Aug. 6, 2013 — When I was growing up, my parents were mostly nonpolitical, although my grandfather — who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas —absolutely hated “Landslide Lyndon” (president Lyndon Baines Johnson) because he believed Johnson had stolen a couple of elections years before I was born.
In one of those elections officials discovered a box full of 202 uncounted ballots. When they counted those missing ballots, Johnson got 200 votes and his opponent got only two, and that was enough to make the loser win. My grandfather always said Johnson was the most corrupt politician of all time. Worse than Nixon.
Despite their nonpolitical stance (my parents taught us we should worry about the little world right in front of our noses rather than the big world out there somewhere), they still wanted us to be conversant in political concepts. So after I’d finished reading the kid classics such as “Animal Farm,” “Treasure Island,” “Tom Sawyer” and “The Call of the Wild” from their bedroom library, they turned me on to the heavier stuff — “Brave New World,” “Fahrenheit 451” and, of course, “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
Reading “Nineteen Eighty-Four” really had a profound effect on me. It wasn’t just the dark, dirty, impoverished world drowned out by Victory Gin or the curiosity of thoughtcrime or newspeak or the two minutes of hate or even the horror I felt when Winston yelled out, “Do it to Julia,” and the painful realization Julia also had screamed, “Do it to Winston!” (although that scene is not included in the novel).
All those things were nothing compared to the premonition washing through my nearly teenaged brain that one day my own government could be tracking my every movement and recording absolutely everything I do, placing me under continuous and constant surveillance in an attempt to control me as if I were a citizen of Oceania.
I’ve seen that vice of governmental intrusion squeeze tighter and tighter as I’ve gotten older, and it makes me angry because I’m allegedly a free man living in a free land.
Especially since the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 and the approval of the Patriot Act and a new variety of data collection schemes by other government agencies and a willing and cooperative business sector, more and more information has been gathered and complied on more and more of us under both Democrat and Republican administrations (so much for that old left/right argument). Now we’ve even got our own Star Chamber (secret court). I always feared it might happen here one day. I can’t even imagine the scrutiny my children and grandchildren will have to endure as privacy becomes little more than a memory from our quaint, provincial past.
But how about this local tidbit? In the midst of all of this cheery nothin’-ta-worry-about-we’re-jist-checkin’-up-on-y’all-lookin’-fer-terrorists stuff — for four months we had a real, live, honest-to-goodness “Catch Me If You Can” character living and working among us at Mountain Lifeflight.
Fortunately, our local imposter — his real name is John Michael Dial — was actually trained and certified as a helicopter pilot, albeit under the assumed false identity of Thomas R. Cuni. Allegedly he’s been roaming around the country for more than a decade reportedly with something like 24 phony identities.
A friend of mine’s daughter got an A on a paper she wrote on the Fourth Amendment in a civics class right here at Lassen High School. Her thesis was we shouldn’t be concerned about the government spying on us unless we have something to hide. I disagree, and I think this young writer and her teacher totally and completely missed the very essence of being free from unreasonable search and seizure, but I have to wonder — if the government hadn’t spent so much of its time and resources trying to keep track of you and me for no good reason, they might have had a clue about Mr. Cuni and all his shenanigans.
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