The Wrong Stuff

by Deck Deckert

May 6, 2002


"I don't understand this USA Patriot Act," my Martian friend Yyuran said.

"A great thing," I said enthusiastically. "It is going to help keep us free."

"But one of the things it does is allow your government to break into your home, read all your files, look at what's in your computer. And without even telling you."

"Yeah, that's called a 'sneak-and-peek'," I said. "Neat, huh?"

"But it's a violation of your privacy. You don't think that is a danger to your freedom?" He sucked his nose deep into his face, the Martian manner of showing distaste. All his expressions are wacky. If I'd met him earlier I could have gotten him a job in a carny freak show.

"If you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about."

"You wouldn't mind if they found that stack of funny magazines in your basement behind the furnace? The ones with the women..."

"Never mind," I said hastily. "The government is only interested in finding terrorists and bad guys, and since I'm neither, no problem."

"The new laws let them hide a device in your computer to keep track of everything you do."

"The Magic Lantern," I said with a laugh. "Those guys have clever names for everything."

"You wouldn't mind if they did that to you?"

"Why should I mind? I'm a loyal American."

"And if they found those letters to that dancer...what was her name, Tiffani?"

"A bit of harmless fun," I said a bit uncomfortably. I've got to get him a computer of his own. "Nothing to worry about."

"I see that government agents are now asking bookstores and libraries about books people buy and read."

"If you're not reading the wrong stuff, it doesn't matter."

"The wrong stuff?" he twisted his nose in a frown.

"Books on terrorism, for example," I said. "Or books on how to make bombs."

Yyuran unwrapped his middle finger from around his wrist and pointed to my bookcase. "You have a book on homemade poisons."

"Well, yeah. I wanted to get rid of some rats..."

"And you have Mein Kaumpf, Das Kapital, a whole shelf of pornography..."

"Erotica!" I corrected sharply.

"...books on the Ku Klux Klan, the Koran, Muslim histories, the Taliban, Castro..."

"I'm interested in history, all right?"

"...The Faerie Queene ... Don't ask; don't tell?"

"It's a classic!" I snapped.

"...growing marijuana..."

"A friend gave that to me as a gag!"

"..."How to Overthrow Congress..."

"IT'S A POLITICAL ACTIVISTS HANDBOOK!" I couldn't help shouting, he was making it sound like I'm a subversive or something.

He nodded. "If you say so. I hope the CIA agrees; or is it the FBI? I get all those letters confused."

"Either one, I guess," I muttered. "The new laws let them work together in the U.S. But neither of them would be interested in my bookcase."

"You hope," he said. He's getting pretty good with the vernacular. "The new law lets your government monitor the Internet closely. They can even track the web sites you visit."

I admit I winced at that, but I don't think he saw me. "We may have to give up a few little bits of privacy if we want to be safe," I said.

"The FBI can monitor phone conversations, you now have TV cameras in post offices, parks, government buildings, city streets..."

"No different than if a cop was standing in those places, watching."

"Your neighbors are watching, too," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"The attorney general wants to turn the Neighborhood Watch program into spy-on-your-neighbor groups."

"He just wants them to look out for suspicious activities, to protect us from terrorists."

"Neighborhood snitches."

I can take only so much of Yyuran's negativity. He's always putting me and my country down. "We're giving up a little privacy to gain peace of mind, and security from terrorists."

"How many terrorists have you caught since 9-11?" he asked, trying to sound innocent.

"I don't know exactly. Not many, I know."

"It doesn't sound like the new laws are working then. It sounds to me as if you are giving up your freedom and getting nothing in return."

"We're going to have to talk about this later," I said. "I've got a Neighborhood Watch meeting tonight."

· · · · · ·

Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic, who he met in an Internet discussion group. Deckert and Hromic subsequently married and are writing a book about their experience with Internet romance, Cyberdance.

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Published May 6, 2002
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