For Calling Out Loud 

America's new privacy hedge

Hey lady, if you don't mind me asking ... what were you two talking about the other day? Remember? I was sitting at the light when you pulled a one-arm, cross-lane, rush-hour, left-hand turn in that 300-horsepower mobile storage shed of yours, all while yakking away on a Sprint like you were the warm-up act at a Tupperware party. And look, I'm not complaining because you seemed so oblivious to the fact that had there been one more coat of paint on either of our vehicles, you would have clipped my front fender. Nor am I going to preach about how you shouldn't be yakking and driving at the same time. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner you're gone, the safer the rest of us are. We can only hope that when your time's up, it will be with another two-ton monstrosity being navigated by someone so involved in his own cell call, he won't see you coming.

The deal is, I just want to know what you and your friend were talking about, that's all. It's none of my business, I realize that. But you shouldn't mind telling me. You know what they say, Jabber Girl: If you didn't do anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide. Right?

OK, the whole truth is, it's not what you were talking about that has me asking. I suspect your conversational skills are as undeveloped as your driving skills, so I probably wouldn't find anything you say very interesting, anyway. I just wanted to find out if you would tell me, see? Because the real question on my mind is, "Does it bother this person in the least that a total stranger is curious who she's talking to and what they are saying?"

I bring it up because my girl is in Venezuela. That would be the girl I have written about so frequently over the last decade and the Venezuela that's about 4,000 miles from here. At another time--if I totally run out of anything else to write about and simultaneously come to believe it's any of your damn business, anyway--I will explain how ol' Cope, born and raised just off the Meridian exit, ended up with a step-daughter, grandkids, and a pile of in-laws on a whole 'nuther continent. For now, suffice it to say my girl is in Venezuela.

Now, as you're probably aware, the United States and Venezuela have been going through a rough patch of late. To be precise, it's not the United States you and I live in that's having trouble with Venezuela. It's the United States that George Bush and his pissy friends live in that's having trouble with Venezuela. I'm willing to bet there aren't more than a city bus full of Idahoans who care who Venezuelans elect as their president, but the Bush/Cheney mob, having proven themselves capable of any sort of mayhem to ensure our resident oil barons a steady supply of gougable crude, are deeply troubled over Venezuela, being one of those countries that's floating on oil.

Trouble is, the guy running Venezuela doesn't live up to their expectations of how an oil country oughta be run. If he were one of those right-wing autocrats, he'd likely be getting a weekly boatload of money and assault helicopters from Bush's United States. But Hugo Chavez is no right-wing autocrat. Fact is, he's a socialist.

I have no major objections to Prez Chavez. He's not perfect by any stretch, but perfection isn't something I've come to expect from politicians, no matter the continent. He's a tad flamboyant, but then, he hasn't started any unnecessary wars, he doesn't invade countries on fabricated intelligence, he hasn't sent his soldiers off to die for false reasons and he seems to be as genuinely dedicated to the welfare of his country's poor as Bush is to the welfare of our county's rich. Chavez is a socialist, true, but I'm not one of those who react to the word "socialism" like they've just been told the toilet clogged up.

But socialism and oil have never mixed well--at least, not in the opinion of oil barons--so Venezuela has found itself on G.B's hit list. Somewhere between the Axis-of-Evil and Canada is my guess. All of which brings me to my point.

Now follow closely, Yak Woman. I'll even number the sentences so you can keep them straight. 1) George Bush hates Hugo Chavez. 2) Hugo Chavez runs a country my kid is in. 3) There's no way my kid is going to be in Senor Chavez's country for three weeks without a few check-up calls from Mom and Dad back in Idaho. ("So how's it going, honey? Are you having a good time? Have you seen any more of those spiders as big as woodchucks today?) And 4), George Bush has the authority--so he says--to snoop through the phone calls of any American he wants to under the auspices of the National Security Administration. Get what I'm getting at?

I'm not saying my phone is tapped or that I have a team of NSA spooks hunkered down in a fake delivery van parked outside my house. I don't think it's come to that ... yet.

But it doesn't have to go that far for me to detest the direction it's going. And I can't even begin to understand how 60 or 65 percent of Americans aren't concerned that the NSA--or anyone else--may be keeping track of their phoning habits. It doesn't make sense to me. I always thought the instinct for privacy and the demand to limit the ability of government to poke around in our intimate moments was something we all shared. I always thought that was one of the points of being an American.

Then I find out a significant majority doesn't care. Even as reports of the NSA's recent history expose more and more encroachment with less and less regard for such check-and-balance niceties as legal procedure and court approval, Americans forgive it. We seem to have forgotten that privacy isn't the same as secrecy and intimacy doesn't mean just sex. "Don't tread on me" has been replaced with the wimpy excuse that has served all tyrannies and tyrants so well: "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide."

So to better understand what in the hell is wrong with you people, I thought I would conduct a little experiment. I figure if Americans don't care that a huge, faceless, powerful government agency is checking out their phone yakking, then surely they won't mind if a harmless Nosy Ned like me is. And for my first test subject, I picked you, Chat Chick. You're a natural. Clearly, you have little use for your own privacy, since you so obviously like to be seen on the phone by the public-at-large.

So c'mon. Tell me. What were you two talking about? I won't tell anyone else. Trust me.

And hurry it up, would you? The way you're driving, we don't have forever.

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