Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Safety Catch

Each weapon I ever saw had at least one safety device to prevent unintentional discharge. We were always taught to treat each weapon as if it were loaded, even if we had just removed all the ammunition. We were taught to respect weapons for what they were—useful, but very dangerous tools.

In the past ten to fifteen years, we learned to use another dangerous tool—the Internet. However, the Internet has a less obvious safety device than any weapon. The first obvious safety device for any tool should be common sense. However, not everyone has or uses common sense. Obviously that is true of those who use the Internet just as much as it is of those who carry weapons.

Privacy on the Internet is a joke. Nothing that can be heard on a cell phone or seen on the Internet can remain hidden or private. This certain knowledge can be regarded as the warning on the carton of ammunition—potentially dangerous and explosive. User is solely responsible for outcome. Even if posted, this warning probably would be ignored by Internet users just as often as it is ignored by those who load weapons.

Whether it is a princess, an athlete, the son of a college dean, or a politician, what is said or written in private is no longer private when it goes to the Internet.

Words and opinions can be dangerous when used irresponsibly. But which is worse? Is irresponsible use of words any worse than the demands of those who feel they have the right to judge what was supposed to be a private message?

Many companies now control their e-mail systems to prevent unfair business practices or other insider damage control. But when did our high schools and universities begin to practice the same type of control? When young people post foolishness on a social Internet site, the foolishness is their problem—not that of the school. When a college student privately posts critical remarks about his school, does that give the school the right to harass the student?

One step further leads us to public words spoken, written, or posted online: does any government entity have the right to judge, condemn, or coerce a person who is critical of our government or any laws passed by our government? The obvious answer sounds like a safety catch—The Patriot Act. No one wants anarchy in our country or even acts or words to incite rebellion. But the Patriot Act can take away our right to express our honest—even though critical—opinions. Restricting freedom of speech is the same as saying that we are too foolish to be responsible citizens. Yet somehow freedom of speech always seemed like a good idea. Just as competition seems to help markets grow, freedom of speech seems to help us develop ideas and learn more about our fellow man. What happens when we remove the safety catch on democracy?

Perhaps it is true: it is the empty weapon which kills.

Not Your Mother’s Washtub

Our lives just seem to become more convenient every day, so it seems a horrible shock when, incredibly, something doesn’t work the way it should. If the TV should lose its signal, we hardly know what to do beyond griping and snorting—especially if we miss a play during the World Series. It is difficult to imagine the days when folks had to listen to sporting events on the radio.

My grandmother thought her life had become almost heavenly when she finally got a ringer washer out on the farm. Our fourth or fifth washer went out the other day, and we went to our local lumber yard the very next day and brought home another one because we consider that appliance essential. It is strange how some things have taken their own positions on our list of priorities. A telephone is one item on that list. Our cell phone isn’t all that technical. I can actually use it to make and receive calls and even have some numbers installed in its memory—which is extra nice now that my memory seems to balk on occasion. Most of the children in our extended family have texting on their cell phones down to a speed system, however. And eventually they will consider their ‘old’ phones too obsolete for use.

We seem somehow to have lost that sense of adventure that came naturally with living in the country. We never knew when we would find a snake in the hen house or an armadillo in the garden, but recently it seemed like a very strange inconvenience to have our dog make the acquaintance of a skunk. When HarleyB returned to the back door reeking of essence of skunk, I was able to access the formula for removal of skunk oil immediately by using the Internet. Using peroxide, baking soda, and soap to clean the dog, we were able to allow him to finish spending the night in the house. It occurred to me that I would not have known what to use to clean him if it had not been for the convenience of instant information from the Internet.

The contrast between what our lives were like 50 or 60 years ago and our lives today may seem silly in a few short years for one reason or another. When contrasted with much of the world, we are so blessed. Our forefathers wrestled with this land during years of drought, floods, storms, and other natural disasters. But the blessings came despite the circumstances. Opportunistic scoundrels or gifted individuals, they gave back to the world what they were given, full measure, shaken down. Giving back became the American way, but it was always with a generous willingness. That may change; and if it does change, the world will be a poorer place both literally and figuratively. I challenge anyone to look at the Copenhagen Climate Treaty.

When our President signs this legally binding treaty, our world as we know it will change drastically. You will never even remember your mother’s washtub and its wonderful convenience.