Commentary: Meanderings by David C.L. Bauer

A collection of random thoughts and comments from the Journal-Courier’s afternoon subscriber newsletter. . Sometimes…

A collection of random thoughts and comments from the Journal-Courier’s afternoon subscriber newsletter.


Sometimes the internet gets it right.

Among 37 newly approved emojis — those ubiquitous 32- by 32-pixel faces that convey emotions (and sometimes cause a little head-scratching confusion) without words in emails and text messages — is one perfect for the pandemic-weary.

It’s an adorable familiar yellow smiley face that matches many others used to sum up the nuances of life that cannot be easily conveyed in text. Unlike its cousins that show happiness, anger or surprise, this one is slowly dissolving into the ground.

But smiling all the way.

Call it the melting face. It can denote the obvious “man, it’s hot out,” but more likely will become a favorite for signifying shame, embarrassment or a general sense of dread.

Or 2021 in general.

Although the Unicode Consortium has approved it (yes, there really is a group that controls emojis), it will be a few months before it pops up for use on your favorite electronic device.

In the meantime, feel free to continue those all-day Netflix binge sessions, those Ben & Jerry’s pint-in-one-sitting afternoons, and those hours-long web surfing expeditions for cute cat videos.

Soon, there will be a way to explain it all.

Eroding transparency

“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk.”

So warns the beloved children’s book in which a mouse, having been given a cookie, goes on to ask for scissors, a pillow and more and more. Although its political under-current seems a commentary on self-sufficiency, it also can apply to the incremental way government transparency can be eroded.

The “cookie” in this story is an exemption that allowed public entities to conduct meetings remotely, such as via Zoom. It was a necessity as we tried to navigate the pandemic. But now comes the “milk” — lawmakers want to allow any meeting to be conducted virtually, and for any reason.

Senate Bill 482 could be brought up during the legislature’s two-week veto session, which began Tuesday. It is a deceivingly innocuous idea that would not be in the best interest of citizens.

While real-time broadcasts or live-streams can be an important supplement, using them as the sole meeting medium lessens the chance for community comment and an open exchange of ideas. Remote meetings strip away too much of the face-to-face interaction and also often exclude some of those most deeply affected by the actions of government: the elderly and those in lower-income communities, both of which are less likely to have access to the tools necessary for meaningful participation.

Using virtual meetings to protect the health and safety of those who determine or have a stake in the acts of government is one thing. Allowing them to become the standard for how boards entrusted with being the voice of the people conduct official business would hit the mute button on that responsibility.

Talking to ourselves

I was in the mood one morning for a conversation.

It passed, thanks to a well-timed call from a telemarketer who, after 10 minutes of sounding rather befuddled by my questions, begged me to hang up.

I wasn’t looking for anything Mensa-level or deeply philosophical. So long as it didn’t get into politics, work, religion, vaccinations or other topics bound to offend someone, it would have been fine.

The pandemic isn’t to blame for destroying the lost great art of discussion. Social media, texting and emails that relegate “talk” to an emoji or a series of indecipherable abbreviations have done that. The pandemic certainly sped the process, though.

In the beginning, masks muffled words to the point they were about as clear as Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown’s teacher, whose orations were limited to “wah, wa, wah.” As masks came off — and then went back on, and then changed to whatever the Wheel of Pandemic Protocol landed on this week — we still were largely isolated and working at home. As employees returned to offices and shoppers returned to stores, the invisible boundaries of personal space grew exponentially. Striking up a conversation now evokes a reaction similar to villagers approaching Frankenstein’s monster with lighted torches.

We’ll get there. For now, I will stick to talking to myself. Although I did say something this morning that offended me, so I‘m not speaking to myself for a while.

David C.L. Bauer is editor and publisher of the Journal-Courier.