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Big Brother is always watching

By Walter Geiger Big Brother’ made his first appearance in George Orwell’s 1949 novel ‘˜Nineteen Eighty Four’. Orwell also wrote ‘˜Animal House’. Both are commonly required reading in high school and college classwork. In Orwell’s book, Big Brother was the leader of Oceania where the dominant political party was all powerful and maintained iron fist rule over the citizenry ‘˜for their own sakes’. Citizens were watched constantly through television screens thus the birth of the phrase ‘Big Brother is always watching’. The phrase or similar ones were picked up by the hippie generation when paranoia set in over their counterculture behavior, opposition to the Vietnam War, open drug use, etc. Big Brother sent in ‘The Man’, hippie speak for law enforcement. One of the most interesting things I have done is observe the HBO crew on location in Barnesville this month filming ‘˜Sharp Objects’. I am mesmerized by the technology, the size of the crew and the disturbed ant hill energy that goes into the project. On the first day they were in town I walked the sidewalk with a camera outfitted with a long lens. I had stepped around a building when a young man hurriedly rolled up to me on a skateboard and said in a thick accent, ‘Bloke, you are in my shot and it is hard to hide in that orange shirt.’ He was from London and very polite. I had indeed intruded on a scene. We moved behind a building and talked for a minute or so and he rolled off. A few days later, I did the same thing while wearing a red shirt and was good-naturedly scolded again. I took to calling this Londoner Big Brother. He guarded his scenes closely and always seemed to be watching for me. Later that week, I ran across the story of 59-year-old Ross Compton of Middletown, Ohio. Compton was indicted in January for arson and insurance fraud regarding a fire at his home last September. After the blaze, Compton told police he was asleep in his home when the fire awakened him. He claimed he packed some belongings in a suitcase and other bags, broke out a window with his cane and threw his packed belongings outside. He later put the bags in his car. That is somewhat unusual crisis behavior for a man whose home is burning down around him and the cops did not believe his story. It turns out Compton has heart issues and an implanted pacemaker with external pump. Such devices store data and suspicious investigators subpoenaed that data which included heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire. A cardiologist reviewed the data and testified it was ‘highly improbable’ that Compton’s account of the incident was truthful. Compton’s lawyer argued that acquiring the pacemaker data was an invasion of privacy and an unreasonable and unconstitutional seizure of private information. The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution and Compton is set for trial in December. In a sense, his own heart will testify against him. Indeed, Big Brother is always watching. At least my new friend from London has a heart – and a sense of humor. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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