While watching Fox News covering the Boston bomber police standoff I got the strong impression that anchor Shepard Smith must be the result of E.T. fucking a cast member of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
essays from ted cox, america's most fragrant left-handed writer
Earlier this year I excitedly embarked on a new writing project: covering the national 40 Days for Life campaign, a prayer vigil taking place in front of abortion providers.
The plan was to write a diary-style piece featuring interviews from 40 Days leaders, as well as from advocates for women’s heath care. Unfortunately, after about two weeks, it became harder and harder to find people willing to be interviewed. Phone calls and emails — both to pro-life and pro-choice advocates — went unanswered. One man who agreed to be interviewed said he had been disturbed by what he found on my website. I took it as a compliment.
Oh, well. These things happen. On to the next project.
Next week I’m returning to the Land of Lincoln to speak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a university best known for having way too many goddamn letters in its name.
Saturday, April 20
Chemistry Annex Room 112
A couple nights back I met with members of the Secular Student Alliance from the University of South Carolina. Being almost twice as old as most of the students, we joked about how things used to be when I was their age. (I’m so old I can say “when I was your age.”) I told one woman I’m older than Google. She doesn’t remember a world without Google.
Later that night I ended up drinking at Speakeasy, a prohibition-themed bar with an impressive bottled beer selection, with club president Dustin Tucker. Over the rhythmic thumping of the Led Zeppelin cover band, Dustin, also several years older than the students in the SSA group, pointed out the bartenders ringing up drinks on a 1980s-era monochrome monitor. (Nerd joke: Did the bartenders type “sudo” when placing an order?) We mused over Commodore 64s, 5-inch floppy discs, dot matrix printers, and all the old technology we used for school work.
I pulled out my smartphone – the first smartphone I’ve ever owned – and started rattling off all ways it helped me during the trip. I used it to check in to my flights. Airport security scanned the boarding pass right from the phone screen. When I craved a tasty sandwich, the phone told me where to find one. When it was time for the speech, I put on my headphones and let the phone tell me how to walk to the auditorium. And a little over a year ago, before the phone, I drew maps in paper notebooks when traveling to new cities. In the past I’ve missed a train stop in Boston, and asked strangers for directions in Chicago. Now the phone says, “Get off at the next stop.” Oh, and the battery in the phone lasts longer than the battery in the laptop I’m using to type this post.
It’s exciting and alarming to imagine where technology will take us in the next 20, 40, or 60 years. Dustin brought up Google Glass, which will basically stick a computer in front of your freaking eyes. What happens when – not if – another Harvard dropout develops facial recognition apps for that device?
As Dustin drove me to back to the hotel room we talked about Google’s self-driving cars. Insurance and accident rates will drop, if not disappear. If car-sharing services like Zipcar buy fleets of Google’s driverless vehicles, will people find any reason to take out a car loan? That might be cool. But also I think of the millions of chauffeurs, couriers, cabbies, delivery drivers, insurance reps, car salesmen, and traffic cops that in the very near future will find themselves out of work.
The future will be freaking amazing and we can only imagine what will happen next. And we’re not at all prepared for the amazing, disruptive technologies that for younger generations will have always have been part of their lives. In a few years I’ll probably show students relics from the past: my driver’s license and my first smartphone.
Today is Day 13 of 40 Days for Life, the pro-life prayer vigil taking place outside abortion clinics across the country.
So far I’ve visited vigil sites in Renton, Kenmore, Tacoma, and Salt Lake City. Most of the time people are willing to talk to me with a voice recorder running, even after I tell them I’m a pro-choice atheist. Only once has someone refused an interview. This week I’m meeting with two clergy — one Catholic, the other Protestant — to talk about the biblical passages supporting the pro-life movement.
In the past I’ve referred to this movement as a protest, but most people standing on the sidewalks holding up the large colorful signs insist it’s not a protest, but a vigil. The signs they hoist are not graphic depictions of aborted fetuses, but words like “Pray to End Abortion.” They don’t yell at the people entering or leaving the clinics. I’ve heard them pray for the health and safety of clinic staff. As I told one person, this story is complicated partly because the people I’ve met at 40 Days are so damn nice.
But I’m also seeing vigils are not just about abortion. Some “prayer warriors” hand out pamphlets trumpeting the dangers of contraception. One group was gathered outside a clinic that doesn’t perform abortions.
I’ve also spoken to Lee Minto, an amazing person who worked to pass Washington State’s Referendum 20 in 1970, the first citizen-approved law in the nation to legalize abortion, and an important precursor to the Roe v Wade case. She shared heartbreaking stories of what happened to both women and men in Washington State before abortion was legal.
My initial list of questions has grown throughout these first 12 days. Some of them have been answered. But I expect the list to grow as well.