Monday, June 29, 1998

Week of 06/29/1998

What Is Freedom?
A July 4th Perspective
- by David Matthews 2

What is freedom?

Politicians talk about it. Moralists decry it. Civil rights activists scream there’s not enough of it. Conservative say we have too much of it.

But what really is freedom?

Simply put, freedom is the unalienable desire to control one’s own destiny.

When we’re born, we’re all born relatively helpless. We’re dependant on parents and family members to protect us, feed us, and nurture us as we grow older. As we grow older, we often feel we no longer need that kind of dependency and protection. We strike out. We rebel. Eventually, most of us free ourselves from the control of our parents and other family members and are able to decide how we’re going to live our lives.

So, too, in many ways, is the control government feels it has on its citizens, as a protective parent overlooking his children.

Freedom was not a given in early society. Often, citizens were indebted to those who controlled the money or the land. They provided protection in exchange for their servitude.

Indeed, freedom was too often considered a sign of shame. A man exiled into the wilderness was given the ultimate freedom from government, but it came at a price. The price was not being able to consider themselves one with a society they prided themselves of being a part of. Eventually, however, that perspective changed. The chance to explore, to stake out a plot of land all their own, became the new drive. Freedom went from being a curse to being a prize.

The quest for freedom is not an easy one. America earned its freedom from a tyrannical king only after waging a war against England. Slavery in America wasn’t abolished until after the Civil War, almost a hundred years after the American Revolution. Although other struggles for freedom did not always involve bloody confrontations, they were also not easy to achieve.

Like a manipulative parent, government in any form is hesitant to surrender the power it enjoys.

There are many in society who would say that freedom is not as important as maintaining order. They consider freedom to be a luxury only enjoyed at the discretion of government. Ironically, those who subscribe to such a belief are often enjoying a vast amount of freedom themselves.

Freedom is often seen as subjective. What one man calls freedom, another calls abuse. The freedom to act, to speak, and to express one’s self in society has often been abused and misused by government and special interest groups eager to suppress under the guise of maintaining order.

Any tyrant can proclaim they support freedom, as long as it’s freedom "from" things. Freedom "from" crime, freedom "from" hate, freedom "from" being offended. Any tyrant can proclaim they support freedom as long as it’s freedom to maintain the status quo, or freedom to support what is considered "mainstream" or popular.

That is not what freedom is about.

Freedom is not limited to what is acceptable or safe. It is not limited to what is mainstream or considered by some to be appropriate. Freedom means taking risks. It means having to endure something that you might find offensive, knowing that what you say may also be considered by others to be just as offensive.

Freedom means living your life as you see fit, deciding for yourself where you want to live, and with whom. It means expressing yourself in a way you feel comfortable in doing, and it also means being able to change that which you do not feel comfortable in doing. It means being able to decide which church you want to pray in, and which kind of god you want to worship. And, yes, in the end, freedom is also how you want to die.

Freedom is deciding how you want your life be lived, whether to follow the path set by others, or to forge your own. Some of the most memorable people in human history forged their own paths. Who is to say that others should not be given the chance to do the same?

That is what freedom is about.

Monday, June 22, 1998

Week of 06/22/1998

Target: Windows 98
THIS is what the fuss is all about?
- by David Matthews 2

This Thursday (6/25), Microsoft will unleash its latest operating system to the world - Windows 98. With all the hype about Microsoft, both good and bad, I think it’s time to get some facts straight about this program.

First of all, let’s get to the point. For the majority of current Windows 95 users who have kept up with the latest upgrades, service packs, and have the latest version of Internet Explorer 4.01, Windows 98 will be nothing more than a glorified bug fix program. There will be no new interface to deal with this time. There will be a few new goodies, such as the desktop themes and full-color icons brought over from Plus 95, and the ability to upgrade the operating system over the Internet. But for the most part, Win98 will be simply Win95 with a few cosmetic updates.

For those users who have Windows 95 but have not played with Internet Explorer 4, you’ll find some interesting changes to your desktop. Just to let you know how integrated IE4 is with the operating system.. IE4 was originally considered to be Windows 96! (Now I know that little tidbit has the Department of Justice throwing screaming fits.) Bear in mind, however, that this does not mean you can’t use Netscape or Opera or any other browser. Matter of fact, one of the very few things you can thank the DOJ for is having Microsoft give you the option of removing that Explorer icon from the desktop if you so desire. Mind you, you won’t be able to remove the entire Explorer browser, because it’s now imbedded in the operating system, but you will be able to neutralize IE as your default browser.

Then there’s the other group of people for whom Win98 was supposedly designed for - the few stragglers who use still Windows 3.1 or Windows 3.11 and weren’t too sure about upgrading their computers to Win95. No doubt, these users have noticed that many of the computer programs coming out today are designed for Win95 and not Win3.x. Win98 will probably be the last opportunity for these users to upgrade without having to buy the whole and complete version of Windows.

Another issue that users will have to consider before upgrading their operating system will be if they have the right stuff inside. Keep in mind that every new operating system is designed not for the hardware that already exists as much as for the hardware that is yet to come. Win98 is a very hungry operating system, so you’d better have 300 MB of hard drive space to keep it happy. Microsoft says you can use Win98 with just 100MB, but let’s be brutally honest here and realize that when they say that it’s possible, that they’re talking about a completely stripped-down, bare bones operating system with no frills and none of the goodies that are loaded as default.

There is a basic rule with software that I consider it to be an extension of Moore’s Law. A few years ago, Intel CEO Gerald Moore speculated that processor speeds double every eighteen months. This became known as Moore’s Law. Well, the software corollary to Moore’s Law is that every new version of a program will require double the original resources to run it. So unless you have a computer with at least 2GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM, and a 100Mhz Pentium processor or faster, you’ll have to make some serious upgrades to your current system before upgrading to Windows 98.

Windows 98 is, for the most part, the latest in an unusual trend in computers. And it is a trend that has the Department of Justice and 20 states fearful of.

Consider how things work for the automotive industry. Every aspect of the parts must conform to the standards set by the automotive industry. You may build parts for Ford, but if those parts don’t comply to the parameters set by Ford as to that particular car, they won’t go in. You don’t have, say, the company that makes the speedometers telling the company that makes wheel rims they have to comply to a particular standard for the speedometer to run properly. The auto maker sets that standard, and both the company that makes the speedometers and the company that makes the wheel rims have to comply to that standard, or else they’re out of work.

In the early years of the personal computer, the industry was ruled by two companies - IBM and Apple. They controlled the industry and set down the parameters for every aspect that would go into their computers, a lot like how the automobile makers do with their cars. Then companies like Compaq came in and used reverse-engineering to design their own personal computers that were compatible with IBM’s systems. The minute that happened, IBM lost control over their half of the PC market. The focus went from the computer itself to the components that make up that computer. Intel took control over processors. Microsoft set the standard for software. Neither have a lock-down monopoly, despite what the DOJ believes, but they do set the standard in their fields.

And therein lies the real reason for Windows 98 - to benefit the hardware side of the computer industry.

As stated before, Win98 is a hungry program. If you want Win98 and you don’t have enough room in your hard drive for the program, you’ll have to buy a newer and bigger hard drive. If you don’t have enough memory in your computer to run Win98 and your favorite programs, you’ll need to buy more memory. If you have a 28.8 baud modem or slower, you’ll want to get a faster modem so it won’t take a week to download your upgrades. If you have a 486 or earlier processor, you’ll want to upgrade your processor. And odds are, if you have that kind of a processor, you’ll also have to get a brand new motherboard to handle the added power of that processor. And if you need to make all of these changes, why not just buy a whole new computer with Win98 pre-installed and just re-install your favorite programs?

See how that works?

Look, there’s a lot about Windows 98 that can make the news of its release into a non-event. Most of the features that the bulk of the users will take advantage of are already installed on Internet Explorer 4.

There are some features that Microsoft could’ve done without. The dreaded channel bar? PLEASE! That was the very first thing I removed once I installed IE4! I don’t need a channel bar! It didn’t provide me with the information I wanted to see, it took too long to download the information I did want to see, and it’s a waste of space on the desktop when I’d much rather see the wallpaper that I designed. Active Desktop? First, it’s a memory hog when it’s active. Second, most of the purposes that I’d use it for, such as an online ticker, would only work if I was connected to the Internet 24-7. Otherwise, I’d get nothing but a couple of blank windows on my desktop reminding me that I’m not online. The new taskbars are nice, although it has meant replacing the functional Office 95 taskbar that I spent time and effort personalizing to my tastes.

I don’t know why the business-busters in the Department of Justice are so obsessed with what’s on my desktop to begin with. This is just me, but I’d like a clean desktop - no icons save for maybe My Computer and the trash bin. I spend time and effort to create wallpaper that I don’t want to hide with a bunch of icons that I’ll rarely click on. Instead, I have to deal with the Inbox, the After Dark Online icon, the Network Neighborhood icon, and my Mindspring Desktop icon. I need the Inbox for my faxes. I need the After Dark Online icon for the screen saver. I’m told I need the Network Neighborhood icon so I can get online. And the only way I can use Mindspring on my computer is if I have their desktop icon freeloading on my screen. Personally, I’d like them all to be removed from my desktop. Just leave me with My Computer and the Trash bin, and I’ll be happy. If I need anything else, I’ll go to the Start menu. That is, after all, why it’s created.. right?

I don’t think there will be too many people camping out late for Windows 98 this time around, but I don’t think Microsoft will lose any money either.

Monday, June 15, 1998

Week of 06/15/1998

Target: Patriotism
Beware Of Cheap Imitations
- by David Matthews 2

June 14th was Flag Day. Not that too many people knew it, mind you. This year, the day comes on a Sunday, which means not too many people pay it much heed. People are more apt to spend Sunday in church or out enjoying the weekend. Well, it’s not like the day is a federal holiday. No extravagant parades to mark the day. No special Flag Day discounts for stores.

For my international readers, Flag Day is the day to commemorate the US flag. Like any other country, the flag is a symbol of that country and what it stands for. I’ve carried the US flag with honor in my youth. My father defended what that flag represents when served in the Navy back in the 1960’s, stationed at Guantanamo Bay and on board the USS Joseph Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My family carries a long tradition of men who fought for their country with pride, be it in America or in Great Britain.

So, with this history of respect for the flag and what it represents, it irks me to no end to see it being disgraced.

No, I’m not talking about some protester who decides to burn the flag, or some artist who puts the flag down on the floor to be used as a rug at some art deco studio. I’m not even talking about Monica Lewisnky’s picture in Vanity Fair where she’s reportedly seen posing with an American flag behind her like an open shawl. Rather, I’m talking about an equally insidious bunch of people who bring disgrace to the flag in a way only they can do.

I’m talking about politicians.

Nine years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech also applied to burning the US flag in protest. Almost everywhere, politicians, conservative crusaders, and veterans groups cried bloody murder over this decision. They promised they would enact a new constitutional amendment that would once again prohibit flag desecration.

Now, that amendment is on the verge of finally passing Congress.

Ironically, in passing this amendment, which would prohibit the physical desecration of the flag, Congress will in effect desecrate the flag symbolically. The flag, in and of itself, is a piece of brightly colored cloth. Intricately woven, perfected after two centuries of revisions, but physically no different than any other flag in the world. It’s what that flag represents that makes it so important.

Flags can be destroyed. They can be burned. They can be torn apart. They can tatter, fray, and fade with the course of nature. But what that flag represents cannot be physically destroyed. That ultimate indignity is exclusively reserved for those in government. When political leaders say that the symbol is more important than what it represents, the symbol loses its value.

In Washington DC, a form of physical desecration is at work every day. The US flag flown in Washington during the War of 1812 is dying a slow and painful death. This is the flag that Francis Scott Key saw when he wrote the "Star Spangled Banner." Seeing the flag waving amidst the cannon volleys, smoke, and gunfire inspired him to pen what would be this country’s national anthem. The flag remains on display, sealed in a glass box, for a limited number of bystanders to see for only a few minutes. Yet, despite all the efforts of the federal government to preserve this flag, it is slowly falling apart through natural causes. If it happened with any other US flag, there would be a legion of military veterans who would demand that the flag be properly disposed of. Would this, then, be considered a form of desecration? And if so, who would be at fault, Mother Nature, or Congress?

In the end, however, lies one word - patriotism. How much does one love his or her country? And, more importantly, how sincere are they?

There are plenty of politicians who would use the flag as a noting more than a prop, and patriotism as nothing more than a political buzzword. They rally about what they consider to be mainstream, adhering to principles that would only apply to that narrowly-set definition, and redefining principles that don’t.

But the true test of patriotism is not in the display of symbols like flags or banners, but rather to support the meaning beyond the symbol. Without that, the symbol is meaningless, and the gesture becomes empty.

In San Diego, California, a teenage girl has spent weeks of persecution from school officials for refusing to cite the Pledge of Allegiance. She considered the pledge to be an empty one and has decided to refuse to recite a pledge to a country she no longer can be proud of. However, faux patriots like her history teacher took it upon himself to humiliate and punish her for her decision, and then claim that she was disrupting class. However, it was the teacher who was doing all the disrupting. Seems the history teacher really didn’t know jack squat about history, or else he would have known that he was on the absolutely wrong end of it.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols considered themselves to be patriots. So much so that they were willing to bomb innocent people in Oklahoma City. I don’t know what cause they were fighting for, but it certainly wasn’t for freedom in the American tradition.

Real patriots in America, however, are the men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for the causes that best represent America. The fight for all voices to be heard, not just for what would be considered "mainstream" or "family-oriented." Those that fight, not for an advantage, but for simply an equal chance to succeed or fail.

THAT is what the US flag is all about.

Monday, June 8, 1998

Week of 06/08/1998

Polls and Poll-itics
What do you WANT the results to be?
- by David Matthews 2

I was making my way through the local mall when I was stopped by one of those clipboard-carrying idiots that have permutated most malls like cockroaches.

"Excuse me sir, I’m taking a survey of voters trends, and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a few questions."

Usually I’m prepared for these jerks by grabbing my cell phone and pretending like I’m in the middle of a call, but this time I was distracted by a couple of beautiful women who were walking in front of me. I know I could’ve always said "no" but I get tired of saying that to every clipboard idiot I pass by. Besides, he did mention he was taking a survey of voters trends, so I figured I’d hear him out.

"Sure," I said with a shrug.

He smiled and started his questions. "Okay, first, are you a registered voter?"


"Did you vote in the last election?"

"Yes I did."

"Did you vote for any particular political party?"


"Which one?"

"The Libertarians."

He looked up from his clipboard. "Uh.. excuse me? I said did you vote for any particular.."

"I know what you asked," I told him. "And I told you I voted for the Libertarian Party."

He then flipped his pencil over and began to erase the earlier response. I saw him check the "No" box on his little form. Then he resumed his questions.

"Okay.. Now, do you think that the flag of the United States should be protected from desecration?"

"Too late," I told him. "The politicians have already desecrated it every time they pass a law that violates the Constitution."

He looked back up at me. "No.. no.. I mean should people have the right to burn the flag?"

"Yes," I told him.

He checked the "yes" box and then continued. "Do you think that children should be protected from offensive materials?"

"Define offensive," I replied.

"Sex, violence, hate speech.."

"Oh, so you mean the stuff in the Bible?"

"No!" he said as he started to get frustrated. "I mean on television and music and the Internet."

"Only if they include protecting children from the Bible as well."

I saw him mark "No" for that question.

"Do you think that children should be free to pray in schools?"

"They are already free to pray in schools," I told him. "Nothing has stopped them from praying in schools."

"Do you think that there should be a constitutional amendment allowing children to pray in schools?"

"There is already one.. it’s called the First Amendment. You remember that one, don’t you?"

I saw him mark "No" again.

It was clear I wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted to hear, but instead of putting down the answers I provided, he simply put down the zero-sum yes/no answers on his little clipboard.

"Okay, one final question.. Do you think your elected officials do a good job?"

"Only if their job is to steal money from citizens, spend it for their little pet projects, and to bastardize and deprive their constituents of the very constitutional rights they took an oath to protect and defend. If that’s how you define their job, then they’ve been exemplary."

I saw him mark "No" on that last box. I know there were other questions on that list, but he apparently didn’t want to put up with my brutally honest answers. He said his obligatory thanks for putting up with him and I went on my way.

You know, I am sick to death of polls and surveys. The need to determine a particular point of conformity has bastardized modern culture to the point that it’s next to impossible to do anything meaningful anymore.

Television stations live their lives for the next poll. TV programs can live or die based not so much on the support of a show but rather what some survey says the "average" American wants to see. Today’s networks would never be able to do a show like "All In The Family," "Star Trek," or "Hill Street Blues" because those shows started with lousy ratings, but survived because of viewer support. Just look at how CBS is treating fans of even a mainstream show like "Doctor Quinn" after so many years of support simply because of what they deem to be sagging ratings.

Politicians are the next bunch of idiots who have sold their lives to the poll-takers. I can actually remember a time when polls used to be taken only once a month, and then only for presidential elections. Now news stations like CNN and MSNBC do daily polls on what they deem to be vox populi, and like brain-dead sheep, the politicians respond accordingly.

What’s worse is that polls are so easily manipulated by the group who takes the polls and the kind of questions asked.

Look at these three questions:

"Do you feel that steps should be taken to protect children from offensive materials?"

"Do you feel that government should censor television, radio, books, and the Internet in order to protect children from materials some would deem to be offensive?"

"Do you believe that government has the right to tell adults what they should or should not see, hear, and read on the grounds that some materials may be judged by certain groups to be offensive to themselves and to children?"

Three different questions, asking the same question! The only difference is how they are each phrased. Which one do you think has the best chance of getting a "yes" answer?

Where you ask the question also has a bearing on the answer. Asking 100 people at a pub compared to asking those same people coming from a church will get completely different answers. Especially when the topic is about a more controversial issue like sex or alcohol. It also shows how people will be willing to hypocritize themselves when they’re in front of their families.

What’s worse is that polls are often used by moralists as a weapon to push for limitations on individual freedoms. When the discussion is about school prayer, the Christian Coalition will pull out some poll that says that seventy percent of Americans are on their side. When the topic is about flag burning, the veterans groups will pull out a study that says eighty percent of the populace supports deifying the American flag. These groups best demonstrate what Ralph Waldo Emerson warned of the abuses of power, that "Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors."

Individual freedom, however, should rarely be subject to vox populi. Freedom is not about conformity, but rather the ability to set oneself from the crowd. And perhaps that is something that is lost in a society of polls and an obsession with majority rule.

James Fenimore Cooper said it best when he said, "The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity, since the tastes, knowledge, and principles of the majority form the tribunal of appeal."

Monday, June 1, 1998

Week of 06/01/1998

Apocalypse Soon?
Will India and Pakistan do the unthinkable?
- by David Matthews 2

In 1962, the world waited with baited breath over the Atlantic Ocean around the island of Cuba. There, at the height of the Cold War, two sides were preparing for global thermonuclear conflict over the nuclear armament of Cuba by the Soviet Union.

Few people outside of Washington knew just how close we were to World War Three.

One of those people who did know, however, was a sailor by the name of David Matthews - my father. My father served on board the USS Joseph Kennedy, a destroyer named after the late older brother of then President John Kennedy. By fate, or perhaps by a strange twist of irony, it was the Kennedy that was positioned at point of the US blockade of Cuba, and it was the Kennedy that boarded the Soviet transports that approached the blockade.

On the onset, my father, and the other shipmates were informed of the seriousness of the situation. If the Soviet ships challenged the blockade, they were ordered to sink those vessels with any and all means possible, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. They were well aware that doing so would mean certain death, as well as global annihilation.

Truly, the fate of the world rested not between the leaders of two countries, but rather between ship captains who decided whether or not to risk war over ideology.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. War was averted. The Kennedy has been decommissioned and is now berthed at Cape Cod for the public to tour.

I remember my nightmares concerning a possible nuclear holocaust. Between seeing apocalyptic movies like "Testament" and "The Day After" and hearing my father’s accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was pretty scared. One night, I awoke at two in the morning to the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System alarm on the radio. No announcement of a test. Just the tone, and a long pause before finally hearing a commercial. I don’t remember getting too much sleep after that.

It’s believed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear destruction would be limited to one or two nuclear bombs brought in by terrorists. After all, only a handful of nations had the bomb.

Until now.

Now, the nuclear club has expanded by two. India, which tested their first nuclear bombs twenty-five years ago, recently restarted their testing and began arming conventional weapons with nuclear warheads. Their rival and neighbor, Pakistan, soon followed with their first test detonations.

Let’s be brutally honest here - I’m nervous as hell that these two countries now have the bomb! Not because they pose a direct threat to the United States, mind you, but rather because of the threat to the world.

Unlike the US and Russia, the conflict between India and Pakistan has been one of religious differences and religious zealotry. India is predominantly Hindu, while the majority of Pakistanis are Muslim. Because of this, the two nations are as abrasive towards each other as can be.

A country that has a nuclear bomb is much like a punk kid on the streets with a new gun. Look at the attitudes of the citizens of both India and Pakistan when their respective leaders initiated the tests. It’s simply an artificial pair of testicles that they want to show off to the world. World leaders think having it demands respect. It doesn’t. It simply means you can be a global thug if that is your choice.

America, for all her bluster and good intentions, is known around the world for one piece of uncontested infamy - it’s the only country in the world that detonated two nuclear bombs on civilians. Those bombs changed the face of the world and they revealed a new kind of horror to humanity. Where it took weeks of coordinated air strikes to level a city in Europe, it took only one bomb to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Where the horrors of destruction were once only limited to brief property damage, the radioactive fallout of nuclear bombs are present even today, fifty years after the first test detonation at Trinity.

The threat of nuclear holocaust keeps the civilized man at bay, but not those in the hands of those swept in a wave of religious fervor. That’s the real reason why there has been a concerted effort to limit the countries that have that kind of destructive power. It is destructive, and the effects of that destructive power are not limited to the immediate area.

Consider, if you will, the result of a brief but limited exchange between India and Pakistan involving short-range nuclear weapons. The devastation of each of those bombs will send clouds of radioactive fallout that would orbit the planet through the winds. Immediate neighboring countries would be affected the hardest, but the radiation would eventually reach everyone. The thousands of survivors suffering from radioactive sickness, burns, and secondary injuries incurred by the blast wave would tax global aid, not to mention they would need a place to stay. They certainly can’t go home now that what’s left of home glows in the dark.

Then there is another threat - that other countries will get the bomb from the newest members of our little nuclear club. Remember, Pakistan is predominantly Islamic and a neighbor to Iran. Although Iran has been showing signs of moderation again, it is still very much a theocracy with a very rabid contingent eager to strike against the "Great Satan" called the United States of America. If Pakistan doesn’t plan on using their nuclear weapons on India, they might be convinced to "loan" some of them out to a country who will them on.. say.. Israel.

Fortunately, there is the hope that both India and Pakistan, once displaying their newfound artificial testicles to the world, will realize the utter stupidity of their actions and sign the International treaties that would curtail future nuclear development. But equally important more than ever will be the need to prevent those weapons from getting into more dangerous hands. India and Pakistan will hopefully soon learn that having such firepower is more of a burden instead of an achievement.

I would hope sanity will prevail over nationalistic and religious antagonists eager to appease their artificially-enhanced egos at the agonizing deaths of thousands.