Author, Journalist, Photog, Poet Living in Los Angeles

I am my Data: WSJ Reports Planes Used in Spying Program

Posted on November 17, 2014

Design By Joseph Lapin

Design By Joseph Lapin

Right now, I’m sitting at the bar in Thorn Street Brewery in North Park, San Diego, drinking an American Strong Ale. B.B. King is on the radio, and a bartender is pouring pints, and she looks like one of the characters out of a Denis Johnson short story. This place feels like it’s about to turn into a juke joint, as they’re now blaring the “Mess Around,” glasses are clinking, and people are talking loudly over the music. The bartender is now shaking her hips, trying to tease the tips out of the wallets. What I’m thinking about is turning to the bald guy in the teal polo sitting on the stool next to me and telling him about a story I read recently in the Wall Street Journal, but I think he would end up thinking I was the neighborhood mad man.

Basically, I want to tell this guy next to me and the old woman drinking a beer in front of me like it’s a hot tea about the brand new American spy program. I want to tell them all about how “the Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers,” as reported by the WSJ. I want to tell them that this program has been instituted secretly since 2007, and it’s really freaking brilliant and scary and wrong and right all at the same time. I want to say this as I hear stiletto heels clomping along the hardwood floors and the bartender now complains how she is so hungover from her birthday last night.

Here’s what happens: the Cessna aircraft “mimic cell towers … and trick cellphones into reporting” their data in hopes of tracking down terrorists or drug dealers. The technology is so impressive that it’s reported to be able to pinpoint targets “under investigation by the government,” and it sweeps thousands of phones at the same time in order to nail down the targets exact location, even within a massive skyscraper, while pushing aside ‘innocent bystanders and “letting go” of their data.

Of course, the Justice Department is neither confirming or denying the report, but they are defending the action by the U.S. Marshals Service, as reported by several sources, and it’s in line with a much larger stance that our government has taken on data: Whatever works for the greater good and security of our country is within the Constitution and, yes, The Dark Knight.

But how many people were shocked by this news? I mean, Kim Kardashian broke the Internet, and it wasn’t the news of another American spy program. Now, relax, I’m not trying to get on a high horse here and discuss why it’s important that we pay attention to the news over celebrities showing their gorgeous and stunning booties (We only have one life [unless you're a buddhist], and if you want to spend it cramming your brain with celebrities asses and their petty relationships, then I support you; I watch plenty of ESPN), but what really just shocks me is that we still don’t care that our data is being harvested like Monsanto corn and that we still don’t see this massive data collection as an invasion of privacy.

I actually argued this in a Salon article I wrote after I heard that our government admitted to the existence of Area 51, and I’m still trying to make this point today. (People shredded my article on the comment boards.) As a country, we’re so used to our authorities lying to us, spying on us, fucking with us, playing with us, tricking us, mind-fucking us, that we eventually stopped being shocked, we stopped being scared, we stopped caring.

The truth is planes collecting our data on a massive scale with approval from an actual court system that is relatively secret isn’t thought of as shocking anymore. Think about it: we’ve since this well before Will Smith starred in I, Robot. Remember Enemy of the State? This isn’t even the only movie that shows how invaded our civil liberties are in terms of data collection. There are countless.

Our pop culture and news have reported on data invasion more times than Kevin Bacon has appeared in films. I feel somewhat bad for the WSJ. They broke a gigantic story, but it’s already old. It’s almost a footnote in the battle for civil liberties in the digital age. I mean, this is what the ACLU said in the WSJ article:

Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?

So yes, I get it. I’m not an idiot. Advancing technology can have a gigantic impact on the protection of our country. Yes, it’s important to use these new techniques to capture dangerous criminals in order to safeguard our communities, our people, our children, our infrastructure, the very bedrock of the American people. It’s important that I can have the freedom and the safety to sit in this bar and criticize my government while B.B. King just seduces Lucille with so much charm and sex that it feels the sound is about to melt the walls. (Yeah, I’m going overboard with my metaphors, but that’s my right as an American [lol!].) I’m not trying to take the stance that data can’t be used to help fight crime, but I am against the idea that collecting my data isn’t an invasion of privacy.

When the U.S. Marshals fly over “most of the U.S. population” collecting the remnants of my cellphone, I take that personally. I read that as they’re literally snatching pieces of my unconscious and conscious thoughts. What I surf on my phone, my location, my texts, my browsing history are really intensely personal parts of my existence. It’s like when someone drives your car and rifles through your music collection or the police walk into your home and check your browsing history or that Spotify is sharing with the world what you’re currently listening to without fully being cognizant of this information.

I am my data, and when I was born as an American, I didn’t sign a freaking terms of service that allowed the government to invade my privacy. I take offense to my government collecting my data with planes and fake cell phone towers without my permission, without my knowledge. Perhaps I would be all right with this type of security if I was given the options and the collection of my data was guaranteed to be private, but I don’t trust my government yet. I believe that whatever technology the media reports on the Justice Department will already be 1,ooo steps behind what  technology their currently using to “protect” our lives and invade them at the same time.

Wow, someone in the bar behind me just yelled, “you’re a fucking sniper.” Well, that’s it. I’m signing out from North Park, San Diego. Remember, your comments are always appreciated — especially if you disagree with me.

Seeing Signs in San Diego, California

Posted on November 9, 2014

I’m beginning a new chapter in my journey, and my setting has changed; my wife and I are now living in San Diego, California. When I was a kid living in Massachusetts, there were two places that I always dreamed about living: San Diego and anywhere in Florida. I’ve now accomplished both. It’s funny how the paths to what we want are circuitous, but there are signs along the way that make you understand you’re heading in the right direction. I’ll explain.

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

When I look at San Diego and compare it to Los Angeles, the cities are so different. Right now, I have my window open in my office, and the dead desert air is blowing into my window, and I don’t hear any sirens, no sounds of traffic, only an unsettling stillness. In the morning, I drive to work, and I’m not stuck in the tin-can confusion of morning rush hour. And the pace of life here is so much slower. In the morning, I drive to a neighborhood coffee shop and order a coffee. I’m in line with only about two other people, and I’m a bit impatient because I want to get to work, when I realize the owner and the barista are talking to the customers. They don’t give a shit if I’m in a rush. They want to talk to their customer and see how they’re doing.

Moving from One City to Another: LA to San Diego

Posted on November 3, 2014

Right now, I’m sitting in the office at the close of the day, typing this blog post, because I don’t have Internet in my new place yet. (I’m in that weird limbo period of moving when nothing is really set up yet except for the bed I sleep in.) Currently, I’m looking out a window that is overlooking downtown Ocean Beach, San Diego, and I can smell patchouli seeping into my window from the hostel down the street. Once the wind blows that away, I can smell the ocean, which is almost 500 feet away. Soon I will drive to my new apartment. Everything, right now, is new to me, and even the slamming of a glass door and the sounds of guitar music on the street below are a part of a new experience.

Design By Joseph Lapin. But not the photo.

Design By Joseph Lapin. But not the photo.

What I’m trying to say is that moving is strange. One moment I live in one city and know a bunch of people, then I move to another city and know others. Moving is an art that I’ve learned to master. Since I was 17-years old, I’ve lived in Detroit, Europe (for a small amount of time), Miami, Central Florida, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Massachusetts, and every time I move, I learn something new about myself and the skill of packing up. Here are some of the things that I have learned while moving.

What is Lost is Often Found

I lose things. It’s one of my biggest flaws. When I was in college, I used to leave my cell phone in restaurants and airports, and they wold never be found again, and sometimes I get lost driving home because I’m too deep in thought or enjoying a piece of music. Now hold on, I’m not saying I’m a loser; I’m just saying that I’ve misplaced some things over the years. If you’ve read Elizabeth’s Bishop’s famous poem “One Art,” then you know “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” and it’s something that most people do all their lives. Obviously, losing people and pets will never be easy, but as long as I know that my home isn’t permanent, then I’m not worried about losing, because whenever I move, I’ll find the object I was looking for and say, “So that’s where you’ve been this whole time.” I can’t even begin to tell you about all the Mac power chords and books that I’ve found once I started moving boxes around. I’ve come to understand that most possessions, well, they’ll turn up one way or the other.

A Concert Review of Bob Dylan at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood

Posted on October 27, 2014

I first started listening to Bob Dylan in high school on the long road trips with my dad and brother in a Subaru Legacy. During those road trips, I  wore out certain Dylan albums: Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, Freewhelin’. My favorite songs from Dylan have to be “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” or “These Times Are a Changin’.”  Like my love for Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan is an artist I admire who has influenced my writing and personal philosophy. But I’ve never seen him play live. I’ve just heard so many bad rumors about his performances being terrible that I never went out my way to make it happen. Then my friend D gave my wife a ring and said she had two tickets to the Dylan concert at the Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I jumped at the opportunity.

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

The seats were incredible, and we were so close to the stage I could actually give credence to the idea that Bob Dylan actually could see me. The theater was incredible, and the walls were velvet, and the balconies had an elitist feel of a country run by a monarchy. An old man sitting next to me was embarrassing his young daughter by dancing in his seat, and Val Kilmer was somewhere in the audience.

It was starting to hit me that I was about to see one of the greatest artists, poets, and musicians of the 20th century, but I honestly wasn’t holding my breath. I was expecting a skeleton to walk on the stage instead of a great poet. But Stu Kimball, the rhythm guitar player, starting strumming the opening chords, and Dylan sauntered out onto the stage in a wide-brimmed hat followed by his band. I can’t remember what song they played first — I wasn’t actually taking notes like in the old days when I was actually reviewing concerts — but Dylan stood in front of four microphones (he only seemed to ever use one) and the band played behind him like a machine that figured out how to sing.

Photos in the pool

Posted on October 24, 2014

I’ve been living in my apartment now for the past two years, and I always walk past my pool and see how images reflect in the water. Sometimes it seems beautiful. I’ve often thought about taking photos of what I see in the pool. So today I finally did. I also snapped a photo of the perfect sky we have here in California. I think I love reflections in water because of Van Gogh’s painting and Claude Debussy’s composition, “Reflections in Water.” There is just something stunning about the distorted mirror image. I hope one day to capture it.

 

Lunch Poem, October 21, 2014

Posted on October 21, 2014

I’m about to move out of my apartment. It’s the place I’ve been living for the last two years. I’ve seen the change in seasons here. I’ve seen the trees in front of my home dump down cotton and pink petals. I’ve seen friends move away and strangers move in. I’ve seen a black widow hanging from a web. I’m starting to see poetry here, but for the first time in my life, instead of only writing it down, I’m starting to take photos. I took the shots above during my lunch break. I’m trying to think about contrast, lines, and composition. These are my lunch poems.

A weekend in San Francisco for Litquake

Posted on October 19, 2014

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

This weekend my wife and I flew up to San Francisco for Litquake, the literary festival/pub crawl where writers from all over the country come to share their work and join a community of scribes who usually only communicate over social media.  We stayed with Joe and Justine Clifford, and I read at their event Lip Service West, which tells real and gritty stories. I told a story about trying to find a way to convince a mental patient to willingly enter an ambulance in order to find  a higher level of care, but I think next time I read in a bar I’m going to tell the story of how I got in a fight with a little person in St. Petersburg, Florida, or how I almost got in a fight during a community theater presentation of Macbeth in South Beach. Of course, when you read in a bar, you have to expect anything, and I’ll tell that story a bit later.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

This was my second reading in San Francisco, and the last time I drove up the coast I wrote about trying to rediscover the California Dream for the LA Weekly and then read at Lip Service in the Tenderloin. San Francisco has always been one of those cities I’ve felt at home in — a sort of Boston transposed to the West Coast. The landscapes are stunning, and there is just so much water everywhere. I was able to shoot some solid pictures, and the Cliffords took us to Telegraph in Berkley, where I was able to find some colorful moments. It was cool to hang out with Joe, who is the author of books like Junkie Love, Wake the Undertake, and the newly released Lamentation.

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