Monday, December 17, 2001

Week of 12/17/2001

The 2001 Brutally Honest Awards
- by David Matthews 2

Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again to recognize the best of the best, the worst of the worst, and the weirdest of the weird for the year of 2001. And believe me, there was a LOT of stuff to go over in the past year… so without further ado, let’s get into it.

The "Damn you… Damn you straight to HELL" Award for 2001: Osama bin Laden – Need I say why? After seeing that tape of his admitting to the coordination of the 9-11 attack, do I REALLY need to say why he gets this award?

The Lilly-liveried Yellow-bellied Coward Award for 2001: Taliban Leader Mullah Mohamed Omar – Fight to the last man, you say? Well then where the hell did YOU go, eh Popeye? Why weren’t YOU out there with your unholy warriors getting slaughtered? You pluck anyone with a hanging testicle off the street and force them to fight for you, but when it looked like you were going to go to Heaven and enjoy those 72 virgins and be fed grapes for all eternity, you sneak out of town! May the relatives of your fallen warriors shoot you in your sleep, you hypocrite!

The Creative Vengeance (Part 1) Award for 2001: The Various Ways To Punish Osama bin Laden – You see, simply shooting him would be too easy. I’ve seen some pretty sick and twisted ways to punish that pig bastard. The most poetic, though, HAS to be putting him though a sex change operation and then have "her" go back to Kabul and live life under a burqua. And that is probably the most HUMANE form of payback that I came across.

The Creative Vengeance (Part 2) Award for 2001: Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park" – Gotta give these guys credit for putting the whole thing with Afghanistan and 9-11 and our hysteria into perspective. Not to mention the creative way they dealt with bin Laden… which was to have Cartman play Bugs Bunny to bin Laden’s Elmer Fudd.

"We hate you because a third of the world hates you and you don’t even know it!"

"Well, perhaps someday we’ll find a reason to hate you too."



The Chuck Jones Award for 2001: Farscape’s "Revenging Angel" – The weird science fiction serial of the Sci-Fi Channel took a humorous turn this year when main character John Crichton was near death and we see things through his cartoonish mind. Along for the ride are Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Hillary, the Mir space station, and the Starship Enterprise. Believe me, I was rolling on the floor laughing when I saw it!

The "I Owe My Life To Osama bin Laden" Award for 2001: Congressman Gary Condit – Come on, guys! Does anyone think Condit would have even THOUGHT about running for re-election if 9-11 didn’t happen? His career was in the toilet, and he knows it! Now the man with the Jiffy-pop toupee will probably get another term for his troubles as long as Chandra Levy’s body doesn’t show up.

The "I Owe My Halo To Osama bin Laden" Award for 2001: New York City’s Thug Mayor Rudolph Guiliani – Yeah, he was an unapologetic thug who flaunted his affairs and his power around, but all of his evils were seemingly wiped clean when the pig bastards attacked on September 11th. If 9-11 didn’t happen, this guy would be forever seen as Mussolini reincarnated. Now, instead of being rightly vilified, he’s been unduly canonized. They didn’t even have to find a pedestal to put him on… because he brought his own! There is no justice in this world!

The Tone-Def Award for 2001: Rush Limbaugh – Now Rush has another reason to ignore his liberal critics. It’s not just that he’s sure of his convictions. It’s not just that they’re sometimes wrong and full of body wastes. It’s that he’s now completely DEAF! He can’t even hear himself talk!

And for anyone who does any kind of public presentations would know, the biggest and best critic you could ever have is yourself.

The Most Creative Big-Government Slogan for 2001: Senator Tom Daschile – "You don’t professionalize until you federalize." Catchy. It insults the private sector and glorifies the government wonks all in one sentence.

The Biggest Bait-And-Switch Award For 2001: The Budget "Refund" – So we’re getting the money BACK, says Uncle Sam? WRONG! Just wait a few months when people realize that the money they got actually came from their future tax refund! When your individual or joint refund is short $300-600, be sure to remember where the money went, and remember who were the ones who warned you this was going to happen! Democrats and Republicans said not a peep about where the money was going to come from.

The Most Blatant Abuse Of Power In 2001 Award: The Fairfax County Golf Range Story – This was reported by Fox News and was the fourth case presented in Brutally Honest – LIVE’s ongoing series called "Government Out Of Control" on March 28th. Essentially the Fairfax County’s zoning board has been doing everything in its power to shut down the driving range owned and operated by John Thoburn simply to advance the competing driving range owned by the county. When the demands became too unreasonable, the county had Thoburn arrested and then intimidated Thoburn’s wife and three sons into exile. He was finally released from jail after the publicity, but the county still claims he owes them hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and fines.

But as always, the real criminals are the robber-barons who sit in that local government, and who will never serve a day in jail for their heinous acts.

The Most Blatant Act Of Government Theft In 2001 Award: The Gold Club Trial – With evidence more flimsier than the outfits worn inside the club, the imperial federal government managed to pull off a cheap win by forcing the club owner to give up the strip club in exchange for the other defendants pleading to lesser charges. They once again prove the old barbarian proverb still holds true for the government: what the government wants, the government takes.

The Professional Wrestling Referee Award For Bias In 2001: Federal Judge Thomas Pinfield Jackson – Let’s see… would you trust your case to a judge who has shown contempt for you previously? Who sleeps through much of your trial? And shows utter contempt towards you in the media long before passing judgement on you? That’s exactly what Judge Jackson did in the federal antitrust case against Microsoft. The only way he could be any more biased against Bill Gates would be to have the logos of Sun Microsystems and America Online embroidered on his robes!

Fortunately, a federal appeals court ruled that Jackson WAS biased and bounced the punishment phase back to the lower court and told them to find a different judge. But my question is why did Microsoft’s legal team even LET the case get so far with Jackson on the bench? They could have easily claimed conflict of interest and probably fared much better with a different judge! I hope CEO Steve Ballmer is paying attention here… Microsoft should be playing for the win in the trial instead of in the appeals process.

The Thing That Would Not Die Award for 2001: The Florida Re-Re-Recount! – Yes, we know, it’s been well over a year, and even Al Gore admitted defeat, but apparently not the leadership of the Democratic Party, or the alphabet soup media. While Da Big W was being sworn in, party boss Terry McCauliffe and babymaker Jesse Jackson were talking about shadow governments. While Junior was getting his cabinet members confirmed, the reporters in Florida were counting ballots every which way possible, trying desperately to find some way to invalidate the Bush Administration. Even AFTER September 11th, when the whole country looked to Bush for leadership, the alphabet soup reporters were STILL counting those damned ballots!

Those ballots should’ve found their way into an incinerator after the first re-recount. The point is moot, Bush is president, and no amount of Chicago-style ballot fixing will ever change that! Do what us Libertarians have been doing for decades…. Accept it, deal with it, and move on to the next election!

The Biggest Software Non-Event for 2001: Windows XP – Oh yes, it’s more than just a bug fix for Windows ME, which was a bug fix for Windows 98, which was a bug fix for Windows 95… It gets rid of the whole Windows/DOS architecture and replaces it with Windows NT. This was the merging of Windows and Windows NT that SHOULD have been done in Windows 2000.

And I will say that it was easier to install the upgrade to XP than in any previous version of Windows. It didn’t take three hours like the folks at TechTV said it would take, and it pointed out all of the programs that may or may not work after the upgrade.

The problem, however, is compatibility. Not all programs that used to work under Windows 95, 98, or ME, or even NT or 2000, will work under XP. Companies like AOL and Sun also got dissed because of their influencing the federal antitrust lawsuit. Also, XP is not really for the "older" systems. It’s a HUGE memory and processing hog, and unless you’re using a high-end Pentium 4, you really shouldn’t be playing with this operating system.

Basically it’s the biggest effort since Windows 95 to get people to buy new computers… and it didn’t exactly work in an economic recession. People just aren’t buying what they can’t afford.

The Biggest Entertainment Non-Event for 2001: Michael Jackson – Sorry Mike, but it’s hard to pay attention to someone who looks like a refugee from Madame Toussant’s Wax Museum under hot lights. Your "big surprise" dancing with N’Sync at the MTV Music Video Awards was a joke. Your mega-star reunion special was a joke. The tip of your nose falling off and flying into the audience proves that your face is a joke. The sales of your new album were a joke. And quite frankly, Michael, YOU are a joke! Go back to your Neverland resort with your chimp and your oxygen tent and your kids. Or better yet, go back to Madame Toussant and have your face remade, and this time pay the full price!

The 2nd Biggest Entertainment Non-Event for 2001: Entertainers In Therapy – Yeah, let’s feel bad for A.J. and Mariah for having to go away for a little while. But only for a little while. It must be nice to be able to take time out of your lives so you can deal with your problems. The rest of us have to simply endure our burdens and keep going. There is no nice rehab clinic for us to check in and out of at our leisure like a hotel. There is no "pause" button on our lives.

The Biggest Sports Non-Event for 2001: Michael Jordan – Hey Mike, either you’re retired, or you’re not retired! Pick one and stick to it! You’re a straight player, Mike. You know you shouldn’t be playing the fans like that.

The "I Should’ve Been A Contender" Award for 2001: The XFL – Hey, I’ll give Vince McMahon more credit than the media EVER gave him… he really tried to come up with an alternative to the NFL! And he had some great ideas that the NFL ended up stealing.

And I have to admit… I LOVED seeing the cheerleaders! The NFL thinks that showing the cheerleaders are a nuisance, but the XFL at least recognized the value of eye-candy.

And let’s not forget "He Hate Me" and all of the other colorful sayings added on the backs of XFL jerseys! Allowing the players to be creative like that helped make the game that much more interesting!

The Most Underreported Talent For 2001: Playboy’s Playmates – While much publicity has been made about Joanie Laurer (formerly "Chyna" of the WWF), Darva Conger ("Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?"), and Jerri Manthey ("Survivor: The Australian Outback") and the various other celebrities who appeared in Playboy, very little has been said in 2001 about the women who become Playboy Playmates.

For instance, the USA Network featured the three Playmates of the Playboy X-treme Team very prominently in their airing of Eco-Challenge: Borneo. (Including, I might add, a rare scene of my friend Jenny Lavoie crying.) But Playboy gave very little mention of the team in the April issue, and even less in their own adult cable channel! Even the E! Network and Entertainment Tonight gave more exposure to these lovely ladies than the almighty bunny!

That wasn’t the only time they did that too. A few weeks later, the USA Network aired the "Cannonball Race 2001", featuring a team of Playmates. That got even LESS exposure on Playboy TV and very little in the magazine!

Mind you, this is the same magazine and TV channel that will give you regular monthly updates on platinum blondes like Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, and Brande Rodderick. These peroxide girls sneeze and it makes bunny headlines!

Look, Hollywood is a fickle and vain world, and to get noticed for what you do outside of Playboy to promote Playboy in a positive light needs to be recognized! When ESPN lists the X-treme Team in their Top-20, that needs to get more than a thirty-second spot or a column blurb.

The Mr. Magoo Award For 2001: The Economic Recession – In 2000, I made a prediction that if Al Gore won the election, you would not be hearing the word "recession" from the media until maybe six months to a full year. But if George W. Bush won, you’d be hearing the reporters utter the word "recession" almost the minute he is sworn in.

Sure enough, just HOURS into Bush’s tenure, reporters were speculating how he would be handling a "looming recession."

But the truth of the matter is that we’ve BEEN in a recession for quite some time now. The layoffs started to be announced back in 1998. Prices started to creep up in 1999. Remember the gasoline crunch last year? Growth started to subside in 2000. Even the common man such as myself could see these things happening. But you didn’t hear about it in the press because the media didn’t want to sullen the "legacy" one William Jefferson Clinton. No, they wanted to wait until someone else was in office so it would be THEIR problem, not Clinton’s.

I don’t know which is worse… the fact that the media’s conduct is pathetic, or the fact that it has become way too damned predictable!

The "Break The Mirror" Award For 2001: Senator Hillary Clinton – Much to her own dismay, the press loved to cover her during President Bush’s address to Congress following the 9-11 attacks. So they managed to get every scowl, dirty look, and expression of sheer and utter contempt that SHE was not the one addressing Congress. Every American got a chance to see the REAL Hillary then, the one that the late Barbara Olson described in her book "Hell To Pay".

Oh, and where was the "great New Yorker" during the World Series when the Yankees lost out to the Diamondbacks? Bush was there. Thug Giuliani was there. Why was Hillary a no-show?

Let’s not kid ourselves here… Hillary is pissed because all of this memorable history was happening and SHE was not at the center of it! SHE was not the making the calls for war. SHE was not the one creating the Department of Homeland Security. SHE was not the one ordering the secret police searches and the military tribunals. And odds are, SHE won’t GET that kind of political stroke until AFTER all of this blows down.

Congratulations Hillary! You’re now finding out what us Generation X folks have been going through after you Baby Boomers crapped in the social pool!

It sucks not being the center of attention, doesn’t it? Good! Welcome to life in the post-Clinton era!

"The Thing That Would Not Go Away" Award for 2001: Bill Clinton – Yes, we would all like to forget him now that he’s out of office. Unfortunately, we can’t. When he left office, he went on a last-minute pardon spree that is still being investigated. Too bad he didn’t issue himself one for all of the lying and obstruction of justice he did while in office. Then he basically settles up all of his past scandals by surrendering his law license for a little while (yeah, like he’d be using that), gets barred from the US Supreme Court, and still manages to find ways to hog media attention from his new home in New York.

That and we’re still paying for his past mistakes… namely the fact that he never really DID bring to justice the people behind the attack of the USS Cole, the people behind the attack of our servicemen in Somalia, and the people behind the attacks on our embassies. And wouldn’t you know it? Those people just happened to be the same ones responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th! Maybe if Bubba DID the job he promised to do the first time, we never would have had to deal with 9-11!

The Most Over-hyped Award for 2001: Broadband Internet Access – Oh yes, broadband cable and DSL are wonderful devices that allow us to surf the Internet at breakneck speeds. They’re cheaper than buying a T1 line and much faster than using a 56K modem.

But they’re not the be-all, end-all in the universe.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the broadband providers were sending out fliers promoting their service and then telling many people they can’t provide that service in their area yet. What the hell was up with that, huh? Some dumb-ass consulting group trying to generate interest that just was not available?

And now the punch-line: Several members of Congress now think that broadband Internet access should be some new welfare entitlement program! THIS, my friends, is how badly this issue has been over-hyped! What’s next? Cyberspace access stamps? Forced logins for the underprivileged?

The George Orwell Newspeak Award For 2001: Attorney General John Ashcroft – So if anyone questions you, they’re siding with the terrorists? Talk about blatant presumptive arrogance! You sure you know which country you’re in, right John? Because it sounds like you came from Communist China!

Folks, remember the credo of Big Brother: war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is knowledge.

The Political Tool Award For 2001: Michael Shane Lassiter and Senator Max Cleland – Cleland has been the biggest bitch-and-crier for federalizing the airport security after 9-11. A typical Democrat, he loves making everyone a servant of Uncle Sam.

Well, wouldn’t you know that the SAME DAY that Congress decides to vote on this new airport security bill, Michael Shane Lassiter decides to be a huge butthead, bolt past security at Hartsfield Airport, and cause the hypersensitive airport staff to shut down Harstfield for several hours! Just in time for the House vote! You can guess how that vote turned out.

Someone asked me not too long after it happened whether or not the senator arranged it all simply to get Congress to vote in his favor. We’ll probably never know, and it really wouldn’t matter anyway. The only thing Mr. Lassiter has to worry about is whether or not he’ll have any money left in his name after the airlines and passengers sue him, and to deal with the embarrassment for acting like a nation-wide butthead.

And Finally…

The Toughest Break Award For 2001: Brutally Honest – LIVE and – Matthews’ Law was really working overtime with us this year.

Let’s get brutally honest here… Between Talk Liberty’s web provider hijacking the domain, the broadcast provider not responding to our sever being down for over a month, and our new web provider giving us another two weeks of server-related problems, we really couldn’t get too many shows done in the last half of 2001. It sucks, and what’s worse is that the archives had to be removed from the Internet. So the only way you can hear those old shows is for me to send them to you on CD.

Hopefully 2002 will be a much better year for us all.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Week of 12/10/2001

Web Woes 2001
- by David Matthews 2

"The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit." - Samuel Gompers

You know, one of the things I’ve heard from the older generations is how EASY things are for me. I’m sure my fellow Generation-X’ers heard it as well. Certainly the Gen-Y kids (or NeXters as they are sometimes called) are hearing it as well. How easy it is for us to live today compared to yesterday!

It’s not a new complaint. Every older generation boasts of the hardships they had to endure in their younger days. I think the only generation that NEVER had that problem was the first one. I think it would’ve been hard for Adam to tell his kids how HARD he and Eve suffered in the Garden of Eden. "When we were you’re age, we didn’t have clothes! We had to walk around NAKED! Naked, you hear me? Times were TOUGH!"

Well, being one of those at the forefront of the Gen-X crowd, I can say that our older peers were partially right. It HAS been easier for us than in previous generations in terms of creature comforts. I mean, once upon a time, you would NOT have found a grocery store open 24-hours a day! You wouldn’t have 24-hour cable news, and 24-hour weather reports, and 24-hour music videos, and 24-hour ANYTHING on TV. Cellular phones and Wall-Mart and as many ways to make coffee as there are for Baskin Robbin’s ice cream. All of these things that just were not around one generation ago!

Certainly the Internet and computers have played a HUGE role in providing many of our new creature comforts. Once upon a time, if the local store didn’t have what you needed, you had to get your stuff from a mail-order catalogue. Now, instead of going to a catalogue store, or playing those long waiting games with the postal service, we can go online and order just about ANYTHING we want, and have it delivered in a matter of DAYS instead of weeks. Instead of having to go to a library or a bookstore to get the news from someplace outside of your area, you can now go online and visit that publication’s website. Pen pals take on a whole new meaning online, where you can chat endlessly and instantaneously with people from all around the world.

But there is a downside to all of these creature comforts… and that is it makes us soft and impatient. We are now USED to having things instantly provided for. We want our double-filtered, extra-cream, no sugar, mocha blend coffee now, not in ten minutes. We want our favorite movies now. We don’t want to drive to the theatre and have be there on THEIR schedules, then have to put up with noisy people and uncomfortable seats and who-knows-what on the floor under our shoes. We expect things to be open and available at OUR schedules, not the other way around.

And of all of the creature comforts, instant information HAS to be the number one creature comfort today. We crave instant messages and cell phones and pagers and getting e-mail from a PDA. Laptop computers are almost as big and powerful as any desktop, and people keep on talking about those soon-to-be released tablet computers that look like something out of Star Trek.

So imagine, then, our reaction when we are cut off from some of those creature comforts.

It’s not a pretty sight.

It’s like taking away a baby’s pacifier. We get cranky. We get irritable. We get annoyed. We throw temper tantrums. And we expect someone to fix things.

Remember a few years ago when America Online suffered from growing pains? AOL made the mistake of offering unlimited access before they had the infrastructure to handle all those millions of users staying online. It was a colossal blunder, one that cost them in terms of subscribers and in terms of bad public relations. People who just did not want to deal with busy signals switched to Internet Service Providers who were eager to take their money and had access to spare!

But even if they did not switch, oh did the subscribers bitch and cry! They wailed and moaned for satisfaction like a bunch of babies who needed their ba-ba. Oh woe are we, woe are we, we cannot get our daily fix!

Like I said, it’s not a pretty sight.

And some of those dissatisfied subscribers even went so far as to hire lawyers and file lawsuits against AOL! They actually tried to claim false advertising or some kind of unwritten expectation of instant access. In either case, the lawsuits didn’t go very far. But it did demonstrate just how upset the subscribers were when they couldn’t get their fix for information.

Well recently one ISP has taken Internet woes to a new level. Excite@Home was one of the major suppliers of broadband Internet content. If you had access to the Internet via a cable provider like AT&T, Comcast, or Cox Communications, odds are it was provided through Excite.

You would think that a company that had a lock on so many productive cable providers (which in and of themselves are government-endorsed monopolies) would be financially secure. It turns out, though, that Excite wasn’t as secure as expected. They were so badly off that they turned to one of their own clients – AT&T – to buy them out. Realizing that Excite wouldn’t be able to survive the winter, the Ma Bell company said no, and then set up its own broadband connections. The other cable providers soon had to follow suit when Excite arbitrarily cut off all connections two weeks ago.

The effect was predictable… millions of cable subscribers were cut off from the Internet. No browsing, no IM’ing, no chatting, no e-mailing, no downloading, and no streaming. Blank screens and "Unable to connect" messages all around!

And the info junkies were PISSED! Some of them didn’t even realize how the demise of Excite would affect them. After all, they got their service through Cox or Comcast or XYZ Cable. That’s who they paid their subscriptions to. And now those companies were unable to provide the service that they paid for.

But let’s get brutally honest here… the demise of Excite was somewhat predictable, not to mention inevitable. The company was, after all, a middleman. They provided the link between the cable companies and the Internet, but that’s all they provided. Outside of the routers and converters, Excite@Home basically milked off the cable lines of its own clients. Their connection to the Internet wasn’t unique to them, it was just a time-saver for cable providers who were otherwise clueless how to make the connection. It was only a matter of time before a company like AT&T would say "Screw them! We’ve got the technology right here, we don’t need them to do this!" After all, why would the original telephone company, who has its own ISP, even WANT to deal with middlemen, except out of sheer corporate laziness?

And I have a feeling Excite knew that as well, which was why the execs made the decision to arbitrarily shut off service now instead of when they would officially shut down in February of 2002. It was an object lesson to the cable subscribers to show just how much they need their info fix, and to cable providers to show just how lazy they really were.

What was also inevitable was the screed coming from those who considered the demise of Excite, and the cutting off of Net access for millions, as the perfect excuse to have the government do what Netizens have rallied against for five years: regulate the Internet.

One talking head from the Ziff-Davis Network considered Excite’s shutdown to be the perfect reason why government should be running things online. After all, broadband access IS the newest entitlement, right? Right up there with food, clothing, shelter, and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire".

Well I’ve got a question for Mister David Coursey and his "We can’t trust private business" socialistic big-government mindset: What makes you think the GOVERNMENT can do a better job? Before you answer that, why don’t you take a look at the 2001 Federal Tax Code to see why Congress is the direct opposite of progress.

Would government regulation have stopped Excite from going under? Certainly not! If anything, the government would have forced ALL the cable companies to use Excite’s services, creating a danger for even more subscribers when Excite eventually falls.

And as for his drivel about the so-called "failure" of deregulation, I only have two words: WHAT deregulation?

California’s public utilities were NEVER deregulated! Neither were the airlines, or the phone services. Believe me, if these venues WERE really and truly deregulated, there would have been government agencies shut down and government employees laid off and scores of regulatory book that would have gone into incinerators. Instead, these venues were RE-regulated. Rules were changed here and there. Regulatory agencies were told to stop focusing at one area and instead look someplace else. But were they ever really deregulated? Please! Stop deluding yourself!

While the government may have laid down the foundation to the Internet, everything that makes it what it is today came AFTER the government got out of the Internet business in 1988. The federal government did NOT invent hypertext protocols. A private group did. The federal government did NOT invent streaming media. A private company did. The federal government did NOT invent the browsers and chat programs you use. Private companies did. What makes you think the government could do what private companies have been inspired to do?

Look, the important thing to bear in mind is that access to the Internet is NOT an entitlement program. Yes, a provider going down will cause some inconvenience. It sucks not having instant information. It sucks not having access to your e-mail all the time. But it isn’t permanent, and you’re more than free to find some other provider that CAN give you what you want. That’s something the government CANNOT provide!

Progress is not perfect. The telephone system wasn’t instantaneous when it first got started. The first automobiles were sometimes more trouble than they were worth. The Wright Brothers crashed their first airplanes. Radio and television were far from flawless in their early years. The Internet is no different in that regard. Sure, we are going to have companies stumble and fall. Providers are going to be bought out and go bankrupt, and people are going to be inconvenienced. Suck it up and deal with it, because inconvenience serves as the greatest incentive for change!

Besides, twenty or thirty years down the road, you’re going to be the ones telling your kids and grandkids how TOUGH things were for you at their age.

Monday, December 3, 2001

Week of 12/03/2001

Using The "T"-Word
- by David Matthews 2

"You can tell the man who rings true from the man who rings false, not by his deeds alone, but also his desires." - Democritus

The one thing that then-Texas Governor George W. Bush liked to say separated him from then-Vice President Al Gore in his 2000 race for the Presidency is character. Sure, ol’ Bush Junior would say that he’s made mistakes. He’s not perfect. But he owned up to them. He admitted to them. And he paid the price for them.

And the Republicans were quick to sing the never-ending praises for Da Big W’s pick for Attorney General. John Ashcroft, after all, was a former member of Congress. (Never mind he had been voted out of office in 2000 by a dead man.) He was a man of virtue and character, and he wouldn’t let the Justice Department be mired in the political shenanigans that tainted that department under the watch of Janet Reno.

So after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on America, and the subsequent unleashing of Anthrax and of Anthrax hoaxes, Bush and Ashcroft both pledged to hunt down those responsible for the despicable acts.

"If you send Anthrax through the mail, you’re a terrorist!" decried Bush in a public form in October. "And if you send an Anthrax hoax through the mail, you’re a terrorist!"

And the people applauded that statement. It was direct and straightforward. There was no quibbling there. No Clinton-like soft lawyer-like language involved. If you sent Anthrax through the mail, you were a terrorist. Period. And if you sent an Anthrax hoax through the mail, you were also a terrorist. Period.

USA Today went so far in their October 25th editorial as to call all those who send Anthrax or even Anthrax hoaxes as collaborators of Osama bin Laden, and as such guilty of treason against the United States of America. Harsh words, perhaps, but it certainly reflects the sentiment many of us share about these people who would create fear and havoc in America.

So imagine this commentator’s surprise, then, when the FBI announced this past week who they believe was responsible for the mailing of over 200 Anthrax hoaxes to women’s clinics across America. Not that they wouldn’t find out who this person was, or that the so-called "Army of God" was nothing more than an escaped prisoner by the name of Clayton Lee Waagner.

What surprised this commentator was how the FBI DID NOT describe this man.

Yes, they said he is believed to be armed and dangerous, and to possess strong survival skills. Yes, they said he has a history of violence, including bank robbery, carjacking, and possessing bombs and stolen firearms. Yes, he considered himself to be appointed by God to be a "holy warrior", not unlike the Islamic mujadaheen, and believed it was his sworn mission in life to kill doctors who provided abortions.

But what Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the FBI… and for that matter many of the members of the media… did not mention in describing Mr. Clayton Lee Waagner was the dreaded "T" word. Terrorist.

Remember what Bush said about those who send Anthrax hoaxes by mail? He called those people terrorists, right? If that is the case, why aren’t Bush’s people calling Clayton Lee Waagner a terrorist? Or even a suspected terrorist? Where’s Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge, and why isn’t he coordinating efforts with his state and regional counterparts to track down and bring in this suspected terrorist before he strikes again? He’s clearly proven to be a threat to the well-being of American citizens.

We’ve spent two months since the terrorist attacks of September 11th being told by Bush and his people that we have to take a firm and hard line against terrorism, no matter if they are overseas or in our own backyard. They have asked for and received unprecedented powers over and above the old Alien and Sedition Act. Even after getting as much raw executive power as Joseph Stalin, they are saying it is still not good enough to start tracking down the bad guys. They have generated so many "alerts" now that even the boy who cried wolf is calling us drama queens! They have fouled up airport security so badly in many places that it is almost cost-effective to simply WALK to your intended destination instead of fly! They have turned us into skittish Chicken Littles, afraid not only of our own shadow, but even the light creating our shadows!

But let’s get brutally honest here… Even after we have been told to be aware of terrorists, here we have a clear example of domestic terrorism, and the Bush Administration is hesitant to call it for what it is, never mind treat it as such!

Oh, but wait a minute! This guy Waagner isn’t a threat to EVERY American, is he? No, this one-man self-professed "Warrior of God" is only a threat to doctors and clinic workers and patients who go to women’s clinics and people who support the right of a woman to choose.

In other words, he’s not really a terrorist in the eyes of the Bush Administration, is he? No, he’s just a spirited and misguided pro-life activist who just happens to also be a dangerously armed escaped convict. And since many members of the Bush Administration are decidedly pro-life (or to be more specific, anti-abortion), it would be no skin off their teeth if this terrorist continues his wild and wacky ways without having to bring the nation’s new anti-terrorism forces to bear.

This sets up a very dangerous and hypocritical precedent for the Bush Administration. How can the Administration be trusted with protecting Americans from terrorism when they cannot even properly identify domestic terrorists simply because they happen to share the same social ends?

How can President Bush claim to speak up for tolerance and freedom, when his people are harassing college students who display questionable posters, and then turning a passive eye to those who pose as much a threat to this nation as do any other terrorist from around the world?

Terrorism is the perversion of activism. It smears all legitimate forms of protesting and political persuasion, and it condemns any cause that it claims to support. That has been the message we have been trying to tell the world since September 11th. I don’t think that any legitimate pro-life supporter – especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ – would want to be associated with wanted terrorists like Clayton Waagner. And yet, the refusal of the Bush Administration to identify and differentiate between terrorists like Waagner and peaceful pro-life protesters only serves to bloody and condemn the pro-life movement. Is that what you pro-lifers want?

Francis Bacon once said that "Constancy is the foundation of virtue." If Bush and his people want to continue to be seen as the paragons of character and virtue they campaigned as in 2000, then they have to be willing to go after terrorists from EVERY corner, including those whose political leanings they may agree with.

Monday, November 26, 2001

Week of 11/26/2001

Forced Faith
- by David Matthews 2

"There is an accumulative cruelty in a number of men, though none in particular are ill-natured." - Lord Halifax

Ever hear of the term "co-dependency syndrome"?

You sometimes hear that term in regards to abusive spouses, abusive parents, or even abusive significant others. That’s when the victim of abuse is so conditioned to believe that he or she "deserves" the abuse they suffer that they will protect their abuser. Often when someone is concerned and want to step in, the abused victim will tell them to not get involved.

Even when the abuser is violent enough to put the person they supposedly love into the hospital, that victim will passionately defend that abuser. They will go to the grave if need be to defend that abuser. They have been thoroughly conditioned – by their parents, by their peers, by the abuser, and by themselves – to accept this abuse as their lot in life.

And I’m sure every single one of us would shake their heads and say "Well I will NEVER be like that! I would NEVER allow anyone to abuse me that way! I would stand up to them! I wouldn’t allow it to happen to me!"

And I’m sure we would all mean it too. Even the victims of abuse tell themselves that in the beginning.

Unfortunately, many of us have accepted this kind of abuse by a group of people who claim to care about us. A group of people who claim that they’re only acting in our best interests. That group is called our government.

Before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, it was believed by many people that government could do no right. People were skeptical of government, and of politicians in particular. They were self-serving little toadies who couldn’t change a streetlight without a petition and a generous "campaign contribution". They passed whatever law the special interests wanted, no matter if that group is the self-righteous God Squad or a bunch of obsessive environmentalists.

Granted, not everybody in government was inept, abusive, or self-serving. As a former firefighter myself, I can attest to the fact that there are plenty of government employees who work hard and do the job they are asked to do. Unfortunately, though, their contributions are often shadowed by the incompetence of those who abuse the system, and their job. And the very nature of government, with its bureaucracy and its kleptocracy, makes it next to impossible to weed out those inept and corrupt bad apples.

After the terrorist attacks, however, government suddenly became the body that could do no wrong. All government employees – even the bad ones – were socially canonized. You couldn’t question the government without being branded as a terrorist. The FBI even started handing out flyers that said that anyone who spoke out to defend the US Constitution should be reported as a terrorist. They were suspicious people, the FBI said.

Somewhere in the deepest bowls of Hell, the tormented soul of Senator Joseph McCarthy is laughing his ethereal ass off over this, wishing he were alive to churn the old "red scare" hysteria yet again.

And what government always wanted to have, government got after 9-11. Especially when it involved things that we once considered too intrusive. Unprecedented search-and-seizure laws? Done. Make any bank transaction over $10,000 a matter for the government? Done. Tap into your computer at any time without a warrant or notification? Done. Secret police? Done. Secret courts? Done. Big Brother’s shopping list was filled quickly and quietly without many members of Congress even being allowed to READ the bills being presented to them. Just pass them and read them afterwards, they were told.

And even though we’ve told ourselves that we won’t let the government abuse us this way, we’ve remained awfully silent over this. Many of us have simply nodded like good little co-dependants and said that it was just the price we have to pay for fighting terrorism.

So let me ask you… how has government improved to go from being inept to being unquestionable?

Are the airports any safer now that Congress and the White House enacted a law that would make security and baggage screeners government employees? Do you feel safer knowing that despite the presence of armed members of the National Guard, an airport like Atlanta’s Hartsfield International was able to be shut down for hours by some impatient passenger who forgot his camera bag?

By the way, how do you like those security lines now? If you thought flying was a hassle before, wait until you realize how much of a hassle it is now that you’re not only going to be in those lines even longer, but also that you’re paying EXTRA for it! Feel any better now?

How about your mail? Feel safer knowing that postal workers are treating your mail like nuclear waste? That they’re taking even MORE time to deliver your mail simply because of the backlog of mail that is being screened for anthrax, smallpox, and any other nifty biological threat?

Do you feel any better knowing that government is busy convincing members of Hollywood to crank out "non-propaganda" messages? Remember when the government violated their own Payola laws a few years ago to get Hollywood to crank out those "non-propaganda" messages about drugs? Look, if the writers, directors, producers, and actors want to show their support, they sure as hell don’t need the White House to encourage them to. They can do that on their own… and it makes their message a little more genuine. Now, the next time I see some studio sing the praises of the US Government, I’m going to think Payola.

Has government suddenly and magically "improved" itself after September 11th? Have all the incompetent, corrupt, and power-mad bad apples suddenly disappeared, replaced by saintly, gregarious, and understanding public servants? No, they haven’t. It’s the same government as before, only now we are seeing the generous abuser instead of the violent one.

So what can account to us clutching to government? Nothing but our own fear.

People instinctively turned to government to do what they were supposed to do in the first place… protect us from foreign invaders.

But let’s get brutally honest here… the operative word is "instinctive." We were scared. We felt threatened. We turned to government like children turn to an old teddy bear. Or like an abuse victim turns towards their abuser when threatened - for that feeling of stability.

But that didn’t stop President Bush from declaring that Americans discovered a "newfound faith" in government. His own subtle way of telling us that we once again deserve this government. That we were wrong, and government was right. After all, if government was still wrong, why did we turn to them in times of trouble?

Well, we do that for two reasons. First, because it has been practically hard-wired into our brains since childhood to respect government. We are indoctrinated to respect government in the same way parents indoctrinate religion to their children. Even if that authority is wrong, even if that authority is corrupt, and does things to hurt us, we are told to blindly respect it. Our "faith" is forced upon us by years of indoctrination by schools and parents.

The second reason is because one of the few legitimate reasons for government is to protect us from outside threats. Ask any libertarian, they’ll tell you. Do the words "provide for a common defense" ring a bell?

We didn’t turn to the government after 9-11 because of some mystical "faith" that government has improved any. We turned to government because that is their job! We expected them to go after Osama bin Laden and his pig bastard lackeys, because that is what they are there to do. And much to Da Big W’s credit, that is what is happening right now.

The sad part, though, is that if the US government DID do its job before 9-11, many of bin Laden’s lackeys would not have been in this country to carry out their terrorist attacks. Now, that same government is trying to overcorrect itself, thinking that it would make up for past sins.

And yes, some members of Congress are now claiming to be shocked and surprised at the level of government intrusion they had so blindly signed into law. But I think you’ll find that it will be mostly for show.

It will go something like this: So-called "concerned legislators" will make a big display for concern to reassure the voters that "they are on the case". Then Attorney General John Ashcroft will give a wink and a smile and utter that irreverent government line: "Trust me." And they will. Do you know why? Because he was just like them. He was once a member of Congress. He knows that this concern is just an act to impress the voters, and that deep, deep, down they really support such measures and more. He knows that like any abusive spouse, government will say all the right words to keep their victims from leaving them.

Folks, our so-called "newfound faith" in government is nothing more than an expectation that our government does the job that was spelled out to them in the US Constitution. It does not give them the authority to suspend the Constitution simply to correct their past mistakes. If they want us to have REAL faith in government, then they have to do more than just talk about the rights and freedoms they claim to cherish. They have to actually defend those rights and freedoms, not just from outside forces, but also and especially from themselves.

After all, the first thing any abuser has to learn to truly change their ways is self-restraint.

Monday, November 19, 2001

Week of 11/19/2001

On Teaching Freedom
- by David Matthews 2

"A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes."
- Thomas Henry Huxley

It’s a new day for most of Afghanistan.

For five years, the people of Afghanistan were under the control of the Taliban, an evil theocratic force that ruled at the barrel of a gun. A theocratic force that forced men to grow long bears, forced women to wear head-to-toe coverings called burquas, and outlawed almost everything made in modern civilization. Pictures, statues, television, radio… anything that the Taliban believed "distracted" people from their strict interpretations of Islam was considered immoral, and therefore illegal.

Religious police scoured the countryside making sure their interpretations of Islam were enforced to the letter. Women who were accused of violating the laws of the Taliban were taken to a stadium and slaughtered. Religious police, often nothing more than eighteen-year old boys, would storm into people’s homes and whip or shoot suspected violators. And if women were accused, the men would sometimes be punished as well. The acts of atrocities that are the trademark of the Taliban are seconded in their violence only by the genocides of Germany in the 1940’s and of Bosnia in the 1990’s. And all of it done in the name of religion.

But now those days are over. The Taliban have been deposed, thanks in no small part to a combined and prolonged assault by US and British forces and with the aid of the Northern Alliance. Their control over the various cities is crumbling with every sortie of fighters and bombers in the air. The fear-mongers have become fearful of the commando strikes by US and British Special Forces.

And with the collapse of each Taliban-held city in Afghanistan, the brutal bullies that are left behind have become the victims of their own brutality. Dead bodies of Taliban supporters dot the streets like so much roadkill. They hang from the trees like demented Charles Manson Christmas ornaments. They’re found in the drainage ditches and sewers for people to spit upon, urinate, and otherwise show their utter disgust for their brutal theocratic regime.

So now cities like Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif are free. And the people there are tasting what that freedom allows them to do. Women no longer have to hide in their homes, or wear those ugly body-concealing burquas. Instead, they can show their face to the world, and even put on makeup. Men are free to shave their beards. Indeed, the busiest place in Kabul once it was liberated was the local barber shop. Men lined up to shave their faces and display their satisfaction of life without the Taliban watching over them. Radios, television sets, and video recorders were pulled out of hiding and put back into use. Children played in the streets. Gyms and boxing studios once again reopened to the public.

So now comes the hard part… what to do now that these parts of Afghanistan are free.

The people are enjoying life without the Taliban for now. But that may not last. Even now, old tribal forces are once again resuming their bitter rivalries, trying to divide up the cities as spoils of their victory.

Oh, sure, everyone agrees to the principle of a new united government in Afghanistan. But each group feels that THEY have to be the unity.

It is almost as if these various tribes have forgotten the five years of Taliban control that they all unanimously despised. As if they forgot that the real reason why the Taliban managed to take over more than ninety percent of the country was BECAUSE of the infighting between the various tribes. While they bickered and argued, the theocrats took over. As old as the tribal leaders are, you would think that they would also be wise enough to learn the lessons of history instead of constantly repeating them. Sadly, age is no substitute for wisdom.

So what needs to be done?

Well, first things first. The US needs to have a hand in helping the Afghan people get their act together. We’ve been supplying them with food and aid and weapons since the 1980’s. It’s high time we start putting a price tag on that charity, starting with rebuilding their government.

But we need to do more than just that. We need to do something that we have had a hard time doing of late… and that is teaching people about freedom.

It’s easy to teach people about democracy, and that’s what we’ve been doing. But democracy does not equate into freedom. Heck, even the Soviet Union had what they called "democratic" elections! Any two-bit tyrant can have a voting system set up and call that a democracy. That doesn’t mean that freedom reigns in that area. That just means that they too can be members of the Florida Election Commission.

We need to get the message out to the people of Afghanistan that if they truly enjoy the freedom they are tasting right now… if they love seeing women out and about and not covered up… if they enjoy hearing music and watching television… if they enjoy having a clean-shaven face… then they must be more than just bumps on a log. They have to FIGHT for that freedom! They shouldn’t have to wait for some other force to come by to liberate them, because odds are, if the Taliban didn’t protect Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qua’ada terrorist network they way they did, they would still be in control of that country for years to come!

Oh yes, we ringed our hands in frustration over what the Taliban did for five years. We watched in anger as their tanks destroyed centuries-old Buddhist statues. We saw the atrocities being carried out, and reported on them. But we wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. It wasn’t our place to do that. It was up to the people of Afghanistan to put a stop to what the Taliban were doing, and they didn’t lift a finger. So why should we?

Let’s get brutally honest here… freedom does not come FROM government, it comes IN SPITE OF government. It comes from people standing up and taking control of their own government instead of letting the government take control of them. Outside forces like the United States can help provide the opportunity for freedom, especially by helping to overthrow a tyrannical government. But they cannot provide that freedom itself. That only comes when the people WANT it badly enough to fight for it themselves.

Of course, it’s hard for us in the US to teach freedom when we really don’t practice it ourselves. We have universities preaching free speech, yet exercising censorship in the name of "tolerance". We’ve got our own Christian version of the Taliban who are frantically weaseling their influence into government in the name of patriotism. We’ve got politicians who pledge to support and defend the US Constitution, especially after the 9-11 attacks, and then quietly violate that pledge in the name of added security. It would seem somewhat hypocritical for us to serve as teachers for that which we do not fully understand ourselves.

And yet, if we won’t, who will be able to? Socialist France? God help us all if that is the case!

The only alternative to showing the people of Afghanistan the benefits of freedom would be condemning them to endless conflicts between the various tribes, waiting for the next batch of tyrants to step in and take over. Is that what we want? To have to repeat this whole matter five or ten years down the road?

We have at this moment a golden opportunity to help provide the Middle East with an alternative to the struggles they have endured. For countless centuries, these countries have known only two things: theocracy and monarchy. If a king isn’t running them, then some religious leader who claims to have a direct line to God is running them. Neither are healthy options. Both lead to the same end… an elite group with power, and the rest of the huddled masses just trying to get on with their lives without getting killed, and everyone else thoroughly pissed off. And that is the lesson that is taught in such countries to the great unwashed masses… a lesson of envy and hatred for those civilized nations. We have a chance to show these countries that the prosperity we enjoy is not just because of circumstance or providence, but also because of the individual freedom that we enjoy.

We have that chance to be the teachers of freedom, but that time is not infinite. The longer we wait, the greater the chance that the Afghan people will choose to go back to the same chaos that gave rise to the Taliban. And if that is the case, then everything we have done, and everything we have sacrificed for, will be for nothing.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Week of 11/12/2001

Whose Net Is It Anyway?
- by David Matthews 2

"Make men wise, and by that very operation you make them free. Civil liberty follows as a consequence of this; no usurped power can stand against the artillery of opinion." - William Godwin

For most people, the Internet is a relatively recent thing. Electronic interconnections that are less than a decade old, measured in life spans more designed for household pets than for humans. To say, for instance, that a website has been online and running for five years is an achievement equal to a store being in business for twenty years.

But the Internet itself is far from young. In fact, it has been around in one form or another for over thirty years. That’s actual years, not net-years.

For the first few decades, it was a way for the armed forces to communicate in the event of a nuclear war. It allowed the exchange of vital information to continue even if vital lines of communication were cut. Eventually, this access was extended to certain colleges and universities, and of course to the various companies developing projects for the Defense Department.

But then in 1988, the government got out of the Internet business. The Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union was self-destructing, and the fear of wide-spread nuclear war subsided, so there really wasn’t a need for the Internet as it existed then.

So the US Government gave up control of the Internet. A group of computer programmers called the World Wide Web Consortium got together and hammered out a common language and a protocol for this network. They developed File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and the Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), as well as the domain names that would be commonly used in place of the long string of numbers that identify various servers. They created the Internet that we know today.

But the problem was that even though the US Government got OUT of the Internet business, they didn’t want to STAY out. They kept on wanting to butt right back in, wanting to dictate how the Internet SHOULD be run.

First came the Communications Decency Act, government’s bullheaded modern-day version of the Alien and Sedition Act. Spearheaded by senile geriatrics and lobbied for by self-righteous anti-American organizations who claimed they were doing it for the sake of "the family", this law was not only in direct violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but also contrary to the very nature of the Internet itself.

Fortunately, some sane-minded judges (or at least sane for the moment), realized what was going on and they shot down the US Government’s attempt at seizing control of the Internet for the anti-American "pro-family" groups.

But the US Government wouldn’t stop there. They kept on writing more and more laws trying to once again take control over the Internet. The bastard son of the CDA, miss-titled the "Child Online Protection Act", otherwise known as COPA or CDA 2.0, was written and signed into law just months after the US Supreme Court granted the Internet full First Amendment protections. That law is expected to be reviewed by the Supreme Court this month, and hopefully the justices will be of sound mind to once again squash this law like its anti-American predecessor.

But the anti-American, anti-freedom groups didn’t stop at the federal level. Many states soon began passing their own laws trying to regulate the Internet, often at the insistence of these groups. Fortunately, though, the courts seemed to be more aware of the issues than the dumb-ass legislators who kept on listening to the anti-freedom crowd, and they ruled that states couldn’t control Internet content either.

But others soon began to get involved, taking their lead from the US Government. The French government felt they had a right to impose their laws on Internet providers around the world. A judge there ordered the Internet portal Yahoo to block all access of Nazi memorabilia listed in their auction site, in compliance to French laws prohibiting the sale of such items. Yahoo is an American company, whose servers are located in the United States, and yet a foreign government was ordering them around. Fortunately, once again, a federal judge (in America, mind you) ruled that an American company with no physical presence in a foreign nation cannot be held by their laws.

Of course, socialist France doesn’t like that ruling. Their anti-freedom crusaders are bitching and crying that such a decision would create a "safe haven for extremists and radicals." Apparently socialist France is so wrapped up in their socialism that they don’t realize that they’ve become no different in the collectivist mentality than the Nazis themselves.

Then there are other special interest groups who have decided that they should control what goes on the net and what doesn’t. The multi-label recording industry, for instance, has already managed to shut down one file-sharing company, and are rabidly trying to shut off any other peer-to-peer services. Their rationality is as old as the Betamax video recorders they used to rally against: that any recording device will only be used for evil purposes, and therefore must be banned. It is a rationality that has been successfully challenged in court numerous times.

So the question is whose Internet is it really?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… this is OUR Internet. Not just the United States, not just France, not just the recording industry, not just Yahoo, and certainly not just the anti-freedom special interest groups who buy and sell politicians like they were baseball cards. It is OUR Internet as well. We all have a stake in it. You, me, the neighbor down the street, the elderly couple in the retirement home in Illinois, the modern-day hippies living in Berkley, the preacher living in Key West. We all have a stake in the free exchange of information that the Internet provides.

And it’s not that these anti-freedom groups don’t understand the nature of the Internet. Quite often, they do. After eight years of being in the public eye, it’s hard NOT to know the nature of the Internet. These groups are not techno-phobic. They are freedom-phobic. They’re afraid of freedom.

These groups love the idea of one unifying medium of communication. They just want to be the ones to CONTROL that medium. They are afraid, petrified even, of the idea that the average citizen can access things that are outside of their control.

It’s sort of ironic that the Recording Industry went after Sony’s Betamax, when the company turned around and tried to dictate what kind of movies would be released in the Betamax standard. Although they had a much better quality, the Betamax standard for videotapes would eventually die from obscurity when compared to the greater latitude of films produced in VHS format. A very important lesson to be learned in that regard.

One of the reasons WHY the Internet has been so successful in a relatively short span of time has been because of the vast collection of ideas that are out there. That’s something that disappears once you have groups who take it upon themselves to determine what should and should not be online. You don’t counter unfavorable speech by censoring that speech. You counter it with even MORE speech.

The Internet is, by far, the best advertisement for what freedom really is all about. Real freedom is a collective idea, but far from a collectivist one. It is about the ability of individuals to make their own decisions, not of groups dictating what those decisions will be. It is a bitter pill for these groups to swallow, but one they have better get used to, or else they will go the way of the Betamax.

Monday, November 5, 2001

Week of 11/05/2001

The Real Enemy
- by David Matthews 2

"From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step." - F.A. Hayek

Ever since George Bush’s War on Terrorism started with air assault on Afghanistan, the two statements that have been constantly chanted has been that our response to the 9-11 attacks would be neither a war on the Islamic religion, nor would it be a war on Afghanistan.

And from a strictly US and UK perspective, it has not been a war with Afghan people nor with Islam. In fact, we’ve been bending over backwards to help out the Afghan people in terms of supplying aid to them. After all, the bad guys this time around are really invaders from Pakistan and a spoiled rich pig bastard from Saudi Arabia. This is something we’ve never done with any other war effort. We usually give aid AFTER the war. Here we’re giving aid before AND during the war.

As for the claim that our aggression is really a war against Islam, if that is the case, then why would the US bend over backward to get the support of Islamic states like Pakistan and Turkey? If we really were the bad guys, we wouldn’t be asking permission to play through, would we? No, we wouldn’t. We’d just storm in and tell them to deal with it.

Nor would we start out with conventional weapons if we were truly wanting to destroy Islam. Do you really think that an aggressive war-like nation with a history of using nuclear weapons against their enemies would simply sit back and allow some pissant group like the Taliban to taunt them? Just ask the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki if you have any doubts about our willingness to nuke whole cities if need be.

But then again, I have to remind myself that this is the perspective of the good guys. The ones who have been wronged by a bunch of pig bastards who hide behind women and children and are not above killing anyone who disagrees with them. From their perspective, OF COURSE it is a war on both Afghanistan and Islam. After all, the Taliban run Afghanistan, don’t they? Well, most of it anyway. And we want them out of power. And since they are also supposedly all theology students, they believe that they not only support Islam, but also arrogantly presume to BE Islam.

So from their arrogant self-righteous perspective, of course it is a war against Afghanistan and against Islam. That’s the message they are able to get their great-unwashed masses to chant whenever they see a member of our alphabet soup media.

And that is what makes this war so different than previous ones. Even if… or when… we kill Osama bin Laden and every member of the Taliban and restore Afghanistan to some semblance of order, our war against terrorism would still be far from over. There would still be scores of others around the world who would turn bin Laden and his wacky band of un-merry men into martyrs and excuses to cause even more trouble. And we would be obligated to fight them as well.

But the real difference between this war and the previous ones is that the real enemy is NOT just Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qua’ada terrorist network, or the Taliban. They are just one part of the problem, one face of the enemy.

Let’s get brutally honest here… our real enemy in this war is not politics nor a person, but an ideal, a belief. In this case, it is religious fundamentalism. The bastardization of a belief into a cult-like following where absolute compliance is the rule.

In his article to the New York Times, famed author Salman Rushdie points out how the Islamic religion itself has been taken over by fundamentalists who then use their religion as an excuse to persecute others who disagree with them. If there is anyone who would know about that, it would be the man who still has a death warrant against him by the Shiite clerics in Iran simply for writing a book they did not like.

Indeed, long before Osama bin Laden even thought nasty thoughts about the United States, the face of the enemy were the Shiite Muslims who were taking Americans and Europeans hostage all around the world. They were the ones calling for jihad against the civilized world. And they were more than just one person, or one country. It was, instead, a sect of people operating with theocratic beliefs that were bastardized by absolutes.

Unfortunately, Islam is not alone in this theological abuse. In the nearly two thousand years of its existence, Christianity has certainly had its share of fundamentalism. How can we forget the reign of terror caused by Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition? The zero-sum fundamentalist mentality he and his cronies exhibited was not just limited to Spain. Indeed, that mentality was pretty much standard for Europe during the whole Dark Ages. Self-righteous theocrats used the cross as not just their shield, but also as their sword, to smite those whom they felt did not live up to their beliefs. They turned Christianity from a religion based on love and forgiveness into one of fear, terror, and self-righteous tyranny. As Will Durant put it: "Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter, fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ."

And sadly that mentality is still here today, and not just in the Middle East. There are quite a few religious leaders today who would beat their chests and say "Well, I would NEVER advocate the kind of carnage caused by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban." But then in the same breath they would talk about how they believe America is a Christian nation, and how everything would be better in the world if school kids would simply pray to their prayers and government was run in accordance to their beliefs.

Whether or not they accept it, the fact of the matter is that these self-righteous fundamentalist crusaders of modern-day Christianity are as much a part of the problem as the self-righteous fundamentalist crusaders of Islam. Their mentalities are the same. They strongly believe that their religious beliefs are so absolute and without question that they demand everything in the world conform to their beliefs.

Granted, our Christian versions of the Taliban do not talk about bombs and explosions and deaths, but that’s only because they have their own preferred weapon – government. They know that as long as they have the support of people who make and enforce the law, they do not have to take action themselves. They can have others take action on their behalf. And because we are talking about government, there is absolutely zero risk for anyone involved, even if the laws they lobby for and pass and enforce are wrong. It is a win-win situation for them, and they exploit it at every opportunity.

Imagine, then, what would happen if these fundamentalist groups in America were deprived of that power called government. What would happen if they did not have even the "unofficial" support of the legislators, the judges, the education system, or of law enforcement? What if they were to be considered by our society to be truly no different than any other group of people? To be given no more preferential treatment in government than… say… the publisher of Playboy Magazine? Would their political impotence force them to moderate their fundamentalist views? Or would their zealousness compel them to take to those drastic actions that they currently condemn?

It would be scary for us to find out, wouldn’t it? And yet, if we really do support freedom for everyone and not just the dominant groups, we would have to put that zealousness to the test.

Unfortunately, the signs are already there that zealousness would prevail over civility. Look at how one anti-abortion terrorist group in Virginia allegedly used the Anthrax scare to terrify 200 women’s clinics with fake Anthrax letters. When the anti-abortion groups fail to get government to do their bidding, some decide to use terrorist tactics.

Part of the problem with fundamentalism is that their more moderate peers are reluctant to keep these groups in check. You can see that today with the reluctant positions of the Arab nations in their condemnation of the 9-11 attacks. Oh yes, they condemn the action, but they won’t condemn Al Qua’ada or bin Laden, or of the Taliban in helping facilitate them. Yes, they’ll say, these groups are pig bastards… but they’re OUR pig bastards!

History has shown time and time again that civility and zealotry are not compatible with each other. Zealotry and religious fundamentalism are both the real enemies of any civilized world. Their rigid adherence to the status quo… or even for the status quo of the past… is contrary to direction of civilization. All you have to do is see the kind of abject poverty that exists in countries run by fundamentalists of any religion to know that it is not good.

Monday, October 29, 2001

Week of 10/29/2001

Halloween’s Deadly Tricks
- by David Matthews 2

"We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them." - Livy

They came pouring out of homes and parties. They clogged streets trying desperately to escape the horror. Some tried to load their cars up with as many personal belongings as they could. Others simply fled into the streets, covering their mouths with wet rags to avoid breathing any of the poisonous gas. Police stations were besieged with panicked citizens. Telephone switchboards were jammed with frantic callers trying to get information, as well as doctors and nurses calling hospitals to volunteer their services to areas affected by the attack.

Is this a hypothetical response to some new act of terrorism?

No, the response to this attack was very real.

The attack, however, was not.

Nor was the attack either "new" or the work of terrorists. These were actual accounts of people responding to the 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ story "The War Of The Worlds", where New York and New Jersey were "destroyed" by alien invaders. But even thought it was a wonderful piece of radio theatrics… and a cheesy one even by their standards… its effect on the masses surprised everyone.

Halloween has always been seen as sort of the release valve for our fears, where we emerge ourselves in horror movies and ghost stories and haunted houses. And by viewing or hearing or reading about that which scares the crap out of us, we quite often feel a little bit better.

But this time of the year has also been full of haunting stories of a different kind. Stories of terror from the media, or from our politicians, or from special interest groups. People who don’t really want us to feel better… in fact, they quite often want us to feel so scared of our own shadows that we’ll be begging for their help.

Of course, it helps that election season is just a week or so away from Halloween that these spinmeisters can create all of these "tricks" tailor-made for government "treats." It’s a case of simple cause-and-effect for these folks. They create the need, then offer us the solution… and quite often only one solution… for us to take.

Our current Anthrax scare is no different in approach. Deadly? Oh yes it is. Even more wider-spread that once believed? No doubt.

But let’s get brutally honest here and start to put things in a little more realistic perspective. Unless you happen to work in the mail facilities that handle mail going to the major networks or to Washington DC, or if you happen to be working for either the major news services or the federal government, you’re probably NOT going to get Anthrax. The pig bastards responsible for this form of bio-terrorism just do not have the means to spread Anthrax to every citizen in America.

Nor to they have to, as has been evident in the hysteria surrounding this scare. These pig bastards really put some thought into where to send their poison to generate the maximum amount of terror. After all, what better way to generate mass hysteria than to hit members of the mass media?

And as much as we would not want to give these pig bastards the satisfaction, unfortunately, their efforts have succeeded. The minute the Postmaster General put his tail between his legs and publicly said that no piece mail is secure, and that the general public should take measures to protect themselves from Anthrax infestation, the terrorists won.

Adding to this hysteria are all of the numerous counts of fake Anthrax threats. Anti-abortion terrorists have taken it upon themselves to send threatening letters to hundreds of women’s clinics all over America with suspicious white powder in them. A mail facility intercepted a letter addressed to radio talk show host Neal Boortz with a suspicious white powder in them. No doubt from one of his not-so-cheerful "admirers".

And it has spread to the most absurd cases of outright hysteria. See some white powder on the table? Call the Center for Disease Control, get that table salt or coffee creamer tested! One boy in Cobb County, Georgia was arrested for simply putting foot powder in his shoes. Even though it was witnessed by other students, the hysteria was more than enough for the government to charge that boy with trying to commit an act of terrorism!

Look, folks, there is a difference between being vigilant and being paranoid. A person who is aware of what is going on and thinks things through is vigilant. A person who simply and mindlessly gives in to their fears is paranoid.

It is very easy to surrender to the hysteria generated by members of the media and our government. They are all power-mongers who don’t like being threatened by anything, much less a bunch of pig bastard terrorists. But that doesn’t mean that WE should give into their hysteria and further aid those pig bastard terrorists.

So the Postmaster General says that the mail isn’t safe. Hey, the mail has NEVER been safe! Our mail system has always been vulnerable to thieves looking to steal Social Security checks or credit cards. I’m more afraid of getting a paper-cut from opening junk mail than from getting anything even remotely resembling Anthrax.

Wash my hands after opening mail? Why not just jump into the shower? Emerge myself in antibacterial soap, scrub every pore of my body with steel wool, shave off all of my body hair, and seal myself into a plastic bubble? Guaranteed that will save me from any kind of biological threat, including contact with the biggest biological threat of them all – other human beings.

Look, the big thing about terrorism that people tend to forget is that it is mostly a psychological game. They don’t have to do anything to you in order for them to get to you. It is no different than the mind games carried out by members of the media and our politicians around this time of the year. The only difference is that terrorists don’t offer a ready-made government solution at the end of their threats.

Halloween has long been considered a time of celebration. It is a chance not only to remember the dead but to also celebrate the living. What a pity it is to know that our seasonal fascination with lost souls can be used against us not only for the sake of generating more need of government, but also simply for the sake of generating fear.

Monday, October 22, 2001

Week of 10/22/2001

American Patriotism – Real and Faux
- by David Matthews 2

"Group extremely important as an element giving satisfaction to the members of the group and particularly to those who have few other reasons to feel proud and worthwhile." - Erich Fromm

I know this is going to come as a shock to some people, but there are quite a few Americans who are not as patriotic as they think they are.

No, I’m not talking about the members of the US House who scurried away like scared little mice while members of the Senate stuck through an Anthrax sweep. That kind of overriding self-preservation has a long history. Even Thomas Jefferson – the third President of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence – didn’t stick around to defend his own home in the face of the advancing British troops. What members of the House did may not be acceptable, but it was understandable.

And no, I’m not talking about all of those peaceful protesters out there who think somehow that we should do nothing while terrorist groups continue to prey on Americans and cause chaos at every turn. You know which ones I’m talking about… the ones who think that pig bastards like Osama bin Laden should be sued, not shot. The ones who sit in academia pontificating with leaps of rational faith that would make even Robert Ripley choke about how WE are responsible for the deaths of 6000 innocent Americans and the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. The ones who, for perhaps personal or religious beliefs, are opposed to any sort of violence, even in response to violence inflicted upon us. Though we may strongly object to such views, they are no more a threat to American patriotism than they are a nuisance.

No, my friends, the biggest threat to American patriotism comes not from those who would rather flee than fight, nor those who would protest the people who would stand and fight. Rather, from those who would consider themselves to be patriots and yet not know what they are patriotic about.

You can’t really call these people "false" or "fake" patriots, because what they feel is as genuine as anyone else is. They are passionate about what they feel… but it isn’t for the same vision of America some of us would hold.

I would call it "faux" patriotism. It looks genuine, just like imitation crabmeat looks like the real thing; or just like Astroturf looks like real grass. But under close inspection, you know these things just are not the same as the real deal. So is the same with faux patriotism.

Oh, it looks the same. They’ll wave the same flags, sing the same patriotic songs, and pledge the same unending, unyielding, undying support for America. But underneath all of that pomp and flag-waving lay a stark contradiction to everything America stands for.

For instance, not too long ago, there was a push by many of these so-called "patriots" to force students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Not encourage, not teach, but force, whether or not that student has objections, or if that student’s religious beliefs prohibit taking such oaths or pledges. Ironically, it is a Pledge that was written by a self-professed Christian socialist… a political ideology that many of these so-called "patriots" would proclaim to hate.

Strange - don’t you think - that a country based on principles of freedom would force people to recite a pledge even if their religion opposed it? But that is what faux patriots believe in.

How about a country that prides itself in the freedom of speech, and then goes to great lengths to curtail that speech? Remember all of those protesters and dissenters who object to striking out against terrorists and the countries that support them? Well there is many a faux patriot who would like to have those with dissenting opinions tried for treason. They wouldn’t mind resurrecting the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Act just to silence anyone that disagrees with our current course of action overseas.

I don’t even have to get into the issue of flag burning, because you know these faux patriots are quick to turn the American flag into a false idol. If the founding fathers hadn’t already designated a national animal, these faux patriots would have easily chosen a golden calf over a bald eagle.

Of course, these faux patriots are all for the freedom of religion… provided it is one of those religions that THEY approve of. Of course, these are the same patriots who would then demonstrate outside of Muslim mosques, and proclaim that this ongoing War on Terrorism is really some resurrected combination of the Crusades of the Dark Ages and the Spanish Inquisition.

And woe be the person who objects to them putting the government’s "unofficial" seal of approval on their religious beliefs! After all, wasn’t America "founded" on religious crusaders who were pissed off because THEY weren’t allowed to expunge other religious believers? That is, after all, why the Puritans made their way to Plymouth Rock, right?

And then there is the "need to know" crusade to make sure the government finds out everything going on with "We the People". After all, they would argue, didn’t we get INTO this mess because we didn’t know what the bad guys were doing? If we knew what they were doing, then we would’ve stopped them from carrying out their plans. Privacy, they would argue, is for people who have something to hide.

These are trying times, these faux patriots would say, and if you aren’t with us – unequivocally, unconditionally, and unquestionably – then you’re with THEM!

To be fair to these people, faux patriots really do believe in a vision of America. It’s a crystal-clear vision of the way things used to be. The way things were once upon a dream. The way things they think OUGHT to be. And if it takes an act of international tragedy, an act of aggression that any rational human being would consider to be an act of pure evil, to change the course of a great country like America into their image… well then these faux patriots would say "so be it." They may never ever consider themselves the instigators of such evil, but they have no qualms capitalizing on it.

But let’s get brutally honest here… their vision of America is that of the 1950’s. A society made paranoid by fears of a nuclear holocaust and wild rumors of communist spies in every neighborhood. Comparisons refreshed by today’s fears of terrorism both conventional (if such a term can ever apply) and biological, and wild rumors of possible nuclear terrorism. A paranoid America that gave rise to publicity whores like Joe McCarthy, and allowed bible-thumpers to further instill their religion into government to supposedly "counter" the god-less Soviets.

Is that the kind of America you want to give to your kids? Is that the legacy our generations wish to leave the next? A society that fails to learn the lessons of the past, and is thus condemned to repeat them? Do we really want to turn America into a nation whose only freedom that is truly defended is the right to be a Lemming?

If we truly care about freedom, we have to make sure that those who would take that freedom away don’t do so under the guise of patriotism. It’s easy to march down the path towards tyranny when that path is paved with pomp and flags and banners and colorful slogans. That’s how all tyrants get to power in the first place, not by coercion, but rather by appealing to one’s sense of patriotism, and then twisting that path to their liking.

So let’s see what real Americans patriots do that make them differ from the faux patriots.

Real American patriotism is based on freedom. There is no room in freedom for tyranny, coercion, or fear.

Real American patriots TEACH freedom in schools. They don’t try to force it, because they know you cannot force others to be free. Freedom comes from a free mind.

Real American patriots don’t try to make idols out of patriotic symbols. They appreciate the real value of symbols and don’t try to place them above what they represent.

Finally, perhaps it is best if we remind ourselves of the words of Mark Twain as he talked about patriotism:

"Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let man label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of."