Monday, April 30, 2001

Week of 04/30/2001

Conservatives: Freedom for me, but not for thee…
- by David Matthews 2

"Conservatism is sometimes a symptom of sterility. Those who have nothing in them that can grow and develop must cling to what they have in beliefs, ideas and possessions. The sterile radical, too, is basically conservative. He is afraid to let go of the ideas and beliefs he picked up in his youth lest his life be seen as empty and wasted." - Eric Hoffer

One of the few advantages of being a libertarian commentator is being able to pick and choose from a wide variety of news sources to comment from. I sometimes refer to it jokingly as being able to "pick from the best and piss on the rest." I can pull articles from anywhere across the political spectrum, from the liberal reporters on CNN and MSNBC, to the not-so "fair and balanced" conservative sources of Fox News, World Net Daily, and NewsMax. I pluck from each of them their more liberty-oriented articles and arguments, and then rant relentlessly about their failings.

However, I was genuinely surprised by the take of some of the more conservative commentators on a recent decision by the US Supreme Court.

The decision surrounded a police officer in Texas who arrested a woman for driving without her seatbelt. Now this "crime" carries only a nominal fine, but instead of writing this mother of two a ticket, the police officer put her in handcuffs and hauled her to jail, to be incarcerated along with thieves, robbers, rapists, and murderers. The case went before the US Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 decision, the justices said it was perfectly within the rights of the police officer to arrest ANYONE for ANY offense, no matter how slight.

Think about that for a minute.. ANY offense. Speeding, jaywalking, improper lane changing, talking back to a police officer, spitting on the sidewalk, littering. ANY kind of law or ordinance - no matter how slight, no matter how obscure, no matter how outdated - now can result in you being arrested, handcuffed, searched, and thrown in jail.. even if the punishment is only a pittance of a fine.

Now a libertarian like myself would naturally rail against such a decision, and rightly so. This is yet again another instance of that government tyranny that I have been warning people about.

But then I saw something strange in my searching of my kaleidoscope of news services that I never expected to see. I saw some conservatives actually condemn the decision! I saw them smack their foreheads over this decision along purely philosophical lines and they asked to themselves and out loud just what the hell were those justices thinking! How could they do this, they ask themselves.

Well I say it’s about time some of those self-confessed conservatives actually woke up!

Let’s get brutally honest here.. the conservatives are NOT the great defenders of freedom and liberty that they pretend to be. Oh sure, they can talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, they are often doing pratfalls.

When it comes to freedom, conservatives operate under one hypocritical premise: "Freedom for me, but not necessarily for thee."

Oh yes, conservatives will fight for free speech.. but only if it is their freedom to speak that is on the line. When it comes to fighting so-called "hate crime" legislation, they are the first to grab a philosophical sword in defense of the freedom of speech, because they know that what they say could very well be the first kind of speech censored. However, if that speech involves something they don’t like.. such as speech that involves sex or violence.. then they’re the first to turn that philosophical sword AGAINST freedom. The forthcoming battle by conservatives against the entertainment world is perhaps the biggest example of this hypocrisy. They’re all for the freedom of speech, but only as long as THEY get to determine what that speech is.

How about the freedom of religion? Oh yes, to give the devils their due, the conservatives are very passionate about religion, and they’ll be the first to tell you that. They’ll talk in depth about the benefits of their religious beliefs in building good social lives. They’ll rally on about how they feel religion is the universal cure to all of society’s modern ills, and how it would be such a wonderful world if everyone just embraced religion.

Of course, the discussion takes a much different tone when the topic turns towards other people’s religious beliefs... especially those that are not considered mainstream. Suddenly the discussion of religion becomes the IMPOSITION of another person’s religious beliefs onto others. And some don’t even refer to those other beliefs as religious beliefs, but rather as cults… which, in their terminology, doesn’t warrant the freedom of religion that the conservatives so treasure. In fact, the conservatives created a religion called "secular humanism" as a means to protest against not imposing their religious beliefs in school and other veins of government. Sort of a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" kind of Catch-22 argument. So in the mind of the conservatives, it is perfectly okay to talk about Judeo-Christian values.. but all other so-called "cults" had better watch their tongues, and leave their own beliefs in their respective churches.

Mind you, these failings of the conservatives are nothing new.. I’ve talked about them before. It is the reason why the conservatives were so stymied when a liberal like Bill Clinton managed to thwart their every move by using their own hypocrisy against them. But this time what has managed to get under the skin of many conservative commentators is the fact that it is being done by their own people! The ones that they claim to be better than their liberal counterparts.

The truth of the matter is that conservatives are guided by a principle that goes much deeper than their supposed claims of protecting freedom. Much deeper than their claim - as was once explained to me by columnist Robert Novak - of "going back to what as worked before." This principle is one that has been embraced by all kinds of leaders, from the most peaceful of republics to the most tyrannical of despots.

That principle can be summed up in four words: Order at all costs.

Many a conservative believe that rights and freedoms are considered a luxury in society, to be given only at the discretion of those in power, and only under certain circumstances. They believe that order is essential, and that anything that risks that order must be contained at best, and outlawed at worst. That has been at the heart of the conservative movement for hundreds of years, irregardless of country or party.. not freedom, not tradition, but order.

Clearly order at all costs was the thought that had gone through the minds of at least three of those five Supreme Court justices when they decided that the police - the agents of that order - should be given broad enough powers to curtail anything that would challenge their authority. The Constitution be damned, they would say.. it is order that shall rule the day.

And that, perhaps, is what has some of my conservative brethren in a quandary. Here it is, as presented by the Supreme Court, conservative philosophy in its purest form; stripped down from any pretense of supporting freedom or of maintaining tradition or of supporting family values. A philosophy so raw that it cannot be defended without making one appear to be a tyrant. How can one defend it and still claim to treasure freedom and liberty? The answer is that you can’t.

For many a conservative, politics is just a game. They get to sit there at their news desks, or their think tank offices, or somewhere out in academia, or even out there in the shallow halls of the legislature, and play their little strategy games against their liberal counterparts. They risk nothing if they lose, and serve to gain a wealth of power if they win.

But politics is not a game for the rest of us. Politics can have a very real effect on the way we live. When all is said and done, it will not be those conservatives who will risk losing their homes, or their businesses, or even their freedom.. but we will.

One can only hope that the Supreme Court decision serves as a wake-up call for those defenders of freedom who consider themselves conservatives; because at some point real soon, they are going to have to make a decision of which trait they value more.. order, or freedom. They will no longer have the luxury of selecting them both.

Monday, April 23, 2001

Week of 04/23/2001

The Coming War on Hollywood
- by David Matthews 2

"A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom." - F.A. Hayek

A few years ago there was a movie called "South Park: Bigger, Badder, and Uncensored", based on the late-night cartoon series being seen on Comedy Central. Most parents have probably heard of either the movie or the TV show, and no doubt are sickened by it. It doesn’t exactly show small town life in a positive light. Matter of fact, it’s more like seeing the play "Still Life" with all of the performers on LSD. There is some weird stuff that happens there!

There is a song, however, that best explains the whole theme of the movie called "Blame Canada." In that song, the parents of South Park blame the people of Canada for everything that is wrong in the world. It’s a pretty corny song, but one that managed to get nominated for an Academy Award nonetheless.

Now I’m sure that there are plenty of people who were scratching their heads when they heard the news that South Park would be nominated for ANYTHING noteworthy. People questioned the minds of those in Hollywood, wondering what sort of wacky weed they were ingesting at the time. After all, we’re talking about an award that has celebrated singers and songwriters pouring their hearts out to get. But then someone pointed out the lyrics to the song, and I’ll cut right to the end of it:

"Blame Canada, Blame Canada… before someone else decides to blame us!"

One could easily see the filmmakers, actors, producers, directors, and writers replace the words "Canada" with "Hollywood". They see themselves as being constantly under attack by loud-mouthed, overweight, overbearing, self-righteous parents who would much rather try to constantly save the world than to do their jobs as parents. Their nomination of an otherwise cheesy song for an Academy Award sent a message to all of the parents: Don’t blame Hollywood for your screwed-up kids.. blame yourselves.

Of course, parents, moralists, and politicians never got that part of the message… because they were too busy rallying their armies and preparing their placards.

The entertainment world has always faced some kind of scrutiny from the self-righteous. I’m sure William Shakespeare wasn’t exactly making too many friends in the British monarchy when he wrote plays like "Hamlet" and "Macbeth." After all, those plays portrayed the leaders as petty and corrupt, willing to kill and drive others into insanity to get what they want. For all of his artistic brilliance, Michelangelo constantly butted heads with the Catholic Church over his painting of the Sistine Ceiling. After all, he not only had the audacity to paint GOD, but he painted God NAKED! That just would not do, said the cardinals. After all, what would the people think?

But today’s backlash against the creative minds have become decidedly nastier. Violent words are being used to describe their outrage. They claim that "Hollywood" (the catch-all phrase for the entertainment world) "assaults the minds" of our children, and they call for an "all-out war" on Hollywood.

Now folks, I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan or uber-moralist Joe Lieberman talk about a "cultural war", I have this picture of the rock group AC/DC rolling up to their expensive mansions in M1 tanks, getting out, ringing the doorbell, and as those self-righteous stuffy moralists stick their heads out the door, have those gun barrels lowered right at their heads and have the lead singer say "Hey! You called for a culture war?"

As ugly and unrealistic as that picture is, I happen to believe that a war of sorts is about to be waged against our more creative minds, and it is not one that the entertainment world has ever experienced.

In the past, there has always been some kind of concession made to the moralists. The usual song and dance goes something like this: The moralists complain. The politicians threaten to take action. The entertainment world promises some kind of concession to appease the politicians. The politicians then back off, and the moralists shut up for a while.

But this time, that formula is not working. Concessions have been made, but neither have the moralist shut up, nor have the politicians stop making threats.

Uber-moralist Lieberman, along with his silver-spoon buddy then-Vice-President Al Gore, believed so strongly that his party would win the 2000 presidential election, that the two of them issued an ultimatum to the entertainment world: change your ways to appease US, or, in six months, we will take steps to hurt you. Now, in all fairness, the producers and marketers of movies and television did promise some common-sense concessions. They promised not to show previews for R-rated movies in theatres showing family-rated features, and to stop using kids as focus groups in movies that are clearly designed for adults.

But six months have come and gone, and even though Lieberman is not the Vice-President (even though he pretends to be one "in exile"), and his buddy Gore has retreated to academia, the ultra-conservative from Connecticut still wants to make good on his threat to hurt the entertainment world. He’s meeting with the movers and shakers to let them know that he has not backed down from his threats, and that he does have legislation pending that would regulate how they do business.

Many people are whisking away the whole business as simply empty threats of a scorned politician. After all, who supported Gore and Lieberman the most? Producers, actors and entertainers, that’s who! They figured he would be no different than any other snarling politician on the take, just like it was with Bill Clinton. They said to themselves "Yeah, he’s a prick, but he’s OUR prick!" They figured as long as they backed him, that he’d stay quiet.. unlike the Republicans, for whom they didn’t control, and were in genuine fear of persecution.

Oh how they underestimated Lieberman!

Think for a minute who else is in Congress… conservative politicians who share in Lieberman’s disgust of Hollywood. Democrat or Republican, it really doesn’t matter to the moralists. Moralism knows no party lines. It is a non-partisan form of discrimination. All a moralist cares about is getting power, and then exercising it, and they will cross party lines to do it. Remember the treasonous Communications Decency Act? Guess which party wrote it, lobbied for it, and then signed it into law? If you said the GOP, you’re dead wrong!

Lieberman knows that even if he does not have the White House on his side, he can still rally the votes to make Hollywood suffer. After all, he not only has conservative Republicans who could back him up, but he also has his one-time Republican counterpart - former Senator John Ashcroft - as Attorney General, to serve as the instrument of his vengeance.

Some people also think that people like Lieberman are just blowing steam.. that any efforts they make will be shot down in the courts for violating the First Amendment. Even the Federal Trade Commission, which gave its scathing report about the entertainment world to Congress, warned them that any legislative attempt to fix the perceived problems would be shot down in the courts. These people really need to get their heads out of the sand on this one, because the US Congress doesn’t give one squat about the US Constitution, or its amendments. Many of those elected into office arrogantly believe that the very nature of them being able to pass any law they want to instantly makes that law constitutional. But even if the courts manage to eventually shoot those anti-American laws down - which is a crapshoot thanks to the current members of the Supreme Court - the government can still instigate a lot of damage before some judge slaps them on their wrists for being the bad little monkeys they are.

The really sad part about this is that the whole argument with Hollywood is over the role of raising kids. Moralists are under this twisted, demented, delusion that somehow it is the responsibility of the whole entertainment world to reflect their beliefs.. to serve as the propaganda machine for their values. They expect the television set and the movie theatre and the video game players and the Internet to serve as artificial babysitters. They expect to be able to sit their precious Little Johnny Dimple or Little Suzy Purebred down in front of these things and keep their little minds busy being indoctrinated, while they are off doing other things.

Look, folks, let’s get brutally honest here.. we shouldn’t be looking towards Hollywood to emulate anything, much less our values. It’s a world of fantasy and mystery and egos and a lot of what-ifs.. and, quite frankly, it’s not their job.

In fact, if you could assign a job to the entertainment world.. besides to keep the people amused.. it would be not as the champion of values, but rather as the devil’s advocate. It should question the values and standards that we treasure, not trump them.

Think about some of the big-time box office movies that really made the moralists furious. What was it about those movies that made the moralists so angry? Simple.. they dared to question the "established" standards. Never mind that at the end of the story, many of those "priceless" values are reaffirmed. They believed that those values should never be questioned in the first place! Or, if those values are questioned, they expect there to be a huge disclaimer saying "We do not advocate you do the things we show." Hey folks, the adults should be mature and knowledgeable enough to come to those conclusions on their own, and it’s the role of the parents to make sure their kids come to those conclusions as well.

There is nothing wrong with questioning morals and values. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way we can determine if those values are worth keeping.

By the way, what is so difficult for parents to not be able to understand the different parental ratings and warnings, huh? Do they somehow believe that "PG" has changed over the years from "Parental Guidance suggested" to simply "pretty good stuff"? Have the words "Explicit Lyrics" somehow changed their meaning simply because the album in question has made it to Billboard’s Top Ten list? The warnings are pretty clear for people to understand. They’re not written in some outdated third-world language.

You know, when I was growing up, there used to be a "family hour" as well.. but it wasn’t on the TV set. It was in the dining room.. and it was called "dinner". Having a TV on during dinner was a luxury only if there was nothing else to talk about in that given time… but quite often there was. If people want a so-called "family hour", they can start by having the whole family spend an hour at dinner in quiet conversation. You don’t need a TV set to do that, and you certainly don’t need some network programmer or some stick-up-the-ass moralist to do that for you.

In fact, there’s nothing in this conflict between parents and "Hollywood" that couldn’t be resolved if parents would do their part as parents. Nobody ever said it would be easy being a parent nowadays, but neither the entertainment world, nor the moralists, nor the politicians can do those things for you. They can help provide the tools, and they have.. but if you don’t use them, you have nobody to blame but yourselves.

It should be pretty clear that the only people who want a "war" against the entertainment world are the people who crave power. They’re the only ones who would profit from such a conflict, and if they lose, they risk absolutely nothing in the attempt. The price we would pay for that conflict, however, is pretty steep. The price would be the freedoms that we have taken for granted, and that our children would probably never be able to enjoy because of our self-centeredness.

Monday, April 16, 2001

Week of 04/16/2001

Understanding The Marketplace Rules
- by David Matthews 2

"Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before would deserve better of mankind and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together." - Jonathan Swift

You know, it amazes me to see so many people be absolutely clueless about the nature of money, especially now, when the economy is not doing so well.

For instance, a few years ago, I had to serve as the jury foreman in a civil lawsuit involving an allegation of medical negligence. The hardest part in being that jury foreman was to get the members of the jury to NOT talk about financial damages unless we found the defendant negligent. At one particular point, members of the jury were ready to absolve the defendant, but still felt the plaintiff was due some money. I had to explain to them - repeatedly - that you cannot say that nobody is at fault and yet still award damages!

It makes you wonder, sometimes, if adults really DO believe that money grows on trees!

Let’s look at our growing problem we have in this country with energy. Here in Georgia, natural gas prices are going through the roof. In California, it’s electricity. And all across the United States, gasoline prices have been spiking in the past two weeks higher than Hugh Hefner’s libido on Viagra. Some predictions say that gas prices could very well break the $2 per gallon mark before the summer, and could quite well reach the $3 mark before the fall!

Now for those international fans out there, paying $3 per gallon for gas would be a sale. But here in America, paying that high a price is considered out-and-out price gouging.

But WHY the prices are getting so high is something that people have a hard time understanding. They’re very quick to write it all off as something evil or sinister, when people need to understand some very basic rules of the marketplace.

One of the first important rules in understanding the marketplace is that prices are not dictated by what is "fair" but by what people are willing to pay for that product.

Let’s look at the price of medicine. Ever wonder why pharmaceutical companies can charge $8-20 per tablet for medicine? Ask yourself who pays that bill to the pharmacy. Nine times out of ten, you don’t! The insurance companies do. They’re the ones that cut that check.. even if they do it grudgingly. They know as long as the insurance companies will cut that check, they can charge whatever price they deem to be "reasonable" for that product. How about all of those new and expensive devices and procedures? Why do you think the hospitals are able to charge astronomical fees? Because they know that the insurance companies will pay for them.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. when it comes to insurance companies, you are no longer the customer, because you’re not the one directly paying those bills! And thanks to the insurance companies, prices are so high now that it is almost impossible to be sick or injured and be properly treated unless you have some kind of insurance.

Let’s look at another example. How about the price of gasoline? If I owned the only gas station in town, I could charge $2 per gallon if I wanted to, and you’d pay it because IT IS the only gas station in town. Even if it only cost me $1 per gallon in overhead, I could still charge that extra dollar for profit and call it "reasonable." But if someone else opened another gas station just outside of town and charged $1.50 per gallon, you’d go there. So I could continue to charge $2 per gallon.. and potentially go out of business… or I could lower my price to $1.45 and get those customers back. When there is marketplace competition, I’m forced to limit my price to what the customer is willing to pay.

Here’s another important rule about the marketplace that people have a hard time understanding: Businesses always pass added costs to the customer!

Let’s go back to that gas station example. I’ve now dropped my price to $1.49 per gallon. It costs me $1 per gallon in all of the overhead involved with selling that gas. That’s a forty-nine cent per gallon profit. That’s a profit that can cover some of the other things I can sell at that gas station that may not make a profit, like coffee, or those cheap cassettes, or those magazines that continually put teen pop stars on their covers.

Now along comes the federal government, and they tell me that they want to raise the federal gas tax. And then my gas distributor comes to me and says that the state is forcing them to make the gasoline "cleaner" for the environment, so they’re going to charge me more money for them to put additives into that gas. And to top it all off, the town idiots tell me that they want to start charging a tax to pay for road repairs. All of that just jacked my overhead costs to $1.40 per gallon. Now, can I survive on a nine cent per gallon profit? Maybe, if the overhead doesn’t go up again. But I won’t be able to sell that coffee. And you can kiss those magazines good-bye too. Just wouldn’t be cost-effective.

Bear in mind, too, that the town tax would only apply to me, not my competition operating just outside of town. If I were to move my gas station out of town, I could save on that added cost. Or I can raise my prices to $1.60 per gallon and recoup a twenty cent per gallon cost. It would piss off a lot of customers, but there still would be a few people who would be willing to pay so they wouldn’t have to drive out of their way for cheaper gas.

Bear in mind that businesses must make a profit in order to survive. Just ask the dot-com businesses about that little reality. Oh yeah, it’s great to spend like there’s no tomorrow, but you’d better have a bottom line to back it up!

These are two very basic rules about business and the marketplace.. and these are the rules that spell out some of the aggravation we’ve been experiencing regarding the economy.

Let’s look at those gas prices again. Why are they going up? Because of overhead costs. The federal and state governments want the gas companies to produce "cleaner" gasoline. Guess who pays for that cost? Yup, we do!

Now, how can we keep those gas prices from going TOO high? Simple.. cut back on our gas use. The gas prices can only get higher if we continue to pay for it without changing OUR habits. Stop buying those gas guzzling sport utility vehicles. Stop planning on taking long trips across the nation simply for vacation. Dry-dock the bass boat for a season. It sucks, but as long as we continue to pay for the price of gas like it was two years ago without changing our habits, it only tells the gas companies that they can raise the prices even higher.

How about the energy crunches in California and Georgia? Ah! There’s a different problem! The problem there isn’t marketplace competition.. because the market is still dealing with a centralized government-endorsed supplier. This is the case in California with their electricity, and with Georgia with their natural gas.

Therein lies the real problem. It’s not the marketplace at fault, it’s the LACK of real marketplace competition, thanks to the government. But of course, the government doesn’t want to admit that.

When it comes to the marketplace, it really is the consumer that makes the ultimate choice that affect that market. We are the ones who create much of the problems when we forget that little reality, and we are the ones who resolve those problems when we retake our positions as consumers and stop trying to look towards government to solve our problems.

Monday, April 9, 2001

Week of 04/09/2001

Broadband - The Next Entitlement?
- by David Matthews 2

"What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. " - Herbert Simon

Okay, my high-speed information-surfing friends out there, hang tight for a second. I want to ask a question for those of you who aren’t on a DSL or cable modem or are seeing this through some corporate or college network. That’s right, I’m talking to my fellow dial-up netizens.

How would you like to have faster access to the Internet?

Hey, who wouldn’t? Once upon a time, surfing the Internet on a 56K modem was like driving down the highway in a Lamborghini. Nowadays, it’s like driving an SUV. It’s safe, but you’re just dying to keep up with the racers.

And it should be no surprise that the webmasters have been gearing their sites towards those high-speed "broadband" users with things like instant messages, high-quality streaming audio and video, and files that would take forever to download with a standard dial-up modem. What do us dial-up users get if we want to see a streaming video from someplace like MSNBC? Small, grainy, pictures that resemble more of a slide show than a video. You want audio? Well, forget high fidelity if you have a dial-up. We’re talking radio-quality.. and AM radio at that!

So yeah, I’m sure all of us would LOVE to have that broadband access, even if it means paying an extra twenty or thirty dollars a month for it.

However, contrary to the advertising that is out there, it is not easy to get. First of all, not all cable companies have the technology to provide that kind of access. We’re talking years of removing the old copper cable lines and putting in fiber-optic ones so they can handle the higher volume. Heck, it took decades for most of America to even GET cable! Now you expect them to get cable AND broadband too?

And then there’s the special line that has to be installed to your computer.. and the special modem that has to be put in your computer. Lot of extra costs involved, and lots of waiting around for the servicemen before you even get that access.

And then there’s the fact that you’re having to deal with the cable company.. which in many areas is a government-endorsed monopoly. If you have a problem with the bills, or if you don’t like the service, you’re screwed!

How about that Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL? Oh yes, it works out of existing phone lines. Don’t have to worry about getting that special line put in. It won’t interrupt regular phone service, so you can be online 24-7-365 and not miss a phone call. And unlike cable, there is marketplace competition. Best of everything, right?

Well, no. In fact, some people are calling it DSHell.. and with good reason too.

You see, unless you get your DSL connection with one of the major telephone providers, such as BellSouth, you’re having to deal with three separate companies: the DSL company that bills you, the DSL company that is actually providing the broadband access, and the telephone company. Now you can imagine the kind of bureaucratic nightmare that can come about.. and HAS come about.. trying to get a home hooked up. There have been actual cases of long waits in getting the modem installed, inability to coordinate between the three companies, and getting billed for months of service before a serviceman could even show up to get those people hooked up! In other words, a bureaucratic fuster-cluck that would make Washington DC green with envy!

And then there is the simple fact that not everyone can get DSL connections! There is a range involved in setting up something like that, and if you’re not within a certain range of a telephone switching station, you’re not going to get DSL. Period.

And now there is something new added to that mix.. the DSL providers (the actual providers, not the billing companies) seem to be going bankrupt about as fast as the dot-com businesses. They’re not making the bucks they expected to make, so they’re going out of business. Or, in some instances, the billing providers aren’t paying their bills, so they’re having to kick those subscribers out. Either way, it’s leaving a lot of paying customers - some of whom suffered months of problems getting online in the first place - scrambling to find another provider.

Then there is the satellite modem… but let’s not talk about that, shall we? Oh, okay, I suppose we’d better..

Satellite modems would be a great thing to have. After all, they offer cable-fast download speeds, and you won’t have to deal with multiple providers or phone lines.. or.. Wait a minute. I said cable-fast download speeds, didn’t I? How about the upload speed? Well, only until very recently, the satellite modems were download-only. You still needed a phone line and an ISP access to upload anything.. even it is just to tell the browser to visit a certain website or to pull up your e-mail! But like I said, that was until just very recently, when the same people who came up with digital satellite for the TV started cranking out two-way satellite modems. Expect those to hit the stores later in the year.

So what do we have? Well, let’s get brutally honest here.. we have a real life digital divide between high-speed users and the dial-ups who want to get that high-speed access, but for one reason or another cannot.

Enter… the Democratic Party!

That’s right, the same party that tried to take credit for "inventing" the Internet, and supposedly "keeping it safe" has felt your dial-up pain, and now they want to feel you up as… oh, wait a minute.. sorry.. wrong bunch of Democrats.

The Democratic Party, in this post-Clinton era, have decided that they want to make broadband access their newest welfare project. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle thinks that the federal government should start spending money to making sure every household gets broadband access by the end of the decade. So let’s see… they want a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, a computer in every classroom and library, and now broadband access in every home.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lofty goal. But what would be the trade-off?

How about the freedom we netizens take for granted?

Let’s seriously think about this for a second. One of the biggest arguments against the federal government regulating the Internet like they do radio and television is that access to the Internet is not "pervasive and intrusive." You choose to go online, therefore, you choose to bear the risks of being online.

But what would happen if the government put that online access in? Well, then the medium would become "pervasive and intrusive," and as such the federal government would be authorized to regulate that content. That would negate all of the court battles we netizens have been fighting to keep the imperial government out of our online habits.

The government’s response is that they’re right now only planning on providing funding for research and development into making that universal broadband dream a reality. They’re not talking about laying down the fiber-optics or supplying the modems… at least not yet. They’re just throwing some money about.

Well, as anyone who knows our imperial federal government will tell you, Uncle Sam does not give money away unconditionally.. unless you happen to be a defense contractor. No, there are conditions that go with those tax dollars. Faustian gifts never come for free, and one can already guess what kind of deal would be made to any broadband provider in exchange for federal funding. Uncle Sam would expect those providers to freely give up the privacy and freedom that their subscribers have enjoyed.

And mind you, it’s not just idle speculation here. This kind of give-and-take is the federal government’s stock in trade. Schools and libraries that currently enjoy their Internet access thanks to grants from the government are just now being told that they must use inaccurate filtering programs to filter out websites the imperial government deem to be "harmful to children." The National Endowment for the Arts now decides which artistic performance is "worthy" of federal funding. Even the state legislatures, Uncle Sam’s own fifty spoiled brats, have been blackmailed into changing their laws in order to continue to receive federal highway funds. These groups now know what Faustian price they have to pay to the government. How can we trust the government not to do the same when it comes to our Internet access, when it is in their very nature?

Make no mistake, the road to wide-spread broadband access is slow, but it is progressing.. and without any Faustian deals from the government. The service providers are hindered only by time and outdated infrastructures. If they wish to continue to have a medium that is free from government interference and stifling regulations and surprise conditions placed on them, they must resist any attempts by the federal government to "help" them.. because the only ones the government "helps" are themselves.

The Internet is not some government entitlement program, nor should it ever be considered one. It is a wonderful medium of communication, expression, commerce, and information, but we should never take our access to it for granted.

Monday, April 2, 2001

Week of 04/02/2001

Five Years And Counting...
- by David Matthews 2

"The most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents." - Eric Hoffer

April Fool’s Day was always known for practical jokes and buffoonery.. but there was very little joking about on April 1st, 1996 when a certain website made its debut.

Back then, the weekly column was known as "From the Cage of the Beast", and rather than shake up the world, it was simply a refuge for articles that couldn’t make it to newspapers. Just about everything that made up that site was recycled. Even the title and banner were refugees from a proposed newsletter that never got off the ground.

Five years later, that obscure writer’s online collection of rejected articles has transformed into a weekly commentary site, and instead of targeting the newspapers, the writer has set his sights on the world around him.

Five years seems like a short period of time for some folks, but for the Internet, five years is a lifetime of activity. Websites come and go in the span of just one year, and to have one that is still up and running for five years straight is a celebration in and of itself. Think of all of the dot-com businesses that have come and gone in that period of time. You know, all of those "new millionaires" whose creations went belly-up faster than the Chattahoochee fish just south of Atlanta.

And what an incredible five years it has been for the Internet world! The Internet went from being simply a "geek" resource to an intricate part in the lives of many people in America, and indeed around the world.

Those five years weren’t easy, though. Like any new frontier, there have been numerous attacks by hackers, corporate lawyers, viruses, and identity thieves. Whole domain names have been taken by cyber-squatters looking to cash in on a quick buck or simply to deprive others of the legitimate use of that online name.

In 1996, when the very first article was posted, the main issue of the online world was all about Internet censorship. The government of the United States of America, under the intense lobbying of anti-American groups, and with complete and utter reckless disregard to their oath to protect and preserve the Constitution, passed a law that made so-called "indecent" speech illegal online.

But as vile and downright anti-American as that law was, it served as the single unifying force for a huge segment of the American populace to stand up against the government and oppose the law in the courts. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, software developers, service providers, computer makers, telephone companies, social groups… the list of plaintiffs who signed on against this law read like a telephone directory. Over seventy-five thousand individuals were listed when the case was brought forth. It was the first time that Apple Computers, America Online, and Netscape worked hand-in-hand with their rival Microsoft. It was quite literally the entire online world against the piousness of the government of the United States Government and President Bill Clinton.. and fortunately for America, the good guys prevailed.

But even after the courts sided with the online world, the struggle against the anti-American moralists and the pious US government was far from over, and those first few years of this writer’s website were dedicated towards pointing that fact out. Every issue from online spam to the con games to Internet filtering systems were examined. It seemed like every inconvenience presented by the members of the media had a proposed government solution. When people couldn’t log in at America Online, for instance, rather than switch services, some people tried to sue AOL. When moralists couldn’t try to get the libraries to censor their connections to the Internet, they tried to sue the libraries. It wasn’t long before the tax man started wanting a piece of the new e-commerce pie, and they whined like spoiled children when they were told they couldn’t get any.

But the Internet wasn’t the only issue that was being discussed on this site. There were two special reports that also appeared that got a lot of comments on, both good and bad.

The first was called "The New Society" and it was considered a "work-in-progress", which meant it was far from being a finished work. "The New Society" took a look at social progress throughout history, and divided it into certain eras based on technological progress and prevailing philosophies. It was then pointed out that we as a society have been progressing towards a new era, thanks mostly to the expansion of the Internet, but also because of the breakdowns in traditional standards.

That first special sought to provide answers to some of the recent chaos, but it wasn’t accepted by all the readers. Some couldn’t see the prevailing social philosophies as they changed over the period of time. To them, there was only one accepted social philosophy, and that was permanent. Others could not accept the outgoing philosophy of individuals being nothing more than cogs in various societal machines such as the family, or the workplace. Either way, the demise of that "work-in-progress" from the online scene was not from people agreeing or disagreeing with the premise, but rather to conserve space on the server for the next project.

The second special report, still available online today, was a personal look at libertarianism and explaining the reasons why this writer is a libertarian. That report was unique in that first it explained libertarianism from a personal perspective, and second because writing down those perspectives helped strengthen my own libertarian philosophy and put things more in sync.

"Let’s get brutally honest here…"

Ah, the catchphrase that has become a staple in everything Brutally Honest has become. Paul Harvey has "The Rest of the Story." Dennis Miller has "Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here." These people have catchphrases, so why not this online commentator?

Now in all honesty, I was using that catchphrase long before I decided to turn the column from "The Cage" to "Brutally Honest". But once I started using it on a regular basis, it only seemed natural to make that transformation.

And in the years that followed, what has become "Brutally Honest" has certainly become just that. It has gotten more brutally honest in the issues and in the arguments. Some have even noticed that the articles have gotten more abrasive and confrontational than before.

That’s true, but then again, so has the world.

As "The Cage" became "Brutally Honest", the political world had become submerged in unchecked hypocrisy, arrogance, and militant blue-nosed and blue-balled attitudes. We watched as a two-term president became a two-timing liar. We watched as politicians who were quick to judge others ask for understanding as their skeletons were revealed. The media became more and more brutal and more politicized in its coverage of the events as they unfolded. We saw trial lawyers get more and more ambitious in their lawsuits, helping the government sue tobacco companies, Microsoft, the gun manufacturers, credit card companies, airlines… all culminating with their subtle participation in the morass we call the 2000 presidential election. (Or do you actually believe that Al Gore and George W. Bush have enough brainpower to come up with the Florida Fiasco?)

The world has become more brutal, but certainly not more honest.

Over the past five years, we watched as kids followed their adult counterparts as they turned to guns to solve their problems. But instead of looking for solutions, we engaged in a mad quest for scapegoats, blaming anything and everything under the sun.

When signs of the economy pointed towards a slowdown, did we prepare for it? No. We believed the lies of President Clinton and the media and told ourselves that the economy was still progressing full steam ahead. Companies laying people off? Hey no problem! People will still somehow buy houses and cars and spend money like there was no tomorrow! George W. Bush comes in, and suddenly the media started using the dreaded "R" word (recession).

All too often, Brutally Honest served as the voice that not only said "be prepared", but also the voice that said "I told you so" after it happened. Perhaps in the next five years, we can get more people to listen to the "be prepared" part, so they wouldn’t have to hear "I told you so."

Brutally Honest also changed in one other way… it went from simply a text medium to an audio one. This commentator joined forces with Webmaster Randy Hall to help form, a liberty-oriented forum for news and commentary. Brutally Honest, the website, became Brutally Honest - LIVE, a weekly one hour commentary program. And if you think the articles have been abrasive, you haven’t heard the audio version!

So what’s in store as we kick off year six? Well, certainly Brutally Honest has got no place to go but up. More readers, more listeners, more visitors. I certainly would love to be considered one day as the Libertarian version of Rush Limbaugh… outspoken, but not as bombastic. I would love to be able to shake up the world, because certainly it needs it. But I would also like to be appreciated as the voice of reason, using my brutally honest arguments to cut through the political spin and offer real solutions to our problems.

It’s not going to be an easy goal to achieve, but certainly I can’t do that without the help of the people who have been with me throughout those first five years.. the ones that I cannot, and hopefully have not, taken for granted.

And so, it is to you, the Brutally Honest fans, that I say thanks for the past five years.. and here’s hoping we’ll both be around for another five years and more.