Monday, June 25, 2001

Week of 06/25/2001

Censorship IS Personal
- by David Matthews 2

"None can love freedom but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license, which never hath more scope than under tyrants." - John Milton

There are several cult-like mantras that are uttered by our anti-American moralists. The first, obviously, is that they do what they do in the name of "the children" or of "decency" or of "family values". They never want to admit that they are doing what they do for themselves. It’s always for some obscure, vague, entity that they feel needs protection above everything else in the cosmos.

The other mantra they love to utter is that what they are doing is "not personal."

For instance, when police in Monclair, New Jersey, arrested award-winning photographer Marian Rubin and charged her with child endangerment for taking pictures of her two grandchildren in the nude, it supposedly was "not personal." (By the way, what parent or grandparent HASN’T taken pictures of their kids in the bathtub?) Even though she was arrested, had her photos seized, and her name plastered all over the news for suspected of making "kiddie porn," she wasn’t supposed to take it personally. By the way, those same photographs were deemed "not pornographic" by a judge and the charges were dismissed.

When the Federal Communications Commission slapped KKMG radio in Colorado Springs, Colorado with a $7000 fine for playing a "clean" version of Emenem’s song "The Real Slim Shady" it supposedly was "not personal." Even though the FCC supposedly spent seven years trying to write down what they deemed "indecent" broadcasting was so they can have the justification to censor it, and then ignored those "standards" so they could issue that fine. Not personal, huh?

Or how about the ranting of one Patrick Trueman, of the wrongly-named "American Family Association"? As their chief lobbyist and a former federal prosecutor, Trueman wants to see Yahoo executives thrown in prison for the content in the popular online portal’s discussion clubs and Geocities web servers. Trueman and his theocratic Gestapo ilk want their buddy, Attorney General John Ashcroft, to prosecute Yahoo’s new CEO Terry Semel and co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo on charges of supposedly violating federal obscenity laws.

Oh, and Trueman says it’s "not personal."

Neither is it supposedly "personal" that other anti-American groups like "Morality In Media" (hey, at least they’re honest about their name) want their buddy Ashcroft to prosecute cable and satellite providers for offering adult-oriented material at the request of their adult subscribers. They claim they want the federal government to simply "follow the law", even though the law they want enforced was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the 1980’s.

Not personal, huh?

Not personal my ass!

Let’s get brutally honest here, censorship IS very much personal!

Any time you censor a writer for what he or she has written, it is personal. That is their words, their dreams, their visions, their talent on display. Any time you censor an artist for what they paint or what they photograph, it is personal. Any time you censor a singer or an entertainer, it is personal.

What they say, what they see, what they express is an extension of themselves. How could one NOT take such an assault on their expression personal? Especially when the self-righteous get the government to storm in like the Gestapo and take everything that person has BY FORCE, and then imprisons that person. How could they NOT take that personally?

Prosecutors may not take such actions personally, but then again, they’re protected by this outdated notion of "sovereign immunity." Even if they are in the wrong, they cannot be touched. They cannot lose their homes, their jobs, their pensions, their possessions, or their family. They can afford to take things with an impersonal tone because they risk nothing.

Moralists can lie to themselves and claim that what they do is not personal either, but it is very much personal to them, because they act to impose THEIR standards on the rest of the world. Every time they sit in judgement of entertainers like Emenem; when they sit in judgement of photographers like Marian Rubin; and when they sit in judgement of content providers like Yahoo, they are judging these groups by THEIR standards, and by laws that THEY and their predecessors have not only lobbied for, but in many cases have personally written and the government has simply rubber-stamped into effect.

Even if moralists don’t take what they do personal, they can also afford to do so, because like the prosecutors, they risk absolutely nothing in the exchange. They don’t go to jail if they’re found to be in the wrong. They don’t risk losing their homes, their belongings, their families, or their income if they are wrong. That’s why they’re unrepentant and defiant to the very end, because it cannot affect them personally. All they really lose is some court case. Big flipping deal.

That’s the real reason why we have things like the First Amendment. It was designed to protect the individual from the wrath of fanatical persecutors and overzealous prosecutors. The only problem being those protections are only as good as those who are charged with enforcing those protections. Should the judiciary fail to do their part, or should the prosecutors fail to heed to the decisions of the judiciary, there is nothing in the world short of violence that will protect the individual from the wrath of the persecutors.

What is missing in this equation is a form of real justice, a way to truly corral the actions of the government, and keep the rabid persecutors from taking charge. Would police officers be willing to violate a person’s civil rights if they knew that doing so would mean they would lose their jobs, their pensions, their possessions? Would a district attorney be willing to even listen to the rabid ranting of persecutors like Trueman if they knew that if they screwed up, THEY would be held personally responsible? Obviously, they wouldn’t.

Then again, if there really was some kind of real justice, such persecutors would be gathered up, stuffed on a very slow boat, and shipped to some country where their kind of repression would be appreciated. Countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and China come quickly to mind. There, they can learn what is like to have their kind of justice enforced by people who have been doing it much longer than they have. Heck, they might even enjoy it there. I’m sure many of us freedom-loving Americans would love having them shipped there.

But, hey, don’t take it personal.

Monday, June 18, 2001

Week of 06/18/2001

Virus Alerts and the Dreaded "VH" Virus
- by David Matthews 2

"The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite." - Thomas Sowell

My friends, I have to warn you about this devastating virus that has infested millions of computer users all across the Internet.

This is a very insidious virus, which is spread by web browsers, newsgroups, and most notably by e-mail. It has been with us for several years, and no matter how advanced your virus-protection software is, it will not be stopped!

That’s right, folks. All of the software in the world just will not stop this virus! You can talk to the folks at McAfee and Norton and they will not only tell you that there is no software that can stop this virus, but they will sometimes be completely oblivious to its very existence!

I’m talking about the Dreaded "VH" Virus.

This virus operates under numerous names and under multiple headings. Users who have succumbed to this virus have had to spend countless hours of wasted time and productivity re-installing software and suffering from the unending embarrassment that is often the result.

Quite often, this virus is transmitted from your friends, family members, and even remote acquaintances. Once infested with this virus, it is then transmitted to that user’s friends, family members, work associates, and even remote acquaintances.

And here’s the kicker: unlike any other virus, the Dreaded VH Virus infests the USER, not the computer. Once infested, they automatically pass on the virus to others, consciously, almost on reflex. Quite often they say that they are spreading this virus to others for purely benevolent reasons. They’ll even sometimes say that they’re only doing a public service.

What is this Dreaded "VH" Virus? Well, it’s called "Virus Hysteria."

Let’s get brutally honest here… we netizens have become so attached to these little techo-devices of silicon, plastic, and wires that we have become hypersensitive to anything that even remotely threatens it. Like a hypochondriac, we feel compelled to check our systems, and even the merest hint of a suspected program will compel us to delete that program, even if that program is vital to our computer use.

Here’s a good example: On June 2nd, Ray Owens, the creator of a daily joke site, decided to send out his own little "Virus Alert" to his modest mailing list of 340,000 people. He warned about this dangerous virus called "AOL.EXE" that is on millions of computers, and that if users delete this virus, 30 megabytes of their hard drive will be restored, their "IQ" will be increased, and they will learn how to spell and to use proper grammar.

Many people realized that this was a joke and they had a good laugh at it. Others, though, were infested by the Dreaded "VH" Virus, and began to spread this so-called "alert" to their friends and acquaintances. Some even began to delete AOL.EXE from their systems, not realizing that they were deleting the main program for America Online. Imagine the AOL users who tried to go online once they deleted their online service!

Now intelligence does play a roll in the spreading of the Dreaded "VH" Virus. As much as I would like to believe that we netizens are all very smart and knowledgeable about the machines we are using, experience tells me that there are some real cyber-idiots out there who don’t know the difference between a hard drive and a hard lemonade.

Before some of you get all huffy and start cranking out some hate e-mail, ask yourself if you would really take a "virus alert" seriously from a website called JOKEADAY.COM? Some people obviously did, because the webmaster was deluged with hate mail from users who didn’t even try to connect the dots. This hysteria was so wide-spread that it was talked about on news websites around the world.

Indeed, as it is getting easier for more people to get computers and to go online, there really has not been too much of an incentive for people to know how to use these wonderful devices. Operating systems from Apple and Microsoft have been constantly designed to be more and more "user friendly", which quite often translates into being more and more "idiot friendly".

Once upon a time a computer user would be embarrassed to admit they were "technically-challenged". Now it has become a presumption, especially those who use one of the online service providers like AOL, MSN, or Prodigy. Why bother trying to figure out how to set up a newsgroup, or configure your e-mail system, when your OSP can do all that for you?

Of course, some really mischievous people try to play off that gullibility of those technically-challenged users. Why else would script-kiddies be even moderately successful passing off their very real viruses and Trojan horse programs disguised as phony pictures of Anna Kornakova or Jennifer Lopez in the nude?

For those of you who haven’t fallen victim to this lame bait-and-switch game, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? There are NO nude pictures of Jennifer Lopez or Anna Kornakova! There are also NO nude pictures of Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, or Christina Agulera. If there were, they’d be in the newsgroups faster than the press release from the wire services! You certainly wouldn’t be first hearing about it in an e-mail from your boss on the company’s network, nor from your 89-year old Aunt Louise. So it’s a pretty safe bet that those kinds of letters are fakes, and should be promptly deleted.

As much as I’d love to say that the cyber-idiots get what they deserve when they start succumbing to phony virus alerts and opening up viruses under the pretense of seeing some pop culture diva in the buff, quite often these kinds of people are also the first ones to start bitching and moaning to the politicians for some kind of remedy. Hey, here’s a little news flash for those techno "Rain Men" out there: you’ll be lucky if your elected officials know as much about computers as you do! Talk about your blind leading the blind!

And let’s think about that for a minute… what good would the GOVERNMENT do in this case with the so-called "AOL.EXE" virus? They would tell you what I’d tell you.. hey, it came from a stupid JOKE SITE! Pour yourself a cup of coffee and wake the hell up!

Look, it’s one thing to be prepared for viruses, and it’s great to see so many netizens make the effort to keep their software up to date. However, it is very easy to succumb to the paranoia and hysteria if you don’t use the one processor that is already hard-wired into your head, namely your brain. Rather than start forwarding so-called "virus alerts" like some techo-lemming, start wondering if these alerts are for real. Anti-virus websites will no doubt have plenty of information about each new legitimate virus out there. And if that doesn’t work, there are websites dedicated to virus hoaxes as well.

Virus hoaxes and viruses operate largely on the gullibility of some users. Be aware of the viruses, certainly, but also be wary of the alerts.

Monday, June 11, 2001

Week of 06/11/2001

Target: The ACLU and the NRA
- by David Matthews 2

"The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." - Dr. Martin Luther King

When it comes to protecting and defending our civil rights, you can’t find two groups any more active, vocal, or influential than the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association. Both groups are very fervent in their defense of their respective favorite constitutional amendments. The NRA concerns itself with the right to bear arms, while the ACLU concerns itself with the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights.

NRA members are very defiant in their stance concerning gun control. They announce to the whole world that the only way government will take their guns away is if they pry them from their cold dead hands! Now that’s a graphic picture! Of course, its a bonus when they can get NRA president Charlton Heston to make the pronouncement with his booming "Moses" voice.

The ACLU, on the other hand, attack like mosquitoes on anything they consider to be a threat to civil liberties. They don’t make booming pronouncements. They don’t leave graphic images of defiance in their wake. They don’t even protest. They just file lawsuits. That’s all they do. If they can’t work with the various government entities, they sue those entities.

Both groups are governed by their extreme defense of their respective rights. The NRA feels that you should have the right to own, sell, collect, possess, and properly use a vast arsenal of weapons, and to defend your property with an M-60 machine gun if you so incline. The ACLU would be willing to support any individual or organization from government repression, even admitted pedophiles.

And yet, even though both sides are strong advocates of liberty, both sides are often on opposite ends of each other.

ACLU members are governed by the more liberal factions of society, and are often advocating gun control. They believe so strongly in a peaceful society that they cannot even remotely support people defending themselves when threatened. Of all of the rights in the Constitution, they feel the Second Amendment has simply outlived its usefulness.

Meanwhile, the NRA is governed mostly by conservatives, and while they have a downright religious devotion to the Second Amendment, they’re not too happy about the other nine parts of the Bill of Rights. They don’t believe in the Separation of Church and State because they feel it takes GOD out of society. They really have no qualms about taking land by eminent domain, as long as it’s not THEIR land being taken. They feel that only guilty people exercise their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and guilty people also have no right to complain that their punishment is "cruel and unusual." They’re all for a right to a speedy jury trial as long as that jury says "GUILTY" the minute court is in session.

NRA members don’t mind the Fourth Amendment being voided, simply because it’s being done in the name of the War on Drugs and the War on Crime, and those two things use the word WAR in them, and WAR means using guns and all, and they really, REALLY love that!

And let’s not forget the First Amendment, shall we? Free speech? Well, they don’t care about that, because it lets protesters burn the American Flag, which they proclaim to be just one step "Under GOD". The right to assemble? Well, so long as it involves an NRA meeting, or a church gathering. Anything else is fair game. And speaking of religious fervor, let’s not forget the Freedom of Religion, which they support so long as the religion in question is THEIRS.

Two groups governed by extremely polar ends of society, often on each other’s back so closely they’re almost going to need a condom and some lubricant.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… I happen think these two powerful, extreme polar groups really should be working together, not against each other!

Both groups currently believe that some of the rights spelled out in the US Constitution are to be supported to their extreme ends. The NRA feels the right to bear arms should be absolute, and the ACLU feels the same way about most of the other rights. They also feel that the rights they do not respectively support HAVE limitations.

What they fail to understand, however, is that those arguments inevitably cancel each other out.

The NRA, for instance, feels their Second Amendment right is unyielding. It "shall not be infringed" - as it is written. Yet the First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law", and NRA members seemingly have no qualms about watching Congress make laws that infringe on THAT Amendment, do they? Sure, Congress can make laws that censor speech and turn America into a neo-Nazi theocracy as long as it worships THEIR God. Just don’t touch the guns.

The ACLU feels that the Second Amendment is outdated, just like the Third Amendment, which prohibits the government from forcing you to house soldiers. But if the Second Amendment can have an expiration date, what is to stop the government from imposing an expiration date on any other right? The federal government, for instance, can claim that in this day and age of the "War on Drugs", the Fourth Amendment has outlived its usefulness.

And here’s a nightmare scenario for my fellow civil libertarians: what would happen if a faction of the government decides to simply ignore the judiciary? A law is declared unconstitutional, and the government says "screw you, and screw the courts, we’re still going to enforce it". What are you going to do then? Send more lawyers? Get in front of the cameras and whine about it? What are you going to do when the government refuses to respect that "civilized" society?

Perhaps the best way the ACLU and the NRA can start to work together is to stop this push by anti-freedom moralists to censor things deemed "harmful to minors." Once upon a time, the conservatives would not have even given a second thought about those things, because they believe that "harmful to minors" would only pertain to sex and explicit words. However, quite recently, violence has been added to the list of things considered "harmful to minors." And quite often, anything that even remotely resembles a gun has been censored in our government schools. Drawing a picture of a gun, or even pantomiming using a gun has had dire consequences by youngsters. Even a picture of a young boy at a firing range being supervised by a certified instructor has resulted in government persecution. Certainly the NRA would have a vested interest in making sure their freedom of speech would not be infringed in the name of "protecting children", right?

Then again, the NRA is starting to find out on their own about the value of free speech, thanks in part to the McCain-Feingold reform bill that would outlaw much of their lobbying efforts. Oh yeah, NOW they’re preaching the virtues of free speech when it’s THEIR speech that’s on the censored list!

Both the ACLU and the NRA fail to make an important connection concerning the interrelation of our constitutional rights. They fail to realize that each of those rights in those first ten constitutional amendments have equal worth, and each are needed to protect the others. The arguments they use to protect one of those rights can be used to protect ALL of those rights. And conversely, the arguments they use to limit any other right can also be used to limit THEIR rights as well.

No, it’s not easy to defend the rights of those people you would otherwise not give a care about. Do you really think that the ACLU want to defend the people who make their skin crawl? They’re about as comfortable doing that as the NRA is in defending the militia groups who think the UN black helicopters are just around the hill. But if they cannot make that libertarian leap, then the next right that will be on the government chopping block could very well be theirs.

Monday, June 4, 2001

Week of 06/04/2001

Our Love-Hate Relationship With Privacy
- by David Matthews 2

"I believe there is a limit beyond which free speech cannot go, but it's a limit that's very seldom mentioned. It's the point where free speech begins to collide with the right to privacy. I don't think there are any other conditions to free speech. I've got a right to say and believe anything I please, but I haven't got a right to press it on anybody else. .... Nobody's got a right to be a nuisance to his neighbors." - H.L. Mencken

"None of your business!"

Ah, the rallying cry for privacy!

We don’t like having people poke through our affairs… even if we don’t have any affairs for people to poke through.

Even the most exhibitionist of people have that one part of their lives that they keep to themselves. There are people who would parade about stark naked for the whole world to see, and yet they will be very quiet about what they do for the first few hours in the morning, or about that time they spend with their significant other. Ask them about that, and they’ll politely tell you that it is none of your business.

We all have those levels of comfort in our lives, that point that we’ll share with the world, and then we expect the world to just leave us alone.

Not everyone has the same level of comfort. Some of us, for instance, aren’t happy with having a webcam follow us through our meals, morning shower, and mid-morning constitutional. Some of us don’t want to have our video rentals and credit card purchases made public for any Tom, Dick, or Harry to dissect.

It’s not that we have anything to hide, but maybe we don’t want to have marketers call us at all points in the night to try to hustle us some useless insurance package. Maybe we don’t want to have our bible-thumping neighbors try to brow-beat us if they realized that we’ve signed up for the "Sexy Cheerleader Video of the Month Club". Perhaps our vegetarian-eating, anti-fur environmentalist neighbors would be infuriated to know that we eat red meat packaged in Styrofoam containers and have five fur coats in the closet.

It’s that little bit of privacy that helps keeps us civil. What our neighbors don’t know won’t come back to haunt us.

On the other hand, we can be incredibly voyeuristic. We’re curious to know everything we can about our neighbors, and the person down the street, and the people on the other side of the tracks, and what’s going on in the White House. MTV’s "Cribs" and "Video Diary", for instance, takes you into the personal lives of rap stars and other musicians. E! Television’s "Celebrity Homes" does the same thing for other celebrities. Both of them could give credit for Robin Leech and his "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" show, which showed the whole world just how well the good life is.

And that’s really the crux of this whole voyeurism thing, isn’t it? We want to know if other people are living life better than we are.

Ironic, isn’t it? We want to know everything we can about our neighbors, and yet we expect others to respect our own privacy.

And when it comes to voyeurs, there is nobody more inquisitive than those in the government. Our government wants to know EVERYTHING about us. They want to know how much money we make, how many jobs we have, what kinds of cars we have, what kind of house we live in, how much we spend on groceries, how much money are we saving for retirement, how far we drive to work every day, how many times we go to the bathroom. And if you think that the government is not interested in all of that, then you obviously were not one of the thousands of people who were shipped the LONG form of the 2000 Census.

Or how about those "Know Your Customer" banking regulations? Ever hear of those? Our government wanted explicit regulations in place that would require banks to create a database about all of your financial transactions. They wanted the banks to ask you as customers about where you got your money, and what you plan on using that money for. And our government wanted to have access to all of that information at ANY time, without a warrant or even notification.

There was quite a bit of outrage over those proposed regulations. After all, what business was it to have the government look into our financial transactions? We’re not criminals, so why should the government force the banks to treat us as criminals?

Well guess what? Not only were many of those regulations secretly put in place after all of the publicity died down, but now those same government regulators are trying to make this a GLOBAL activity... to be able to peek into any bank account around the world! They want to get rid of the confidentiality of long-established banking havens like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

You didn’t know about that, did you? Well, of course not! Because the government would tell you that it’s none of your business!

Besides, they say, they NEED to know these things so they can spot all of those criminals and miscreants who are out there in the world. After all, we know only bad people put their money in Swiss Bank Accounts, right? Well, bad RICH people anyways.

How about your online habits? Where do YOU go online?

Did you know, for instance, that certain websites have little text files called "cookies" that are put on your hard drive? These things are used by marketers to not only track how many times you’ve visited that site, but also which sites you came from, which sites you’re going to, what kind of computer you have, what kind of ISP you’re using, what kind of browser you’re using, right down to where you live!

You didn’t know that, did you? Well of course not! Because marketers would tell you that it’s none of your business! Just as they would say that it’s none of your business to know what they want to do with that information they collect on you!

And now there are those in our federal government who want to eliminate anonymous web surfing altogether! They feel that only bad people surf the net anonymously, and you have nothing to hide, right?

That was the rationality government officials around the world used when they forced a private anonymous service called "" to shut down their operations in the mid-1990’s. They believed that only terrorists, pedophiles, and drug traffickers used this service, so they forced the owner in Finland to either reveal all of the names of their for-free users or else shut down. He wisely chose to shut down.

Our ongoing battle with encryption is yet another example of Uncle Sam playing "Big Brother." When the creator of Pretty Good Privacy encryption wanted to get a patent for his work, the Department of Defense stopped it by classifying encryption in the same category as nuclear weapons! And when he simply released the program for free over the Internet, our government threatened to try and execute him for treason! Unconstitutional? You bet your ass it is!

Yet, this is the same federal government that outlawed the private sector from gathering online information from kids without their parent’s permission. The same federal government that still collects information about all of its online visitors, young or old, even when they are explicitly told by the President of the United States not to!

Hey, how about your cell phone? Did you know that a regulation by the Federal Communications Commission will force all cell phone makers to install global positioning devices in your cell phone so people can track you down to within 1000 feet of your location? You didn’t know about that, did you? Well of course not! The government would tell you that it is none of your business!

Let’s get brutally honest here… trusting the government with our privacy is like trusting a kleptomaniac with the family jewels. They’ll keep it safe, but only if THEY get to keep it.

If we want privacy, we have to not only insist upon it for ourselves, but for our neighbors as well. It is very easy for our government to give us the old line of "Oh, we’ll NEVER use it on YOU! We know you’re nice people! We only want to keep track of the BAD people!" The only problem is that when government makes such rules, there is no differentiating between "good" people and "bad" ones. To them, everyone is a "bad" person. Today it would be your next door neighbor.. and tomorrow, it would be you.

And don’t start in on this "Well, it helps law enforcement!" So would scrapping the US Constitution and turning America into a paramilitary police state, but you don’t hear too many people advocate that, do you?

There is a certain trade-off when it comes to public figures, no matter if you’re talking about a movie star, a sports figure, a centerfold model, or a politician. They choose to make a certain part of their lives public. That doesn’t mean that everyone else should be forced to have their lives made public too.

I realize that it is instinctive to be curious about the lives of others. When someone opens up a window shade, or a webcam, many of us are going to take a peek. However, there is a difference between someone leaving a shade open, and us forcing that shade to be open. Government certainly wants to force all of our window shades open, and keep them open… supposedly for our own good.

We need to tell them is what they often tell us… that it is none of their damn business!