Town hall officials, I'm told, now have a legal right to enter your home to see what you're up to. A request is made every minute to snoop on someone's phone records or e-mail accounts; laws designed to combat terrorism are being used by local councils to spy on people suspected of things like fly tipping; and CCTV cameras are everywhere.
Once upon a time, the local council removed your rubbish as a service to the public. Now householders appear to be here to serve the local council. We have four differently coloured wheelie bins at our home, and town hall despots have been issuing fines to old people for putting the wrong piece of rubbish in the wrong bin.
These are serious matters: something needs to be done. But it's important we don't become paranoid about it. So I was still able to enjoy the joke at Vital Signs' blog.
An old farmer named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in West Texas when suddenly a brand new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust.
The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me one of them?"
Bud looks at the man quizzically, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and smiles. "Sure, why not?"
The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone and surfs to a NASA page on the internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.
Within seconds, he receives an e-mail on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC-connected Excel spreadsheet with e-mail on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.
Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturised HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."
"Well, that's exactly how many animals I've got," answered Bud. "So I guess you can take one of 'em if you want."
He watches the young man select the animal closest to him and looks on with some genuine consternation as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.
Then Bud says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back that animal?"
The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"
"You're a bureaucrat working for a government agency," says Bud.
"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"
"No guessing required," answered Bud. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; but you don't really know a thing about how working people make a living. You certainly don't know nothin' about cows, that's for dang sure."
"How can you say that?" said the exasperated politician.
"Well, you see, feller," answered Bud, "this here is a herd of sheep.
"Now, will you give me back my dog?"