A Thought on the Fourth of July

The first thing I read this morning: “Even Postal Service is Watching: Outside of All Mail Is Recorded.” Here are the first few paragraphs:

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who with his wife owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

Now, when the recent NSA disclosures were made, one loud strain of reaction I heard was that anyone who didn’t understand that the government was grabbing phone logs and doing whatever with them was foolishly naive. “You should have known that they’ve been doing this,” people said. And one could say the same about recording the outside of all the mail you and I receive. After all, the story goes on to say that one part of this surveillance program is more than a century old and that the legal position of the executive branch is that we don’t have any reasonable expectation that the outside of an envelope handled by the government on its way to or from your home will be private.

So one is left to wonder where in our lives we might have a reasonable expectation of privacy. It seems that the sphere of privacy has shrunk to the point that if one goes beyond thinking a thought–a completely internal musing, never uttered aloud–the government has established that it’s within its legitimate power to know about it. Of course, we don’t expect that limit to last forever. Not to worry, though. If you’re not thinking bad thoughts, you have no cause for concern.

And so my thoughts on the Fourth of July, and on many other days as well, turn to Justice Louis Brandeis and what he wrote in a 1927 dissent in a case involving a bootlegger who challenged the government’s warrantless wiretap. Brandeis looked beyond the bootlegger’s plight to the effects of unchecked government power on the lives of people, even–or especially–when the government insists its goal is the public good.

… The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And the use, as evidence in a criminal proceeding, of facts ascertained by such intrusion must be deemed a violation of the Fifth.

… Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.

How far we have come.

Mom and Dad, Flags, the Fourth of July

mary070412.jpg  

That’s my mom, Mary Alice Hogan, posing with Old Glory. There’s no date on the picture, but I would guess this was the 4th of July and that she was about 16. That would place the picture in 1945 or ’46. A further guess: The picture was taken at her O’Malley-Moran grandparents’ place at 6524 South Yale Avenue in Chicago’s Engelwood district (the family moved there from their Stockyards neighborhood sometime between 1900 and 1910 and stayed through the early 1960s. The house was torn down sometime in the past 15 or 20 years, and there’s a vacant lot there now).

Below is my dad. The picture is actually dated September 30, 1928, when he would have been seven years old (and 14 months before Mom was born). I have no idea why he’s wearing the funny lady’s hat or carrying an American flag or wearing whatever that is around his neck. This would have been about three years after his family moved back to the city from Alvarado, Minnesota, where his dad was a Lutheran pastor for several parishes in town and the surrounding area. They lived on the South Side through 1930, at West 71st and South Ada streets. One other thing I take note of after staring hard at this picture: the suit that my dad’s wearing. That is some serious-looking fabric.

steve070412-2.jpg

Mom and Dad, Flags, the Fourth of July

mary070412.jpg  

That’s my mom, Mary Alice Hogan, posing with Old Glory. There’s no date on the picture, but I would guess this was the 4th of July and that she was about 16. That would place the picture in 1945 or ’46. A further guess: The picture was taken at her O’Malley-Moran grandparents’ place at 6524 South Yale Avenue in Chicago’s Engelwood district (the family moved there from their Stockyards neighborhood sometime between 1900 and 1910 and stayed through the early 1960s. The house was torn down sometime in the past 15 or 20 years, and there’s a vacant lot there now).

Below is my dad. The picture is actually dated September 30, 1928, when he would have been seven years old (and 14 months before Mom was born). I have no idea why he’s wearing the funny lady’s hat or carrying an American flag or wearing whatever that is around his neck. This would have been about three years after his family moved back to the city from Alvarado, Minnesota, where his dad was a Lutheran pastor for several parishes in town and the surrounding area. They lived on the South Side through 1930, at West 71st and South Ada streets. One other thing I take note of after staring hard at this picture: the suit that my dad’s wearing. That is some serious-looking fabric.

steve070412-2.jpg

Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn

I confess: I think whoever it is in the neighborhood who’s still setting off firework as we’re moving toward midnight is (are) knucklehead(s). Never mind that even “safe and sane” fireworks are supposedly banned in Berkeley. From the little I saw strolling up around the corner this a little after 10, there was a bad mix of alcohol and clueless adults trying to please their mostly unsupervised kids. At one point, someone through a smoke bomb (apparently accidentally) in front of a cyclist who was riding down the street. Someone else sent up a couple of low-rise skyrockets without any apparent consideration of where the live cinders might come down (a neighbor’s roof and a redwood tree).

Knuckleheads.

In the distance, lots of ordnance going off. And some of it really is ordnance. Amid the loud pyrotechnics and potentially digit-severing small explosives, one hears occasional series of very regular, rapid reports. One presumes those come from fellow citizens celebrating the Second Amendment by firing off surplus 9-millimeter ammo. Distant sirens sound continuously. If John Adams could only see what his great anniversary festival has turned into.

Anyway. Here on our placid street, long before the concussive terrors that descend with the lowering of night, we had our Fourth of July picnic. A staple of this celebration: a watermelon-seed-spitting contest. Various categories of contestants, from young uns to novices to “pros,” try for distance (our neighborhood record: 43 feet and some inches) and accuracy. We also have what started out as a “trick spit” category and has now turned into a sort of improv theater “spit skit” — often referring to politics or sports or popular movies. In the past, we’ve had take-offs on “Star Wars” (“The Phantom Melon”), “Titanic,” and “The Sopranos” (“The Seed-pranos”).

What’s the flavor of the event? Here’s today’s “trick spit,” “The King’s Spit.” And yes, this actually was performed.

In a nation that long ago shed the chains of monarchy … and that has plenty of problems without having to deal with a bunch of hereditary narcissists … who gives a spit anymore about the royals? We do!

And since that’s the case … we want to bring you a very special moment in the history of the House of Windsor … where Prince Bertie is getting ready for his public debut – his very first solo spit … in front of the whole neighborhood.

Bertie

Hello, everyone. I have … a very special slice … of watermelon … from my dad … the king!

Crowd

Oooooohhhhhhh!!!

Bertie

Here … goes!

(Dribbles a seed onto his shirt).


Continue reading “Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn”

Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn

I confess: I think whoever it is in the neighborhood who’s still setting off firework as we’re moving toward midnight is (are) knucklehead(s). Never mind that even “safe and sane” fireworks are supposedly banned in Berkeley. From the little I saw strolling up around the corner this a little after 10, there was a bad mix of alcohol and clueless adults trying to please their mostly unsupervised kids. At one point, someone through a smoke bomb (apparently accidentally) in front of a cyclist who was riding down the street. Someone else sent up a couple of low-rise skyrockets without any apparent consideration of where the live cinders might come down (a neighbor’s roof and a redwood tree).

Knuckleheads.

In the distance, lots of ordnance going off. And some of it really is ordnance. Amid the loud pyrotechnics and potentially digit-severing small explosives, one hears occasional series of very regular, rapid reports. One presumes those come from fellow citizens celebrating the Second Amendment by firing off surplus 9-millimeter ammo. Distant sirens sound continuously. If John Adams could only see what his great anniversary festival has turned into.

Anyway. Here on our placid street, long before the concussive terrors that descend with the lowering of night, we had our Fourth of July picnic. A staple of this celebration: a watermelon-seed-spitting contest. Various categories of contestants, from young uns to novices to “pros,” try for distance (our neighborhood record: 43 feet and some inches) and accuracy. We also have what started out as a “trick spit” category and has now turned into a sort of improv theater “spit skit” — often referring to politics or sports or popular movies. In the past, we’ve had take-offs on “Star Wars” (“The Phantom Melon”), “Titanic,” and “The Sopranos” (“The Seed-pranos”).

What’s the flavor of the event? Here’s today’s “trick spit,” “The King’s Spit.” And yes, this actually was performed.

In a nation that long ago shed the chains of monarchy … and that has plenty of problems without having to deal with a bunch of hereditary narcissists … who gives a spit anymore about the royals? We do!

And since that’s the case … we want to bring you a very special moment in the history of the House of Windsor … where Prince Bertie is getting ready for his public debut – his very first solo spit … in front of the whole neighborhood.

Bertie

Hello, everyone. I have … a very special slice … of watermelon … from my dad … the king!

Crowd

Oooooohhhhhhh!!!

Bertie

Here … goes!

(Dribbles a seed onto his shirt).


Continue reading “Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn”

A Brief Tour of the Fireworks

In my other (paid, employed) life, I also sometimes blog. This morning, I was called upon to blog about which towns in the Bay Area are holding fireworks celebrations. I discovered that some other local media outlets had come up with good lists, so rather than invent the wheel with my limited time and resources, I simply linked to what had been done well elsewhere. Of course, that wasn’t enough for me, so I dressed up the post with a dash of Fourth of July fireworks history. Including part of this widely cited passage (note the mention of future celebrations) from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

A Brief Tour of the Fireworks

In my other (paid, employed) life, I also sometimes blog. This morning, I was called upon to blog about which towns in the Bay Area are holding fireworks celebrations. I discovered that some other local media outlets had come up with good lists, so rather than invent the wheel with my limited time and resources, I simply linked to what had been done well elsewhere. Of course, that wasn’t enough for me, so I dressed up the post with a dash of Fourth of July fireworks history. Including part of this widely cited passage (note the mention of future celebrations) from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Berkeley Fourth

Fourth

Breaking news: It’s the day of our “traditional” neighborhood July 4th gathering. The kickoff event: an around-the-block parade with all the kids on our two blocks. Led by the flag bearers, they march with a boombox blaring “Stars and Stripes Forever.” More later.

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Declaration Day

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected it with another and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.”

Kate and I and a neighbor, Jill Martinucci, read (or maybe performed is a better word) a slightly abridged version of the Declaration to the assembled multitudes at our street’s annual Fourth of July picnic today. The main event at the gathering is a watermelon-seed-spitting contest (a new neighborhood record, 43 feet-plus, was set today), so I was afraid reading this, even with our little interjections, would be seen as a little preachy. But several people came up to us later to day they hadn’t read the Declaration in a while and it was good to hear the words again.