Social media distancing

This week one of my cousins sent me a message on Facebook, commenting that I have been quiet lately and asking if everything is all right. I waited a couple of days, then replied to her message, saying that I have been spending little time on Facebook recently. I proceeded to suggest that avoiding Facebook was good for my blood pressure.

I was tempted to go on to say that avoiding Facebook is also good for handling anxiety and depression and maintaining sobriety, but I didn’t want to concern her.

Actually, I have been lurking on Facebook, just not posting or commenting or even liking posts. When I feel my patience dwindling, I quickly turn off Facebook and visit somewhere else. Another of my cousins posted a link to the news story about the five hundred children from Mexico who were taken to the US border and left unclaimed; their parents still cannot be located. This cousin proceeded to say that anyone who still supports President Trump should unfriend him immediately. I was tempted, but I neither unfriended my cousin nor commented on his post. It is better to ignore such provocations and move on than to get involved in ugly political debate.

I am looking forward to election night—partly because of my ongoing interest in national politics, and partly in hope of a sense of closure for the year’s ugliness. I realize that I will probably go to bed that night not yet knowing who won the election—in fact, it might take days to count all the votes and declare a winner in the “swing states.” The media outlets that constantly remind us how far ahead Candidate Biden is in the polls and how desperate President Trump’s campaign must be feeling will have egg on their faces again next month, as the polls once again fail to judge correctly which Americans bother to vote and which have an opinion which they will not express with their ballots. Voter turnout will be key; President Trump motivated many citizens who do not usually vote to take part in the process four years ago. With the help of the national media, he may be drawing those same voters—who did not vote in 2018—to cast their ballots once again in his favor.

Last night during the debate, President Trump predicted not only that he will win the election but that Republicans will again reclaim the House of Representatives. Obviously, for President Trump that is a best case scenario. The national media not only expects the Democrats to keep the House but thinks that they might gain a narrow majority in the Senate as well. Once again, voter turnout will be the key. The campaigns and their advertisements are no longer designed to win over undecided voters; their purpose at this point is to motivate voters and persuade them to express their feelings with their votes.

Last night’s debate presented the President Trump that the Republicans want voters to see and also the Candidate Biden that Republicans want voters to see. Citizens who watched the debate saw a President who is in control, understands the issues, and has answers for the empty rhetoric of his opponent. They also saw a candidate who hesitates and stammers under pressure, who renounces several of the passions of his base supporters, and whose motivational campaign statements are becoming increasingly tired and worn.

We are still at the point where anything can happen. When the election results are announced, many people will be unhappy. My family is preparing as if for a winter storm, making sure we have enough supplies to shelter in place for several days in November. Somehow, by God’s grace, we will get through this together, and when the smoke clears, we will still have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. J.

More about my family

When I composed yesterday’s post, I got so excited sharing the history of my family that I forgot part of what I wanted to say. Here it is:

This month I have been posting historic family pictures on FaceBook each day. Sometimes it’s a single picture, sometimes it’s two or three pictures. I’ve been getting good reactions from family—including cousins I almost never see anymore—as well as from other friends.

Why am I doing this? Well, as a historian and an archivist, I want to promote the business. Especially those weeks that I had to work from home, trying to do the same things I would be doing at work, I knew that I had to do the full job of an archivist—not merely to preserve and to organize, but also to share. Archivists don’t digitize the entire collection and put it online—we digitize a small amount of material that is interesting or informative. Real researchers don’t stop at surfing the internet; when they find something of interest, they identify where it is located and come to that place to look at the rest of the collection.

Beyond that, I have gotten major fatigue scrolling through FaceBook and other social media. It feels like a game of dodgeball back in junior high school, trying to avoid all the mentions of disease and politics and the intersection of the two. So I thought I’d change the subject—give myself and other people something different to talk about and think about. And that has worked.

It has worked so well that my sister and some of my cousins commented over the weekend that I ought to take all this family information I’ve been gathering and write a book. I’ve handled books written by genealogists. They tend to be dry as dust—recording vital information, but often omitting the interesting and unusual family stories about these various individuals.

So I’m considering a book on the Salvageable family. The first question is: how much of the family do I want to cover? Am I writing for my children and their descendants—do I want to include my wife’s side of the family? Do I want to focus on me and my ancestors? Or do I want to stick to my mother’s side of the family, which contains most of the interesting stories that have come to light thus far. (And includes those cousins who are suggesting that I write a book.)

Even though that matter is not settled, I have made two other decisions. If I write this book, I will start each family line with the immigrant who came to the United States. Where I know names and dates for ancestors who remained in Europe, I might include them in an appendix or sidebar, but I want this to be an account of the Salvageables in America. Also, rather than focusing on one line at a time, with chapters relating to different streams that entered the river, I want to make the book chronological. I would like to write a chapter for each decade, describing where the various ancestors were during that decade and what they were doing.

Moreover, I want to include some historic context in each chapter. Think how much fun the 1860s will be—men fighting each other in the Civil War (and I have ancestors who fought for the Union and ancestors who fought for the Confederacy). Wouldn’t it be cool to find two great-great grandfathers involved in the same battle, shooting each other? (And, if either of them had been a better soldier, I would never have been born.)

I can only guess how long it will take to complete the family research and begin writing. This project likely will be years in the making. And it will not be lucrative—we’re not talking Roots here. I don’t care to dabble in historical fiction, creating conversations that may have happened. I want to include verifiable facts, along with family stories and mysteries.

And this is much more fun than slogging through the current international crisis and thinking only about it night and day. J.

Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.

A canine adventure

For the second time in five years, my household provided temporary lodging for a lost dog until the dog’s owner could be found.

The Law of Moses does not mention dogs, but it does teach God’s people to assist a neighbor’s ox or donkey in need—even to help an enemy’s ox or donkey. I think the same principle applies to pets as to work animals. I am proud of the members of my family who, on both occasions, took the effort to remove a dog from a dangerous situation and restore it to its home.

A couple of nights ago, my daughter was driving back to her apartment after a dance class. The evening was cold, dark, and wet, with developing fog and a light mist. Her headlights showed her a small dog on the street, clearly uncomfortable and clearly unfamiliar with traffic. “That dog’s going to be run over,” she told herself, so she pulled over, got out of her car, and approached the dog. It eluded her at first, but soon she was able to pick it up and put it in her car. Then, because she was much closer to our place than to her apartment, she brought the dog to us.

It was, as I say, a small dog, smaller than our cat. It had a pointed nose and a bushy tail, making it look a little like a miniature fox. When it first came into the house it was shivering, whether from cold or fright or both, I couldn’t say. My daughter and her younger sister took turns holding the dog on their laps; clearly it was a house dog, used to people. In fact, it was well-groomed and was even wearing a little bandana.

Our neighborhood has a Facebook page, so we posted about the found dog, and my daughter added a picture of the dog. We got several shares and a couple likes, but no other responses that night. I was willing to let the dog sleep overnight in our storage shed/workshop, so my daughters got the building ready with towels for the dog to sleep on, a bowl of water, and some dog food. (Yes, my daughter went to the grocery store and bought a bag of food for the dog.) Because she heard the dog barking, my younger daughter went out to the shed and brought the dog back inside. It ended up spending the night in a cat carrier.

Early the next morning, a dog groomer in the neighborhood recognized the dog as one she has groomed. She was able to arrange a contact between the dog’s family and my household. It seems that the dog’s owners are on vacation and have a young adult watching the house and caring for their three dogs. I suspect that this dog missed its owners and decided it would explore the wide world outside until it found them and led them home. By 8:15 the dog was back at its own house. Its adventure—and our adventure—had ended.

I hope that the little dog learned that exploring the wide world is not a good idea, especially on a cold and foggy night. But it might also remember that some people out in the wide world are willing to do what it takes to protect a vulnerable animal and return it to its home. J.

Christ Jesus and President Trump

When I opened my email this morning, I saw that I had been tagged on Facebook. The tagger was a Facebook friend, someone I knew in college and have not seen since. Although we are Facebook friends, we do not comment on each other’s posts very often—far less than once a year. In this case, though, I was flattered that she chose me as one of several of her Christian friends. She wanted our reaction to a video regarding Christianity and American politics.

The video, which runs for several minutes, shows a man discussing the politics of Donald Trump and his supporters, comparing them to the teachings of Jesus Christ in an attempt to show dissonance rather than agreement. Although the speaker’s presentation is calm, he accompanies his message with stock media footage of the President—including two images of conservative Christian preachers praying with the President—interspersed with images of White Supremacist demonstrators, violent confrontations between individuals, and even the photograph of a high school student apparently smirking at a Native American speaker in Washington DC, even though that last event was quickly revealed to have contained no hostility between the student and the speaker.

The tone of the message left no doubt: the speaker believes that, because President Donald Trump is supported by racists, white supremacists, homophobes, and other deplorable people, real Christians cannot support the President, cannot vote for the President, and cannot even sit out the election if Trump is on the ballot. Jesus Christ is portrayed as loving, accepting all people, defending the rights of the poor (including immigrants), and opposed to any expression of hatred or disapproval. The other Christians who had commented were strongly supportive of this position.

I carefully considered how to respond. I wanted to be gentle. I wanted to be brief. I wanted to oppose the thought that no real Christian can support President Donald Trump. Here is what I said (as best as I remember):

“Interesting. Jesus Christ is far bigger than American politics. Sincere Christians can be right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle. There is plenty of room in Christianity for political conservatives and political liberals, for Democrats and Republicans. Jesus expressed compassion for victims of abuse, for the poor, for widows and orphans and foreigners. When he forgave sinners, he also said, “Go, and sin no more.” People on the right and people on the left have both sifted through the words of Jesus seeking support for their political positions. In both cases, this is wrong. Jesus came to be our Savior and our Redeemer, not to support our political choices.”

The speaker wanted to speak for all Christians in his disdain for President Trump. He wanted his audience to believe that Jesus would stand up today and reject President Trump. He severely undermined his case when he quoted Jesus as asking, “What is truth?” For it was a corrupt government official named Pontius Pilate who asked that question of Jesus and then did not stay around for an answer. And it was Jesus who allowed himself to be mistreated without fighting back, without calling for a change in government, without protesting what the Romans were doing in Jerusalem.

Christians have an obligation to participate in the government of nations where that privilege is granted. We should vote, and we should share our opinions with our elected leaders. Christians also have an obligation to help the needy, to defend the oppressed, and to be kind to all our neighbors. That kindness does not include approving of their sinful choices. When the occasion was right, Jesus preached against sin. He did not focus only on the sins of the elite and powerful; he condemned sin in all cases.

We Christians should oppose hatred and violence. We should not be known for what we hate; we should be known for what we love. Because we love Jesus, we will not use his name or his words to advance a political agenda or any other worldly plan. Instead, by sharing his word and by living according to his example, we will make this sin-polluted world a better place while we await the Day when Jesus will complete his work of casting out all evil and making this world his kingdom. J.

Rumor control, continued

After I posted about Facebook this morning, some new information came to me which needs to be added to the previous post:

  • The name “Facebook,” said backwards, sounds like, “Kubsafe.”
  • Kubsafe was a goat-headed god worshiped by some of the indigenous people of West Africa, as well as by some of their descendants in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is said that if a person walks into a dark room, faces a mirror, and says the name of Kubsafe three times in a row without pausing, the face of the god will appear in the mirror. Under certain circumstances, that figure in the mirror may try to harm the person who has invoked him.
  • People of a certain age (or a certain level of maturity), having read this information, will try that very experiment tonight.

You have been warned. J.

Rumor control

I received an urgent Facebook message from my cousin this week. She had received a friend request from me which she knew was spurious, since we are already Facebook friends. She proceeded to instruct me how to warn all my Facebook contacts not to accept a new friend request from me, since someone is obviously using my name and picture for no good purpose.

I thanked my cousin for her warning and told her not to worry—most Facebook users are savvy enough not to refriend someone who is already a Facebook friend. When she repeated her warning, I sent her a link to a Snopes page about Facebook pirates, and she then told me that she felt better and less worried.

When I was in high school and college we did not yet have Snopes. We had to rely on something which we called common sense. Mimeographed sheets were passed around schools, churches, workplaces, and the neighborhood with warnings about sinister plots in the world. The Procter & Gamble company, maker of soaps and toothpastes and many other household items, was actually a satanic organization, which could be proved by studying their corporate logo. Rock musicians were hiding nefarious messages in their popular songs by recording the messages backwards. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had persuaded members of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all Christian broadcasting from American radio and television. None of these messages was true, but without Snopes to discredit them, these messages continued to be shared and believed.

Somehow in the twenty-first century Facebook has become the target of these kinds of rumors. Facebook is going to start charging users for its services. Facebook has claimed ownership and intellectual control of anything its users have ever posted, even if they have deleted those posts. Facebook pirates are using the identities of Facebook users to hack into other users’ accounts and cause terrible harm and destruction.

Snopes has addressed all of these rumors and found them to be incorrect. (Of course if you Google the phrase “Snopes tool Illuminati,” you will receive nearly 42,000 hits in less than half a second.) Facebook users shouldn’t have to check with Snopes before accessing their accounts. Some old-fashioned common sense should dispel any rumors about Facebook, as I will now try to demonstrate:

  • Facebook makes a lot of money providing its free services to its users. If it was not profitable, Facebook would not continue to exist. But it’s not your money that Facebook is earning, so why should you even care?
  • Facebook does not claim ownership of the material its users post. On the other hand, everything posted on Facebook is available all over the Internet to every kind of user. Stalkers and other creepy people can see what you post on Facebook. So can people who have a more legitimate reason to care what you post. Never post anything on Facebook that you would not want seen by your parents, your children, your neighbors, your current employer, or any possible future employer. Use Instagram for those embarrassing posts.
  • Some of the people you encounter on Facebook will have beliefs and opinions that differ from yours. These people include relatives, old high school friends, and even members of your church. They will post statements that you believe to be wrong. They will disagree with things that you post. They will sometimes be rude about these differences. Life happens.
  • If you do not read the things you post before you send them to Facebook, you will sometimes be guilty of silly and embarrassing typos, misspelled words, and improper grammar. A quick run through what you have written will help you catch those mistakes, and this can affect the opinion other people have of you. Save your typos and other mistakes for Twitter.
  • Facebook is not the world. It does not deserve more of your attention than your job, your household, or your relationship with the Lord. It is possible to turn off Facebook and step away from the computer. It is possible to go an entire day without looking at Facebook. Some people live normal and happy lives without even having a Facebook account.

I hope this information has been helpful. J.

“Your dreams are within reach” “Yeah, right”

“Your dreams are within reach.” So promises a sign outside a church I pass every morning on my way to work. Some days I like to think this wish is true. This morning I rather hope that my dreams remain out of reach.

The earliest part of my dreams last night that I remember featured Elvis Presley berating me for the condition of my body. But afterward I was outside my house, trying to set up the grounds for croquet. (When I dream about “my house,” it generally resembles my childhood home, even though that building is no longer standing.) I found that I was unable to place the wickets as I wanted. From that I concluded that the house must have shifted, making the yard smaller. I then tried to hammer one of the stakes into the hard ground. My effort broke open a hole that led to the basement of the house. My father was in that basement, trying to fix the sump pump and not succeeding. The dream concluded with me driving to the grocery store, only to have the car stall at the entrance to the parking lot. By pressing the accelerator while turning the key, I was able to get the car to move forward. With considerable effort, I twisted the steering wheel and coasted into a parking spot. I went into the store and asked to use the phone to tell my family the car was broken. When I dialed, I got the voice mail message, which had been changed by a relative who does not live in our house and had no business messing with our message.

Why would I dream about so many things going wrong in my life? I was jittery yesterday over a number of small reasons. My daughter, who hurt her foot last month in a freak accident, was to have surgery yesterday morning. Her driver took her to the office early in the morning and they waited for a while, only to realize that the surgery is scheduled for Wednesday the 23rd, not Wednesday the 16th. My daughter called home to tell me about the mistake. While we were talking, I heard another voice in or around the house. At first I assumed that two neighbors were having a conversation near the house. When I returned to breakfast, it struck me that the sounds did not resemble a conversation between two people. (You can tell that I was not trying to spy on my neighbors.) For a while I considered that it might be one neighbor talking on a cell phone, but that still didn’t seem to match the sounds I was hearing. When I went into the living room, I found a cell phone on the table that was taking, repeatedly saying “hello” in several different languages. Last weekend my daughters recharged several old cell phones, prior to turning them in for a refund. They did not realize that alarms were still set on these phones. So I’ve been turning off music every morning this week. Hearing unfamiliar voices in the morning, though, left me with a very unsettled feeling.

Feeling unsettled made me overreact when I went on Facebook that morning. I don’t often visit Facebook any more, but sometimes I like to see what family members are saying. One of the first things I saw was a post by my sister which told how to cope with toxic family members. Because I was feeling jittery, my first reaction was to think she was putting me in that category. I know that is not the case; she tends to share things she thinks will help somebody somewhere, whether or not they are relevant to her own life and circumstances. In fact, when I went back later to read the entire article, I could see that it had nothing to do with me. But that’s the frame of mind I was in yesterday, ready to believe the worst about myself from even the slightest and vaguest suggestion.

One reason I am feeling so unstable is uncertainty about my career. I have two or three possibilities before me. One is that things remain as they are. Another is that I might be offered a full-time job in another state. The position has been open for nearly a year, and the committee in charge of hiring has had my name suggested to them, among others. I have yet to hear from them to arrange an interview, but I have good reason to believe that they have not quite reached the step of interviewing anyone yet. If I were offered the job, I would almost certainly take it. Some days I feel certain that it will happen, and I just have to trust God for the timing. Other times I feel as if it will certainly not happen. This winter when I saw cars with license plates from that state, I treated them as a secret message that the job will be offered. But on other days I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, right,” when I saw those license plates.

On one of the second kind of days I got a phone call with a new offer. This would be part-time instead of full-time. I would have to keep my current full-time job to have health insurance, but the net pay would increase, even though I would have to drop one current part-time job. The drive to this new position would be about an hour each way, but I wouldn’t have to do it more than twice a week, most weeks of the year. This offer is on the table, mine if I want it. But I don’t know whether to accept, particularly while the full-time possibility remains hanging in unknown territory.

For those of you who are so inclined, I would appreciate your prayers. I could use some wisdom, but also a lot of comfort and inner strength. Also, please pray for both these positions, that they would acquire the servants who are best for them. And while you’re at it, please don’t forget my daughter. She would really like this foot problem to heal, and to do so correctly. J.

Privacy (and where yours has gone)

Never in history has personal privacy been more protected by law. Yet never in history have people sacrificed their own privacy so completely. 

If you confess a sin to your pastor or priest, that member of the clergy cannot tell anyone else that you have said—not even a police officer, or a judge and jury during a trial. Your confession remains private among yourself, your confessor, and the Lord. 

Health professionals are also required to keep your information confidential. They cannot even share your information among one another for your own good without your permission. If you are in the hospital and a family member or friend (or your pastor or priest) calls the hospital for information about you, the hospital workers cannot say anything about you—not even whether you are there. 

If you are a student, your teachers cannot discuss your academic progress without your permission. If you are under eighteen, your parents or guardians have access to that information; otherwise, even they cannot know your grades unless you allow them access. A professor, teacher, or instructor cannot even give you information about your grade by email or over the telephone because of the risk that some other person may impersonate you to get this information. 

Your financial information is similarly protected. Your bank, your lending agency, your credit card company, and anyone else involved with your money cannot discuss your finances without your permission. Even your tax returns are confidential and cannot be discussed unless you have given permission for that to happen. 

To protect all this privacy, the entities that use our information frequently inform us what they are doing with the confidential information we share with them. Medical clinics, banks, credit card companies, and the like constantly bombard us with written descriptions of what information they have and what they do with it. When we see the doctor or when we open an account or take out a loan, we sign documents about our personal information. How many of us read all those documents and remember what permission we have given these entities to share that information? How many of us are careful to restrict every bank and school and health-related facility to minimal sharing? How many of us acknowledge with our signatures that we have read the documents about privacy and approved their contents—without actually having read them or even received a copy of them? 

With all this protection, no one can stop you from sharing private information where and when you choose. You can put up a poster downtown telling anyone who reads it who you are, what your health and grades and finances are, and any other personal information you choose to share. You can write a letter to the newspaper or buy an ad and tell the newspaper’s readers anything you want to share about yourself. You can write a letter to a government worker—whether elected or appointed—and anything you say about yourself in that letter becomes part of the public record which any researcher may access. You may post information about your private life on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, or any other social media platform, and what you have revealed about yourself is available to any person or computer in the world that has internet access. 

Even the research you conduct online is publicly available, unless you take extraordinary precautions to protect your privacy. Social media platforms and search engines and internet sites all keep track of your online activity, and the things you have done on your computer are available to government agencies, corporations, hackers, and anyone else curious about your life. Anything you tell your Facebook friends is public information. Prospective employers can read about your weekend parties. Prospective thieves can preview your vacation plans. Research an illness, and medical companies target you as a prospective consumer. Look on Google once to see if there was ever a purple Volkswagen Beetle (there was), and you will receive pop-up ads from Volkswagen for months. 

Some elements of this lack of privacy bother me less than they bother most people. If my neighbor is using the internet to learn how to make a bomb and then is using the internet to buy bomb-making supplies, I don’t mind the fact that law enforcement officers will be watching my neighbor and perhaps preventing a crime from happening, or at least shortening a string of potential crimes. For that protection from violence, I am willing to allow government agents to read about my political and religious views as I express them on Facebook or WordPress; the First Amendment protects me from any negative government reaction to my opinions. 

I am less content about my permanent record being open to private corporations whose interest in my life focuses on selling me goods and services I might or might not want. My on-line shopping and on-line research have created a public profile of my life that in some ways is frighteningly accurate and in other ways is comically distorted. Because I was curious about cerebral films starring Peter Sellers (having enjoyed Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and Being There), I now see regular Facebook promotions for the Pink Panther movies. Similar searches for various actresses appears to have convinced some corporation that I am interested in dating Russian or Asian women.  

Ignoring advertisements for things I don’t want is easy. Sensing that news stories and other items are being sent my direction based on assumptions about my opinions bothers me more. Because I am comfortable with my own beliefs, I want and value access to a wide range of opinions and information. I prefer not to have amazon or Facebook or WordPress suggest to me what I might like because of previous online activity. I prefer not to have search engines tailor my results to choices I have made in the past. I prefer not to receive telephone calls or mail selected for me by a computer because of something I have viewed online. I prefer not to have computers monitor my thinking and try to predict my thinking, out of concern that their input today may well flavor my thinking tomorrow.

Since the 1950s (if not before), science fiction writers have warned of a future world in which machines think for people and tell people what to think. We are closer to that dystopia being reality than ever before. The machines that want to serve us—and that, along the way, may begin to control us—come not from a totalitarian government or a worldwide conspiracy, but from corporations that want our money, or at least that want to generate money by selling our information.

Can Congress or other parts of the government protect our privacy? Probably not. We tend to discard privacy for convenience far more often than legislation can prevent. The more we ask government to guard our privacy, the more likely we are to surrender that privacy to government. The more we reveal about ourselves to social media and other non-government agencies, the less privacy we keep to ourselves. Our best choice is not to legislate privacy, but to preserve privacy by our individual choices. J.

More than ten performances, and none of them a lie

I am not going to lie to you—particularly not about concerts I have attended and enjoyed.

If you spend any time on Facebook, you have probably seen those lists, “Ten concerts I attended (one of them is a lie.)” I don’t visit Facebook often—I got an account largely to keep track of my children’s lives, but it has helped me to reconnect with friends from high school and college. Seeing some of my friends reminisce about concerts brings back memories for me. But I then discovered that to list nine concerts I have attended (plus the obligatory lie), I would have to include symphony orchestras and municipal bands.

Not that I’ve never enjoyed a rock concert. I’ve been to a handful over the years, and I’m not sorry to have gone. But I’ve also let a lot of opportunities escape without regret. When I was in college, I could have gone to a Barry Manilow concert. Some of my friends were singing in his local back-up choir. I decided that I would rather catch up on homework than spend an evening with Barry Manilow. More recently I could have gone to a Pat Benatar concert. I enjoy her music, but it was an outdoor concert with summer heat and humidity and mosquitoes. I figured I would be happier at home, where I could listen to studio-made recordings of Pat Benatar in air-conditioned comfort. I also could have gone to a Paul McCartney concert. I’m a big Beatles fan; I have seen and heard Ringo Starr in concert. But I decided that even Sir Paul was not worth spending more than a hundred dollars for one ticket; I have other bills to pay.

Now if the Facebook meme was about live performances, and not just popular singers, I could name a lot more than ten. I’ve been to an opera; I’ve been to the ballet several times; and I’ve seen lots of live plays, including musicals. When I was in high school, I was even involved in some live performances. My high school put on a musical every spring with considerable success. For two years I was in the pit orchestra, playing the trombone. The first of those was Music Man, in which just three of us trombonists had to represent seventy-six trombones. I had the all-important part of creating the tuba blats for the children’s band at the end of the show. As a senior, I finally tried out for a part on stage and got to portray Horace Vandergelder in the classic Hello, Dolly!

I could list a great many musicals I’ve seen performed live over the years, from high school and college productions to community theater to traveling professional shows. Some I saw during the height of their popularity: Annie, and Phantom of the Opera. Others I saw as revivals—I once saw an aging Yul Brenner perform in The King and I. I saw Donnie Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I have thought about writing a post describing my favorite musicals, but when I started listing them I passed fifty and was still thinking of more. So, no, I am not going to lie to you about a performance I’ve attended. But I definitely prefer musical theater to the standard rock concert. J.