The Elephant of Our Times

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It appears the phrase, “An elephant never forgets,” is rooted in the notion that, because elephants have the largest brain of any land animal, they can store more memories; also, elephants religiously follow the same migratory paths throughout their lives.

Too bad for former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) the elephant referenced in the headline isn’t a pachyderm; I’m speaking, of course, of the Internet.

No other time in recorded history has the permanence of nearly anything written — or photographed — been so available to billions of people, presumably ad infinitum.

What Mr. Weiner did, by sending some (arguably) sexy self-portraits over the information superhighway, isn’t new. In fact, he’s just the latest shnook in the ongoing tragedy of underestimating the Internet’s ability to retain everything.

The congressman had no choice but to resign — the public would never be allowed to forget his misplaced bravado. As an elected representative to Congress (and a married man), he should have exercised better judgment.

Now, Mr. Weiner’s wiener is part of the public record. His wife and their future child can Google that now-infamous surname and see, in a full-frontal way, how ripped — and virile — the former congressman was.

But, steering the conversation away from pecs and peccadilloes, the teachable moment (as President Obama would say) is: Prudence is a virtue.

The Internet — engine of revolution — is an element my generation was not raised on and my children will never know life without it. Thus, the imperative we exercise the judgment Mr. Weiner failed to do (and with such severe repercussions).

The Internet is alluring because of its unprecedented ability to connect people visually and rhetorically. It’s no coincidence the current Arab Spring is being sustained largely through the power of the Internet.

However, the instantaneousness of its power has a downside: There’s little, if any, allowance for consequential reflection.

When I wrote a blog about a snow day spent with the kids last winter, and used a photograph of them as the accompanying art, a friend reminded me that I should be mindful of placing their young faces on the Internet. It was good advice.

Unlike Facebook, which is a proprietary (or closed) system — albeit one with 500 million members — the Internet knows no bounds; and there is no “delete” button. What seems cool or OK, permissible or benign now, may not in 20 years.

Thus, when people blog countless screeds about their former spouse, or 15 year olds send Nabokov-inspired photos to their friends, we hope they remember those photos and stories exist well beyond the here and now.
This month Red Thread has a Q & A with Ari Adler, press secretary for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, and we asked for his take on “Weinergate.” See his response on page 16.

“Coming to America”

Contributing authors are often charged with stories based on their knowledge of the subject. “Coming to America,” a look at the modern immigrant experience, was assigned to Karynne Naftolin for just that reason.

A former staff writer at the Jewish Advocate in Boston, Naftolin and her husband, Rabbi Eric Grossman, Frankel Academy’s Head of School, both emigrated to the U.S. from Canada a few years ago.

While working on the feature, it became apparent the best source for the story had become its writer — and the task soon morphed from feature to essay. (It’s not typically what a journalist prefers, but Naftolin graciously obliged us; see “Coming to America” on page 22.)

As we celebrate the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — marking the occasion with fireworks, barbeques and a federal bank holiday — we should also take note of our good fortune.

To live in the democracy-embracing West (versus the theocratic-enslaved Middle East or despot-laden Asia ) is lucky enough. But, as Jews of the Diaspora, there is little doubt that America is the safest place for us to openly practice our religion outside the land of Zion.

Have a happy Fourth. Don’t forget to book your mid-summer trip; we’ll see you in August!

Bryan S. Gottlieb, editor
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