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The Cessnas are coming! The Cessnas are coming!
by Jerry Mazza    Online Journal
Entered into the database on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006 @ 18:41:59 MST


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Low-flying Cessna 172s, flying in grid patterns over major cities, and snapping images of every square foot from just about every direction. They are coming, according the AP’s Ben Dobbin in his article, “Aerial-Imaging Becoming Indispensable Tool.” Indispensable to whom, Ben? Not me. Indispensable to what sane, red-blooded, busy or even indolent American?

I don’t want to know what Your-Town, USA, looks like at a 40-degree angle from a few thousand feet in the air, just for the hell of it. I’m not a voyeur. I don’t get my kicks looking at fire hydrants in Chicago, lilac trees in Rochester (or who’s behind one). Or, get this, The levees of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.

Hey honey, come here. Take a look at this old black lady drowning. Look at these kids gasping for breath. And why, there’s a bag of crappy diapers on top of the Superdome. Man, this is progress. Hey thanks Pictometry International Corp of Henrietta, New York. That’s near the Rochester Institute of Technology, where the company's chief tech officer, Stephen Schultz, as a computer science student started developing this technology in the '90s. What a guy.

One hundred five people now work for this profitable company that’s ramping up for a perennial doubling of sales no less that could top $100 million by 2008. Well, there’s the American Dream if I ever heard it. Build a better mousetrap and catch more mice. Why Pictometry has been “showered with calls from Wall Street this year about its potential plans to go public.” In fact, if it wasn’t so pernicious, it would be ridiculous.

News of their weirdness reached me in an e-mail from a reader, just Liz, who was freaked about those planes buzzing night and day over her neighborhood in South Carolina. Well, toots, now you know. And guess what? Two Israeli companies, Ofek and Idan (is that from the bible?), say they developed the same oblique-imaging system (now there’s a euphemism for spying).

But Pictometry says they haven’t “delivered” outside Israel, why the very country whose back-door spying sleights of hand were used in our Promis software, sold to all our allies. And then they put in a Trojan to spy on us. Never know once you start stuffing your nose in other’s people’s places. In fact, so far (and this will probably come as a huge surprise to you) Pictometry’s aerial images are “mostly used by law enforcement and other government agencies.” What like Homeland Security, the NSA, your local paranoid cops?

In fact, in Arlington County, Va., coincidentally the first county mapped in 2001, firefighters, bless their hearts, were able to quickly size up the damage when “terrorists” slammed a jetliner into the Pentagon. Ho. Wait a minute. What, you mean Hani Hanjor, who couldn’t even fly a Cessna? Or was it the remote-controlled version of the F77’s 757 or the A-3 Skywarrior or the Global Hawk? What did they see? I and a bunch of 9/11 info-freaks would love to take a peek, just how quickly they sized up the damage, removed the fuselage, body and/or baggage and all other crucial evidence, expanding the size of the entry and exit holes.

I mean in if we’re playing sneak-a-peek, you show me yours and I’ll you mine, evidence that is.

Why police in Atlanta used Pictometry software and photos to scope out the layout of an apartment complex where suspected gunman Brian Nichols retreated after a courthouse rampage in March 2005. So, we’re gonna have a chance nip all that bad stuff in the bud, ey? In fact, “Images of New Orleans taken in January 2004 gave searchers a better idea of what they were supposed to be looking at after Katrina howled ashore and helped evacuated residents decide whether or not to return home.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t help the president get off his butt and move into action, or FEMA move its financially-paralyzed body, or the other stiffs from the White House, down into reacting like a real government to the awful disaster, the south’s 9/11. And it didn’t stop all those people from drowning or losing their homes, their lives, everything they owned. I mean who dreams this crap up? What ever happened to firing squads?

And guess what, Massachusetts, home of my beloved Berkshires, where I go to hide in the summer, good old Massachusetts is the only entire state in the union totally mapped so far. Isn’t that great? So property appraisers don’t have to move their asses away from their desks and computers. Why they can just click, pull out every swimming pool, rooftop deck built without a permit. Wowee, ain’t that wonderful? Ain’t that progress? Ain’t that the cat’s whiskers?

Why, that’s something to really celebrate this Fourth of July in the state that gave birth to our independence as a nation.

The commercial sector took to the program like a bee to honey. In fact, no less than Bill Gates hisself, Mr. Microsoft, had “already begun making images available for free on a new maps site he is testing. Beginning this month, under a five-year licensing deal with Microsoft, visitors will be able to order Pictometry’s close-ups of individual homes for $3 each, sky’s the limit, neighborhood-size tracts for $6 and square-mile panoramas for up to $25. People can then take that high-resolution image to make prints and other items.” Makes a helluva Christmas gift, aerial shot of your 'hood, nice and big over the fireplace.

And I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but wouldn’t this be a good tool for a "terrorist" (CIA guy?) if he was trying to scope out the local atomic energy plant or ammo dump, national monument, bridge, etcetera. Well, maybe that’s negative thinking. But like they say in the New York City subway ad campaign, “If you see something, say something,” so that’s what I’m doing. I see a pack of crackheads behind a screen, planning the next attack. What’s more, the Pictometry company wouldn’t talk about the terms of its deal with Micro-king, I mean, soft.

You see, in this “new evolving ‘visual GPS’ category of online mapping, the Microsoft partnership” could kick the butt off Google’s Earth maps, which use satellite images. See what I mean? While satellite images give you rooftops, and street-level images can come from vans, from Amazon.com Inc.’s, A9 search service you can get mailboxes and the front door. And Pictometry’s 40-degree-angle shots present tops and sides of building as well. And you just never know when you or the president himself might need that top or side of the building, entrances, exits, parked cars, garbage cans, people sleeping in cartons. Eternal vigilance, that’s what democracy takes.

In fact, Pictometry’s marketing chief, Dante Pennacchia, said, “Once you see ours, you know the difference. It’s day and night.” Night and day, under the sight of you, day and night under the height of you. In the roaring traffic’s boom, in the silence of my empty room, night and day, day and night. Yeah, it’s just like the song.

Now despite what you may think, these fellas are no dummies. They know lots of people like me won’t be comfortable with the notion that everything we do in public is, as they say, “potentially surveillable by companies they don’t know flying airplanes with this technology.” So spoke Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. Ah but . . .

But the company said from the get-go, it set a zoom-in or “pixilation” limit to prevent faces or license plates from being distinguishable. Well, that’s a big load off my mind. But what if they change their mind? Then what about the crease in my, er, never mind. I tell you this elevates spying to a whole new level. In fact, the guys predict, “aerial images are bound to find more and more uses in the broader consumer market.” The gift of a lifetime, shots of houses of people you love and hate. How’s that Donny Deutsch? Thinking out of the box? The bigggggggggggg idea.

Here, image this. Why, with photo-editing programs, “you could get a sense for what it would be like if you painted your house a different color- and how much you would really upset the homeowner’s association, analyst Enderle said. Yeah, that’s been keeping me up nights for years now. That and those bedbug "terrorists" (i.e. CIA) downloading my summer rental or my New York apartment building. Or my kid’s school. Ah, but look on the positive side. You too Liz, out there in South Carolina, freaking as the planes buzz overhead night after night . . .

“As this goes forward, 10, 20, 30 years from now, this will be the way you’d be able to go back and reminisce a bit better about the way things were in your hometown.” You mean how they tore it down to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter. How the old car factory’s a junkyard. And the bridge fell down for lack of infrastructure money. And how all them Muslims are crowded into this little bitty area behind the railroad tracks 'cause people were paranoid about them. Yeah, that would be nostalgic. And how some cuckoo downloaded the Statue of Liberty pix at a forty degree angle from 2,000 feet, rented a Cessna and . . . nah I won’t even go there. How they know where you go, when you go, how you go, morning, noon, and night. Because once you start clicking, it's very hard to stop.

And sometimes people get just too damn smart for their own good. So good night, America, wherever you are. And Happy Fourth of July. Those Cessnas overhead. Break out the fireworks. Go ahead. Don’t wait till dark. And when you see them, show them what you got.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in xxxxxxx. Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.


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