Dining last week with one of Planet Earth’s smartest scientists, an astrophysicist who is flown all over the globe to help other big-brain guys collect and interpret data from telescopes and satellites and talk to groups of kids who want to be scientists who will do the same smart stuff at the invitation of their universities and governments, I was reminded of how much things are changing.
In my 39th year in the newspaper business, I am also reminded, not of how I have become avuncular and inclined to dandle the little girls on my knee and tell them about the good old days, but more about how I’d like to put my boot to them and ask when they forgot the lessons of our common cultural grandparents and commenced to fritter away the freedoms they bled and died for. And pardon me for the dangling preposition.
I see by the headlines in the paper – my own Tucson Citizen – how, on Page, 1 a sampling of readers weighs in on the topic of photo radar to be used by the city of Tucson to catch and prosecute speeders and red-light runners.
I expected lofty discourse on the subject of our precious right to privacy, but all I read was a lot of bitching about the employment of this unblinking spy-eye as a cash cow, a profit-center for the traffic division of the Tucson Police Department.
As for me, Sir, give me liberty or give me profits!
On Page 6 of the same edition, the headline said the GOP was grousing about Gov. Janet Napolitano’s plan to use the same technology to capture the smiling faces of speeders on freeways and highways across the state.
The story said this would be the first such automated system in the country, again making the Hon. Janet the vanguard of the movement to make us all citizens of a petrie dish I’d like to name America the Photogenic.
Don’t worry, folks, you have nothing to fear as long as you keep in step and do as you’re told.
If the governor of our state, the mayor of our city, the self-deluded fools we have elected to handle our business in government have their way, every time you pick your nose and, oh yeah, exceed the speed limit, you will be caught on camera and – if some clerical cipher gets around to it – receive your citation in the mail.
Probably, at the current rate of technological progress, by e-mail.
Here’s where I ought to do my Patrick Henry impression again and urge you to throw out your computer so Big Brother can’t find you, but at the current rate of constitutional regress, I expect the courts will find you in contempt of civilization if you do not own and maintain a home computer, so that government can keep you up to the second on how much you owe various government jurisdictions, for whichever violations of various ordinances their cameras have caught you in the act of violating.
Sorry, Number (your digits here), but there is no recourse at law for infractions documented by governmental digital recording device.
Welcome to the Brave New World of cowards.
My daughter and I have been conducting this uncomfortable discourse on the subject of coming generations – my part being the role of the old duffer who might like to have a grandchild to dandle on his knee, and hers being the concerned potential parent, fearful of what sort of world she might be bringing that theoretical baby into.
I can hit a single computer key for Google Earth and see my own house, secreted away in the canyons of the Santa Rita Mountains, my friend Jones’ pickup truck in the driveway, my hot-tub on the garage roof, for the nonce with nobody’s nude body enjoying the water. All courtesy of spy satellite from outer space.
And I know that the same machinery that beams the Super Bowl to me – geo-synchronous orbiting satellite – can Google Earth my home and me in live TV, every second of every day. And I know they have side-scan radar that can damn near peek in every window of my house.
And now I know that my own Democratic governor is leading the pack of 21st-century politicians who will write my freedom-loving government’s obituary.
Columnist Jeff Smith, evidently, is obsolete. He may be reached at (520) 455-5667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.