Unprompted: Keeping Dumb Secrets in a Digital Age 

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The digital revolution has made it virtually impossible for anyone to keep a secret. The only way to combat the revealing of secrets is to avoid having secrets — or at least really naughty ones.

We recently learned that the government can break into your iPhone if it really wants to. But I’ve been unable to get adequately teed off by the National Security Agency combing through my phone calls and emails. I don’t like it of course because I figure my stuff is none of government’s business. But because my life is relatively boring I know there’s nothing in my files that would pique the interest of federal snoopers.

Although I’ve misbehaved from time to time, it’s the sort of thing NSA employees do themselves. They’re probably as bad as the Secret Service but haven’t been found out yet. I send emails to my family and a few friends. I sometimes chat with young women but I don’t suggest anything wrong, so there’s nothing there. Some young ladies find my Twitter posts entertaining so I respond. It’s out there for the world to see. Have at it, NSA.

Now this isn’t to say that I live in a peccadillo-free zone. I adopted that word, peccadillo, several years ago when then-Gov. Chuck Robb did some really stupid things and referred to them as peccadilloes. I didn’t even know the word until then, but now I like to use it because lots of people don’t know it and I like to share things people don’t know. I’ve even learned to spell it. Anyway, my enduring thanks to Gov. Robb for broadening my literary horizons, even at his own expense.

But I digress. Most of my stupid activities were conducted before the digital revolution when record-keeping wasn’t a threat. Now I try to avoid trouble, not because it isn’t attractive, but because I’m scared of what people who don’t like me could do if I do something really dumb. This is no small feat. For some of us it takes concentration to avoid stupidity. I get up every morning, have several cups of coffee, and then venture timidly into a world that’s ready to pounce with the slightest invitation. And it doesn’t go away. Anything on the Internet will last longer than plastic milk cartons in a landfill.

Peccadilloes aren’t the exclusive property of the mentally distracted. Some really smart people do dumb things. Joe Morrissey comes to mind. The ever-hated Bernie Madoff will spend the rest of his life in jail, not because he was stupid, but because he was so smart he outsmarted lots of people, including himself. Former evangelist Jim Bakker had thousands of fundamentalists jumping through hoops to give him their money. Now he’s alone, without his late, lovely wife, Tammy, without his hair, and with very few worshipers to support his lavish lifestyle. He could have milked that turkey for years to come if he hadn’t suddenly turned stupid.

Other charlatans have picked up where he left off. They’re all over the place. Their simple message: God will bless you if you send me your money. Apparently it’s really easy because there will always be people who want to part with their money having parted with their good sense already.

Many of us say stupid things and then regret it. Some say dumb things and then say more dumb things. When Pat Robertson blamed the terrible earthquake in Haiti on Voodoo even some stupid people were offended. Ben Carson was doing well in the presidential campaign until he told us that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain.

Which brings me back to Chuck Robb. No, it doesn’t. I hadn’t thought of him in years until the word peccadillo popped up. What a legacy.

Now we have a gaggle of Republicans trying to convince us that they’re presidential timber. But it is a classic yell … Timber! When a tree is about to fall. Among the few who didn’t say anything really stupid was former Gov. Jim Gilmore, but that’s only because no one was listening to him. Speaking of bad decisions, Hillary Clinton’s email business continues to drip … drip … drip. A peccadillo of sorts.

The presidential race lasts just about forever. It is no longer entertaining, it’s downright embarrassing.

The really bad news is that one of these characters is going to become president. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.



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