Does It Matter Who’s Truthful When All Action Is Corrupt?

Have you heard why Megan Kelly really left FOX News? Or why Christina of HGTV’s Flip or Flop really split from her husband, or why the same station’s Joanna Gaines is in hot water for arriving late on the set of Fixer Upper? It’s the same reason in all three cases, according to certain stories that pulse along the side-panel of your screen: they were all so busy marketing the same company’s beauty secrets that the bonanza of prosperity distracted them from their boring day jobs.

This isn’t quite the same level of aggressive, in-your-face duplicity that characterized (for instance) the History Channel’s idiotic “mockumentaries” about mermaids, megalodons, and Sasquatches… but the kinship is of a first-cousin order. “Fake news” is now so embedded in our cultural consciousness that we have apparently given up being outraged by it. “Kim Jong Un just nuked a small Pacific island… and the only survivors were using Apollo Sun Tan Lotion (improved formula)!” We swallow the b.s. with scarcely a grimace. The most worrisome problem is that, should the chubby child of Dearest Friend indeed decide to vaporize an entire populace, we would already have been rehearsed in passing over the news and looking for the next thrill.

“The Boy That Cried Wolf” Syndrome has deeply infected us. I don’t even know if most of my freshmen would recognize the folkloric reference… but I do know that they’re convinced, almost to a boy or girl (or whatever lies between), that human beings are causing a disastrous climate change. Chemistry and biology majors cite data to me that I can’t dispute, since their fields extend far beyond my intellectual reach. So maybe they’re right. But then a celebrated academic appears on national television and claims that carbon dioxide is a more lethal toxin than sarin gas. Even a chemistry-challenged numbskull like me knows the difference between monoxide and dioxide—yet our guru was apparently conflating the two. Could his ilk have been among the teachers of my freshmen?

I don’t like cars. Never have. I probably walk more in a week than most atmospheric scientists do in a year—and I don’t consume jet fuel flying to conferences that might have been held on Skype. Reducing car traffic is fine by me. Why, however, can we not address the problem by scrapping our special-interest-fueled zoning laws and oppressive regulations that prevent people from running shops out of their homes? Why is the “green” solution always more government intrusion into our personal lives? And why are the insane windmills that now deface much of the Southwest a step forward when the effort of constructing, transporting, and rigging their blades requires more energy than they are likely to restore in a century of steady gales?

I will postulate, for the sake of argument, that the science behind climate change is compelling: then why are the measures that we take in consequence so patently ineffective and mired in sordid political boondoggle?

On this issue as on so many others, I don’t know who’s telling the truth, and I don’t think I’m capable of knowing—not in the earthly time I have left. I know this much, however. On one side I see lies proliferating as part of popular cultural and consumerist marketing; on another I see our elected “saviors” getting sleek and fat as specially targeted problems only worsen; and on yet another I see campus culture shutting down free speech with thuggery and shouting down open debate in fanatical zeal. Maybe the wolf is really coming this time… but when the watchdog is a hungry Bengal tiger, maybe I’d rather have the wolf.

What’s Insecure About “Security”

I came back from my spring break to find that I could no longer check the email at my place of employ. First I had to add a “device” through which I would initially identify myself: then the email would load. Security, of course: an “upgrade” to respond to new “risks”.

There’s simply no end to this. The new security protocol will last until aspiring hackers devise a way to circumvent it easily… which may take a few months. Then I’ll have to add another device, or else there will be some more arcane and complicated procedure. Then the hackers will render the latest measure obsolete… and on we go. And on and on.

One annoying thought that always nags me in these situations is how many techies we’re paying royally to make our lives more complex and miserable. The cost of doing something as simple as checking your mail has become inflated by a factor of ten or twenty since the days when we just wrote a note and slipped it in a box. What am I saying–that didn’t cost anything but a piece of paper! Try multiplying the cost by several thousand!

And, without fail, the next other thought is precisely, “What was so bad about paper?” You had one transmission confined to one space. To “hack” it, someone would have to break into the mail room. Or you could leave a phone message on an answering machine, which was almost as cheap, a little easier to check, and immensely more secure (inasmuch as one trespasser into the mail room could have access to everyone’s cubby hole, but the same desperado would have to break into X number of offices or houses to raid each answering machine).

I’ve actually been requested several times during the past year to submit in print some kind of report that I had already–under orders–submitted online. The reason? A superior found tracking down the material online to be far too time-consuming. Especially with all the new security measures (and more coming every month), trying to gain access to information not only becomes more intricate but also incurs greater risk of freeze-up or shut-down when the software updates don’t quite mesh with previous gears.

How much of what we do really needs to be secure, anyway? Sensitive info about bank accounts or identification numbers or health problems or (in my case) course grades would be better off sitting in a file cabinet. Why does an online class need to be resistant to Chinese or Russian hackers, though? A lot of such stuff finds its way to YouTube (if it’s good enough to draw a general audience). Could it be that the people who “secure” us for their living have a vested interest in exposing us ever further to embarrassing or disastrous invasions of privacy? As long as we feel “at risk”, they will be assured a lucrative gig.

I wouldn’t be posting this piece without the Internet. I’m not waging a war against the Web. But why do we have to use every technology for everything to which it might possibly be applied, just because we can? Why don’t we select appropriate uses and decline others that involve us in never-ending headaches and nervous sweats?