Fun_People Archive
12 Feb
How Many Pieces of Silver?

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 96 15:11:30 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: How Many Pieces of Silver?

Forwarded-by: Lani Herrmann <>
Forwarded-by: Lisa Schiff <>
Forwarded-by: Robert Jacobson <>
From: John Perry Barlow <>

Here's another billet doux to Congress written by a retired trial judge in
Texas. Whatever you do, don't show this to your children. They've never
heard many of the words in it.

                            by Steve Russell
                     American Reporter Correspondent

        SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- You motherfuckers in Congress have dropped
 over the edge of the earth this time.  I understand that very few of the
 swarm of high dollar lobbyists around the Telecommunications Bill had any
 interest in content regulation -- they were just trying to get their clients
 an opportunity to dip their buckets in the money stream that cyberspace may
 become -- but the public interest sometimes needs a little attention.
 Keeping your eyes on what big money wants, you have sold out the First
        First, some basics.  If your children walked by a public park and
 heard some angry sumbitches referring to Congress as "the sorriest bunch of
 cocksuckers ever to sell out the First Amendment" or suggesting that "the
 only reason to run for Congress these days is to suck the lobbyists' dicks
 and fuck the people who sent you there," no law would be violated (assuming
 no violation of noise ordinances or incitement to breach the peace).  If
 your children did not wish to hear that language, they could only walk away.
  Thanks to your heads-up-your-ass dereliction of duty, if they read the same
 words in cyberspace, they could call the FBI!
        Cyberspace is the village green for the whole world.  It is the same
 as the village green our Founders knew as the place to rouse the rabble who
 became Americans, but it is also different.  Your blind acceptance of the
 dubious -- make that dogass dumb -- idea that children are harmed by hearing
 so-called dirty words has created some pretty stupid regulations without
 shutting down public debate, but those stupid regulations will not import to
 cyberspace without consequences that even the public relations whores in
 Congress should find unacceptable.
        In cyberspace, there is no time.  A posted message stays posted
 until it is wiped.  Therefore, there is no way to indulge the fiction that
 children do not stay up late or cannot program a VCR.
        In cyberspace, there is no place.  The "community standards" are
 those of the whole world.  An upload from Amsterdam can become a download in
 Idaho.  By trying to regulate obscenity and indecency on the Internet, you
 have reduced the level of expression allowed consenting adults to that of
 the most anal retentive blueballed fuckhead U.S. attorney in the country.
 The Internet is everywhere you can plug in a modem.  Call Senator Exon an
 "ignorant motherfucker" in Lincoln, Nebraska and find yourself prosecuted in
 Bibleburg, Mississippi.
        In cyberspace, you cannot require the convenience store to sell
 Hustler in a white sleeve.  The functional equivalent is gatekeeper
 software, to which no civil libertarian has voiced any objection.
 Gatekeeper software cannot be made foolproof, but can you pandering pissants
 not see that any kid smart enough to hack into a Website is also smart
 enough to get his hands on a hard copy of Hustler if he really wants one?
        In cyberspace, there is the illusion of anonymity but no real
 privacy.  It is theoretically possible for any Internet server to seine
 through all messages for key words (although it seems likely the resulting
 slowdown would be noticeable).  Perhaps some of you read about America
 OnLine's attempt to keep children from reading the word "breast?"  An
 apparently unforeseen consequence was the shutdown of a discussion group of
 breast cancer survivors.  Don't you think more kids are aware of "teat"
 (pronounced "tit") than of "breast?" Can skirts on piano legs, er, limbs be
 far behind?
        But silly shit like this is just a pimple on the ass of the long-
 term consequences for politics, art and education.  You have passed a law
 that will get less respect than the 55 m.p.h. speed limit dead bang in the
 middle of the First Amendment.  Indecency is nothing but a matter of
 fashion; obscenity is the same but on a longer timeline.  This generation
 freely reads James Joyce and Henry Miller and the Republic still stands. The
 home of the late alleged pornographer D. H. Lawrence is now a beautiful
 writers' retreat in the mountains above Taos, managed by the University of
 New Mexico.
        Universities all have Internet servers, and every English Department
 has at least one scholar who can read Chaucer's English -- but not on the
 Internet anymore.  Comparative literature classes might read Boccaccio --
 but not on the Internet anymore.  What if some U. S. Attorney hears about
 Othello and Desdemona "making the beast with two backs" -- is interracial
 sex no longer indecent anywhere in the country, or is Shakespeare off the
        Did you know you can download video and sound from the Internet?
 Yes, that means you can watch other people having sex if that is interesting
 to you, live or on tape.  Technology can make such things hard to retrieve,
 but probably not impossible.  And since you have swept right past obscenity
 and into indecency, the baby boomers had better keep their old rock 'n roll
 tapes off the Internet.
        When the Jefferson Airplane sang "her heels rise for me," they were
 not referring to a dance step.  And if some Brit explains the line about
 "finger pie" in Penny Lane, the Beatles will be gone.  All of those school
 boards that used to ban "The Catcher in the Rye" over cussing and spreading
 the foul lie that kids masturbate can now go to federal court and get that
 nasty book kept out of cyberspace.
        But enough about the past.  What about rap music?  No, I do not care
 much for it either -- any more than I care for the language you shitheads
 have forced me to use in this essay -- but can you not see the immediate
 differential impact of this law by class and race?  What is your defense --
 that there are no African-Americans on the Internet, since they are too busy
 pimping and dealing crack?  If our educational establishment has any sense
 at all, they will be trying to see more teens of all colors on the Internet,
 because there is a lot to be learned in cyberspace that has nothing to do
 with sex.
        There are plenty of young people in this country who have legitimate
 political complaints.  When you dickheads get done with Social Security,
 they will be lucky if the retirement age is still in double digits.  But
 thanks to the wonderful job the public schools have done keeping sex and
 violence out, we have a lot of intelligent kids who cannot express
 themselves without indecent language. I have watched lawyers in open court
 digging their young clients in the ribs every time the word "fuck" slipped
         Let's talk about this fucking indecent language bullshit.  Joe Shea,
 my editor, does not want it in his newspaper, and I respect that position.
 He might even be almost as upset about publishing this as I a about writing
 it.  I do use salty language in my writing, but sparingly, only as a big
 hammer.  Use the fucking shit too fucking much and it loses its fucking
 impact -- see what I mean?  Fiction follows different rules, and if you
 confine your fiction writing to how the swell people want to see themselves
 using language, you not only preclude literary depiction of most people but
 you are probably false to the people you purport to depict.
         Do you remember how real language used by real people got on the air
 and in the newspapers?  Richard Nixon, while he was president, speaking in
 the White House about official matters.  A law professor and a nominee for
 Supreme Court Justice arguing about pubic hairs and porno movies during
 Senate hearings.  Are these matters now too indecent for the Internet?  How
 much cleansing will be required of the online news services?  Answer:
 Enough cleansing to meet the standard of what is appropriate for a child in
 the most restrictive federal judicial district.
        This is bullshit -- unconstitutional bullshit and also bad policy
 bullshit.  To violate your ban on indecency, I have been forced to use  and
 overuse so-called indecent language.  But if I called you a bunch of goddam
 motherfucking cocksucking cunt-eating blue-balled bastards with the morals
 of muggers and the intelligence of pond scum, that would be nothing compared
 to this indictment, to wit: you have sold the First Amendment, your
 birthright and that of your children.  The Founders turn in their graves.
 You have spit on the grave of every warrior who fought under the Stars and
        And what mess of pottage have you acquired in exchange for the
 rights of a free people?  Have you cleansed the Internet of even the rawest
 pornography?  No, because it is a worldwide system.  You have, however,
 handed the government a powerful new tool to harass its critics:  a
 prosecution for indecent commentary in any district in the country.
         Have you protected one child from reading dirty words?  Probably
 not, if you understand what the economists call "substitution" -- but you
 have leveled the standards of political debate to a point where a history
 buff would not dare to upload some of the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist
 election rhetoric to a Website.
        Since the lobby reporting requirements were not law when the
 censorship discussion was happening, I hope you got some substantial reward
 for what you gave up.  Thirty pieces of silver doesn't go far these days.


    (Steve Russell, retired after 16 years as a trial judge in Texas,
    is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of
    Texas at San Antonio.)

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