If you know anyone who grew up speaking Russian, congratulate them. The Soviet Union won the Cold War after all. We didn’t know it at the time, but capitalism’s victory for industry marked the end of the Industrial Age. Now that we’re in the throes of the Information Age, the Soviet model for harvesting and controlling information is clearly prevailing.
I traveled through the eastern Europe in 1982, during the Solidarity movement in Poland and a few months before Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the USSR. One moonless night near Moscow, two gangly teenagers met us in a campground, offering an exchange. We wanted to know whether the ubiquitous propaganda worked. They wanted to buy our blue jeans.
They led us to the center of a field, where they could be sure no one was listening. They scribbled notes on a pad when speaking near any structure.
“The billboards help the ignorant to feel better,” they told us. “They want to be taken care of by Mother Russia.” One pulled a wad of rubles from his pocket. I didn’t sell my pants, but I learned later that I could have paid for the entire trip if I had. We had better stuff than them and they knew it.
Too bad for America that we won the age that was ending. They’re winning the age that is just getting underway.
For example, pity the poor reporters who cover the Oregon Ducks football team. They have been relegated to the parking lot, trying to discern by limps or sweat stains what might have happened during practice. They’re no longer allowed inside.
It’s Kremlinology all over again, speculating about what’s gone on behind closed doors.
Did our basketball coach really not know about some of his players’ actions before the NCAA tournament? Does federal law require the protection of students’ privacy or that students be warned about nearby sexual assaults? Who decides which and when?
Both Coach Dana Altman and UO President Michael Gottfredson issued statements that included the phrase, “As a father, I felt…” Were they coached to use that line, by whom, and for what purpose?
“That’s just sport,” you may say, “and sport is entertainment. Entertainment requires suspension of disbelief, so they’re really only helping us stay entertained.”
If only it stopped there.
Official sources have mastered the “no comment” troika. Before any incident has been confirmed, they refuse to comment “on hypotheticals.” After it’s confirmed, they cannot comment, lest they interfere with on ongoing investigation. After the investigation is completed, they prefer to “look forward, not back.”
If you can’t ask, you can’t know.
Eugene 4J School District hired an outside negotiator for its current round of contract talks. The administration claimed this was necessary to prevent overburdening administrative staff. Based on what metrics was that decision made? Where is the line between burdened and overburdened?
City Councils are beginning to require reporters to leave the room when their agendas take them into executive session. Reporters have observed “off the record” sessions for decades. Officials now claim it’s becoming too difficult to gauge the credentials of the members of a free press. Now they must look for limps and sweat stains after all the work has been done.
If you work for any of the 17 federal agencies under the Director of National Intelligence (which includes the CIA and NSA), you’d better hope there are no journalists on your softball team. New regulations forbid any employee from speaking to any member of the press, about any security topic, regardless of whether it’s classified or not.
You can talk to your neighbor about non-secret topics, unless your neighbor happens to be a journalist. If you have unplanned and inadvertent contact with a journalist, there’s a form you must fill out.
Information must be precious to the governed and abundant to the government. So we must tap every phone. It may become a matter of national defense. Or — as they used to say only elsewhere — “homeland security.” Mother America will provide all. We need only trust and obey.
Or walk to the center of a field with a scribble pad in one pocket and a wad of cash in the other.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs