NSA: Can you hear me now?
June 14, 2013
I jot down potential ideas for this space all the time, and they accumulate in piles of odd paper on my desk. Most of them can make a paragraph but not a whole column. So this week, with the windows open and the papers blowing, I’m cleaning off the desk.
A couple of years ago, a friend admired the red Farmall suspenders on my ski pants. He is, however, an Allis-Chalmers collector, and would prefer them in A-C orange. I spent a lot of time online searching for them before concluding that they didn’t exist. But in the process I noticed that web pages that sold Allis-Chalmers T-shirts also advertised the Montage Deer Valley on the sidebar. In the entire world, there are certainly only two people who would be interested in both Allis-Chalmers suspenders and the Montage — my friend and I. It seemed very creepy.
So word comes this week that the NSA, a government agency I didn’t know we had, has been tracking everything. And by everything, I mean everything. Phone calls, emails, web searches. For some reason, a fair number of people are shocked and indignant about this. Really? It’s OK that Google has been doing enough of this to slip a Montage ad into a search for tractor memorabilia, but when the government does it, we freak out? You really thought it was private?
Anybody who has flown in or out of Salt Lake in the last year or two has seen the NSA’s giant campus in Bluffdale. There are several huge buildings. If stored in file cabinets, they would hold a lot of stuff. If stored on flash drives, well, there is room in there for a whole lot of electrons. It’s creepy. Is it constitutional? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure the founding fathers didn’t contemplate management of Internet and cell-phone data. To them, search and seizure was somebody kicking down the front door.
Utah Attorney General John Swallow has developed an aura of sleaze that even the Republican legislature can no longer tolerate. Too sleazy for the Utah Legislature: now there’s a standard. They are talking impeachment. The governor said this week he would fire him if he could. Others are calling for a change that would make the position appointed rather than elected.
Folks, I hate to break the news to you, but in Utah the attorney general already is appointed. In our one-party structure, the Republicans choose who they will put on the ballot, and that person wins, even if he or she is ethically challenged. The failure is the Republican pooh bahs who continue to choose ideological purity over ethical standards or competence. They could comb the best law firms in the state and pick somebody very good. That person is mostly spared the cost and toil of a campaign. But the Republicans continue to go for true believers instead of qualified people to run the largest law office in the state.
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Because my Internet service is so slow (probably because of the NSA tap on it), I still pay my bills by check. It’s actually quicker. But I’ve noticed that some of the people I pay send return envelopes that are too small for the check, especially the larger format business checks. The phone bill always requires folding the check. So does the gas bill. The power bill always requires something of an origami project to tear off all the extra flaps.
And speaking of mail, I got a solicitation to join the Sierra Club. They sent a wad of paper that probably required cutting down a whole tree to make, and just to show they were serious, they had glued a nickel to it. It’s hard to warm up to an environmental organization whose solicitations are so wasteful.
And finally, if you are at risk of being too productive at work, here is a cure. A University of North Carolina researcher has developed maps of American dialects, pronunciations, and unique vocabularies. Apparently there are places where people would say, "I hosey front on the way to the brew-through, but I need to stop at the bubbler first." And that would mean "I call shotgun on the trip to the convenience store, but I’m going to pause at the drinking fountain." The range of pronunciation is amazing, but the difference in vocabulary is enough to make you wonder if we are speaking the same language.
There are places where the "pavement" is the "sidewalk," and others where a "milkshake" is a "frappe." In Michigan, convenience stores are "party stores." Google "Dialect Maps" and click on the link that says "Dialect Survey Maps-Dialect Survey Results." That should get you the list of survey questions, and when you click on the question, it will take you to the maps of the results. The NSA will be taking careful note.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.