Rants & Essays

I'm Sick of This

By Penn Jillette

PC Computing went a little loopy and gave me, a comedy magician, this page back when Hector was a pup. Hector is now way far beyond doggie adolescence and, in computer years, that's even longer. It's been a while. Everyone that hired me is gone. If Dvorak were to split, pink slip, or dirt nap, I think I would have the seniority at this damn rag. That's just wrong. I've never even seen my new editor face-to-face (although she has started writing to me about her martial arts class and that's only one step from "What are you wearing?" and on to e-sex.) My early columns suggested airbrushing naked bulging biker babes onto one's computer, and cute directions for modifying your AUTOEXEC.BAT for the airport Checkpoint Charlie. (Metal detectors at the airport - our friendly neighborhood airports are starting to look like high schools, for Christ's sake.) You turn on your computer and the security lackey sees it counting down to detonation.

My early columns weren't political. (OK, so the airport security AUTOEXEC.BAT did bring a threat in the name of the FAA, but I think that guy was just a nut.) But now, with Clinton's Clipper, e-mail monitoring, security, software rating, Pretty Good Privacy, and so on, I'm getting pretty sick of trying to make jokes about issues I really care about. Only a dedicated professional could keep banging out the Uma Thurman references.

Until I'm secure that we're going to keep our cyberfreedom, I can't bring myself to write about intuitive interfaces or word processing tips. Computers gave me hope for the simple pure freedom that I love about this country, and I can't just watch it slip away. I'll review my personal feelings on the government's involvement with computer communications: "Congress shall make no law respecting as establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I didn't write that (you can tell by the conspicuous lack of parentheses and Uma), but I did type it in from memory (PC Computing has fact checkers, so you'll never know how well I did). Man, I love that swinging little amendment.

I'm often accused of not writing about computers and that's right - government should have nothing to do with computers. It's not the government's business what you type unless it damages someone else's person, property, reputation, or rips off their intellectual property - and could also be grounds for incarceration. Computer communication deserves all the same rights and freedoms of older technologies, plus the rights that were promised and lost for the older technologies.

I had plans to do a funny column on passwords when I got this on the Net from AP - "Robert and Carleen Thomas, both 38, of Milpitas, Calif., were each convicted Thursday of 11 counts of transmitted obscenity through interstate phone lines via their bulletin board on the Internet, which serves 25 million computer users worldwide. Each count carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Defense lawyer Richard Williams said they will appeal. The couple was charged after a computer user in Memphis, Tenn., complained…A Tennessee postal inspector testified he joined the bulletin board under a fake name and received the images in his computer in Memphis."

The Thomases sent "images of bestiality and sexual fetishes" over their BBS. Who cares? Who knew it was Memphis? No one got it that didn't ask for it! Graceland's postal inspector used a fake name to score the feelthy pictures from Robert and Carleen. If this ruling holds up - and the court's "community standards" for the ether can be the standards of anyplace that gets the Net - we got trouble.

I'm sick of writing about this freedom stuff, so let's just get the government out of our Net once and for all, and I'll get on to writing some computer jokes.