Monday, August 30, 1999

Week of 08/30/1999

Target: Moralism - Part 2
The "Tin Drum" case
- by David Matthews 2

"The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic." - H.L. Mencken

In 1997 a band of pathetically hypersensitive moralists in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, went to the city’s district attorney’s office and demanded a movie be deemed obscene. The movie in question was the 1978 German film "The Tin Drum" - which got an academy award for best foreign film. The film was about a man who could not physically age beyond that of a child, and who could only protest the actions of Nazi Germany by shouting and banging on a tin drum. The moralists however got upset at a scene where the character supposedly was intimate with a woman.. even though nothing even remotely explicit was shown, only inferred.

So the district attorney took this one scene to a local judge, who - without reviewing the rest of the movie - deemed the movie itself to be obscene. Mind you, the legal definition about obscenity demands that the material in question has to be taken IN ITS ENTIRITY! You would think that a judge would know that, right?

But armed with this clueless judge’s declaration of obscenity, the moralists then had the police storm the video stores, seizing any and all copies of the video. Then they went further. They intimidated the video store managers into surrendering the list of people who rented the movie, then the police stormed their houses, threatening and intimidating people into surrendering those videos.

So you think moralists won? Well… not entirely.

You see, one of those people whom the police acted like the Nazi stormtroopers in the movie towards was Michael Camfield, who was also a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. He appealed the judge’s ruling that the movie was obscene, and a federal judge ruled that the local judge was wrong.

Furthermore, the judge ruled that the OKC police - in their zeal to appease the self-centered interests of the dysfunctional elite - violated a federal law that says that information about video rentals is private and can not be surrendered without a specific court order. And indeed a jury in Oklahoma City has ruled that three members of the city’s finest did violate the Federal Video Privacy Act. (The law, ironically, was written after the confirmation hearings of John Tower, when Democrats were able to go through his video rentals as an excuse to block his being named Secretary of Defense.)

Case closed? Justice served? Not yet, and probably not ever, because there is one group of people who are getting away with a heinous crime - and that’s the moralists who started this in the first place! The so-called "Oklahomans for Children And Families" who pushed for this anti-American censorship will be walking away from this mess without one shred of retribution!

Let’s get brutally honest here… That’s why moralists are so dangerous to America - because they are considered to be untouchable! Moralist groups can go to any prosecutor or police chief and demand their will be done, and usually if they have enough political stroke, they can do it. But when the action is clearly in the wrong, the people responsible for starting the trouble escape any kind of justice.

Now let’s say you are one of the video store owners in Oklahoma City whom were visited up on by the police. The police have stormed your business, seized your property, and threatened and intimidated you into giving up your list of renters so they can be equally threatened and intimidated, and possibly even arrested. No doubt this whole fiasco was done in the presence of the local media, because both the police and the moralists LOVE to have their handiwork show up on the 6 o’clock news. And even if they don’t make the nightly news, no doubt the morning papers will have the store names and street addresses listed. That’s not good for your business.

Now, all of a sudden, a federal judge says the police made a mistake. They shouldn’t have stormed your business, seized your property, intimidated you into giving up your renters, and drag your name in front of the press like a child molester. Just a mistake. Sorry! No hard feelings, right?

Who do you go after for justice? You can sue the police and the city, but all you’ll get if you’re lucky is monetary damages. The police officers themselves can’t be touched. They claim all they were doing was following orders. The district attorney who pushed the effort to the judge and to the police can’t be touched. He or she was only following a complaint by "the public." The judge who initially ruled the material obscene can’t be touched because he was simply "doing his job." Each of these groups claim this outdated legal notion of "sovereign immunity." It’s not their fault, they’re just doing the work of "the people."

And the moralists? Well you certainly can’t touch them because they weren’t the ones who told the police to storm the video stores and to harass you. All they did was "file a complaint."

So what do you do? You’ve got your name wrongly dragged through the mud. People don’t want rent videos from you for fear that their choice could mean a visit by the police. You don’t even know if your property (the videos) can be returned, and usually the only way it can be is if you file a lawsuit, which means more money lost to attorneys. You could very well lose your business over this. Meanwhile, the police officers responsible still have their jobs and their pensions. The DA still has his or her job and pension. The judge still has his job and pension. And the moralists responsible go about their lives absolutely guilt-free!

Let’s face it, there is no justice here. The true villains in this case - Oklahomans for Children and Families - walk away unscathed with their money, their freedom, and their self-righteous indignation intact.

And people wonder just what happened to the notion of personal responsibility?

There is an easy fix to this - eliminate the sovereign immunity defense. Agents of the government (that includes the police, prosecutors, and judges) make decisions that affect the lives and freedoms of individuals. As long as the government can claim they are only doing what the will of "the people" dictate - as they do now - then only the most blatant and egregious cases of abuse of power by government is prosecuted. Agents of government should be held to the same kind of responsibility as those they claim to govern.

What do you think would have happened in Oklahoma City if the notion of sovereign immunity was removed? Well, for starters, the district attorney’s office probably would have been a little more cautious about hearing a complaint about a film like "The Tin Drum." The judge who ruled the movie obscene probably would have taken a little more time to review the federal standard of obscenity and taken the film in its entirety instead of just judging that one questionable segment. And the police probably would not have made a big production out of going after the video stores and public libraries, never mind violating a federal law to go after video renters in their homes. Each of them would know that if they were wrong, they themselves would have to face some kind of retribution, either in civil court or possibly in criminal court.

It would also hinder a very powerful weapon the moralists are able to exploit on a regular basis. If the "Oklahomans for Children and Families" tried to get rid of "The Tin Drum" themselves, they could be sued, forcing them to lose money, property, and possibly even their freedom. Instead, they get government to do it for them. No risk on their part, or on the part of their new whipping boys.

Eliminating the notion of "sovereign immunity" puts risk back into government, because right now there is none. Legislators can currently pass a law that tramples on your rights, give police the power to seize your property, and have you arrested and thrown in jail. Even if that law is thrown out in court, legislators can simply rewrite that law, maybe change a few words here and there, and have the whole process repeat itself over and over again. Oh sure you can sue the government, but the legislators themselves can’t be touched. There’s no risk for them if they’re in the wrong. They still have their property, their money, and their freedom, while they conspire to take yours away.

And what is your recourse? Vote them out? No big loss for them, because they still have their pensions. Sue them? If you’re lucky, you’ll get monetary damages, but it will come from the very taxes you pay! No risk off the backs of those in government, because its not their money involved.

But without that shield of "sovereign immunity" to protect them, legislators and other agents of government would have to think twice. If you were a legislator, would you be willing to pass a law that restricts rights and freedoms of the people simply to appease a few dysfunctional moralists, knowing that if you were in the wrong YOU could lose your house, your property, and the shirt off your back? Would it be worth the risk, just for people who risk nothing themselves? I didn’t think so.

Without the instrument of force at their disposal, moralists are nothing more than disgruntled members of society, no better than the rest of us. Without government at their beck and call, moralists will have to do what the rest of us functional human being do when faced with something that disturbs our idealistic view of the world - they’ll have to deal with it.

Monday, August 23, 1999

Week of 08/23/1999

The Price Of Security
Is It Worth Losing Your Freedoms?
- by David Matthews 2

I remember a play I used to do when I was in high school that was an update of Lewis Caroll’s classic "Alice In Wonderland." Each of the characters in the play were based on fairy tale stories with more modern-day dilemmas. One such character was a very insecure egg by the name of Humpty Dumpty. But in this story, good ol’ Humpty already had his fall, they’ve already tried to put him back together, but he wasn’t really all there. He was paranoid about his security, always carrying guns, and ready to open fire against anyone who could to knock him off the wall.

I think about that rather bizarre play every time the issue of security comes up lately. How much security is enough for us?

We love to talk about those rose-colored days gone by when supposedly people didn’t have to lock their doors at night. My father used to talk that way when he was a police officer in Connecticut, especially after someone tried to break into our house one night. So he decided that it wasn’t enough that we had a noisy dog, and someone with a gun.. we needed a BIG dog. One that would strike fear and terror into whomever would try to break in. So my father got us a big German Shepherd dog, one that looked like it could eat you alive if you just looked at it wrong. (Mind you, this was back when German Shepherd dogs were THE bad dog of the day.)

The dog didn’t last. Not that it didn’t do its job, but rather because the dog struck fear and terror into the family as well. Shoes and clothing were destroyed. The dog made a mess anywhere it wanted to. And after taking a few swipes at my younger sister, my parents came to the conclusion that the dog had to go. The price of being "secure" in our home wasn’t worth it.

Nowadays, we hear about schools not being secure enough, especially in light of the school shootings. We’re told that we need to keep weapons out of the hands of kids, and to repel what we’re told are the sources of school violence. But what are the sources? That’s the real question. Everyone has their particular pet theories as to what causes violence - from guns to movies to music to the kinds of foods they eat. And thanks to the tragedies in the Columbine and Heritage schools, people are eager to exercise those pet theories in the name of "keeping kids safe."

One particular theory being exercised with great zeal is the suppression of what some consider to be "symbols" of violence, such as certain T-shirts or hockey jerseys. Wearing basic black, thanks to Columbine, is now on the "banned" list, as well as "duster" style jackets.

Now certain religious symbols are on the "banned" list in some schools. The Harrison County School Board in Mississippi voted to bar 11th-grader Ryan Green from wearing his Star of David necklace in school, saying that his religious symbol of Judaism could possibly - mind you that’s POSSIBLY - be viewed as a "gang" symbol. One school in Michigan tried to do the same thing to a confirmed Wiccan witch, which - contrary to the raving lunacies of Congressman Bob Barr - IS a legitimate religion. Of course, nobody has even thought about going after the Christian crucifixes. Again, the rationality was that the pentagram - the Wiccan symbol - could possibly be viewed as a "gang" symbol.

But "possibly" is good enough for Larry Johnson, chief of security for the Harrison County and Gulfport schools.

"You have to be proactive" he told The Sun Herald. "You have to neutralize things and let them know that school is a neutral place."

And proactive has been the watchword for many schools. Dress codes, codes of conduct, random searches, ID tags, locked gates, security cameras, armed guards… One has to wonder if we’re sending our children to school or to a state correctional facility. Nowadays the two terms seem interchangeable.

Clearly in the case of Ryan Green, or in the case of Crystal Seifferly - the self-professed Wiccan witch in Michigan - the issue of religious expression was given a backseat to the perceived threat of gang activity, which probably would have never happened if the symbols in question were Christian. Is this the kind of lesson you want your children to know? Bad enough that the separation of church and state is blurred by theocrats trying to shove the Ten Commandments and bible studies down everyone’s throat, but now to say that certain minority religious symbols are considered "threats" to security makes you wonder if the school system is being run by Grand Inquisitor Torquemada of Spain.

And heaven help you if you’re a student and you want to protest these changes! Jennifer Boccia and nine other students of Allen High School in Texas did just that last year by wearing black armbands. School officials suspended them, just because they wore the armbands! Mind you, these youngsters didn’t put up picket signs or hand out leaflets to the other students. All they did was wear a very simple symbol of protest, and school officials there reacted like Chinese soldiers in Tenement Square.

However, school isn’t the only battleground where "security" is at stake. Your personal privacy is yet another avenue up for grabs by the federal government. You probably heard of the campaign to get rid of the so-called "Know Your Customer" regulations that would have been imposed on all banks to keep a record of every customer and their transactions for the federal government. The Orwellian regulations were shelved, but many banks already have such policies in place at the behest of the Clinton Administration.

Your computer is also the target for government intrusion. The Clinton Administration is currently floating around draft legislation that would give law enforcement the authority to tap into your computer files without notifying you - completely circumventing the Fourth Amendment. This comes a few weeks after their announcement of a so-called watchdog network called the FIDNET, which many people have criticized as being needless and too intrusive. However, the Clinton Administration has said such measures were "needed" in the name of security.

So the question is.. is the price of security worth the surrender of your freedoms?

Let’s get brutally honest here.. it’s easy for government to argue any kind of measure is needed in the name of "security." And indeed, every tragedy has brought forth the cry for more and more precautions to keep us "safe."

When the Olympic games were disrupted in 1972 by a band of terrorists, security was increased exponentially every four years. However, all of the security measures in place did not stop a lone bomber from striking again in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. All those security measures did was put a greater inconvenience on those who lived in the general area of those events.

When TWA Flight 800 exploded over New York, security was tightened even further at airports across America, for fear that someone may have planted a bomb onboard. Later examination revealed the plane exploded because of an electrical spark igniting the fuel lines, but that didn’t curb the quest to make the airlines even "safer" from perceived threats.

When the federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up by two extremists, fear spread into any and all information concerning bombs and bomb-making. The Internet became a target for both Congress and the Clinton Administration as they sought to suppress any mention of how to make and build bombs. Even the constitutionally-protected right to question government now makes one a threat to the government, or so says Attorney General Janet Reno in a recent interview with 60 Minutes.

Of course many of the actions taken by government in these regards is nothing more than knee-jerk reactions, with the high emphasis on the "jerk" part. True, there is a lot of concern about copycat actions, especially when it involves public tragedies like school shootings. Following the massacre in Columbine, schools across America were besieged with bomb threats by opportunistic students, or even by some pathetic adults with nothing better to do. But while the bomb threats eventually died down, the crackdown against freedom is far more lasting.

And indeed there is method in the Clinton Administration’s maddening efforts to seize control of the Internet in the name of "security." Recent attacks against government web sites by hackers have made the Administration look impotent. And there is nothing more devastating to a narcissist like Bill Clinton than to be publicly humiliated!

There is truth in the cliché "once bitten, twice shy," except when it comes to government, it’s often "once bitten, twice zealous." Much like Humpty Dumpty after his fall, the government is ever cautious, ever more paranoid, and ever more insecure.

Worse yet is the devastating effect such security measures have in a country that claims to cherish freedom. What does it mean to be free when such freedoms can be removed on the excuse of being safe? What does it mean to have the freedom of religion when you’re told that when you express your religion it’s considered threatening? What does it mean when you’re told there’s such a thing as the freedom of expression, but not if you are trying to protest against the encroachment of your freedoms?

That is not to say that there aren’t legitimate threats to the general safety out there in the world. There are plenty of religious extremists, political zealots, and frustrated moralists out there to make anyone nervous. However, any concerns for the safety and security of the populace should be balanced out with the preservation of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. If we were to heed the word of every perceived threat, then the only freedoms we would have left would be the freedom to stay in our homes, living in fear of the world, and waiting to die from natural causes. Folks, that’s not freedom, that’s life in prison.

One should appreciate history a little bit better when it comes to how rights and freedoms have been abused under the banner of security. America just wasn’t forged because the British got tired us. It was forged because the British government cracked down on the rights of the colonists in the "interest" of security. It was because of the memory of those crackdowns that gave Benjamin Franklin reason to say that "They that give up essential liberty to attain temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Monday, August 16, 1999

Week of 08/16/1999

Target: Moralism
The Last Great Evil In America

- by David Matthews 2

Los Angles, California - Buford Furrow is arrested and charged with the murder of a mailman and the shooting of a Jewish day care center in a move that FBI officials say was "a wake-up call for Americans to kill Jews."

Topeka, Kansas - The Kansas Board of Education voted to remove the theory of evolution from the state’s science curriculum. The decision opens the door for local school boards to re-introduce the Judeo-Christian creationist theory in schools.

Atlanta, Georgia - The Georgia State Board of Education holds hearings to decide whether or not to allow Bible study classes in the state’s schools, even though such a decision would fly in the face of the notion of separation of church and state.

McKee, Kentucky - Jackson County school officials allowed the posting of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments in every classroom, even though the US Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that doing so would be a blatant violation of the separation of church and state.

Detroit, Michigan - Timothy Boomer was convicted on June 11th of violating the state’s 102-year old law that prohibits one from using "indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar, or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any .. child." Boomer was convicted of loudly cursing after falling from his canoe on the Rifle River. The arresting officer said that the language was loud, prolonged, and abusive, even though several of the witnesses said Boomer cursed only mildly and that they did not think it was inappropriate to the situation. An appeal was immediately filed.

The above incidents are recent examples of what could be considered the greatest threat to freedom and liberty in America - moralism.

Brutally Honest readers have heard a lot about moralism and moralists, but never have we really looked at what is moralism, and why it is such a danger to freedom.

First of all, let’s go over what moralism is because too many people equate moralism with morality. Simply having morals does not make one a moralist, any more than simply being male would make one a sexist, or being white would make one a bigot.

Morals are personal, individual rules we set ourselves. They determine how we are going to live our lives. We develop our morals from a variety of sources, but most predominantly from our parents and our friends.

Moralism, then, is a form of discrimination, much like racism and sexism are forms of discrimination. Much like racism is the belief that a particular race of humans are superior over all others; and sexism is the belief that one gender is superior over the other; moralism is the belief that one’s morals are superior over all others. And not just superior.. but in most instances, absolute and without question.

Moralism operates out of pure arrogance. The arrogance of believing your personal morality is universal is very strong, and very seductive. We all consider ourselves to be the protagonist in our own life stories. We always believe ourselves to be in the right, and only think about our actions or stances as being wrong afterwards. Add to that having a few other people who think like you do, and it’s easy to fall down the path of moralism.

Moralism also operates out of mental insecurity. It’s not enough to simply believe something is right or wrong, or to have friends and family members who believe the same thing. They need to have everything around them reflect their beliefs. They need to be able to drive down the street and have it reflect their beliefs. They need to turn on the television set and have programming that reflect what they believe to be right. They need to turn on the radio and listen to music that they approve of, or go to the record store and see music that they would approve of. They need to have every aspect of the world validate their beliefs, because to do so otherwise might make them doubt the validity of what they believe in.

Nothing is more infuriating to the moralist than to see or hear about something that is different than what they perceive the world should be. Look at all the so-called "family values" crusaders out there, railing about at the world because its not what they deem to be "safe" for children. Despite their insistence that this is a "recent" phenomenon, the cold, hard truth is that there have been so-called "family values" crusaders for centuries now! The only thing that has changed are the names of the moralists. Yesterday’s Thomas Bowlder, who rallied against the works of William Shakespeare back in 1818, is today’s Pat Robertson, who rallies against the evils of Marilyn Manson. Neither have made the world any safer for children, but certainly have made their respective communities less freer because of their dysfunction.

And yes, moralism is a destructive form of dysfunction, because instead of concerning themselves with their own lives and that of their children, moralists wrap themselves around the concerns of other people. They pretend to themselves and to everyone else that what they are doing is for the sake of society, and they presume to speak on behalf of everyone else, but in reality all they are doing is speaking for themselves, and acting only on their own best interests.

That is what drives moralists to government, because as individuals, moralists can only do so much. But with the force of government, moralists can spread their devastation to all stretches of land, with very little risk to themselves. It’s a win-win situation for moralists when they get government to do their bidding, because there is no way it can really come back to hurt them.

There is a saying that one cannot legislate morality, and that is in part true. One cannot legislate what another person deems to be their personal values. However, one can legislate moralism, and that has been going on for countless centuries.

Let’s get brutally honest here… The assumption that all laws are moral laws is simply pure arrogance. The state laws against speeding are not written because of some morals code, rather it comes from some bureaucracy determining how fast someone can drive on that road without getting into an accident. The same goes for helmet laws for motorcycles, and for laws pertaining to the financial markets.

Some laws and regulations are written not for safety or concern for the well-being of others, but to maintain power. The laws governing cable television are the best example of the notion of maintaining power. In the 1980’s, Congress and the Reagan Administration enacted laws that prohibited satellite companies to broadcast local network stations. The rules weren’t designed to enforce some morals code, but rather because the cable companies did not want competition. The cable companies were a government-condoned monopoly, and in many cases they still are today.

But moralist laws are by far the worst kinds of laws, because moralists would dare to presume to know what’s best for others. Many of the so-called "blue" laws written by moralists years, even centuries ago, are still in affect today. Timothy Boomer certainly knows that all too well, having been convicted of a law passed over a hundred years ago.

Think about the laws against having business conducted on Sundays. Why Sunday, you ask? There is no health or safety reasons behind it. Civilization wouldn’t go into complete chaos if a store opened up on Sunday. So why, you ask, were there laws against doing business on Sunday? Why not Friday? Or Monday? Two reasons - first because the 10 Commandments states one should keep the Sabbath holy; and second because ministers wanted people to have no reason to not skip their services! Mind you, if America was colonized by Jewish people instead of Christians, we’d have laws against doing business on Saturdays. But really, there is no basis for such a law except to appease the whims of moralists.

What’s worse is when a moralist goes to extremes to appease their intellectual dysfunction. When legislation does not move fast enough, or its reach isn’t effective enough, some moralists feel it is up to them to take matters into their own hands. Buford Furrow took his anti-Semitic stance to extreme when he opened fire in a Los Angles Jewish day care center, and then killed a postal worker simply because he was "non-white." In Florida, Paul Hill is sitting on death row because he deliberately and methodically killed a doctor who performed abortions. Eric Robert Rudolph is wanted by the law because his moralistic stance reportedly led him to bomb abortion clinics, a gay nightclub, and Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic games.

Folks, this is why moralism is so dangerous for any society that claims to cherish freedom. The presumption that not every adult individual is capable of determining what is right and wrong for themselves is elitist at best, and downright tyrannical at worst.

You know, there’s nothing wrong with having doubts about what you believe to be right and wrong. In fact, that’s the only way to make such moral beliefs stronger. It’s easy to say X is right because some document or some ancient scroll says so. It’s yet another thing to say X is right because YOU believe it to be so, and to have reasons all your own to validate them. Look at how some of the most moral of people lived. Mother Theresa didn’t have to work in Calcutta, yet she did because of what she did strengthened her moral resolve. Is your moral resolve so fragile that it cannot handle the diverse beliefs of others?

If we really cherish freedom, we need to treat moralism just like we do sexism and racism - something to be shunned and avoided at all costs. Let’s concern ourselves less with our neighbors actions and more with our own.

Monday, August 9, 1999

Week of 08/09/1999

Regulate Yourself!
- by David Matthews 2

Turn on the local news, and you’ll probably see some "special investigative report" about something that bugs someone about bad business, or disreputable businessmen and women, or perhaps some honest-to-goodness fraud. And somewhere along there will be the dig by their reporter "And this IS one of those businesses that’s NOT directly overseen by a state agency."


Are we supposed to feel better that yet ANOTHER portion of society supposedly needs to be placed under the microscope of a government agency in the name of regulation? Are we supposed to feel great that 99% of those businessmen who are honest have to fill out yet more paperwork just because of the work of that remaining 1% who decide to operate without any sense of good business practices?

Make no mistake folks, when you decide to regulate a business you aren’t punishing just the unethical businessmen, but you’re also wrongly punishing the ethical businessmen- the ones who slave over their businesses and work hard to make a name for themselves.

Of course, the people who have been shouting the loudest about regulating everything are the people who are considered to be BEYOND regulation; namely the media and the politicians! We can’t talk about regulating the media because they claim First Amendment rights. And we can’t regulate the politicians because WE are supposedly that regulatory body, and we as a society haven’t been able or willing to fix that problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are times when some measure of regulation HAS to be enacted. But I believe in those circumstances that regulation has to be the absolute rarest of rare exceptions, never the rule. I also feel that such measures should be there for a LIMITED time only. In other words, there has to be a time when such regulations have to END. No permanent government buildings dedicated to the perpetual regulation of a business. No career bureaucrats with aspirations of being IRS agents looking for any excuse to ruin people’s lives.

But let’s get brutally honest here… there’s no way in Hell that there could be a government regulatory body that is temporary! Government THRIVES on its ability to control your life, and once they get their teeth into your life, they don’t want to give it up! They’ll fight you like ravenous dogs on a T-bone steak, because THAT’S their bread-and-butter!

If you need an example of the addiction government has on your life, just look at how they generate their income through taxing ours.

Did you know that the federal income tax was supposed to be a "temporary" tax? Seriously! The federal income tax was initially sold as a temporary tax, something that was supposed to generate money for a short period of time and then be discontinued. Hasn’t stopped yet, has it? It’s still going strong.

Some communities have one percent local-option sales taxes, enacted by voters on the pretense that the tax is miniscule and temporary. After five years, we’re told, people can vote to remove those taxes. But have you ever seen what happens when voters do just that? The voters in Cobb County, Georgia, did. The voters there voted to end that county’s local-option sales tax, and government threw a collective screaming fit! The way they screamed and shouted and ranted about losing tax money made it sound like their kids were getting gang-raped.

Worse yet, the politicians and the educators and the members of the media insulted the intelligence of the voting public. "Oh, you didn’t mean to do that, did you? It was a mistake, right? You don’t want your kids to start getting an education in mobile homes, do you? That’s what you did.. but that was just an accident, right? You didn’t know what you were doing. You just checked off the wrong box, right?"

So do you know what they did? They had a special election, and those government activists who were screaming bloody murder got the tax reinstated. So much for the myth of a temporary tax.

Of course, government and their supporters will continue to sell regulation off as something that is not really intrusive, and even as something that improves society. They’re just serving as an extra set of eyes to keep businesses in the straight-and-narrow, right?

Well, if that’s the case, I want you to think about what it would be like to have your life regulated by government. I don’t just mean your working life, I mean your ENTIRE life. Every minute of your life under some kind of government scrutiny, having some stranger who presumes to know more than you telling you whether or not you’re making the right personal choices. Someone telling you how much toilet paper you’re using in the bathroom, or telling you how many times you’re chewing your food. Or worse yet, how about having to fill out a REPORT on such things on a regular basis? How about something as mundane as filling out paperwork on the route you take to drive to the store? What did you buy at the store? How much did you pay for each item? Did you get any change back? Did you make any extra stops on the way home?

Sounds like your parents? Not quite, for you see, your parents won’t have you fill out the paperwork in triplicate! And to think, we haven’t even explored what sort of questions the government would ask if it got involved in your interpersonal relations!

But seriously, folks, this is what you expect government to do to businesses when you ask for regulation. Government may be run by some half-assed people, but when it comes to seizing more and more power away from the individual, they don’t do anything half-assed!

Given the choice between two legislative evils - regulation versus an outright ban - I’d have to side with regulation. Local governments are only learning now how profitable gambling is regulated instead of outlawed. The state of Nevada has long enjoyed the regulation of prostitution in certain counties instead of outright bans. Certainly those businesses would thrive and benefit the rest of American society better if they were regulated instead of outlawed.

However, given the choice between regulation versus self-regulation, I’d have to side with self-regulation every time.

When you demand government regulation, you are telling every businessman in that field "I don’t trust you to do business with me!" Now folks, if that’s the case, why are you doing business with them in the first place? It’s one thing if you have to do business with just one company because they’re the only ones dealing in whatever goods you need. The cable companies were like that before the advent of digital satellite. IBM was like that with the computer field before Apple and Compaq. AT&T was like that before they were broken up.

But in places where there is competition, the best way to regulate business is to do it yourself - with your wallet instead of your elected officials. In fact, if you look at the airline industry, you’ll notice that there was more competition and cheaper air fares AFTER the industry was taken off government regulation! Are there still airlines with questionable business practices? Yes there are, but thanks to deregulation, you don’t have to cater to them!

And that, my friends, is one of the dirty little secrets about government regulation - it doesn’t produce real competition that is beneficial to you, the consumer. Rather, it stifles the marketplace, and prevents any kind of competition from starting up!

So folks, if you’re pissed off at a company because their people are jerks and their service is lousy, don’t call your congressmen to complain, call on the competition and let them know exactly why you’re interested in giving them your business. Trust me, you’ll make a bigger impact on the business ethics that way then trying in vain to punish the few who are unethical.

Monday, August 2, 1999

Week of 08/02/1999

Bits, Bytes, And Barbie Logos
- by David Matthews 2

With all the talk going about in the world of politics and tragedies, I thought I would take some time to look more towards the electronic realm I work out of.

The latest in electronic squabbles involves two behemoth corporations - Microsoft, and America Online. While the world has been focusing on the growth of Microsoft, and whether or not it is a monopoly, very little attention has been placed on America Online and their creeping growth into every aspect of online activity.

In many ways, America Online has expanded much like Microsoft did at first. Of the four major online service providers (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, MSN), AOL came out on top when all others failed. AOL even bought out rival CompuServe, which some might say could be considered a monopolistic move in and of itself. AOL also purchased the Internet messaging system ICQ, as well as recently buying Netscape Communications, still the leading online browser in the market. Certainly if it was Microsoft doing the acquisitions that people would be screaming foul to the high heavens.

But the latest battle deals with instant messaging. As stated earlier, AOL not only developed the instant message system for its online service, but it also came up with an Internet version which as been as popular as their acquired ICQ system. That dominance was recently threatened by Microsoft’s Messenger program. AOL retaliated by shutting Messenger out, claiming that Microsoft’s program steals user passwords from AOL subscribers.

Meanwhile, AOL is in the courts and in the lobbying halls of Washington DC demanding access to cable modems set up and run by AT&T, claiming that they are being shut out of progress. They are also busy urging the US Department of Justice to get the courts to dissolve Microsoft on the grounds of being a monopoly. This past week, two financial firms were asked by the DOJ on how to go about breaking up the software giant. Representatives of the firms declined to speculate to the agents of the Worse Bill (Clinton), saying that to do so would undermine the whole financial community.

Let’s get brutally honest here folks.. can anyone else besides myself spot the hypocrisy? It’s running as blue as AOL’s triangle logo!

Steve Case and the rest of the people running AOL should be ashamed of themselves. It’s one thing to go to the government to bitch and moan about your competition’s business practices, it’s pure hypocrisy when you start doing the very same thing yourself.

Meanwhile, the other "scandalous" activity in the electronic realm involves the release of Apple Computer’s latest "toy" - the laptop version of its highly successful iMac computer.

Apple can credit the iMac as being the invention that saved the company from insolvency. Going back to its original one-piece combination monitor/CPU setup, the iMac used translucent plastic in fluorescent colors to stand out in a sea of pale beige and jet black PC systems. The only hindrances were the lack of internal expandability and Steve Jobs’ decision to eliminate the floppy drive as part of the package, but such things really didn’t matter to the thousands of people who purchased their iMac systems.

So Jobs decided that if the iMac was a huge success in the PC market, they could do the same with the laptop market. So they developed a laptop version of the iMac, which they called the iBook. All the usual Macintosh evangelists raved about the insight of Jobs, and being able to come up with a laptop that would put Apple back into dominance in the computer world.

Then along comes John C. Dvorak.

For those of you who are not familiar with the computer world, John Dvorak is the Brutally Honest of computer commentators. He has a regular column in PC Magazine, and he is the host of the half-hour talking heads show "Silicon Spin" on ZDTV. He is known for telling it as it is.

Well when Dvorak looked at the iBook, he wasn’t really impressed with all the spin from Apple or even what the iBook had to offer in terms of screen size or hard drive space. Rather, he was taken back by the design.. a white box with the same translucent fluorescent plastic trim as the iMac. In his regular column he writes:

"The only thing missing from the new Apple iBook is the Barbie logo. The system, which looks like a makeup case, promises to be a disaster once people come to their senses."

But, like any brutally honest writer, he doesn’t stop there.

"I suppose I shouldn’t say this, but I can only describe this as a ‘girly’ machine. You expect to see lipstick, rouge, and a tray of eye shadow inside when you open it up. You don’t expect to see a 12-inch LCD; you expect to see a 12-inch mirror. No male in his right mind will be seen in public with this notebook. The only guys who might buy it are the kind who wear those ludicrous baggy pants with the built-in rope that’s used for a belt. Is it a women’s computer? No, I don’t think women will think much of it either. It looks too juvenile – something a kid, a little girl, would like. Something you’d get at Toys R Us. It’s awful, and I’m shocked that nobody in the Mac community has spoken up and said, ‘Stop already!’"

Well, as you would expect, the minute anyone mentions gender the feminists are quick to scream sexism. Janelle Brown of Salon magazine was quick to bash Dvorak for suggesting that the iBook was a "girlie" computer. Wired Magazine’s Polly Sprenger sarcastically commented that "Men want audio animated screen savers of Cindy Crawford singing "Let Me Entertain You," and every unit should come with manly accessories like a tire-patch kit, a chain saw, and "World's Deadliest Sports Mishaps" videotape."

Excuse me Ms. Sprenger, but why would a "real man" want to have a videotape of the "World’s Deadliest Sports Mishaps" with their laptops? The "real men" would have it on DVD!

I’m still waiting for the trademark lawyers to open their salvo. After all, one cannot say the word "Barbie" without some schiester in a Brooks Brothers suit demanding an apology, the soul of your firstborn, a pint or two of your blood, and a few thousand dollars for the thirty seconds it takes to fire off a prefabricated cease-and-desist letter via e-mail.

The fact of the matter is that not everyone would like Apple’s new designs, and that’s really their decision. Let’s face it, both the iMac and the iBook look like they’re designed for kids instead of adults! The same could be said about the original Macintosh systems. I remember them well from my days with the college newspaper, and my first thought was that these were toys.

Yes, stereotypical comments hurt. Not too long on my talk show, I got off on a rant because a supposedly "learned" individual still thinks Playboy Playmates appear "airbrushed" in the magazine. Apparently this female writer didn’t understand that in the age of computers, one no longer needs to use an airbrush to edit images. But just as I would come to the defense of my friends in Playboy, so too must I come to the defense of guys like Dvorak who think that Apple’s new designs don’t appeal to his sense of masculinity.

So what if John Dvorak considers himself too "manly" to be seen with an iBook? You probably also won’t also see him wear day-glow green shirts with white slacks and jacket unless it was Halloween and he was trying to look like Don Johnson from "Miami Vice." Let him stick with a gender-neutral beige system and a jet-black laptop, and let’s get on with our lives!

Besides, I thought that geek grrls were above that sort of petty name-calling.