Tag Archives: Ranting

It’s More Than a Feeling: Somebody Really Is Watching Me

A funny thing happens when you start thinking about something. As I was waiting for the 90 bus  to take me to the public comment forum on the installation of seven Homeland Security cameras in the City of Somerville, I had security cameras on my mind. I’d just done a blog post about how angry a creepy camera system rigged up to monitor a Mustang up the street on Broadway made me. Freezing my tatas off waiting for bus (it never showed up—I had to take a cab), I happened to look up at the old fire station on the corner of Broadway and Cross Street.

And that’s when I saw the Homeland Security camera, mounted on top of the building. Grr! I can see that chimney from my living room window, and while I had noticed the space-age antenna, I had not noticed the camera before. A camera that can look directly into my apartment, should I be suspected of malfeasance. Or, if Big Brother just wanted to see what I’m doing in my living room (I can think of a couple of times when he could have seen quite a show).

Department of Homeland Security Camera from My Living Room

Here’s Looking at You, Big Brother!

I arrived with boiled blood at the comment forum. There I learned that without public knowledge or input, the City of Somerville applied for and accepted a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Bureau of Security Initiative. Included in the grant was funding for the installation of seven cameras in undisclosed public places around the city, ostensibly to monitor traffic routes and the community bike path. One camera had been spied atop the unfortunately named SCAT building in Union Square, and another in Davis Square (and now we know where the one in East Somerville is located).

According to the chair of the city’s department of Public Health and Safety, the aldermen, in approving the grant, were not aware that the cameras were included in the funding. By the time they learned of the situation, things were already underway to install the cameras. Last night’s forum was the attempt by the aldermen to retroactively allow the people of Somerville to comment on the issue. Judging from their questions, most of the aldermen in attendance were very uncomfortable with existence of the cameras and felt that they violated our civil liberties.

Prior to hearing from the public, the Police Chief Anthony Holloway gave some remarks and answered questions from the alderman. He also mistakenly gave them a sheet with the locations of all the cameras. Attempting to reassure the public, Holloway testified that the cameras were not being used to spy on people and that unless a zoom feature is used, the images are grainy (though in color) and do not show things like license plate numbers or faces. The primary purposes of the cameras are to aid in police investigations of crimes and to help the police and fire departments to evacuate Somerville in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

According to Holloway, private residences are shadowed, and the cameras do not film what goes on inside (unless a crime is reported, presumably). Access to the zoom feature is password-protected and limited to nine people in the police department and may only be used if a crime has been reported. If it is used, an alert goes to the Homeland Security officer at the department. Anyone caught abusing the system will be fired immediately. Tapes from the security cameras are kept for fourteen days and then taped over (this was a change from the original thirty-day storage policy). The server keeping the data from the cameras is in Somerville, and permission must be granted for other towns or government entities to access it. With the checks and balances in place, Holloway testified, there is no threat to the civil liberties of the citizens of Somerville.

With all due respect to Chief Holloway, someone I believe to be duped, bullshit. Are we really supposed to believe that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has no access to the data? Technology is power, and power lends itself to abuse. Maybe not today, but sometime in the future, when the public became used to the cameras, the surveillance capabilities would be enhanced. Stored data is data that can be hacked and abused. It is only a matter of time.

These cameras represent a gross violation of the civil liberties of the people of Somerville (and Boston and other surrounding communities that have installed the cameras. Cambridge has chosen to dismantle them). Not only do they needlessly invade our privacy, but also, if they are used in a manner consistent with Chief Holloway’s testimony, then they are essentially useless. They will not deter crime, and only if a criminal stays on the scene will she or he be caught on film by the time one of the nine people with password access is able to get to a computer and zoom in on the location. Do we really need continuous surveillance if one of the primary uses of the cameras is to aid in an evacuation?

Those who offered public comment, with one half-hearted exception by a woman living on the bike path whose house has been vandalized, were unanimous in their opposition to the cameras and furious that they were installed without the opportunity for the people to weigh in. Although I did not comment at the forum, I will be submitting a written statement for the record. The camera on Broadway and Cross Street will catch me every single day, doing nothing more than going about my business. And I’m pissed.

If you live in Somerville, you have until April 15 to submit written comment on this critical issue. You may direct your comments here: cityclerk@ci.somerville.ma.us.

These cameras need to come down. Now.

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Thinking about Security Cameras

UPDATE: Well, this little post seems to have generated a response. It’s been great to see the comments, some of it positive, and quite a bit of it informed dissent. The debate has been great, but a matter has come to my attention that I feel I must address. While it wasn’t clear in the small photo of the cheesy sports car I included in the post, the location of the vehicle was clearly visible in the full version of the photo. Since the small group of regular readers of this blog do not live in the Boston area, I didn’t think to obscure the location. To the owner of the Mustang, I apologize. Your camera pisses me off, but I should have done more to protect your privacy. The photo has been edited.

 

Tonight I’m going to a Somerville town meeting to speak out against the installation of Homeland Security cameras in our fair city. These cameras represent a gross violation of our right to privacy, and giving into their presence without a fight will contribute to a Big Brother culture not only in Somerville, but in the rest of the country.

When I heard about the meeting, though, I got to thinking about other security cameras. Although I can see the point of having cameras at ATMs, I don’t like them. When I’m feeling prickly, I sometimes extend a friendly gesture. Same with cameras in stores. However, there’s one security camera in particular that really pisses me off. It’s this one:

DSCN4973

I first noticed this camera a while back, and it really creeped me out. At first I had no idea why someone would train a camera on East Broadway. To catch people running away screaming from Taco Loco, having stolen some hot sauce? To gather material for some strange art project? To create a view on the world for some lonely shut-in?

Gradually it dawned on me that the ever-present camera was trained on this car:

Mustang

Seriously. It’s a Mustang. Sure, it’s not exactly an economy car, but it’s not like the guy’s protecting a Lamborghini or something. Is it really worth it to constantly film the sidewalk, hoping to catch some whipper-snapper keying it? If the person didn’t think the neighborhood was good enough for the car, the person shouldn’t have moved here.

Anyhow, I’m sure I’m not the only one extending a friendly gesture at the camera. Someday I would love to see a group get together and do a kick line in front of the building. Or maybe a team of videographers filming surveillance of the camera. Something to let that asshole know in no uncertain terms that that security camera is not welcome. We’re watching you, pal.

Favorite Jeans Destroyed, Sassy Faces Soul-Crushing Search for Another Pair

I’m no fashion maven, but I have noticed that ripped jeans have made something of a comeback. Many years ago, I wore ripped up jeans as a symbol of my contempt for polite society (that and because all the cool kids were wearing them). Seeing the young people sport this trend fills me with a certain nostalgia, and so I suppose I should have been happy when my favorite jeans went from worn to torn.

Unfortunately instead of saying nonconformity, my jeans say, “Hey! She’s wearing hot pink underpants!”

Yep. My favorite jeans bit the denim dust.

My nostalgia has been replaced with dread. You know that statistic about women having to try on a gazillion pairs of jeans before finding one that fits? For me, it’s two gazillion.

It all starts with the length. While my legs are long for my height (five feet, three inches), my inseam is smack dab in between petite and regular. Petites fit like capris, and it looks like I have made an embarrassing faux pas (rhymes with “hamel foe”). I try on regulars, and the crotch hangs down to my knees and I trip all over myself. I don’t mind rolling a bit, but I’d rather not look like I’ve pooed my pants. Searching for a pair that mitigates the four-inch difference between the standard sizes takes all my shopping patience. Once that issue is resolved, however, I have other problems.

Most jeans for women are really made for fourteen-year-old boys. As I am, in fact, a woman, I happen to have hips. And an ass. I like my curves (and I’m not alone), but designers seem to think that I should take a chainsaw to them in order to fit into their jeans. By the time I find something that is both the right length and will fit my hips, the legs billow out, and I look like a blue grocery bag. It takes another soul-crushing eon to find something that shows that I have legs and not logs.

And then, there’s the style. I’m not twenty-one anymore, but neither am I forty-five. I want something that looks perfect whether I’m hitting the town or going to the coffee shop. The color is important, as is the overall detail. There’s nothing worse than the wrong pair of jeans. I should know. I have at least four pairs in my closet, purchased in desperation or exhaustion after deluding myself into thinking that I’ll like them once I get them home. 

Last, but by all means not least (especially now), is the price. I’m unemployed. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to go out and drop a huge chunk of change on jeans. But style and fit don’t come cheap, so I’m not sure what to do about that. I do visit the discount racks, but with all of the above stacked against me, I rarely have any luck.

Sigh. Maybe I’ll just stick with skirts.

I’m Baaaaaack (Well, for about Ten More Minutes)

Ugh. Little Sassy Schmoozer dragged me off to San Diego for a conference, and she didn’t let me go anywhere. I was able to fit in a few moments with Fluff in the Gaslamp Quarter, but that was it. What an exhausting trip. Successful, from LSS’s point of view, but exhausting for poor me.

My connector flight from Denver was delayed by over three hours, two of them spent on the plane. Originally, we were told that it was due to a mechanical problem, and we were grateful that the airline wouldn’t send us hurtling through space in a broken tin can. Later, however, it came out that we were parked at the gate for hours because an unoccupied seat in first class was a bit “dirty.” Our pilot decided to pull a publicity stunt by delaying the flight until corporate headquarters cleaned it up. He handed out fliers and encouraged passengers to contact the media. If he’d handed one to me, I would have delivered this story, Don’t Fly United Airlines: They Suck. Thanks to a dirty seat, I was stuck next to a chatty real estate agent for nearly six hours. Fuck the dirty seat, I wanted to go home.

What that flight delay means for you is that you will have to wait for the few Fluff photos and the story of my brief fling with McNeighborBoy. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a rerun, the story of my freakshow Thanksgiving.

Off to New Hampshire, for a quiet (I hope) holiday. Happy Turkey, or as I call it, Happy Vegetable Pigout Day! Back soon.

GAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This sucks! I moved out of Smalltownland in order to get my life back. No sooner do I move here, I fucking tore a fucking muscle, resulting in my basically having to spend every fucking night at home for fucking weeks. My leg’s still not better, but this past week, I have been walking well enough that I made tons of plans. With the exception of a very fun Grey’s evening with Carissa and another new friend, every single fucking plan fell through. Here’s my week:

Casual date with McI Tuesday—Cancelled on account of illness. Poor guy is still sick.
Dinner with friend—Double booked.
Drinks with another friend Friday night—Sister had her baby.
Saturday night/Sunday with out-of-town friend—Forgot she had made other plans.
Backup plan to go to art museum with sister today—Poor girl got a nasty allergy attack.

Result—Wind up in Casey’s last night chit-chatting with the middle-aged ladies and gently fending off the advance of a late-middle-aged guy and some other poor soul who couldn’t pronounce the title of the book I was reading while claiming to be really interested in the subject. I love Casey’s. It’s a great bar. Wonderfully close by, casual, comfortable, chock full of some of the most amazing characters. It’s a people watching extravaganza. They have good pizza, and they give you free popcorn. It’s a genuine townie bar—an endangered species these days. But it isn’t where I want to be on a Friday night.

Today I’ve done my best to amuse myself. I hung out at a café, had a late breakfast in a fantastic diner, went to a used bookshop and a couple of vintage clothing stores, and read. I’ll probably wind up going to some foreign film tonight.

I’m OK with doing things by myself. I enjoy it a lot of the time. But right now I’m so fucking frustrated that I feel like collapsing into a puddle of tears.

Oh, did I mention that it’s freezing cold and raining and it has been since Wednesday?

Or that Carissa, my dear co-worker and fellow Grey’s addict, is leaving me for the Promised Land of Seattle?

GAH!!!!!!!!!

Hypocrites Much? Thoughts on the US Attorneys Scandal

Republicans. I can’t believe them. After getting caught firing eight US attorneys for exclusively political reasons so that they could use the misguided USA Patriot Act to replace the attorneys with ones more amenable to the Bush & Co. line, the Administration is acting like the Democrats are playing nothing but politics. Bush refuses to allow his people to testify under oath, charging that to do anything else would be a partisan “fishing expedition.”

I’m sorry, but what the hell? This is coming from the head of a party that impeached a president over a BLOW JOB. The sex life of the president had no bearing on his ability to effectively govern (and if you disagree with that statement, you’d best reevaluate your judgment of most US presidents), and yet the country was bogged down by Republican viciousness for years. But asking the White House to testify under oath about something that has a significant impact on the running of the country is pandering to politics?

I don’t think that the firing of these attorneys is the worst thing Gonzales has done. That said, he still needs to answer for it. Rove needs to address his role as well. And once that’s done, Congress needs to repeal the Patriot Act.

George W. Bush needs to shut up about partisanship already. He’s the worst offender of them all.

Soulless Starbucks

Yesterday morning, as I was struggling to wake up, I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about Starbucks. Apparently founder Howard Shultz fears that his megacorporation is losing its soul. The story featured two ardent defenders of Starbucks, including a minister who compared the sameness of Starbucks to taking the Eucharist—one can take it anywhere. Needless to say, I woke up pissed off.

This story reminded me of everything that is wrong with America. While I’m glad that the founder of Starbucks has realized that the sterile sameness he has foisted on the world is indeed soulless, I am not convinced that Starbucks ever had a soul. And minister guy, with that logic, you should just go to McDonald’s—apparently their coffee (Newman’s Own) was ranked higher in taste tests than Starbucks coffee. You could have a Big Mac and a large coffee and call it communion.

I hate Starbucks. I hate their coffee; I hate the “atmosphere.” I hate their paper cups. I hate what they’ve done to music and to literature. I hate that people think that hanging out in a Starbucks is an authentic coffee shop experience. Starbuck would be pissed to see his good name so misused.

My hatred of Starbucks goes back to when the company took over Boston’s Coffee Connection in the mid-nineties. Coffee Connection was a local roaster with a number of small coffee shops in Boston. Dark and delicious, Coffee Connection coffee came in real mugs if you had your coffee in the shop. All was wonderful in Beantown until Starbucks came along and took over my beloved Coffee Connection. Bastards.

You can’t see the Coffee Connection label anymore,
but this is a Coffee Connection travel mug


When I got into organic and Fair Trade, my hatred of Starbucks intensified. Although the company has made strides in recent years to incorporate organic and fairly traded coffee into their line (though I’ve never seen organic brewed coffee offered at a store), Starbucks dragged its feet on the issue for a long, long time. When a Starbucks opened up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (a town with its own coffee roaster, Breaking New Grounds), a bunch of us teamed up with the Organic Consumer Association and handed out leaflets to the tourists going into Starbucks.

The thing was that while we wanted Starbucks to start carrying Fair Trade organic coffee, we also wanted the store out of our community. To this day, no self-respecting local sets foot in the place. Why have coffee in a place virally replicated throughout the world when you can experience a place unique in all the world (and that has better coffee)?

For the love of God, if you want a real coffee experience—one with soul—go and find your local coffee shop. Try Caffé Sicilia in Gloucester, Massachusetts, if you’re ever on the North Shore. Try 1369 in Cambridge. Go to Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth. Find your shop and support it. That’s how you put soul into your cup.