Tun­ing out the evil

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD CO­HEN

I re­cently cut the cord. I did so be­cause my ca­ble bill was sky high and I knew I was pay­ing for chan­nels I never watched. So I called in Leo, who is my per­sonal help desk , and he fig­ured out what he could do, and then asked if I wanted him to de-ca­ble me then and there. Im­pul­sively, I said yes, and so for a week I had no tele­vi­sion at all. I felt like Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Let me tell you, seven days with­out Wolf Bl­itzer is heaven. A week out­side “The Sit­u­a­tion Room” is down­right calm­ing. No “break­ing news!” No hype. Bl­itzer is a first-class jour­nal­ist and I men­tion him only by way of ac­knowl­edg­ing his fame. I could have cho­sen Rachel Mad­dow, who could turn the lon­grange weather fore­cast into a half-hour jeremiad against Don­ald Trump, or al­most any­one else on any ca­ble net­work. What I came to re­al­ize is that I had come to see the news as an as­sault. It made me anx­ious.

Nowa­days, so much of the news is ei­ther ter­ri­fy­ing or anx­i­ety-pro­duc­ing. We have a pres­i­dent who has been called a “mo­ron” by his own sec­re­tary of state — truth in la­belling, no doubt — and who trades in­sults with a North Korean despot who keeps threat­en­ing nu­clear Ar­maged­don. When Rex Tiller­son acts to re­as­sure us by say­ing he has es­tab­lished lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Kim Jong Un, the pres­i­dent tweets his dis­par­age­ment: “Save your en­ergy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.” What Trump thinks “has to be done” has me star­ing at the ceil­ing in the dead of night.

The news tells us that a mad­man in Las Ve­gas as­sem­bled an ar­se­nal of heavy weaponry in his ho­tel room and mur­dered 58 peo­ple who were at­tend­ing a mu­sic festival 32 floors be­low. Bad luck. In Paris, some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened in a sin­gle night. 130 dead. More bad luck. It’s ran­dom, and there­fore al­most un­avoid­able.

Evil comes in through the ca­ble and through the in­ter­net. We look for­ward to the ad­vent of driver­less cars. But they can be hacked. You could be rid­ing along and some 14-year-old in Ro­ma­nia can take over your car so you run the lights and lose your brakes or, worse, make you lis­ten to Eminem. What’s the pur­pose?

Equifax has been hacked. Your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion is gone. Where? Who’s got your So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber? No one knows yet. What about your Ya­hoo ac­count? Hacked also. By whom? For what pur­pose? How are these things done? I have no idea. Do you?

“Waves of anger and fear cir­cu­late ... ob­sess­ing our pri­vate lives.” W.H. Au­den wrote those words the day World War II be­gan. They are even more true to­day than they were for me dur­ing the Viet­nam War draft. The in­ces­sant waves of bad news came with the in­ter­net. Be­fore then, seren­ity could be found in the home, the fields, the farm, the fam­ily. Now, only the of­fline can be serene.

There was a time when the av­er­age Amer­i­can could close the door and keep the world at bay. Now the world comes el­bow­ing in ev­ery time you go on­line. Pan­dora tells me I’ve lis­tened to 638 hours of mu­sic. What’s it their busi­ness? A cer­tain pair of shoes I con­sid­ered buy­ing stalks me all over the in­ter­net, pop­ping up in the mar­gins of un­re­lated web pages. The same holds for the Ni­cole Krauss book, “Forest Dark,” which has been fol­low­ing me around for about a month. I may buy it any­way.

The Earth is warm­ing. Storms are surg­ing. The ocean is com­ing our way. My pres­i­dent does not care. He pulls the U.S. out of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. He dis­man­tles en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions. He slyly and not so slyly stokes the fury of white goons. He ap­pears anti-black, anti-Mex­i­can and a misog­y­nist. In short, he’s a bigot. If you look at him long enough on tele­vi­sion, the pic­ture goes from color to black and white — Europe in the 1930s. Trump has all the tics. He’s a col­orized news­reel. Get your Milk Duds. This is a se­quel.

Au­den would un­doubt­edly have rec­og­nized ours as an age of anx­i­ety. We fear war. We fear ris­ing seas. We fear or­di­nary men with ex­tra­or­di­nary guns mur­der­ing ut­ter strangers not even out of hate. We fear hack­ers lift­ing our dig­i­tal wal­let, a pub­lic ac­count­ing of our pri­vate lives, and we won­der if the shoes that follow us around the in­ter­net will some­day, with the click of a dis­tant mouse, look like the jack­boots of old.

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