Friday, January 20, 2006
Why move Old Home Day?
When is the best time to hold Old Home Day (OHD)? Last year the town celebration was moved from July 4 to the end of June, in part to take advantage of the cheaper cost of fireworks purchased in honor of the town's bicentennial. Now the OHD organizing committee is seeking input from Carlisle residents about whether or not to move OHD back to July 4. The main disadvantage in moving OHD from July 4 is that Carlisle would have to either abandon or reinvent a way to honor Independence Day.
According to Ruth Wilkins' Carlisle: Its History and Heritage, the first OHD was held July 31, 1912, and the next four were held in August or early September. After the early years, OHD was held only a couple of times until it was reinstated in 1967. Wilkins wrote in 1976 (p. 446), "and now Old Home Day has become Carlisle's way of annually celebrating the Fourth of July." During the decades that my family has lived in Carlisle, OHD has been the wonderful way our small community celebrates both town and country.
I like OHD on July 4, but maybe there are advantages to a new date. I can think of three possible reasons to move it that involve vacations, fireworks, and politics. First, it would be more convenient for those people who usually miss the event because they are away on vacation July 4. This would be true for any date during the school break. Second, if townspeople ever wanted to have fireworks again, July 4 is the most expensive day to hire pyrotechnicians.
A third possible reason to move OHD is to avoid political expression. In 2004 the Democratic Town Committee created a tempest when they wanted a float in the parade and a booth in the Country Fair. (See "Old Home Day controversy is over — for now," July 2, 2004.) The OHD Committee denied their request, and the chair, Dave Reed, said at the time, "Old Home Day is for Carlisle, and when you bring in national issues, especially partisan issues, it just doesn't fit." It is not clear why the OHD organizers are not part of the town's Celebrations Committee, but Reed believes it might jeopardize the organization's 501(c)4 nonprofit charter if politics were allowed.
Political expression has been successfully included in the past. Massachusetts politicians Mike Dukakis and Marty Meehan have both attended the event, and the first issue of the Mosquito, August 2, 1972, noted on page 1: "That handsome fellow walking behind the Republican Town Committee's pink elephant in the Old Home Day parade was Paul Cronin, Republican candidate for the congressional seat vacated by Brad Morse."
However, if the majority of townspeople would prefer to prohibit political expression, then moving it away from July 4 would be appropriate. It seems harder to justify excluding people when OHD is on Independence Day — a decidedly political occasion. But is it such a bad thing to have elephants and donkeys in the parade, or a couple of booths offering partisan literature?
If the answer is yes, what do we then do about Independence Day? Last year Carlisle did nothing. Isn't it worth celebrating anymore? Whatever is decided by the town, coordination between the Selectmen, OHD and the Celebrations Committees is important. The OHD Committee works very hard for months to organize and run a great event, but may not want to pitch in to run a separate July 4 celebration. The town's Celebrations Committee would probably need a larger budget to tackle the job. If OHD is separate but close to July 4, will there be enough volunteer energy to organize two town-wide parties? Would the Fire Department want to sell chicken barbeque twice in one month? Perhaps the list of events might be split, so that some remain on July 4.
I am grateful that the OHD Committee is asking for citizen input before they set the date for this year. Would you prefer one large celebration on July 4, a different date, or two smaller events? To share your ideas with the OHD Committee, fill out their on-line survey at www.carlisleohd.org/feedback3.html.
Someone to watch over me
The recent revelation of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency is but the latest of many incursions into our sense of personal privacy. We are aware at some level of many respects in which our personal affairs are open for inspection by others, but I suspect few of us dwell on the combined effect.
Post-9/11, we have graduallyand quite willinglysacrificed privacy for security in many settings. We empty our pockets and shed clothing and footwear before boarding airplanes. We routinely present photo identification and pass through metal detectors before entering office buildings. We may not notice them, but security cameras record our passage through and past many public spaces. We recognize that, in the balance between privacy and safety, the burden of a temporary inconvenience or slight personal indignity pales in contrast to a catastrophic event.
Of perhaps greater significance are the effects of the enveloping digital age. Our activities leave digital tracks, in the form of credit card transactions, e-mail records, and mobile telephone calls, that would allow reconstruction, after the fact, of our daily activities in considerable detail (should the occasion for reconstruction arise). Our digital trading partners (such as Amazon, Audible, and Netflix) cheerfully remember our past choices for the purpose of offering suggestions of other titles we might enjoy. Other data-miners are not so benign.
Another feature of the digital age is the ready accessibility of information that was previously public but usually obscure. Now this information easily seeps into the public domain in some form. Many of us have Googled ourselves, and more of us have Googled others. It is really quite remarkable how much one can learn about a complete stranger from readily available public sources.
It is quite clear that our Founding Fathers wished to embed in the Constitution some controls over the government's ability to intrude, unannounced and without reasonable cause, in the lives of private citizens. We have grown to expect some significant degree of autonomy, if not anonymity, as an important attribute of personal freedom. Paradoxically, the level of autonomy we enjoy is inversely related to the size of our community: neighbors in Carlisle know far more about each other than neighbors in Boston do.
Perhaps because privacy is constitutionally protected, it is often viewed as an absolute. But the Constitution protects only against "unreasonable" interference with privacy, necessitating a balancing of privacy against other important interests. As citizens, it is our responsibility to engage the question: What kind of privacy do we expect, and why? These are serious issues, open to reasonable discourse concerning the appropriate balance between privacy and security, autonomy and convenience. The considerations bearing on such issues are changing rapidly with the evolution of technology and the emergence of new threats to our security. Congress has before it a variety of such questions. It is incumbent on our elected representatives to respond to the changing environment, but it is likewise incumbent on all of us to express our views and values in the context of those changes.
We are incrementally approaching the world that George Orwell predicted for 1984. Certainly the technology exists to create Orwell's nightmare. The advances of technology, combined with commercial marketing incentives and security concerns, if unchecked, will continue to propel us toward Orwell's vision.
Big Brother is waiting.
© 2006 The