it or not. It is the attitude that all mature adults must adopt, the attitude that forces us to swallow our natural instinct to not waste our own lives doing meaningless, unethical, or simply stupidly repetitive activity. 
Imagine if we could be honest with all of our friends and loved ones. Not cruelly honest, but respectfully honest. What would your social life look like? Who would you choose to be around? How would you spend your allotted time in life?

A Moment of S̶i̶l̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ Life

A Moment of S̶i̶l̶e̶n̶c̶e̶  Life

Not to lessen anyone's efforts to honor or recognize someone who has fallen in service to other people...

But I have a more interesting take on a way to celebrate someone. Since life is about movement, voices and action, instead of a moment of silence, I propose that we start observing a Moment of Life, instead. We can stand up, applaud, roar with our voices, or take a minute to say something about the person that we like or identify with.

Let's fill the void emptied by someone who has left us - for one brief moment.

Revisionists

In the past, I’ve sometimes used the word “revisionist” to describe people who vainly try to rewrite personal history. I can understand the need to do it, as many people have some fairly terrible stories in their past. The way I’m using the word, though, isn’t in regards to someone concealing specific secrets; rather, it encompasses attempts to minimize, gloss over or call into question another person’s detailed memory of an event. For those people like me that don’t fee ashamed about family history beyond our control, it is a constant pull to avoid getting sucked in by those who fight against even the most basic truths.

A revisionist to me is someone who can’t help but to rewrite history to change the perception of what happened. Dad beat your mom constantly? “No, it was only every once and a while, and nothing like what you say.” Did someone do a lot of drugs? “Well, it was that boyfriend’s fault, not really hers. It was all a big misunderstanding.”

I think using the word “revisionist” as a short code for “not quite telling the truth” could be very useful.