Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2004 June 15 -- King Scotus IX

One of the technical magazines I sometimes read has a columnist who, by virtue of his longevity or otherwise, seems to feel free to comment in his column on matters outside his area of expertise. OK, I do too, but here on my own web page, not in a technical magazine.

A few months ago (I did say "sometimes"; now that I'm formally unemployed I have more time for reading back issues) Michael Swaine devoted his page to a rant against a then-recent Supreme Court ruling. Now I have no particularly warm place in my heart for the autocratic, unelected ruler and supreme lawmaker of this country -- I used to call them King George IX in honor of the British monarch our forefathers revolted against, but now that we have a President named George I need to find a different moniker -- but Mike seems to be parroting a political line without technical merit.

Apparently the King had ruled (surprisingly) this time for the people by letting stand a law passed by their elected representatives, under which Congress could restrict funds granted to local libraries by tying them to the use of filtering software to protect juvenile patrons from inappropriate material. Mike correctly points out that filters are notoriously unreliable, and (also correctly) that librarians can do a much better job simply by supervising the internet access machines. There would be no need for such a law, and indeed there would be no such law, if the librarians did their job. But many of them refused. As near as I can tell, all laws are the result of people abusing common sense and imposing the consequences of that abuse on the public at large. A couple decades ago one of the major car manufacturers in this country thought that extending the fenders of their cars forward and back past the lights looked cool, nevermind that it obscured the vehicle from a side view at night; two or three years later all cars were required by Federal law to provide lights on the side, and all buyers had to pay for the extra plastic and bulbs and wiring and holes cut in the fenders. Laws are like that.

Mike goes on to complain about the hypothetical possibility of the filter companies adding a political bias to their filters. It's not going to happen -- at least not by censoring out left-wing politicians like Ralph Nader, as suggested by Mike. There are several reasons for that, most significantly being that the librarians as a body are a left-wing bunch of radicals themselves, and they would never allow it. More importantly, the law does not (indeed, it cannot) specify which filter companies the libraries must patronize; if one company tried it, their products would immediately be replaced by something more in line with what the public asked their legislators for in the first place. That's the advantage of the "free country" that Mike still wants to live in.

This would never have become a problem if the King had not sided with the purveyors of filth a decade or so ago by legislating a new right to send unwanted and unsolicited garbage to people as offended by it as Mike is by the new law. I am continually surprised that the scum who fill our networks with computer viruses have not yet cited in their defense, that important Supreme Court decision declaring that "free speech" applies also to their particular kind of electronic communication filling telephone connections paid for by the recipients. Of course they would lose anyway, because this is no longer a nation under law. There are so many contradictory laws on the books now that, as in the novel 1984, they can pick and choose which laws to enforce and upon whom.

I thought Mike's choice of an acronym for the Supreme Court Of The United States particularly insightful. As a nonsense word it is vaguely suggestive of something pornographic.