Friday, May 26, 2006

Dead Cows Don’t Wear OSHA Orange

The state that boasts it is "Open for Business" recently made headlines in national and regional newspapers for giving the "business" to its citizens. The laughable folly that is known as West Virginia state government proves once again that it cannot solve even the simplest problem.

In late April, a dead cow floated down the West Fork River and got snagged at the West Milford dam in Harrison County. Had Elsie died a week earlier, when the river was higher, she’d have floated through unnoticed. After a few days in West Milford, however, Elsie began to smell. And that’s when the town of West Milford called for help.

The town found out quickly that no office of state government wanted the job of removing a dead, bloated cow from the West Fork River. Every agency that the town called had its reason for not being able to help.

The Clarksburg Water Board owns the dam. But since the cow was actually stuck on a tree snag upstream of the dam, they weren’t the responsible agency.

The Department of Natural Resources said it was responsible only for wild animals.

The Department of Environmental Protection said the dead cow did not pose an environmental issue and declined to help. (Pray tell. What is an environmental issue?)

Experts proclaimed that the decaying carcass wasn’t a threat to the drinking water of downstream cities. (Translation: We’re adding extra chlorine instead of removing the stinking beast!)

The governor was busy practicing NASCAR flagging, but his aides referred the town to the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture said that dead cows were a local issue. Apparently, this agency only regulates livestock!

Finally, in desperation, the town called the Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division. But they said that the only unclaimed properties they handled were cash, bearer bonds, and fenceable jewelry.

This is West Virginia-the state that shuts down elevators in state-owned office buildings rather than inspect them according to state law. This is West Virginia-the state that financed a movie piracy studio run by state employees in the capitol basement. This is West Virginia-the state where you can embezzle tax dollars at will!

Good grief, West Milford! What did you expect?

Fortunately for West Milford, their volunteer firemen were up to the task. With help from the Nutter Fort VFD, the firemen pulled the dead cow to shore. The Division of Highways (an agency with absolutely no reason to be involved in the matter) then hauled the carcass to the landfill.

The national government is telling us to expect a bird flu pandemic in the near future. The national government has spent millions of homeland security dollars for the protection of drinking water supplies. In spite of the fact that we are facing threats from a natural disaster as well as a terrorist attack, West Virginia is not even up to the task of removing a dead cow from one of its major rivers.

We laugh about a dead cow rotting in a river. Even West Milford’s Fire Chief punned, "Someone had to take the bull by the horns." But our fellow Americans laughed at us all the harder as the cow rotted for three weeks while state leaders passed the buck.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this latest fiasco by state government. In the end, it was a group of volunteer firemen who had enough pride in their community to get the job done.

To this end, we all need to volunteer. We need to hold our noses and clean up state government once and for all. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get nothing but "West Virginia excuses" for our tax dollars.

Friday, May 5, 2006

In 1984, Tom Brokaw Smiled At The Telescreen

When he closed the last NBC Evening Newscast of 1984, toothsome Tom Brokaw smiled and told his audience that Orwell’s prediction for 1984 had not happened.  Though he never said it, his subliminal message to viewers on that New Year’s Eve was: Party like it’s 1999!  And then the peacock did its thing.

In the minds of peacocks and anchormen, Brokaw’s observation was true.  In practical terms, Big Brother was already firmly in charge of the American public’s behavior.

George Orwell began writing "1984" in 1947, the same year that commercial television broadcasting began in America.  In this classic novel, human behavior is controlled by the telescreen which functions not only as a television but also as an all-seeing camera.  Telescreens were located everywhere, and the denizens of Oceania could not escape surveillance.

On this side of the pond, and almost simultaneously with Orwell, Marshall McLuhan offered his concern about the power of television.  McLuhan, however, stressed that television need not have camera capability to control the public’s behavior.  He predicted that televised images would be so powerful that behavior could be controlled just by programming options.

McLuhan was right.  Within a decade, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Recently, the History Channel selected Elvis’ impact on American youth for one of the episodes in "10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America."  I do find it ironic that the History Channel would say that Elvis Presley’s television appearances "unexpectedly" changed America. Did they not read Orwell or McLuhan?

A week or so ago, my local television newscast ran a story about a man who claimed that his car had been burglarized while parked at a shopping mall.  Like Oceania, the mall’s parking lot is saturated with surveillance cameras.  The police watched the videotape and determined that no burglary had taken place.

You might be quick to approve of the surveillance cameras in this instance because they solved a case of insurance fraud.  But have you given any thought to the fact that the shopping mall is collecting huge volumes of demographic and economic data about its shoppers?  It does not take a genius to decipher the tapes and determine when the rich people shop and when the poor people shop or the ratio between the two.

As it stands now, one television ad can persuade one thousand random shoppers to line up at 5 a.m. on Black Friday to vie for 100 computers being sold for $99 each when the store opens at 6 a.m.  In the future, the combination of data from surveillance cameras (indoor and out), the data on your personal "store" card, and targeted television ads will have a powerful manipulative effect on each class of shoppers.  And the price of goods will change throughout the day and on each weekday to maximize sales to the rich, the poor, the bargain hunters, and the always-desirable impulse buyers.  Technology will make it so, but you will only be aware of the targeted ad that persuaded you to shop at a certain time or on a certain day.

Your car’s computer chip might well hold the entire driving history of the vehicle.  If your car has a GPS locator, you can be tracked everywhere you go.  And if it doesn’t, your cell phone is a beacon.  If you were to go on the lam, you’d be tracked by your credit card or ATM swipes.  Your credit history is a secret only to you.  You have to prove who you are to get a copy of your birth certificate.  Will the new border fences hold us in?  Or as we are told, keep them out?

Face it:  We have fallen a long, long way since we voluntarily gave up our constitutional protection from unreasonable searches at the airport thirty years ago.

It will only get worse, this technological totalitarianism.  Today’s grade-schoolers have been conditioned to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and searches by the K-9 corps.  Unlike you and me, they will never know any different life.

If the future depresses you, just remember Tom Brokaw’s smile in 1984 and his reassuring assessment that none of this ever happened.  That’s pretty much what Winston Smith did in "1984."