Monday, June 24, 1996

Week of 06/24/1996

Politics of FEAR
The CDA Decision
- By David Matthews 2

On June 12th, a panel of three federal judges made an important, and somewhat controversial, decision regarding free speech on the Internet. In their ruling against the Communications Decency Act, they declared that the Internet to be a form of speech that should receive at least as much protection from government intrusion as would printed speech.

The CDA was a part of the much larger and more comprehensive Telecommunications deregulation act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Ironically, while the Telecom act was designed to help liberate other forms of communications from government regulations, the CDA would have placed draconian regulations on Internet providers by limiting the content of speech to that of children. And to back up this measure, huge fines and felony imprisonment would be hung over not only Internet users but also Internet Service providers like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. If fully enacted, the Internet would have been THE most regulated form of communication since the invention of the printing press.

Sound insane, doesn’t it? Why would a presidential administration that considers themselves to be computer-friendly be willing to place such tyrannical limitations on that technology?

The answer to that lies in one word- FEAR.

According to those who supported and lobbied for the CDA, these measures were essential to protect children from the "barrage" of indecent images they would be prone to see. The supporters of the CDA- which included the special interest groups from the religious right such as "Focus on the Family" and the Christian Coalition- considered the Internet to be full of pedophiles and pornography. And to back up their argument they used a study published by Marty Rimm which declared that pornographic images infested most of the Internet. A study that was later denounced by Rimm’s own advisors as being grossly inaccurate.

It was an easy sell for them. After all approximately 80% of the households in America don’t have access to computers, according to one study. Most parents are not only computer-illiterate, but also computer-ignorant. But they hear their kids talk about computers and instantly they are concerned about their safety.

And if it was easy to sell the concept of fear to parents, it was even easier to sell the same concept to members of Congress. The sponsor of the CDA, retiring Senator Jim Exon of Nebraska, sweetened the sell even more by waiving around the infamous "Blue Book" of pornographic images he claimed to have acquired from the Internet. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, the CDA amendment to the Telecom bill was passed overwhelmingly in the Senate.

But by the time the Telecom bill reached the House, there was resistance to the bill. Protests arose from the computer users and civil-libertarians as to HOW the CDA would be applied. As a result, a much more computer-friendly alternative to the CDA was passed by the House. However the forces of fear were quick to bastardize this version and replace it with the CDA. (Not surprising, especially since the man who chaired the joint conference committee to resolve the House and Senate versions was none other than Senator Exon himself!) With the urging of President Clinton, who was quick to sign onto the concept of "protecting families" as a way to demonstrate his "family values" in an election year, the Telecom bill sailed through both houses of Congress, and then to his signature.

Once signed into law, however, the battle turned to the courts. It was there that the hard-sell campaign of fear about the Internet evaporated, as the three judges learned not only how the Internet worked, but how it DIDN’T work.

The three judges weren’t "bombarded" with adult materials, as the fear-mongers warned was happening to children who go online. In fact, they learned that they had to actually search to find such items.

Neither the plaintiffs (which included the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the Center for Democracy and Technology, America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe, Microsoft, and Netcom- to name but a minute fraction of the over 45,000 organizations and individuals) nor the Department of Justice denied that there were materials deemed inappropriate for children on the Internet. Nor did the plaintiffs try to defend obscene materials or materials containing child pornography- both of which are already illegal and are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Instead, the plaintiffs argued, quite successfully, that the CDA had a broad-reaching impact on the Internet as a whole, not just one fraction of it. Serious issues such as the prevention of AIDS, or discussions of rape, would be stifled because they would be deemed "indecent." Libraries that were considering making books available on the Internet would have to do so in fear of a prosecutor in some corner of the world that would deem certain books to be "indecent." Non-profit organizations that wished to discuss adult subject matters would be forced to make such discussions on the Internet a commercial venture to avoid prosecution as part of the CDA’s "exemptions"- essentially nullifying their own status as a non-profit organization.

And the only measure of "protection" that the Department of Justice could provide to such groups was their assertion that at least under the Clinton Administration the CDA would not be widely enforced, but applied only to specific situations. Mind you, there would be no such guarantees with any future administrations.

Then there was the strength of filtering software already available for parents to screen out objectionable materials. SurfWatch, one of the plaintiffs in the case, demonstrated that their software was capable of screening out objectionable materials irregardless if the site came from across the country or around the world. And even one witness for the government had to admit under oath that his own search for adult materials as part of the defense’s case would not have been possible if he was using SurfWatch.

It was easy to see, once the facts of the case came forth, that the Communications Decency Act was a poorly-written and overly tyrannical piece of legislation. And the judges reflected that in their decision.

But once the judges made their decision, the forces of fear were quick to denounce them as being hand-picked puppets of the ACLU. (Never mind that two of the three judges were appointed by President George Bush.) They looked forward to an appeal in the Supreme Court- a court that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia himself has said is comprised of people who are "out of touch" with society. Perhaps that also best fits the attitude of these fear-mongers..

In either case, the truth about the CDA has been what it’s opponents have been saying all along- the best way to prevent unwanted content to your children lies NOT with tyrannical legislation, but rather with parental control and guidance. Parents that are concerned about what their children get into need to be informed and educated about what the Internet can and can’t do. It CAN be a tool for adults and children. It CAN’T be a replacement for parental responsibility.

Monday, June 17, 1996

Week of 06/17/1996

Are We Communicating Yet?
We have the means, but are we really talking to each other?
-By David Matthews 2

I recently came up with this excellent idea about doing an article about all these new and wonderful ways we as a society are communicating to each other. After all, this is the beginning of the Information Age; the age where we should be able to communicate with people around the world just like we would if they were next door to us. So I spent an hour or so on my computer's word processor coming up with this absolutely delightful article, and then go down my list of publishers to fax it off to.

Since this article had national appeal, I decided to fax it off to that national newspaper. You know the one, US.. something-or-other. I dial up their fax number, and get a busy signal. So I tried again. Still busy.

I figured I would wait for a few minutes. After all, this is one of those big publications so it's obvious there would be plenty of other news and articles coming through their fax lines. So while I waited, I figured I would check out the Internet. I signed on with that big Internet provider. You've probably heard of them, Net… whose-it's-name. Anyways, the connection lasts just long enough for my browser to download the home page before kicking me off. I tried again, and this time I wasn't even online for five seconds before getting kicked off again. I try yet again, and this time I wasn't even allowed online.

So I typed up a quick letter to their Technical Support team to let them know their access line was still poor, and that it has been a month since I first complained to them about this. Unfortunately, the only way to deliver this message to them was for me to E-mail it to them. Fortunately I'm allowed online long enough to electronically send the letter and then get a letter from them regarding my month-old letter. They said that they've been backlogged by E-mail complaints and that they wouldn't be able to look at my complaint for a few weeks. But in the meanwhile, they upgraded my account to unlimited access, which would be nice if I could stay online for longer than a couple of minutes.

I tried faxing that great article of mine about how we're communicating to that national newspaper again. Still busy. I figure there must be a hot story being faxed in, so I wait.

While I let my fax machine try to send that swell article of mine, I turn on the television set to catch the news. Instead, I got a message from my satellite service that their signal was being blocked by something they call a "solar outage." They don't know how long their signal will be down. Frustrated at not being able to catch the news, I go back to check on that fax. The line was still busy.

So I put the fax aside again and check out what's going on with that big online service. You probably know them from their initials, A… and you know the rest. My modem tries calling the first three access numbers, and each time I'm greeted with a message that says there's no signal, or that the "host fails to respond"- whatever that means. I finally get through by using the "slower than molasses" access number that hasn't been used since 1993.

Just then my pager goes off. Seems my father has been trying to get a hold of me, but between the fax machine and the modem he just couldn't get through. I download my E-mail and then sign off so I can use the phone. I tried to call my father through his cellular phone, but instead I get an automated message saying he's either out of range or his phone is turned off. So I try to fax that somewhat optimistic article on communication again. I STILL get a busy signal.

I turn my attention back to the other piece of E-mail I got through my online service. The first letter was from one of those men's magazines. They said they will be happy to publish my article against certain provisions of the forthcoming Telecommunications bill… it will be printed in the June edition- five months after the bill was signed into law. The next letter came from someone who wanted to compliment me on my Web site, but they never really mentioned what it was they liked. He (I assumed it was a he) also asked when I would be revising my site. I told him I would be upgrading my site… once I can stay on the Internet longer than a minute or two. Finally my friend Dawn from Montana sent me her daily letter. We've been conversing with each other every day for over a year now, and we've even sent each other pictures at Christmas, but we've never actually met. Today she tells me that for some strange reason she feels so distant and separated from other people. I write back telling her I know the feeling.

After waiting ten minutes to send out those E-mail responses thanks to that "slower-than-molasses" access number, I turned my attention back to trying to fax that crummy article about how we're all communicating. I still get nothing but a busy signal. Finally out of frustration, I called up the newspaper's editorial department to ask them just what was going on and why they couldn't receive my stupid article on how swell people are communicating with each other. Instead, I get their voice mail.

I put the phone down and went out to get a burger at the nearby drive-thru restaurant. Coming home, I noticed someone left a message on my answering machine. Seems an intern at the paper responded to my voice mail and said that the fax machine couldn't receive anything because it was out of paper. But now he fixed the machine and it was clear to receive my article on how well we are in communicating to each other. By then I decided it just wasn't worth the effort and threw the article away.

Monday, June 10, 1996

Week of 06/10/1996

(For the record: no, I am not the person on which this story is based upon.)

Eyes of an Abuser
-by David Matthews 2


How could I abuse the woman I love?

Well, sure I lose my temper on occasion. Who hasn't? Sure we argue. We've always argued. But we make up and things get better. That's what makes relationships stronger.

Angry? Well yeah I get angry sometimes. Why not? There are things I'd like us to do. See, I've got our life figured out, even if she doesn't. That's when we argue. She sometimes doesn't know what's best for her, but I do. Things will be fine once we get married.

OK, so we still argue. So what? Married people argue all the time. Besides, times are tough. She doesn't understand that I have to work hard to keep our family going. I work hard, and when I get home I expect things to be just right. I expect dinner to be ready for me. I want to unwind with what I want to watch on TV.

I don't know why she needs to be blabbing about our marriage to the whole neighborhood. They don't know us. They don't have to put up with all the frustrations I get. Maybe if she didn't waste her day talking to the neighbors, she'd have dinner ready for me on time.

Don't know why she called the police. It's not any of their business what we do. I don't know why they're here in MY house, on MY property. Besides, it's her fault to begin with. She's the one who's trying to complicate things.

It's not that I like to hurt her! Does she really think I enjoy hitting her? It burns me up to have to hit her. But it's not my fault! She drives me to it. If she spent her time doing what a good wife and mother is supposed to be doing I wouldn't have to hit her. Instead she wants to talk her little mouth off to all the neighbors about me, spreading lies about me.

She left me! Can you believe that? She actually left me! Me! Doesn't she realize we're married? Married people don't run off on each other. I don't know why she does this. I love her. Doesn't she know this? I love her.

Yeah, I promised things would be better. But it's not my fault! I didn't ask for this! Besides, she needs to be more understanding as well. Why is it that I'm the only one that has to change? I'm not the one who took our kids and ran out on this family! Why can't she understand me?

I don't believe it! She left me again! And now she's got this judge to issue some restraining order against me! Her own husband! I don't know why she's bringing out our problems to complete strangers! My parents never dragged their problems out for the whole world to see. I don't know why she's doing this! These strangers don't know how much I love her! They don't know us!

Divorce? No! I won't allow that! Marriage is until death do you part. We both took that oath. No judge and no sheriff can change that. They don't know us! Our love is eternal! No piece of paper will ever change that!

I need to speak with her. I need to convince her that she made a mistake, and that everything will be back to normal. No, better than normal. I just need to talk to her, that's all.

They won't even let me see her! How the hell do they expect us to work things out if they won't let me near her? Don't they know I'm her husband? I have a right to talk to her! That's my wife! We're supposed to be together! That's what a marriage is all about. We're together 'til death do we part! That was the deal, and I plan on upholding that deal!

DAILY PAPER: Man kills estranged wife before turning the gun onto himself yesterday. Police officials state the suspect had a long history of spousal abuse and was served with a restraining order just days before the fatal incident took place…

Monday, June 3, 1996

Week of 06/3/1996

Windmill Tilting- 1990's style
-by David Matthews 2

In the literary classic "Don Quixote," Cervantes tells the tale of an old Spaniard knight-errant who crusaded around the country trying to relive the days of Medieval chivalry, righting the wrongs that-for the most part- existed only in his mind. Quixote's most memorable tale involved charging at lumbering giants in the plains, only to find them to be nothing more than windmills.

If Cervantes were to visit this century, however, he would find whole groups of self-appointed knights finding their own windmills to charge at. Just like Don Quixote, today's moral knight-errants try to relive days long gone, and applying standards that have long outlived their usefulness.

Heading this list of modern day Quixote knights would have to be William Bennett. The former Secretary of Education and so-called "Drug Czar" under two administrations of late has earned a new title of "Morality Czar," first by spearheading the campaign against rap music and movies, and later by focusing his attentions to the plethora of syndicated talk shows.

Talk shows have changed in recent years, with more and more shows and more diverse topics being discussed ranging from serious issues to trivial relationship matters that seem more tabloid than real. It is no wonder, then, that they have attracted the attention of our modern-day Quixotes in their quest to remove anything they find objectionable. Especially after the death of one talk show guest by another only hours following the taping of the "Jenny Jones" show, and the abduction of another guest a day before she was to appear on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show.

And although there's much criticism about talk shows, they have become a stable interest for the American viewers. Long time talk show hosts such as Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey would not have remained on the air if there wasn't public interest and support. That is the real reason why there are so many talk shows on the air today.

Contrary to the beliefs of Bennett and the other would-be Quixote knights like U.S. Senators Nunn and Lieberman, the American viewers are not mind-numbed robots that only watch what the media tell them to watch. And with more and more channels available through satellite and cable television, the American people now have the ability to pick and choose what they want to watch. We do have the means to change channels if we don't like what we see, or we can practice our own personal way of protesting by turning off the television. Nothing affects television programming more than a lack of viewers.

Then there is the argument about certain kinds of rap and rock music that so offend today's Quixote knights. It is the position of Bennett and the rest of his ilk that the fault of today's children rests in the hands of the corporations that produce, market, and distribute such music, and that these corporations wouldn't produce such music if they had a sense of "guilt."

Record companies, to their credit, do make the effort to label which CDs or cassettes contain offensive lyrics or mature subject matter. They have done their part in this matter! Unfortunately, these knight-errants fail to recognize the REAL group that's responsible for allowing kids to listen to such music- PARENTS! All the warnings and advisories in the world won't mean a thing if parents DON'T do their job and police their own children!

Bennett TALKS a lot about personal responsibility, but he and his knight-errants FAIL to remember that the concept of personal responsibility is just that- personal.
To say that the responsibility of raising one's children rests elsewhere is not only going against the concept of personal responsibility, but it also goes against the principles that America was founded upon. The record companies and television producers are no more responsible for the problems of today's children than would Pope John Paul II be responsible for the past atrocities that were committed in the name of Christianity.

So perhaps the best medicine we can treat our aged and out-of-touch knight-errands is to have a good laugh at their expense, and then change the channel. Then, maybe, Bennett and his cohorts will simply fade away while trying to "dream the impossible dream."