Is It a Crime To Take a Break?

download.pngAlthough I tend to eschew science fiction I am not without a certain appetite for mystery novels—detective stories, murder mysteries, police procedurals, suspense novels—whether written by such classic writers as Agatha Christie or possibly by newer authors I might not even recognize as writing such entertainments. The fiction of mystery and detection is both entertaining and still it massages the little gray cells. True, it’s generally not high literature but sometimes you just need to take a break from James Joyce and Marcel Proust.

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Oh Those Methods!

Joe Leaphorn leans back in his office chair and stares at the seemingly random colored pins adorning the map on the wall. Hercule Poirot charges up his little gray cells with a tisane and a swirl of his mustache. But the detective I most admire hulks around, watches, listens, applies his methods, and has an occasional ragoût at the local bistro. Yes, it is Jules Maigret, commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle” (commissaire – Direction Régionale de Police Judiciaire de Paris).

MaigretGeorges Simenon is one of the most prolific writers in the world and there are plenty of Maigret novels and stories to enjoy, starting with Pietr-le-Letton (Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett). Over the years Maigret undergoes changes, both personal and professional, becoming more refined and expanding his team at the Brigade so that the later novels focus less on his personality and more on the narrative being developed. Of course, after 76 novels and dozens of short stories, Maigret’s methods are familiar to every reader and the experience might be considered more for the comfort of a familiar situation and not as much for the thrill of the chase. Besides, nowadays books and movies are so graphic and shocking that we might need to slow down and enjoy more old-fashioned pleasures. Maigret works for me.

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Get Smart

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that public information is available to anyone who wants to pursue it. So that detective searching for the birth-mother of a young-republican in Nebraska might discover your address because you subscribe to The Mother Earth News; or a potential employer might learn that you were suspected of torching the factory where you worked before but got off on lack of evidence; or you were once married to the brother of a woman who went to the same college as Bettina Apthecker and once stood in the sandwich line right behind Bettina, a well-known radical with Communist ties and Feminist sensibilities. But all this isn’t worth worrying about; a photo of you peeing against the Century Plaza Hotel isn’t going to ruin your life.

Yes, we all have incidents in our lives that probably should be blamed on Thunderbird and not anarchism.

But with the rise of technology, especially computers and the internet, there are more and more possibilities for trouble. Let’s face it, a fading photo in an old album piled in the corner of a cobwebby basement on the other side of the continent is not going to cost you your job at Walmart. But if that old friend whose name you don’t even remember is flipping through those old albums and has the brilliant idea to post some of the photos on his Facebook page, just for shits and giggles, you might have to turn in all your spirit buttons and have your stylish vest stripped from your shoulders.

A few months ago we heard that the Library of Congress is collecting and storing all the traffic that flows through Twitter. Imagine, every Tweet saved for posterity:  the mind boggles. Now I read that since these social sites on the internet are public, the government (and the detective looking for the birth-mother, etc.) can gather them all in and keep a close watch on the activities of unsuspecting citizens all over the world, including right here in the United States. The FBI and several other secretive branches of the government are now seeking a monitoring program which will find and correlate the vast amount of information appearing on the bigger social sites like Facebook. We already know that corporations are actively processing this internet data so that they can target their advertising and their products, but as nefarious as that is, do we really want the government to have that level of surveillance over our lives?

Remember the Fourth Amendment? The government seems to have forgotten it unless they are playing the right-wing game of “Show me where in the Constitution is mentions Facebook!” Now might be a good time to throw in the wording used by our founding-fathers (no women, notice):

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

See, Americans are “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” (except when a warrant is issued for probable cause detailing the specifics of the need to violate a person’s privacy) but it never mentions Facebook (not even MyPage). What this means is that a person’s privacy doesn’t extend to the internet because Ben Franklin was too busy getting the Post Office off the ground to invent the internet back in the 18th Century.

Seeing as how at least one party in the government of this country is clearly fascist (and the Democrats are not doing a good job of combating the spread of darkness over the land), I am very concerned about the government knowing my business more than it does now. I won’t be involved with most of the social sites. WordPress is, obviously, an exception but I justify it in two ways:  first, I committed to having my own online website back in the mid-1990s and have maintained it continuously since then; and second, I control what I say and I am not adverse to speaking my mind, whether the subject is literature or politics. If the government wants to provide me with a URL I will gladly send a copy of each of my posts directly to them so they can get some opinions and information that doesn’t come with a folded check, a wink, and a handshake.