Robert Price

Saturday, Jul 06 2013 11:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: If the NSA is watching, I'd best shape up

By Robert Price
Now that I know the NSA is reading all my emails, or at least coukd read them if somebody at the domestic spy agency suspected I had anything interesting to say, I’ll have to change some of my behaviors. No more advocating the violent over- throw of the government, for example. No more passing along the structural specifications of important federal buildings to foreign saboteurs, to suggest another. Shoot, there goes half my address book.
From now on, my online per- sona will be all business all the time. Professional, but also casual and at ease, so as not to attract unwarranted attention. Stiff, humorless email prose could sug- gest paranoia. Am I making too much of this surveillance stuff?
I’ve long known I am being monitored by American commerce. I bought some hiking boots online a while back and starting seeing Internet ads for hiking boots popping up on my screen for a year afterward. No big revelation there. But if, abetted by Google’s filtering system, has that kind of power, I can only imagine what the government’s cyber- gumshoes can do.
If the National Security Agency is spying on me, I at least want to seem urbane and erudite. One of the best ways to do that is to fre- quently use words like urbane and erudite. Perhaps I have watched too much James Bond, but it seems to me there’s a certain minimum standard for comportment in this spying business, and if the NSA is relying on my emails for its information, as opposed to tailing my Aston-Mar- tin, that’s where I’ll have to focus.
A good way to seem urbane and erudite in email communications is to develop a snappy sign-off. I can’t stand the thought of Obama’s minions basing their evaluation of my patriotic worth on my lack of a graceful closing, so I need something catchy, culti- vated and non-treasonous.
Somehow “Sincerely” seems too formal. It’s better suited to a handwritten letter — something with looping, graceful strokes. I would consider “Cheers,” but too many people use that. And it feels like I should have a glass of some- thing in my hand that I can clink against someone else’s. My friend Dave always uses “Best regards,” which is both dig- nified and warm, but it’s also the sort of thing you’d hear from a guy wearing an ascot, and that’s not my style. But Dave in an ascot? That I can see.
The writer Gerald Haslam closes his emails with “Best, Gerry,” but it seems to me there should be more words attached to that, such as “Wishing you all the best.” Perhaps in my case Haslam means “Of all the great fellows I know, you’re the best.”
My friend Bruce likes to close with “Out,” which suits his para- military approach to fitness, beer and other deep subjects. I have considered stealing that one.
The other day I received an email from a guy who runs a tough-love, character-building summer camp that turns boys into men. His sign-off was “True,” which is either really cool or over- the-top pretentious. But it’s unique, and I admire that.
Since the government is proba- bly alerted every time I hit “send,” I’ll have to stay away from certain sign-offs. “Conspiratorily yours” is obviously out of the question. And now, alarmingly, I may need to avoid “Yours patriotically,” lest NSA agents sic the IRS on me, thinking I must be a tea party operative. “Respectfully yours” has potential but it detracts from my tendency toward snarkiness.
Seems there’s more to this sign- off business than I expected.
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg, of course. So many areas of my public and semi-public life will need careful review if I’m going to live up to the demands of being a surveilled citizen. I’m making this my new project, and unless you want the NSA snickering at you, perhaps you should too.

Exuberant regards,
Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at

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