Saturday, April 5, 2014

4.5 Saturday (Nativity of St. John Chrysostom)

Culled from a recent episode of Harper's "Weekly Review": "[F]ormer American president Jimmy Carter offered advice on evading government surveillance to panelists on NBC’s Meet the Press. 'When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately,' he said, 'I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office, and mail it.' "

 "Bit of a dustup last night I expect."

Reading this bit of sage counsel I was touched - by its commonsensical soundness, by its elegance, by its very simplicity. The day has not dawned (yet) in this country when ordinary citizens, upon retrieving their mail, find that it has the rumply appearance of having been steamed open in a government basement, redacted with a black Sharpie or pair of sharp scissors after passing under the grim scrutiny of the warden's office or some mysterious Commissariat of Domestic and International Communiqués. The facilities at the National Security Administration and its ancillary operations at Google and AT&T are all too high-tech to open envelopes and scratch things out, or even to read nonsearchable, nondigitized character matrices in fonts which, far from being uniform, are more often impressionistic at best.

I was also touched by that image of a beloved former president, seated at his wooden writing desk, a patch of Georgia sunlight falling through the study window, fountain pen in hand, a studied frown on his brow as he considers how he will begin (prolepsis), how continue (excursus), how argue or cajole, how raise up or cast low, admonish or praise. Then, folding the letter, licking the envelope and trundling off down the sidewalk with it to the local post office to buy a stamp, exchange pleasantries and how-dos with Hazel Mae the postmistress, to the soda fountain for a quick one before ambling back to Rosalind and the wire-haired terrier, Suleiman Omar ibn Rashid.

But still, something puzzled me. I thought a moment, thought again, and puzzled yet again - why would the NSA have any interest in a note to the likes of Clement Atlee, John Major, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Linda Ronstadt, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Yitzak Rabin, Imelda Marcos, Pope John Paul II, Strom Thurmond, Everett Dirkson, Claire Booth Luce, President Sukarno, Robert McNamara, Ralph Abernathy, Shimon Peres, Harold Stassen, Konrad Adenauer, Betty Friedan, John Maynard Keynes, George Kennan, Shirley Chisholm, Thich Nhat Hanh, Averill Harriman, Anwar Sadat, Nelson Rockefeller, Adlai Stevenson, William O. Douglas, Wendell Wilkie, Menachim Begin, Martin Buber, John Foster Dulles, Dean Acheson, Alger Hiss, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Zbigniew Brzinski or Racquel Welch?

Well, it beats me. But like he says, it pays to be careful.

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