"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Saturday, December 04, 2004
  Chairman Mao Powell Speaketh
In an editorial published today in the New York Times, FCC Chairman Michael Powell weighs in on the recent furor over "indecency" on television: Don't Expect the Government to Be a V-Chip.
For material to be indecent in the legal sense it must be of a sexual or excretory nature and it must be patently offensive. Mere bad taste is not actionable. Context remains the critical factor in determining if content is legally indecent. Words or actions might be acceptable as part of a news program, or as an indispensable component of a dramatic film, but be nothing more than sexual pandering in another context. That context and the specific facts of each program are reasons the government can't devise a book of rules listing all the bad stuff. In 2001, however, the agency issued policy guidelines summarizing the case law on indecency, and each new ruling since then clarifies what is prohibited.
Look carefully at what he is saying: he is openly admitting the non-objective nature of the FCC. There are no fixed regulations or rules; each television program must be dealt with on a case by case basis. Writing 40 years ago on virtually the same topic, Ayn Rand noted the devastating power non-objective law brings to bear on an industry:
When men are caught in the trap of non-objective law, when their work, future and livelihood are at the mercy of a bureaucrat's whim, when they have no way of knowing what unknown "influence" will crack down on them for which unspecified offense, fear becomes their basic motive, if they remain in the industry at all-and compromise, conformity, staleness, dullness, the dismal grayness of the middle-of-the-road are all that can be expected of them. Independent thinking does not submit to bureaucratic edicts, originality does not follow "public policies," integrity does not petition for a license, heroism is not fostered by fear, creative genius is not summoned forth at the point of a gun.

Non-objective law is the most effective weapon of human enslavement: its vicitims become its enforcers and enslave themselves.

-from The Objectivist Newsletter July, 1963: Vast Quicksands
That last paragraph is especially relevant, in light of the many ABC affiliates who pulled the uncut "Saving Private Ryan", out of fear of FCC reprisals. Powell also notes the many ABC affiliates who chickened out, but believes the true tyranny would have been to rule on the movie beforehand.
Some have also questioned why the commission is unwilling to issue rulings before a broadcast, as was the case with the recent network showing of "Saving Private Ryan," a film the commission had previously held was not indecent. While ABC and its affiliates understandably would have liked to know the program was in bounds before proceeding, the precedent of submitting programming or scripts for government review borders dangerously on censorship. The Communications Act expressly forbids the F.C.C. from banning a program before broadcast, and any such effort might very well run afoul of the First Amendment. This is a step I do not want to take.
In other words, freedom of speech means being able to broadcast anything, unless it offends someone and/or is "patently offensive and obscene". Of course, you won't find out until after you broadcast it. That is a more vicious and tyrannical means of censoring television than any explicit law could ever be.

For those who think this isn't a major issue, because it only affects "public" television, think again. Powell himself inadvertently points to the road that will be taken when the FCC is eventually expanded to include the Internet and Cable.
The commission's indecency rules apply to broadcast television and radio but not to cable, newspapers or the Internet because the Supreme Court interprets the First Amendment in a way that affords stronger constitutional protection to these sources than to broadcasting. The argument goes that broadcasting is different because it is uniquely pervasive, with children having easy access. Government can limit content in the public interest because broadcasters use a public resource, the airwaves. Yes, it is strange that First Amendment protections are weaker or stronger depending on what channel you are watching, but under current Supreme Court precedent that's the way it is.
If the only thing stopping the extension of censorship to the Internet and cable television is their less "pervasive" nature relative to "public" TV, and the interpretation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court, we are in trouble. The internet is becoming all the more "pervasive" every day. With the proposals in many cities to socialize the internet so that everyone has access, and the ever lowering cost of buying a PC, it won't be long before the vast majority of American children have access to the internet at home (if they don't already). And if you think the theocrats are pissed off about their kids seeing a woman's bare back, wait till you see their outrage when their kids see what she looks like when she lies down on it.

With President Bush slated to nominate "literalist", conservative justices for the Supreme Court, and the Senate's Republican majority, I am not too hopeful for the future of free speech. But rather than end on a negative note, I'll leave you with another gem from Ayn Rand, in the same article, which succinctly explains what's wrong with the FCC and all government regulation.
That which cannot be formulated into an objective law, cannot be made the subject of legislation-not in a free country, not if we are to have "a government of laws and not of men." An undefinable law is not a law, but merely a license for some men to rule others.
  I Laughed Out Loud
when I saw this cartoon. It's the perfect compromise with the religious right. My favorite is the "Primordeal Heavenly Goo God"!
Thursday, December 02, 2004
  My Hard Drive is Vibrating...
At least, that's what I think that strange sound is that's emanating from my PC. Given that I'm poor, in debt and it's the holidays, it may take some time to scrape up funds to purchase a new computer (~$199), so if I go silent, hold your breath.

How ironic that I will may be in the same boat as Diana.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
  Move Over Picasso - I've Got to Piss
From the AP: Urinal Named As Most Influencial Art.
A porcelain urinal is the most influential work of modern art, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The poll of 500 arts figures ranked French surrealist Marcel Duchamp's 1917 piece "Fountain" — an ordinary white, porcelain urinal — more influential than Pablo Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Andy Warhol's screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and "Guernica," Picasso's searing depiction of the devastation of war.

Duchamp pioneered the use of everyday objects as art, an aesthetic that questioned the nature of art itself.

Art expert Simon Wilson said the choice of Duchamp's urinal "comes as a bit of a shock."

"But it reflects the dynamic nature of art today and the idea that the creative process that goes into a work of art is the most important thing — the work itself can be made of anything and can take any form," he said.
This is disgusting, but at least there is one redeeming factor - they can't point any fingers at me when I piss on it.
  Cox and Forkum - Black and White World II

After having enjoyed so many of their wonderful cartoons, the least I can do is plug their new book. Buy it at Amazon.com.
  Paying Kids to Go to School
Alex Tabarrok has a posting on a school that pays the kids money for their school activities, and deducts money for bad behavior. I think it's an intriguing idea, infinitely better than forcing kids to go to school.

Of course, with the good comes the bad: the school also intends to start taxing the kids for hallways (which Alex likes best!?). Read the original article here.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
  God I Love Technology!
From USA Today:
A thief slips into a car, hot-wires the ignition and drives off. But within blocks, the car mysteriously shuts off, the doors lock and police swoop in. Busted.

Dozens of police departments are catching car thieves just like this, with new, high-tech "bait cars" that officers can track - and control - from afar.

Bait cars are a tantalizing weapon in combating one of the nation's most common and costly crimes. Some police departments credit bait-car programs with reducing auto thefts by more than 25%. Insurance companies like the idea so much that some have begun buying bait cars for police.
As someone who owns a fairly new car (2002 Toyota Camry SE), I have often feared being the victim in such an incident. It is wonderful to hear that such an invention has come about, and is being put to practical use. Here's a rather amusing anectdote from the same article:
"We had one guy who stole a car to go to court," he says. "He was stopped right outside City Hall. We just had to take him around the block to the other side of the building to the jail entrance."

Monday, November 29, 2004
  Defending Abortion
Watching Meet the Press tonight on MSNBC, I saw a fascinating "round-table" discussion between four Christian religious leaders. The most interesting was a Southern Baptist, Dr. Richard Land. Al Sharpton, the well-known black minister and democrat, was the only one in favor of women being able to choose to have an abortion. His argument, was that while all four of them agreed that they personally wouldn't choose abortion or recommend it, they had no right to impose that belief on other people. Sounds pretty good. After all, religious people don't have the right to impose their religion on others by force. But Dr. Land, echoing so many Christians I've talked to or overheard lately, came back with an irrefutable rejoinder (irrefutable to all except objectivists):
DR. LAND: Tim, that's the very same--that's the very same argument that slave owners made in the 1860s.

REV. SHARPTON: No, slave owners argued state's rights. What you're arguing is state's rights. That's what slave owners argued.

DR. LAND: No, no, no. Slave owners said, I wouldn't--people who supported slavery said, "I wouldn't own a slave, but I don't have the right to tell somebody else whether they can own slaves. That's imposing my values."


DR. LAND: What they forgot was slaves were people, and unborn babies are people. And in this society, no human being should have an absolute right of life and death over another human being.
Dr. Land came back to it again later in the discussion, saying, "He (Sharpton) said we shouldn't impose values on others. Look, when a mother has an abortion, she is imposing her values on an unborn child. And it is always a fatal imposition because the baby dies."

This is the crux of the issue regarding abortion, and the Christians are brilliant for realizing it and capitalizing on it. If the fetus, zygote, embryo, call it what you will, is a human being from the moment of conception, then it is murder to perform an abortion. If, as I believe, it does not achieve the status of being until after the umbilical cord is cut, then it is not a human being and not entitled to any rights. Unfortunately, I have never heard the argument that it isn't a human being anywhere outside of Objectivist circles. Instead, most pro-choice people make a big fuss about the "right to choose", while ignoring this fundamental issue. This is literally suicidal. Who will stand up for the right to exterminate children? Unless we can re-invigorate this bedrock of the argument amongst the pro-choice movement, the anti-abortion theocrats will overturn Roe v. Wade and steadily erode abortion state by state.
  Abortion as Murder
Continuing in my analysis of the "round-table" discussion on religion on Meet the Press, I found another part of the segment particularly interesting. Like the previous post, it focuses on commentary from Dr. Richard Land:
MR. RUSSERT: If abortion is outlawed in the state and abortions are performed by a doctor in that state, who's prosecuted? The doctor?

DR. LAND: The doctor.

MR. RUSSERT: The mother?

DR. LAND: I see mothers as victims. I've worked in crisis pregnancy centers. I've counseled women who'd had post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome. When an abortion takes place, there are at least two victims, the mother and the unborn child. I would prosecute the doctors. And we're ready to battle that out in every state and let the people's elected representatives make those decisions, not people in black robes.
This very position was one of the problems that the anti-abortionists encountered when the Supreme Court heard Roe v. Wade. Jay Floyd, defending the Texas law prohibiting abortion, was asked why no woman had ever been tried for murder, since that was what abortion was in his theory. Floyd did not have an adequate answer to that question.

Now for Dr. Land to call the mothers victims, given his beliefs, is stupefying. I'd be interested to hear his take on a mother who hired a hit man to execute here two year old toddler - would he feel pity for such a mother, or condemn her straight to hell? Does he believe in post-pre-meditated-murder traumatic stress syndrome?
Sunday, November 28, 2004
  Scalia and the Supreme Court
I recently came across the following story, regarding Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and his view on religion and government: Scalia rejects religious 'neutrality' in government.
An "originalist," Scalia says he believes in following the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, rather than interpreting it to reflect the changing times.

"Our Constitution does not morph," he said yesterday, deadpanning, "As I've often said, I am an originalist, I am a textualist, but I am not a nut."
This short passage reveals the very real danger that a supreme court dominated by "textualist" justices represents. For those not familiar with "textualism", it is the belief that if something is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, then it isn't a right and does not exist. Hence Scalia's (and Rehnquist and Thomas's) opposition to abortion, for which they find no mention in the constitution. They literally take concepts such as "liberty" or "the pursuit of happiness" as empty, without meaning. For those of you old enough to remember, this is like Robert Bork, who compared the ninth amendment ("The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.") to an "ink blot", which no justice could rightly interpret or prescribe.

These are the types of judges that Bush wants to appoint. When he says he wants someone who won't "interpret" the constitution or "legislate from the bench", what he means is that he wants to put an end to judicial review, and thereby put an end to the last vestige of freedom in the judicial branch of government. Without judicial review, the process where judges rule a given law unconstitutional and strike it down, the path will be clear for Bush (or his successors) to outlaw abortion, homosexuality, heterosexuality (except for procreative purposes), cloning, stem cell research, you name it. Anything not "explicitly" mentioned in the constitution, is not a right, as far as these people are concerned.

While I don't mean to imply that the current court is ideal (far from it), it has made some valuable contributions to our rights and liberty, albeit on a tenuous foundation. This is why I made a fuss over the Arlen Specter incident, and why I intend to watch all supreme court nominations and confirmations very carefully.
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