Monday, July 30, 2001

Week of 07/30/2001

Adobe: Using A Government Sledgehammer
- by David Matthews 2

"The genuine creator creates something that has a life of its own, something that can exist and function without him. This is true not only of the writer, artist and scientist, but of creators in other fields... With the noncreative it is the other way around: in whatever they do, they arrange things so that they themselves become indispensable." - Eric Hoffer

When we were kids and we were caught doing something bad, we sometimes tried to lessen the punishment by saying "I didn’t mean to". We usually said it with tears running down our faces with that puppy-dog look as if everything could be cured by a hug and a bowl of soup.

No matter how heinous the act, we always try to lessen the impact by saying "I didn’t mean to". "I didn’t mean to cause harm." "I didn’t mean to cause damage." "I didn’t mean to create so much trouble." A teenager in Florida managed to worm his way out of a life sentence for killing his teacher in the hallway simply because "he didn’t mean" to kill the man. And nine times out of ten, the only "I didn’t mean to" we are really sincere about is "I didn’t mean to get caught."

That image certainly comes to mind concerning Adobe Systems and a certain programmer named Dmitry Sklyarov.

You see, not too long, long ago, in a corporate office not too far, far away, some corporate people from Adobe Systems discovered that there was this device called the Advanced eBook Processor that translated Adobe’s electronic book from the obscure eBook format to Adobe’s more successful Portable Document Format.

Nice little device with one little flaw… it wasn’t made by Adobe.

"Say it ain’t so!" exclaimed the people at Adobe. How could there be a device that allows users of Adobe’s eBook to translate the software into another Adobe format and NOT be invented by Adobe? The answer was pretty obvious: a software pirate must be behind this!

So the holy lawyers of Adobe were summoned to find this so-called "pirate" and stop this apparent sacrilege of Adobe software. The lawyers did a little digging and found out that the man who created this device was an Elcomsoft programmer named Dmitry Sklyarov. But there was this little problem: Dmitry is Russian. Adobe’s holy lawyers could not pummel Elcomsoft with the righteous array of civil lawsuits because the company was outside of the country.

Thus Adobe turned to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. They found out that Dmitry was scheduled to come to America to speak at Defcon-9, the annual hacker’s convention, on the security of electronic books. And so, on July 16th, FBI agents stormed over to Las Vegas, forgoing the complimentary slot tokens, and cashed in with the arrest of the Russian programmer for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

So Adobe is happy, the heretic programmer has been vanquished, the Feds have their man, and all is right with the world…

Or so they thought.

It turns out Dmitry’s arrest sparked a little outrage amongst programmers. Not only were they mad that one of their own was being arrested simply for being innovative, but they were mad at Adobe for turning to the FBI and having criminal charges filed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the premiere free-speech advocates on the Internet, immediately took up the cause as yet another instance of government out of control. They also urged the immediate world-wide condemnation of Adobe Systems for using the government to solve what many see as a civil matter, not a criminal one.

Following a protest outside of Adobe’s corporate headquarters in California – and a threatened boycott by the electronic community – the corporate execs seemed to have a change of heart. They had not only dropped their criminal complaint, but were also asking that all charges be dropped against Dmitry, saying they "didn’t mean" to have him arrested. Besides, they already have what they wanted… the program they deemed to be "criminal" was no longer being sold by Elcomsoft.

Well, you know what? I don’t buy Adobe’s sincerity in the least. "We didn’t mean to.." they said. What a Clinton-esque piece of trailer-park crap that is!

What the hell were the Adobe execs thinking, huh? Were they thinking that the FBI would simply "have a talk" with the programmer? Maybe slap him on the wrist and let him off with a warning? HELL NO! They were going to storm in like gangbusters and drag this father of two out in shackles right in front of the media, not just because it is their nature, but because they NEEDED to!

The FBI has really been kicked in the nuts of late. They had a Russian spy in their ranks for almost two decades. Their mismanagement of 4000 records could have very well cost them the execution – if not the conviction – of Tim McVeigh. It has already jeopardized the conviction of McVeigh’s associate, Terry Nichols. They have been accused of being either incompetent, malicious, and/or corrupt. And on top of it all, they just realized that hundreds of laptop computers and several firearms were missing from their inventories. Do you REALLY think that they would be lenient with a Russian nationalist accused of violating a federal law? I don’t think so! They needed a PR win, and Adobe gave them one.

Let’s get brutally honest here… government is FORCE! What is it that people do not understand about that fact? George Washington, our very first US President, knew that 200 years ago. "Government is not reason," he said, "it is force."

Government is the original ugly, bloated, 800-pound gorilla that breaks into your home, sits on your head, eats your food, craps on your bed, violates your spouse, and then tells you that you cannot do a thing about it and wonders why you’re so pissed off about it all. It is larger than Oprah, Microsoft, America Online, "Big Oil", the Teamsters Unions, HMO’s, and all of the Oliver Stone conspiracy movies combined.

Moralists, bible-thumpers, and other anti-freedom groups know that government is force. That’s why they’re so eager to exploit that force at every opportunity. If they tried themselves to force others to do their bidding, they’d get shot dead. Only the government can force you to do something against your will and truly get away with it.

And no doubt the folks at Adobe knew that as well, which is why they turned to the FBI in the first place.

In doing so, however, the corporate suits at Adobe stepped into a hornets nest of outrage amongst the very people they rely upon for their survival: programmers. And it highlights a very important battle between copyright law and fair use and free speech.

Although much of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was done under good intentions, it was – like many of Congress’ creations – NOT written with any understanding about the digital world.

For instance, under the DMCA, it is illegal to have the tools that allow someone to circumvent copyright or trademarked materials. How many of you have an HTML editing program like Front Page or Front Page Express? Guess what, you’re violating the DMCA! How about common photo-editing devices like PhotoShop? Yeah, you’re a criminal too! Have a CD-R or CD-RW drive? Yeah, under the DCMA, you too are a criminal. Oh, and you thought the law only pertained to some complex "black bag" code-breaking tools like you see in spy movies? Please! Many so-called "pirates" use the same devices that are standard in the computers you or I use.

I’m sure it would come as a surprise to many members of Congress that by simply having a Notepad program in their computers, they too are in violation of the very law they passed. Not that any of them would actually have the knowledge to know HOW to use those devices, mind you. It takes a Congressional inquiry (and a junket trip to Barbados) for some of those old farts to figure out where the on/off button is!

But then again, whether or not you have the knowledge is irrelevant to the DCMA. The fact that you HAVE these programs capable of circumventing copyright materials makes you an instant criminal. You too could, at any time, be arrested by the FBI should some corporation like Adobe file a complaint.

And here’s another little fact… under the DCMA, only the PROGRAMMERS are held accountable for copyright violations, not the companies they work for! The executives at Elcomsoft have not and will never be charged with violating the DCMA, even thought they were the ones that produced, marketed, and distributed the Advanced eBook Processor without first getting permission from Adobe Systems. They could have very easily prevented this whole mess by either getting permission from Adobe, or to sell the program itself to the company. After all, the program in question simply converted data from one Adobe format to another.

The problem is that the DCMA was written by lawyers, for the benefit of lawyers. It was lobbied for by corporate executives who believe that copyrights should be absolute and eternal, so OBVIOUSLY the law was written without any concept of fair use on the part of the customers.

Here’s the ironic part… much of the success of the electronic world has come from ways that are now illegal thanks to the DCMA. Researchers and programmers who were asked by corporations to troubleshoot their programs are being forced under the DCMA to never talk about their work, or share the faults with others so that other programmers wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Even reverse engineering, which allowed companies like Compaq, Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett Packard to create IBM-compatible computers and thus opened up the personal computer market, is now illegal under the DCMA.

And now Adobe has turned copyright protection from a civil matter to a criminal one. Attorney General John Ashcroft is using this incident as the catalyst to unveil his new "rapid response" team of tech agents to make sure more people share Dmitry’s fate.

Nice going, Adobe. You just used a sledgehammer instead of a flyswatter.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious needs for copyright protection. I know there are real software pirates out there who are making money off of the blood, sweat, tears, and talents of others. I’ve seen their work, and I know that they will continue to operate with impunity because the corporate attorneys would much rather go after more visible programmers like Dmitry.

Nobody ever said that going after software pirates is an easy task. It requires diligence and hard work. But trying to take short cuts like those spelled out in the DCMA only serve to stifle the very innovation and creativity that made the electronic world so successful.

The law itself has much potential, but it needs to be fine-tuned to allow creativity, innovation, and fair use. Without those things, the Internet, and the electronic world itself, is reduced to being nothing more than just another corporate tool.

Monday, July 23, 2001

Week of 07/23/2001

The Rage Against The Raves
- by David Matthews 2

"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature." – Tom Robbins

Bright lights, loud music, human bodies moving together to a pulsating beat that stirs the emotions and reminds people of what it is like to be young and full of life.

Boy, that sounds awfully lot like a commercial for booze. Either that or for a deodorant.

Actually, it best describes the party scene. It is the scene that we all wish we could enjoy. It is the scene that we see on MTV and in the movies.

But governments large and small are seeing a completely different scene. They’re seeing these celebrations of life as thinly veiled sales pitches for illegal drugs.

The focus of their target, however, is NOT at the established nightclubs, where drugs have traditionally been distributed, but rather that fringe party scene called the rave.

Raves are underground parties, often held in empty warehouses or anyplace that can be used to quickly set up music, lights, and host a collection of young people looking to have a good time. The music is often a collection of techno, rock, disco, and whatever other mixture the deejay can provide to keep the crowd upbeat and happy. Think of it as Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday all compressed into one small location.

It is here, the government says, that drugs and sex are traded freely.

Although they will not get into detail about the sex (after all, they don’t want people to be "obsessed" by it), so-called "drug experts" will go on and on about the drugs. They’ll talk about how drugs like ecstasy, LSD, and cocaine are passed out like breath mints. They’ll talk about drug paraphernalia in the form of glow sticks, vapor rubs, dust masks, inhalers, and even – and I kid you not – baby pacifiers. They’ll talk about the number of kids who are admitted to hospitals suffering from drug overdoses, and then proclaim that these raves are to blame for ruining their "perfect" society.

Then they’ll proclaim… well, you can already guess what they’ll proclaim: that these raves must be shut down "for the sake of the CHILDREN!"

The hard part is trying to find someone to be held accountable for these raves. Raves are, by their very nature, underground parties. There is not one single physical person they can hold responsible for a rave.

So the government, in its mad quest for a scapegoat, has turned to the owners of the physical property where these raves are held.

The city of Chicago, once famous for promoting the underground booze culture known as the speakeasy during Prohibition, now has made it illegal for building owners and managers to knowingly allow a rave where drugs are used, distributed, sold, or made. In other words, if they believe drugs are there, it is an "illegal" rave, and the building owner or manager can go to jail.

Even power-mad Uncle Sam is getting into the act. The same federal government that made it virtually illegal to possess large amounts of cash in an airport, or to buy a plane ticket using anything other than a credit card, is now using a federal law that was originally designed "exclusively" for so-called "crackhouses" to go after promoters of raves. Of course, as we should all know by now, there really is no such word as "exclusive" when it comes to federal laws. They’ll exploit any law faster than certain politicians will exploit their interns.

The arguments are, of course, nothing new. When governments are frustrated that they cannot go after every instance of individual activity, they will instantly turn their self-righteous fury at the establishment where the activity goes on. A dancer at a strip club freely goes home with a patron, and instantly the club is accused of "encouraging prostitution." A patron at a bar has four drinks and then drives home drunk, and the bar is held responsible for "encouraging drunk driving." A patron at a nightclub does a hit of ecstasy, and instantly that club is branded as a "crackhouse."

But I think there is more to this "rave rage" than readily meets the eye. Drug use, after all, is probably just as prevalent at concerts and "established" nightclubs. So why is it that these raves are being singled out?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… I think these raves are being singled out BECAUSE the government can’t control them!

Think about all of the ways that governments both large and small are able to control and regulate the normal nightclubs.

First of all, they’re subject to local zoning laws. They’re told where they can be located, how many people can be in there, and how late they can operate. They are forced to comply with local safety and fire regulations in terms of the kind of equipment they can use, the kind of lights they can use, how loud the music can be, and even how many bathrooms they must have to accommodate their patrons. And to make sure those clubs are complying with those regulations, there are regular inspections.

If they’re providing drinks or food, they have to get a restaurant license. Then they have to comply with the regulations regarding food handling, storage, and disposal. If alcohol is there, they must comply with yet another set of rules and regulations. And if they cannot provide food or drinks, they’re often barred from letting the patrons bring those items in as well.

The owners of these clubs are also subject to rigorous background checks, and sometimes must post a bond and/or have some kind of liability insurance. They’re subject to rigorous bookkeeping rules as well, making sure that every cent is counted and every level of tax collector is satisfied.

Because these clubs cannot allow everyone in, they often have to screen people at the door. That means hiring bouncers or security people, who often have to also be screened and bonded. And the more popular the club, the more selective the staff can be of patrons. After all, when room is at a premium, only "the best" can be allowed to party. That certainly leaves a lot of partygoers out in the cold.

And now local clubs are being forced by the moralists to prohibit certain behavior by their patrons. Up-close so-called "booty dancing" has raised the ire of the self-righteous dysfunctional elite. If it bears any resemblance to sexual activity, these political thugs are quick to condemn it and urge its immediate prohibition.

You can see what kind of control government has on the "acceptable" places of entertainment. And government expertly wields that control like the proverbial Sword of Damocles over the club owners and staff members, always threatening to use it if they are not appeased.

Now think about this: raves are under no such government-imposed limitations.

They are mobile, which means they are not bound to zoning laws. Organizers are neither bonded, licensed, or insured, and they do not have to go through any kind of background check. They don’t have to comply with safety or fire regulations. Food and drinks are quite often BYO (or "Bring Your Own"), so there is nobody to be held accountable to any kind of food or liquor regulations. Patrons can do drugs, have sex, booty-dance, slam-dance, and have all sorts of fun that they want to without anyone telling them what to do, and without anyone to be held accountable for!

Which is precisely why governments large and small hate raves. They hate knowing something exists that they cannot regulate, tax, and otherwise control.

But it is not just the government. The more "acceptable" nightclubs hate the raves as well. After all, they’re forced to comply with all sorts of rules and regulations that the raves, by their very nature, avoid.

Not to mention the raves eat away at the customer base of the nightclubs. If a rave becomes too "trendy", then the patrons who are sick of having to go through all of these BS screening procedures will go there instead of the nightclubs. For the nightclub owner, it’s a simple matter of survival.

Now here’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to accept: it is the government and the nightclubs that CREATED these raves!

It is basic nature, folks. If unchecked, governments are naturally prone to seize control of everything it can. Guided by equally power-mad moralists, governments do not stop until every single object, every single item in their grasp is under their regulatory control. And if they cannot control it through regulation or legislation, then they feel such an object does not deserve to exist, and thus do everything in their power to outlaw it.

Many young people, on the other hand, are prone to rebel against everything trying to control them in order for them to develop their own individuality. They’d defy the law of gravity if it were possible. Why do you think bungee jumping has become so popular?

Those two ideas are bound to collide. And quite often that collision is over one thing… fun.

If local and state governments were not obsessed with regulating pleasure, then they would not have created the need for our youth to search for fun through more illegal means. If nightclubs were not forced by both government and their own success to be so restrictive in who can enjoy their establishments, then there wouldn’t be the need for our youth to seek fun through the raves.

Think about this for a minute: where are all of the best places to go for our youth outside of the raves? Once upon a time it used to be Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Then the local governments started cracking down, and the youth sought out other venues. Now the party areas are places like Cancun and San Paulo Island. Anyplace where the local government will allow the young adults to visit, have a good time, spend their money, and not get hassled and chased away.

And despite the denials of local officials, government DOES quite often take that shortcut and go after the places where young people try to have fun. It is a simple equation for them – no rave means no place to sell or do drugs. And if it pisses off a bunch of young adults who don’t know any better, too bad.

Yes, there is that fringe element out there looking for trouble. Yes, in that quest for fun, some people do cross the line. But whenever government officials decide to stop fine-tuning their enforcement towards individual action and start declaring all young fun-seekers to be guilty until proven innocent, they drive those young people to look towards more illicit activities like the raves. They stoke that need with very little so-called "acceptable" means to achieve it.

Look, "the pursuit of happiness" is not just an empty idea written on some 225-year old piece of hemp paper. It really is a basic and fundamental right of all people, young and old. Temper that right cautiously. Let the people celebrate life without too many hassles, for if not, then you will have nobody to blame but yourself for the chaos that would eventually follow.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Week of 07/16/2001

Return of the Sexual Sideshow
- by David Matthews 2

"When authorities warn you of the sinfulness of sex, there is an important lesson to be learned. Do not have sex with the authorities." - Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons"

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages! Mudrakers Unlimited, in association with the glorious members of the world media, proudly present the return of the show that you just can’t pull yourself away from. The one, the only, SEXUAL SIDESHOW!

That’s right, my friends, the show that turned President Bill Clinton from a political Don Juan to a constantly repentant sinner is back to once again boggle your senses and feed that unending appetite for schadenfreude.

Featuring, for his return appearance to the sideshow, and the first time in a starring role, the distinguished gentleman from the great state of California, Congressman Gary Condit!

Condit, you may recall, was one of many Democratic representatives who urged President Clinton to "come clean" in regards to his dalliances with an intern. Well, now it is Condit himself who will be walking the political and moral tightrope, balancing admissions and denials… but this time without the benefit of the safety net of Executive Privilege. Will he make it to the other side and get that next term of office? Or will he plummet to a certain political death? See for yourself!

You know one of the things that I thought was always missing from these political scandals is a ringmaster.

Not a ringleader, mind you… although some of the more insidious scandals were often in dire need of one. No, I mean a ringmaster. Someone to keep the show moving when it appeared that all of the acts were going on at the same time.

And let’s get brutally honest here… political scandals have replaced Barnum and Bailey as the premiere entertainment for the masses. I mean, forget Jerry Springer and his collection of trailer park characters. That’s purely amateur hour compared to the sheer mastery of the media in full scandal mode!

I mean, we have politicians taking acrobatic "leaps of faith". We have lion-tamers – although they are more aptly referred to as the "liar-tamers" – which stick their heads in the gaping mouths of ferocious spin-doctors and lawyers. And we even have the clown acts in the form of all of the talking heads and so-called "experts" and consultants who constantly try to second-guess the motives and methods of the major players. And in the case of the Clinton Sideshow, there even were souvenirs in the form of "Presidential knee-pads".

Now some people would like to think that now-retired special prosecutor Ken Starr was the ringmaster of the last sideshow. But his role was nothing more than one of the many "liar-tamers" that tried to cut through the pure spin that Clinton exuded like you and I exude sweat. Nor were the so-called "right-wing conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton preached about anywhere near the category of ringmasters. Instead, they were simply just another clown act.

No, I don’t think there were any ringmasters in the Clinton Sideshow, and that, I think, was the real reason why Clinton managed to get away with his crimes. With all of the other acts going on at once, nobody paid attention to whether or not Clinton traversed his tightrope walk, or if he fell and was caught by that "Executive Privilege" net.

That certainly appears to be the pattern that is emerging in the current sideshow featuring Condit. While the "liar-tamers" are busy trying to tell whether or not the congressman is telling the truth, the clown acts are already engaged in trying to find everyone whom Condit has been "just friends" with.

Condit hasn’t publicly opened his mouth to either refute or admit the various allegations against him, and perhaps that is the wisest move he has made. He’s simply letting the acts go on as they may and hopes to squeak through his tightrope walk without anyone noticing.

But there is something different in today’s sideshow: the disappearance of one of the major performers. Unlike the Clinton Sideshow, where all of the principal players would have their say, former intern Chandra Levy cannot be found to tell her side of the story. Indeed, relatives and friends have said all that they ever could so far say about the circumstances surrounding Levy’s relationship with the congressman. But she cannot.

And it should be pointed out that it is her disappearance that started this sideshow in the first place. If Chandra Levy did not seemingly vanish from the face of the earth, none of these allegations of Clinton-esque dalliances would have ever emerged! Even if (and I hope she’s still alive) a dead body had been found in a relatively short period of time, I don’t think the bulk of these allegations would have even come out. But no, Chandra is still missing, and the refusal of Condit to be forefront with his relationship to the young woman only complicated matters.

Basic human nature, folks. Tell someone not to look at something, and we’ll look at it! Tell someone not to look for adulterous relationships, and we’ll dig faster than you can admit to it. You would think that Condit, of all people, would know that from the Clinton Sideshow.

By the way, this is also yet another prime opportunity to test the validity of so-called blue-balls laws. After all, Condit DID supposedly admit to the police of having an affair with Levy, right? Well, in Washington DC, that is STILL a crime! Now, if conservatives like Trent Lott and Bob Barr think these laws are important for society, why aren’t they pushing to have these laws enforced against Condit?

I mean, here we are, in the midst of a renewed effort by anti-freedom moralists to censor anything involving sex, and these so-called "moral champions" lack the courage to hold one of their own accountable for the laws that they say we need. Are they really so sure of their self-righteous convictions, or are they just spineless, impotent cowards?

Of course, in all likelihood, those adultery charges will be completely forgotten. After all, this isn’t about adultery, this is about a missing young woman, right? Besides, the moralists and bible-thumpers are petrified to think that one of their blue-balls laws could be thrown out in the courts.

And that really is the sad part about this whole sideshow, that all of this effort HAS to be made in order for information to come out about this missing young woman. That the power structure in Washington is so corrupt, and so self-preserving, that we have to go through all of this demented three-ring circus – complete with the "liar-tamers", and the political tightrope walkers, and the clown acts – just to try to track down a young woman who made the mistake of fooling around with a married man in Washington DC.

It is utterly pathetic. And yet, we cannot turn away from it. We’re drawn to it like rubbernecks to an accident, eager to see what the next act will be. Anxious to see the next twist, the next turn of events.

So hurry, hurry! Get your tickets now! Don’t miss out on the great, never-ending sideshow that nobody wants to see, but everyone is curious to know all about.

Come one, come all…

Just don’t "come"… if you know what I mean.

Monday, July 9, 2001

Week of 07/09/2001

Cell Phones And Other More Important Distractions
- by David Matthews 2

"One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation." - Thomas Brackett Reed

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret about me: I hate driving long distances!

I mean it. I’m not interested in "the journey". I only care about getting there. The car was meant to take me from point A to point B. So just get me to point B and I’ll be content, okay? If something happens in between that point that’s pleasant to look at, great. But if it slows me down or delays my journey, it pisses me off!

I’m not one of these people who want to live their lives inside their car. That just is not me. I’m not interested in putting in a stereo system that is more elegant than the one I have in my living room, okay? I don’t want a 50-CD changer in my trunk. If I had that in there, I wouldn’t have any room to hide the bodies of those drivers who piss me off!

And believe me, there are plenty of drivers who piss me off! I am not one normally prone to road rage, but after working several jobs that required me to drive long distances, I have come to hate these driving nuisances like Rudy Giuliani hates the First Amendment. I don’t condone aggressive driving, but let’s just say you wouldn’t want me sitting on a jury for just such a case, okay?

In fact, since I now drive about 100 miles a day through some of the busiest roads in Metro Atlanta, I can tell you that there are PLENTY of things that piss me off about driving.

For starters, I have to put up with those construction truck drivers who decide that rush hour is a SWELL time to start their journey. I have to deal not only with huge bulky vehicles that drive five miles an hour slower than an Edsel, but I also have to deal with the projectile spray that these trucks give off of whatever rock or loose gravel is on the road. My windshield has more cracks in it than the Liberty Bell thanks to these jackasses! Stay back 100 feet my ass! More like stay back a mile! These things can hurl items about as fast and as reckless as John Rocker!

Oh, and speaking of road debris, you have to admit that Georgia Highway 400 and Interstate 285 have got to be Georgia’s sweetest deal for the Department of Transportation! There isn’t a stretch of it that is not under some kind of construction at any given time of the year. And what a wonderful game of Three-Card Monty these guys are playing! Start seven or eight different road projects at the same time, and then you guess which one they’ll finish first. It makes you wonder if Survivor creator Mark Burnett came up with some of his more memorable challenges from watching DOT workers.

Then we have the soccer moms and soccer dads who feel that their precious little Johnny Dimple and Suzy Purebred are just too precious to be put on that big yellow carpool service that they pay taxes for. (Not to mention the same taxes you and I pay, even if we don’t have any school-age kids.) So they get loaded up on that suburban tank people have the nerve to call a Sports Utility Vehicle and are personally trekked to school. And then, because these parents make this incredible "personal sacrifice", they feel they have the right to drive like complete maniacs so they can still get to work on time.

Hey jackoffs! You want to get to work on time? Put the kid on the bus and shut the hell up! There’s a difference between making a personal sacrifice and sacrificing the rest of the world because of your personal decisions! Guess which side of that fence you’re sitting on?

Then we have the "bouncing brat" vehicles. That’s when those aforementioned soccer moms and dads have their little brat bouncing about in the back of the SUV like a Mexican jumping bean. These kids are walking examples of not only child restraint seats, but also of birth control. All you need is a picture of these little tykes in the backseat of a SUV with the caption: "Use a condom, or THIS will be your future!"

And, of course, we have the "time-savers". These are the people who figure they can shave a few extra minutes in the day by taking care of all of the basic morning essentials while driving. I’ve seen people eat breakfast, put their hair in their curlers, read the newspaper, drink their morning coffee, shave, brush and floss their teeth, and even get changed into work clothes, all while driving. About the only thing I haven’t seen people do is take sponge baths while in their cars. (Of course, with my luck, if I were to see it, it probably would be some butt-ugly overweight guy and not a former bikini model.)

But the most dangerous of these "time-savers" has to be the women who spend their time farding.

No, not FARTING, as in passing gas, breaking wind, or releasing an otherwise odiferous smell. I mean FARDING, with a "D". As in the French word to put on makeup.

I kid you not when I’ve seen some mascara queens lug a BUCKET from the back seats of their cars just for the purpose of putting on their makeup. A bucket! Neither a purse, nor a small tote bag, but a plastic Rubbermaid container! And if you happen to be behind one of these women, you had better get around them, get past them, or otherwise stay clear of them. If you cannot do that, then be prepared for sudden stops and quirky lane changes, because that is the only thing they will be capable of doing short of getting into an accident. They certainly won’t see you, because they’ve got every single mirror (yes, even that far mirror on the passenger side) pointed at themselves!

You’ll notice that I mention these things as annoying drivers, but not the driver with the cell phone. Well, there is a simple reason why… and no, it’s not because I have a cell phone myself.

The simple reason is that many of these other distractions are far more dangerous than is someone with a cell phone!

Check out some statistics and you’ll see for yourself. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that phone use was cited for only 1.5% of traffic accidents. That’s far less than the 29% who were in an accident because of something they saw outside of the car, or of the 11% of accidents caused by people changing the settings on their radio, or of the 11% who were distracted by the passenger. (Remember those "bouncing brats"?) There was no mention of what percentage was caused by women farding.

Then again, there really hasn’t been too much unbiased research into what kind of distractions contribute to accidents. Two researchers from Canada published a pretty damning report in the New England Journal of Medicine that castigated cell phone users. They claimed that a driver using a cell phone was four times more likely to be in an accident than a driver who was not similarly distracted.

Mind you, they don’t mention how high the risk would be for women drivers who put on makeup, or male drivers who are shaving. They don’t mention how high the risk would be to those "hi-fi" users who were busy changing the CD tracks on their stereo. And they certainly don’t mention how high the risk would be for those SUV drivers who have those unruly tykes or are driving like maniacs because they’re late for work after dropping those tykes off at school.

However, a biased or even somewhat opinionated report is all the government needs to act.

The State of New York became the first in the nation to outlaw people from using a cell phone while driving unless they use a "hands-free" system. Other states are considering similar legislation. The author of the NY ban says that even that would not be enough. He wants cell phone use banned from cars, period. He even wants people who use cell phones to be arrested like police do for drunk driving!

And sadly too many people are jumping in with this luddite insanity. The anti-cell crowd often pull both the Canadian study and public opinion polls that are always in their favor. Their message is blunt and straightforward: "See? The whole world says these things are dangerous! Why aren’t you thinking like us?"

Every time I hear these trained parrots of the luddite community spout off such drivel, I’m reminded of the old question about what I would do if everyone jumped off a bridge.

"I’m a lemming, you’re a lemming, he’s a lemming, she’s a lemming... wouldn’t you like to be a lemming too?"

Their arguments are no more different than those of the anti-sex moralists who think that ridding the world of Playboy Magazine and strip clubs would bring about a more "pure" society. They, too, use flawed research and misleading public opinion polls to convince both legislators and the general public that what they do is right. It doesn’t make it right.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we don’t need some damned legislation being forced on us when the real solution is rests with common sense!

Do we need to be gabbing on the cell phone when we’re driving? NO! It’s not some trade secret. That message has been pounded into us on a regular basis for years now. We’ve been told time and time again to pull off the road if we’re going to blab on the phone, or to use a hands-free system. The cell phone dealers have certainly been telling us that for years now!

That is a far cry over the kinds of messages we’ve been getting from the makers of other driving distractions. Where are the public service messages from Mabelline and Mary Kay Cosmetics about not putting on your face while driving? Where is the effort by JVC and the other hi-fi folks for an affordable "hands free" stereo system?

And don’t get me started about the latest commercial for Church’s new take-out chicken nuggets! Yeah, while we’ve got state and local idiots trying to ban cell phones, we’ve got fast food restaurants telling people to go ahead and feed their faces while they’re driving! Yeah, driving while munching is okay, but cell phones are not. Maybe some of these anti-cell luddites can explain that one, huh?

The truth of the matter is that cell phone makers have been taking a lot of crap for years for their products and how they are being used. We all hate having to deal with the prick that uses the cell phone to demonstrate how "busy" his or her life has become. And, yeah, it’s funny to know some prima donna has a phone that rings to the theme of "Gone With The Wind", but when it is played for the umpteenth time in a restaurant or a crowded movie theatre it almost becomes an act of war.

The vanity of our more smug users of technology has given cause for us to despise the technology instead of the actions of the user, and that just is not right.

Adding fuel to the cell phone bonfire are all of the media stories of people hurt or killed in accidents where the driver was distracted by a cell phone. The most recent and notable of these accidents nearly killed supermodel Niki Taylor. Hey, I’m sorry to hear people are getting maimed and killed over these things, but we need to blame the driver for being distracted, not the object doing the distracting.

It’s very easy for us to blame objects instead of people, and it’s very easy to get legislators to pass restrictive laws with very little basis behind them aside from some polls and media momentum. It is not so easy to actually solve these problems, however, because rather than use common sense, we would much rather blame objects.

Just like the government can never really legislate morality, they also cannot legislate common sense, and that is what is needed.

And to every legislator out there who wants to stick their ugly mug in front of a camera and get all huffy about your anti-cell legislation, don’t give us this crap about all you’re doing is "asking" cell phone users to use a hands-free system. You’re agents of the government! The government never "asks" for anything. It DEMANDS. You’ve got some luddite politician in New York who wants to have all cell phone users hauled out of their cars and thrown in jail! That sure as hell is not asking! Government is FORCE. Legislation is FORCE. Moralists would not be so eager to use either if it were anything less than FORCE.

Restricting cell phones or banning their use outright will not cut down on accidents. All it will do is make a lot of noise, give the police greater power to repress the public and give people a false sense of security. Much like the anti-cell luddites in New York are doing, their counterparts in the other states will simply jump around and pat themselves on the backs and lie to themselves and claim they’ve made some sort of progress in making the roads safer. And when they realize that they didn’t do squat, they’ll blame the "hands free" systems, and then petition to have those banned as well.

All the while the REAL troublemakers are still out there on the highways, shaving their faces, rolling their curlers, sipping their coffee, and hauling out their makeup buckets.

Monday, July 2, 2001

Week of 07/02/2001

America At 225
A Look At The State Of Freedoms Today
- by David Matthews 2

"This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual." - John Steinbeck

On July 4th, 1776, a collection of men representing the thirteen American colonies began to sign a document that was written on a piece of hemp paper. This was not a decision that was made lightly. By signing this document, these men risked everything they owned, and everything they ever were. They would be forever branded by the government of the time of being traitors, insurrectionists, terrorists, and even some would say blasphemers. Indeed, many of the men who signed that document lost their possessions, their homes, their families, even their very lives.

It was a gamble that paid off. By signing that document, they sent a message to a tyrannical king and to the rest of the world of the proper role of government, and how they would no longer adhere to a government – or a leader of government – that behaves as that of King George III of Great Britain.

And thus, through the Declaration of Independence, the United States of America was born.

But it wasn’t enough to simply separate from a tyrannical government and name a new one. The will of Great Britain was eventually removed from American soil, but there was nothing to stop this collection of men – or their descendants – from being just like their former rulers. It wasn’t enough to simply say, "you’re free". You’re free? Free to do what?

So many of those men who signed the Declaration of Independence (or at least those still alive) went back and created the Constitution of the United States of America, formally establishing the role of the federal government. It established a series of checks and balances, so that one branch of government would not be allowed to usurp the authority of another. It established a method of electing leaders and representatives, including the formation of the Electoral College, which was unprecedented in human history. Many of those same men went back to their respective states and urged those state leaders and legislators to forge their own constitutions, or amended those constitutions already in place.

But still that was not enough. It was not enough to simply say what government could do. They also had to spell out what government could NOT do. Many of these founding fathers saw the risk of a government becoming just like that of Great Britain under the guise of "promoting the general welfare."

So the Constitution was amended with a series of limitations. They were referred to as the Bill of Rights, but it was for all intents and purposes the Ten Commandments of Government. Like the old Israelite laws inscribed in stone, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution spelled out what government was NOT allowed to do. Government was not allowed, for instance, to censor speech. They were not allowed to prohibit religion, nor were they allowed to promote one religion over another. They could not seize or search property without a warrant, and they could not compel an individual to testify against themselves.

And they used very simply language in spelling out what government could not do. The First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law" in regards to the freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the right of people to peacefully assemble. "No law." How complex is that? You can understand what "no law" means, right?

However, over 200 years later, we’re still debating what "no law" means. Some small towns and counties still want to promote one religion, and one religious belief, over others. A branch of the government called the Federal Communications Commission is starting a renewed effort to censor speech over broadcast mediums like radio and television. A federal park ranger banned a group of kids from singing the "Star Spangled Banner" inside a monument dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, because the ranger declared it was an "illegal assembly." Even the paper that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were both written on would be considered illegal simply because it is a cousin to a drug the US Government has since prohibited.

So what the hell happened? How is it that simple words like "no law" need to be debated and interpreted and re-interpreted more times than Sanskrit?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… I don’t think our "founding fathers" really had a clue as to what they were signing on for in regards to freedom. I don’t think they fully grasped the notion.

Take free speech, for instance. I’m sure every founding father would have been all for the idea of an individual publicly saying "The king is a fink!" They would say you had the right to get on your soapbox and proudly proclaim that "the king is a fink" at every opportunity. You could even publish a newspaper with the banner reading "THE KING IS A FINK" and they would proudly go to war to defend your right to say that… even if they knew what a "fink" was. However, if you were to tell them "free speech" also means being able to sell a publication featuring naked people on it, or say things that would offend their sensibilities, or to call THEM a "fink", and I’m sure many of those "enlightened individuals" would’ve gone crawling back to King George as fast as a ship could take them across the Atlantic.

Keep in mind that many of these "founding fathers" who were quick to sign a document that said "all men are created equal" also had no qualms about owning slaves, and didn’t give it a second thought when they shoved the so-called "savages", the Native American Indians, off their land without any kind of meaningful compensation. They had no problem defending freedom as THEY would define "freedom", but if you tried to apply it to anything that offended THEIR sensibilities, they would say that "freedom" would only be applied "within a certain context."

Quite frankly, many people of that time could not handle what freedom really means. It just blows their mind. They could handle the idea, but the never really explored what that freedom meant. And one might dare say those individuals did not WANT to explore what freedom meant.

That’s why the ink was barely dry on the Bill of Rights when several states began to ban religious beliefs that they considered to be a threat to their "general welfare". That’s why the US Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which made certain political speech illegal, even though it was in direct violation of the First Amendment. They just could not understand what freedom means.

Even today there are many who still cannot understand what freedom in America is all about. The highest court in America, the US Supreme Court, has officially ruled that there are now TWO levels of free speech - an inner and outer periphery - and each get various levels of protection. Does that sound like it comes from a country that understands what "no law" means?

Of course, it doesn’t help when collectivist and socialist mentalities invade government, as it did in the previous century. The seductive lure of an ideal society full of "shiny happy people" came with a price that many people were willing to pay, as long as they weren’t the ones who had to personally foot the bill. Prohibition? Well, they allowed it as long as nobody went after THEIR hidden flask. The Drug War? Sure, they’ll give up their Fourth Amendment rights in the name of "safety and security", so long as nobody decided to search THEIR house, even IF they have nothing to hide. Promoting religion in schools? Sure, as long as it was THEIR religion and not some OTHER religion being promoted.

And once people are taken in by the seductive song of socialism, it is very hard to convince them to embrace freedom. Why should they want to be free, and be burdened with the responsibilities of that freedom, when GOVERNMENT can provide everything they will ever want or need?

Certainly that was not the kind of America our founding fathers wanted. And yet, that is precisely what we have today.

But it is not irreversible. We can turn away from socialism and start once again down the path towards freedom. The fact that we still crave SOME freedoms mean that there is still hope.

Someone once told me that the life-span of any free nation is 200 years, and that eventually all nations degrade into tyranny. Well, we’re coming close, but I don’t think we’re at that point of no return yet. We broke a few molds 225 years ago, and so far we’re pushing that 200 year life-span by a quarter of a century. We could also break this mold, but only if we have the strength to throw off the shackles of government and socialism and collectivism, and embrace the individual freedoms that our founding fathers accepted and risked all for, but could never fully envision.