It should be noted that since minors can read FoRK archives, I might be
violating CDA just for mailing this....
PS. For anyone who finds the style oddly familiar: think Hunter S. Thompson,
CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1996 //
Jacking in from the "Abandon All Hope" Port:
Washington, DC -- Forty-eight hours and a half bottle of Jack Daniel's
into my 40th birthday and suddenly I knew what I had to do: Compress
my pending mid-life crisis into one white hot shining moment.
So I filed a lawsuit against the United States of America, calling the
bluff of this bastard Congress, claiming the indecency provisions
contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are unconstitutional.
And so it is. On Wednesday Dispatch becomes a plaintiff in a legal
tussle for free speech in cyberspace. The American Civil Liberties
Union is doing the heavylifting; a handful of others will be keeping
me company. Before President Clinton can drop the signing pen for this
rat-fucked piece of legislation on Thursday, the suits at the ACLU will
be marching into court, papers in hand.
Having worked myself into a lather over this on the strength of a
strange voodoo rhythm that only Pat Buchanan stumping in Louisiana
before hordes of gun worshiping gay bashers could love, a sudden evil
chill crawled up my spine. My Gwad! What if I've been set up? Yes,
that's it. The timing of this millstone legislation was calculated to
pass just inside the morose window of my birthday. I'm being
purposefully driven mad.
But who could harbor such a grudge? Who would be devious and cunning
enough to yank Sen. Bob Dole's chain and make him delay the vote just
long enough for me to turn 40? There could only be one answer: Mike
Nelson, the Administration's point man on encryption policy and a
former staffer for Vice President Gore when he was just a second-class
Senator from a third rate state.
Nelson, you see, is fond of introducing me as "the most dangerous man
on the Net." Clever, but he stole the line from my Mother or
ex-wife... but I digress. Yes, it has to be him.
Seizing the moment, I knew there was only one thing to do: Alert the
President before he signed this bill, thus becoming an unwitting dupe
in Nelson's twisted plot to turn my brain into gruel.
But I needed a plan. I knew that if I could only talk to Bill, chat
him up face to face, maybe share one of those contraband Cuban cigars
the CIA smuggles in for him, all would be right with the world. He'd
see he was just a pawn and not only veto the bill, but he'd rush to the
Rose Garden, tear the mother into shreds and feed it to the
Around 11 p.m. I made my way to the front gate of the White House. "I
have an urgent message for the President," I said, "I need to see him
immediately." The guard was not amused and fumbled for what must
have been an Uzi resting under his overcoat. "I'm with the press," I said.
I dug for my credentials and flashed them. Now the guard's grip began
to tighten on a weapon outlawed-for-all-sane-people and barked at me
something about a joke that could get me 5-10 in the slammer.
I looked at my press credentials. Egad! I'd flashed my Diner's
Club Card! I couldn't bullshit my way out of this, no use trying, I
It was just about midnight that I thought of the rats.
The plan was deceptively simple. I'd scrawl an urgent message in
paragraphs, attach one each to a rat, bag the lot and toss the entire
rodent tribe over the White House fence with instructions not to stop
until they had stormed their way inside.
The logistics worked fine, on paper; however, I suddenly realized that
once inside the White House no one would be able to tell the rats from
the White House Press Corps. I ditched the plan.
That was when a cat leapt from an alley. He looked strikingly like the
First Cat Socks. I pounced on him. Fate would not be so generous
again. This was an omen.
My plan now entailed tying my entire message around the neck of this
Socks-Imposter. The rest would be easy. First, I put masking tape
on the bottom of the cat's feet. Next, I had to calculate the
trajectory for tossing this beast over the fence and onto the White
House lawn. Now this is not an easy task for a 40-year-old, lathered
and booze-addled, mathematically challenged journalist.
The Arc of the Cat, you see, is crucial. Too high and he'd be caught
in the radar that now guards against low flying single engine planes
with a habit of making unscheduled landings on the front lawn. Any
blip on that early warning radar and a surface to air missile launches
from just inside the White House tree line. The missile, I figured,
would do serious damage to the note.
No, the Arc of the Cat had to barely clear the fence, yet land squarely
on the lawn. If I was lucky, once on the ground the cat would begin
to writhe in spastic convulsions due to the masking tape on the bottom
of its paws; cats hate this, it drives them fucking nuts. [Disclaimer:
Kids, Do Not try this at home with Muffy. You have been warned.]
This twisted feline mambo was important for two reasons. One, it would
make the cat a much tougher target for any of a number of snipers that
camp on the roofs of all tall buildings within the line of sight of the
White House. Yes, they're there, watching through night scopes, ready
and willing to drill any intruder. Secondly, the cat's crazed dance
would immediately set off the motion detectors and the Secret Service
would come running. They'd discover "Socks" and rush him inside to the
First Family's private residence. Clinton, being the curious man he
is, would take note of the message around the "Socks-Imposter" and no
doubt phone the front gate and have me summoned to his private
chambers, offer me a Cuban contraband cigar and praise me for having
saved him one of the greatest humiliations of his presidency.
And it would have worked, too, but I didn't factor in the cat's
unwillingness to become a feline projectile. At the top of his arc,
the cat pulled off a perfect pike maneuver that would have a former East
German diving judge cough up a perfect "10." This mutant furball
careened off the top of the fence and hauled ass down Pennsylvania Ave.
Dejected, I resigned myself to the only recourse I have left: Dispatch.
Pee Wee Herman In An Overcoat
There are so many things wrong with this bill that it's hard to know
where to start. Of course the anti-indecency provisions are by now
well-known. Say a dirty word on-line, go directly to jail. Hell,
reading this Dispatch or forwarding it to a friend could land net you 2
years behind bars and set you back $250,000.
In addition, seems Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) snuck in a sentence that,
theoretically, makes it a crime to also send any language dealing with
abortion through cyberspace. This apparently due to something called
the Comstock Act, which was put in place about the same time all those
laws that made spitting on the sidewalk a crime also passed into law,
somewhere around the around the turn of the century.
But court decisions have rendered Comstock obsolete, yet it's still
officially on the books. Hyde's staff swear up and down that they
added the provision at the behest of the Justice Department, yet they
can produce no proof. Hyde promised that the provision wasn't meant
to forestall abortion information. Small catch... as long as Roe v.
Wade stands as law, that's true. But if that ruling is overturned, and
it is under constant assault, the Comstock Act is given new life.
Now here's a thought: Hyde is an ardent supporter of overturning Roe
v. Wade... so you figure out the real implications here.
You Call This Deregulatory?
Although supporters of this bill insist that it is deregulatory, don't
believe it. First of all, congressional sources conspired at the last
moment, and in secret, with no debate and with no mention in public
meetings, to make sure the there was nothing in the bill that would
keep the FCC from *regulating* the Internet.
David Lynch, Rep. John Dingell's (D-Mich.) telecom staffer, told me
point blank that the bill "does not limit the FCC's ability to regulate
the Internet." As if that weren't enough, Lynch vamped on: "If the
Internet starts looking like a telephone company we might have to start
looking at regulating it like one." Two words: Internet Telephone.
You figure out the rest.
Suffice to say, Congress set us all up with this bill. They've painted
a huge red bullseye on the Net and when Clinton signs the bill, hunting
season is open.
Want more arcane bullshit? Okay, here it is. In a 22-page document
titled "FCC Proceedings and Actions Required by the Telecommunications
Act of 1996," the law firm of Wiley, Rein and Fielding outlines 69
separate *regulatory* "proceedings or actions" the FCC must undertake
because of this bill. It covers everything from "Delegation of Ship
Inspections to Private Parties" to setting standards for the so-called
"V" Chip (yet another government mandated censorship program) to
figuring out how much providers of interactive services will be allowed
to charge schools, health care providers and libraries (hint: they get
a discount, but the percentage is left up to the FCC.)
Of course, the Congress doesn't mention that later this year it will
hold hearings aimed at cutting the FCC off at the knees, both in
funding and oversight capability. How the hell can this bill be
carried out as written if the agency charged with its implementation is
effectively castrated? Answer: It can't. Anyone want to give odds
that this was just coincidence?
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Another myth about this "obscene act" is that it will create hundreds
of thousands of new jobs. Listen close, you'll hear Clinton and Gore
each say this at Thursday's signing, I'll bet a sack of rats on it.
If we just talk straight numbers, yes, the bill does create jobs. But
look closer, look at it like Labor Secretary Robert Reih would and ask
yourself what are the *quality* of these jobs. Answer: pathetic.
Although some of the jobs this bill creates will be high paying,
technical jobs, most will be low paying, non-union jobs. Digging
ditches to lay new cables, new fiber. Construction jobs for
installing wireless towers. Sales jobs up the ass, all on commission
no doubt. Customer representative jobs, again, low paying, tedious
Why? Because the phone companies, for one, will create separate
subsidiaries which they don't have to staff with union employees. And
most manual labor jobs aren't union anyway. A lot of jobs will come
from the wireless industry. Again, non-union and low paying, for the
most part, building infrastructure, sales force, etc.
Howard Stern's Private Parts
Although Howard Stern's privacy (is this an oxymoron?) isn't in
question here, your privacy is.
The bill basically allows the telephone companies to use the data they
have on you in any way they see fit, with one caveat: They must
provide the same access to that information to competitors, if asked.
As long as they don't hog all your private data, such as how many times
you call Domino's Pizza or whether you're an avid QVC network shopper,
they can sell your data to just about anyone and use it internal in
ways that should make your skin crawl.
This is all laid out in admittedly banal Congress speak: "A local
exchange carrier (that's your local phone company) may use, disclose,
or permit access to aggregate customer information... only if it
provides such aggregate information to other carriers or persons on
reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions up reasonable
In other words, bend over and kiss your sweet aggregate good-bye.
Now, I have to go... there's a cat running around Washington with
incriminating evidence tied to its neck, no doubt rummaging through a
White House garbage can, and I have to track him down.