Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Paperless Trail

CNN reports that embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford "wrote in a message to his political action committee e–mail list Monday that while he considered resigning, 'I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm.' "

That sounds good, but it seems to me that, if Sanford is half as smart as he is supposed to be (he has degrees from Furman University and the University of Virginia), he'd be wise to lay off the e–mail.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, in a brief rundown of his e–mail communications with his Argentine mistress, asks, "[W]hat's with Sanford's weird affinity for the word 'wherein?' "

In what she calls the governor's "self–immolating confession tour," Marcus observes that Sanford said, "There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn't have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line," using a word that he used in his e–mails to his lover.

It led Marcus to remark, "There's something sad about Sanford's inability to ditch his inherent stodginess even in the grip of passion."

Well, he's clearly in the grip of something — but we'll get back to that in a minute.

In recent days, I have been thinking about when it was that I first heard about e–mail. It seems to me that I first heard about e–mail at the reception following my mother's memorial service in May 1995. The internet was still pretty new in those days, and the place where I was working didn't have e–mail. A friend asked me for my e–mail address and I told him I didn't have one.

That wasn't an unusual response in those days, but a lot of things have changed since 1995. Most workplaces have e–mail now. And it's kind of astonishing for me to comprehend how many people really know a lot about how computers and the internet work.

But even folks who are not savvy about a lot of things in the computer world are familiar with a simple reality: You may think that what you've written or received in an e–mail message has been deleted, but the truth is that it never goes away. It's always there, waiting to be found, like the proverbial buried treasure.

On this blog 2½ months ago, I quoted a Baltimore Sun writer's observation that "nothing in cyberspace ever really gets deleted."

The topic on that occasion was the phenomenon called "sexting," which involves nude images taken with cell phones, perhaps accompanied with suggestive messages. With the exception of the pictures, all the activity takes place in the mind.

As far as I know, Sanford and his mistress never exchanged photos of over–exposed bodies, but their actual physical activities apparently left little to the imagination — and the governor apparently couldn't resist the temptation to write about them.

Look, I don't think anyone will deny that love makes you do foolish things. I heard a psychiatrist discussing this on TV earlier today, and she said that clinical observations indicated the brain of an insane person and the brain of a person in the throes of the early stages of love were nearly identical.

So, if it seems that love makes people do crazy things, there apparently is a good reason for that.

In this case, Sanford has said his mistress is his "soulmate," which sounds like he is in love.

Perhaps Sanford's situation can help others, though. If you're falling in love with someone, please stay grounded long enough to realize that you should not, under any circumstances, send e–mails to him/her.

Certainly if you are married with children.

And particularly if you hold political office.

But especially if people are talking about you as a candidate for president.

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