SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.

They See You When…

In today’s multi-topic column in the SF Chronicle, Jon Carroll takes on the difference between “uninterested” and “disinterested”, the decline in the latter, and the misuse of the former. I can’t add anything to what he says, beyond cheering him on. You may find my support for his position surprising, given my lack of concern over the use of “literally” to mean “figuratively”. The difference is that in the case of uninterested/disinterested, the correct interpretation is usually not obvious from context. Anyway, go read the column.

But that’s actually a side-issue, and isn’t actually why I wanted to call the column to your attention. The most important part of the column is the one in which Mr. Carroll discusses a workaround for the NSA’s snooping that I think merits some additional conversation. Says he, “It may be that, if you’re an enemy of the state or just a private citizen yearning for a life without surveillance, you’d be safest if you just wrote a letter.” In short, he suggests that the Postal Service doesn’t open your mail, and, should you burn your letters after reading them, the NSA can’t reconstruct the contents. Thus, it’s a much safer alternative to email.

Break out the tin-foil hats, folks (I’ll take a foil fedora, please. Better coverage than the traditional beanie, and much more stylish.) Could it be that Edward Snowden was actually a mole planted by the Postal Service to boost postal revenues and save Saturday mail delivery? Let’s look at the evidence.

One meme I hear over and over again is that the Post Office makes most of its money from delivering junk mail. If true, that would cast doubt on the conspiracy theory, as a spike in personal mail usage wouldn’t affect the major revenue source. It turns out, however, that it’s not true. As the New York Times pointed out in August, first-class mail is “the largest revenue source” for the Postal Service. Revenue from junk mail is about two-thirds what first-class mail brings in, and is only slightly ahead of package delivery revenue. Combine that information with the knowledge that first-class revenue actually declined by more than 3% in the third quarter, and the idea starts to look reasonable. If the Postal Service can reverse the decline in their big moneymaker, they might not just survive, but show a profit.

But wait, there’s a piece of information that Jon Carroll missed. The New York Times also reported that the Postal Service “…takes a photograph of every letter and package mailed in the United States…and…provides the photos to law enforcement agencies that request them…” That gives a record of every letter you send, who you send it to, and when. In short, exactly the same metadata that the NSA is collecting from cellular carriers.

Mr. Carroll suggests that using the mail system will allow you to run your illicit ferret smuggling operation without detection because law enforcement can’t read your letter setting up the meet. However, they can observe via the metadata that you have a pattern of sending letters to known ferret fanciers. Clearly this would be grounds for enhanced surveillance; a GPS tracker planted on your car would quickly reveal your covert trips to the secluded rest stop near the border where you exchange ferrets for cash.

I think this makes it clear that Edward Snowden is not working for the Postal Service, but is actually an NSA plant working a double-blind operation. The NSA, aware that the public would eventually find out about the cellular snooping program, is using Snowden to redirect communications into a different channel which is less efficient for terrorists (slower and more prone to data loss), but just as easily monitored.

You doubt me? Just ask yourself one simple question: “Who was paying Edward Snowden during the entire time he was gathering information on NSA practices?” That’s right, follow the money and consider: it was the NSA itself! Not exactly a disinterested third party. QED.