What’s in a Name?

25 10 2011

How about … bullshit?

The doddering old geeps who currently infest the halls of government in the Logic-Free Zone (who are collectively unlikely to understand email, let alone anything complicated like the internet), have decided that we cannot be trusted with free and unfettered access to data online and are trying to pass a law called- ironically- the PROTECT IP Act. This name is ironic, because the actual wording of the legislation- as currently written- protects nothing more than the unearned income of the RIAA, MPAA, and similar parasitic organizations.

Remember the First Amendment to the US Constitution- the one preventing Congress from passing any laws abridging free speech? It seems that our bought-and-paid-for Congresstoadies have decided that it would be a better idea to legislatively turn that power over to a couple of corporations and bypass that pesky 1st Amendment thing. Under this law as written, any website can be held criminally and civilly liable for any copyright infringements committed by any user of the website. In short, corporations can censor and shut down any web site accused of copyright infringement. Note that I said, “accused”. Not convicted- merely accused. As currently written, an employee of RIAA (for example) could accuse me of using this blog to infringe on copyrighted materials. Without benefit of trial or even presenting a warrant, RIAA would be able to shut me down based solely on the say-so of any random stranger. Think about that for a moment and realize why I referred to the 1st Amendment in the past tense. RIAA and MPAA don’t have a history of malicious litigation against totally innocent people, after all. We can trust them, right?

In a pig’s eye. We, the People, don’t trust our elected representatives with this sort of power. Why should we trust another entity without even the tenuous level of control we currently hold over Congress?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights and the protections it guarantees for individual liberties, let me put this another way. As written, Youtube, FaceBook, Twitter, and every news aggregator site in existence would be forced to shut down. That’s just for openers. Any site with user-generated content would be hostage to the tender mercies of whatever rapacious corporate entity was unhappy with their content.

Aside from giving faceless corporate drones total control over online content (and thereby destroying the internet) in the interest of nearly microscopic profit increases for their corporate masters, why would our trusted and honorable elected flunkies corporate whores representatives want to do such a thing? Why would those in power feel threatened by free and unfettered communications and information?

Perhaps the worthless cretins in our gummint have been paying attention to the so-called “Arab Spring”. Without exception, the uprisings and revolutions occurring throughout the middle east were fueled and organized by ordinary people with Twitter and FaceBook and YouTube accounts. By an odd coincidence, those are the very communication tools this bill seems to have been written to control or destroy. Whodathunkit?

Methinks it is time and past¬† time to remind our elected representatives who they are supposed to be working for. Any congressmoron who votes for this bill (and this has “broad, bi-partisan support”, so neither political party should escape our righteous wrath) should be drummed out of office- preferably immediately. These vermin-in-office are “public servants”, and we are the fucking public. The sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill should probably be indicted for treason, and- if convicted- shot.

Perhaps the “distinguished” members of the House and Senate haven’t thought their cunning plan all the way through. If this bill passes as written (or even in any vaguely similar form), the US Government will effectively- and immediately- piss off almost everyone in the country at the same time. Many businesses would be crippled by this bill, and millions of voters would be mightily wroth at the loss of their social media and porn. The only “people” (I include corporate drones and executives as an unearned courtesy) who will like this law are those who make their living shitting on the American people as a matter of habit. Revolutions have been started for less.

You “honorable” members of the House and Senate may wish to read the Declaration of Independence sometime. It’s obvious you incompetent shills have never done so before. Read the bits listing the sins of King George, and realize that those exact same crimes can be laid at your collective feet. Your current actions are in direct contravention of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights- which you paid buffoons swore an oath to protect and defend. If Congress cannot or will not uphold their oaths to the Constitution, they will have abrogated any authority they may currently hold and removed any possible justification for their continued pay and privileges. Congress serves the People of the United States, not various wealthy corporations at the expense of the People.

Let us go back to Ed Howdershelt’s Four Boxes: “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”

We can use the First Box right now. Send an email, tweet, postcard, or phone call to your congresscritter and senator and make sure they know you oppose this malicious legislation. If they fail to listen to their constituents, we open that Second Box and vote the motherfuckers out of office. ALL OF THEM. If this fails to correct the problem, take the bastards to court. This sort of assault on our basic liberties should be easy to fight in court- assuming the federal courts are even remotely as independent as their documented status under the Constitution. If the courts uphold this law, we’d be forced to open that last box, and that would be the end of the United States. For those of you not certain about it, this would be a BAD THING. Every rational person in this country should do their utmost to avoid getting to that point. Evidently rational people are somewhat scarce on Capitol Hill. Who knew?

There are already peaceful mass protests going on in most of our major cities. These protests have largely been marginalized by the government and media- despite their numbers and endurance. Add in a populace growing increasingly frantic financially and feeling betrayed by those in power, and season with sweeping legislation from Congress which demonstrates in no uncertain terms that our government has become the legislative arm of the extremely wealthy. Cook quickly by- effectively-  shutting down the internet, and voila! Revolution.

The really sad bit is that the scenario I’m painting here is easily avoidable. All it would take to avoid this whole mess is for our politicians to realize that blatantly fucking over 300 million armed and increasingly desperate people is incomprehensibly stupid. We, the People, have been very forgiving of Congressional misdeeds so long as the basic social contract between governed and government is maintained, but our patience and tolerance has limits. Brazenly and openly treating the People like serfs will neither be forgiven nor forgotten. Under those circumstances, those who see themselves as our rulers would be considered fortunate to only get turned out of office.

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -Mark Twain

Current status: Enraged

Current music: Touch of Grey by the Grateful Dead

Got Change?

17 10 2011

There used to be a BBC radio program called, “My Word“. This was a panel game about words, featuring a regular panel of people who made a living with words, but was really more of a vehicle for Frank Muir and Dennis Norden to display their wit to a large audience. The show is still available- in reruns, of course- on NPR in some markets. Due to the timing of the re-broadcasts (at noon on Saturdays here in the Shallow South), I have managed to hear most of the shows while the wife and I do our weekly shopping.

Many BBC programs get stolen and modified for the American market (The Office is a recent example, and Sanford and Son is a more antiquated one), but I doubt anyone would ever try to adapt My Word. Without exception, the panelists on the show were extremely knowledgeable on the subject, and this alone dramatically decreases the likelihood of a successful adaptation. While it may be possible to find American writers and thinkers who are equally adept with language, vocabulary, and etymology, I find it hard to believe that any American academics who qualify would have the ability to demonstrate it with the easy humor of Frank Muir and Dennis Norden. Then, too, there is the real possibility that any putative literary wit would be completely unable to make the average American audience laugh, given the generally dismal level of American education.

This depressing thought brought me to a realization about the enormous cultural divides so visible in the US today. Among the many artificial divisions in American society (black vs white, north vs south, east vs west, coke vs pepsi, etc), a far more subtle division is growing: tolerance of change.

The US has long been a major source of what are frequently world-shaking changes, so it seems odd that so many in this country now want the changes to stop. America is built on change, and our scientists, inventors, engineers, and salesmen have mass-produced that change and sold it to the whole world. Our current leadership position in many scientific fields is based upon anticipating and exploiting change. We owe our extravagant lifestyle and standard of living to embracing change, but now there is an increasingly vocal minority in this country who are demanding an end to change. Worse, they are deliberately trying to roll back many of the changes that make their standards of living possible.

Some of this resistance to change is coming- as usual- from religious extremists. Religion in general basically says that certain things are beyond human ken, and people should spend all their time and energy preparing for some sort of afterlife in lieu of improving conditions here and now. Despite the available evidence, the religious extremists refuse to admit that their holy texts might be wrong, because to admit the possibility of error opens the door for questions the religiously deluded are incapable of answering. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” does not allow for differences of opinion (or evidence to the contrary), so the religious types can almost be counted upon to be intolerant of change.

Another group intolerant of change are those who aren’t willing to expend the energy required to learn how to cope with- and profit from- the rapid pace of change. Granted that many of these could also be religiously deluded, this is not universally the case. Part of the problem is the fact that the stupefying complexity of our universe can only be properly described using purely mathematical terms, and the bulk of these change-resistant people think that algebra is some sort of magic trick designed to make them look stupid. The upper-level maths needed to properly describe the universe and how it works might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphs, as far as the people I’m describing are concerned. User-friendly scientists like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are very helpful in trying to explain the nature of reality in everyday language, but only if the target audience is willing to listen. Too many are not willing to listen, and they end up resentful of those who are increasing the amount and pace of change. They also end up increasingly resentful of anyone who- unlike them- is comfortable with change.

So we end up with another artificial division, this time between those who are willing to adapt to change and those who are not. Those who are unwilling to adapt clamor foolishly for a return to a golden age which never actually existed, and decry the “decadence” of those who embrace changing times. The change-intolerant, with their rose-tinted 20/20 hindsight, never seem to realize that the “good old days” never really were all that good, and the “golden age” they pine for is nothing more than 24-carat gold-plated wishful thinking and selective memories.

Every new set of changes also changes us- how we see ourselves and the universe. For centuries, the Catholic church was philosophically wedded to the idea that Earth (and humanity) was the center of the universe. Church rituals and dogma were all derived from this “fact”, as was the stratified social order the church tried to implement. Small wonder that the leaders of the early Renaissance church were so adamantly opposed to the new evidence that not everything revolved around Earth, humanity, or even the church. Those who had a vested interest in the social order saw these new facts reducing them from the heavenly-annointed center of the universe to just another rock hurtling around a not-particularly-impressive sun in a distant corner of a medium-sized galaxy in an ever-expanding universe. The political ramifications of that one discovery resonate to this day, and the church has been forced to grudgingly admit that they were wrong … eventually. Galileo wasn’t forgiven by the church until almost four hundred years after his death.

A similar firestorm still rages about evolution by natural selection. Despite the mountains of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, millions of people absolutely refuse to accept it. Like all discoveries, this one changes how we see ourselves. It turns out that we are not divinely created in our current forms, but are rather the result of millions of years of natural selection, whose DNA is nearly identical with that of chimpanzees. Instead of being the lords of creation, we’re just a weird, bipedal mammal with a minor genetic quirk that makes our brains work differently. Some people just cannot accept these repeatedly demonstrated facts, because it means they’d have to see themselves as just a hairless plains ape with a damaged gene sequence.

This particular cultural gap is nothing new, of course. Every generation has its radicals and reactionaries. The bulk of the population, as always, will grumble a bit about the pace of change and then get over it. Those who embrace change and try to push it along will chafe at the reins of what they see as indifference by the public at large and continue to push the boundaries of what we know. Those who are unwilling or unable to adapt to change will eventually die out, because the one constant in the human universe is change.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Current status: Sick and tired

Current music: If You Only Knew by Shinedown