Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

I spend about one to three hours a day working on the Ethical Spectacle, including writing, editing submissions, and responding to reader email. At this point, all HTML coding is done by hand; I'm not the least bit automated, something I probably should look to improve in the future. Though I code my own work in HTML as I write it, more than half of the submissions I get are in plain text, and must be converted.

As I get down to the wire for each issue, I spend about eight to ten hours getting it ready. Compiling the letters column is the most time-consuming task. I've imagined a Microsoft Access database I could create which would generate my links page; maybe there is a similar solution to the letters column--an alias I could forward reader mail to, where a PERL script would strip the header, convert the mail into HTML and drop it into a category I listed in the TO: field. I'm not a PERL programmer, but there are other people who may be able to take the time to do this for me.

The more of the detail work I can lay off of, the more time I have to write. Several things I regret: I rarely update my links page; I haven't been able to work on An Auschwitz Alphabet since I first published it, though there are some things in it that need to be fixed and other material worth adding; and I never seem to have time to write about current events, due to the amount of time that goes into writing the lead essays in each issue.

The mail I get from all over the world is the only compensation I get for publishing The Spectacle. This month, a Polish film-maker wrote me asking about current events at Auschwitz--she is planning a documentary--and I introduced her to another Pole who publishes a newsletter about the camp. Trite as it seems, the Net really does shrink the planet. Coming home at night and dialing into my ISP remains an adventure; I look forward to the daily stranger who reaches out to me with a comment or a request. The vast majority of the mail I receive is very friendly; as you know if you've read this letters column in the past, the angriest mail I receive tends to be about Mike Tyson and the movies Interview With the Vampire and Seven.

January will start the fourth year of The Spectacle. Please keep those cards and letters coming! I can be reached at jw@bway.net.

Dear Jonathan:

I was a lawyer in Santa Barbara for approx. 14 years. I got out for primarily the same reasons as you did. Now I work at Gateway 2000 as the Intranet Evangelist (because I dig communications) - and I like to write scenarios for the future.

Thanks for your page and the best of everything to you and your endeavors.

Rob Marqusee rbm@pionet.net

Dear Jonathan:

"I am a regular reader of The Spectacle," and... I love it!

In response to your July edition, it seems to me it is written in a different style from your other essays. (I discovered you in April, on Capitalism, but I'm slowly catching up through your Index of Past Issues.) You sound different when you talk about Lawyers. Your tone is more personal and emotional. You were obviously frustrated and unhappy as a lawyer, so how do you feel about constitutional amendments?

"There shall be no law unless a majority of middle school students in public school can pass a test proving they know and understand it."

Initially, I thought a 5th grade class would be about right for this honor, but Middle school makes more sense to me now, because most kids are "grown up" by then, they're getting out into the world and testing the rules, it's the perfect time to make clear to them what's required they should know about the law: High school is too late, there isn't enough time in high school for anything else... Grade school is too early... Middle school would be just right! (They need things to do in middle school, anyway. It's such a messy, awkward, adolescent, difficult, mixed up, time...) Deciding the law would be a perfect adjunct to learning it, because if a majority of young adults can prove they know and understand the law, what else is there? (The key, here, is majority.)

What do you think? Could you convince a million lawyers to join a cause that would make their jobs obsolete? They could redeem themselves and make the world a better place. It would be the greatest legal accomplishment of all time!

The Tragedy of the Commons (vicious circles) prevails, because we can't decide which came first, the chicken or the egg, the law or the lawyer? Which is better, cash or credit? (The answer is, credit: a Basic Commodities Credit Card.)

We need Simple, Honest Laws to help us through to the next phase of our evolution... Time, technology, circumstance and Common Sense can all converge on the Internet World Wide Web, Ethical Spectacle, to set the tone: A true "Fanfare for the Common Man" (Woman and Child), "Free at last!" Simple, straight forward, and true...

Other matters:

Links are the real beauty of the Internet, aren't they? To stay with the present link or go off on another one, is the question? "Will I remember where I left off when I get back?" The process is amazing. It takes many trips back and forth (for me) to figure out the many links and connections of a story, but (to me) it's worth it... James Burke (of Connections fame) must love it!

So, thank you, Jonathan. I am plugged in and turned on to the wonderful allure of your web site... I must struggle to maintain a healthy balance with my own existence, however hum drum and boring that might be: "Hi ho, Hi ho, it's off to work we go." I suspect there is some danger to cybernetic space, losing touch with "reality," etc, but the "numb butt" syndrome can be liberating: While refreshing my brain cells from time to time (which requires getting up off my butt), I notice how the new day seems better, somehow, after a good dose of The Daily Muse and the monthly edition of The Spectacle.

Please keep up the good work. You and the Internet will ultimately lead to a better "Reality" for us all! (If we are able to obtain enough simple laws, simple enough for all to understand - and if we are all issued a "Basic Commodities Credit Card" to replace cash for the essentials of life!)


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Previously I had written you, taking issue with your arguments that the "right of revolution" was absurd. Today I just read your first piece about War: "War is not an enobling experience" and here I strenuously disagree as well. While I certainly would agree with the premise that in many wars, perhaps most, both sides behave immorally, there are times when it is necessary to defend oneself--even if the only way to do so is to kill another.

Your reference to "Thou shalt not kill" is probably quoting the King James Bible which mistranslates the original "Thou shalt not commit murder". In fact, the bible lists quite a number of cases in which killing another is not only acceptable, but explicitly required.

In addition, by declaring that it is unacceptable to kill under any circumstances you are allowing criminals, robbers, rapists, etc. the chance to operate with impunity. If the police were absolutely forbidden from using any kind of deadly force under any circumstances, it would be impossible for them to catch crooks--at least without **EXTREME** risk to themselves (e.g. a police officer trying to accost a knife-wielding criminal *might* manage to do so without getting fatally stabbed, but it's unlikely).

On the somewhat broader scale, suppose a country such as World War II Germany is busily annexing teritory and slaughtering many of the people therein. How--other than by use of deadly force--would you stop such annexation and slaughter? Or wouldn't you? Would the extermination of millions more "undesirables" be preferable to the killing of the Germans who were carrying out the slaughter?

In a "Prisoner's Dilemma" game, groups of "cooperating" individuals can survive among a sea of "defectors". In an evolutionary context, those who cooperate may thrive even more than those who defect. You seem to assume that the same applies in war. Unfortunately, it does not: for many thousands of years, aggressors have been able to exterminate pacifists. The trend continues today. The *only* way to protect oneself is to be prepared to do whatever it takes--including killing one's assailants--to do so.

Note, by the way, that the very act of preparation may often be enough to ensure that the preparations are never, in fact, "needed". Aggressors-- whether they are individuals or countries, only go after those whom they expect to defeat. If it's likely their target would put up a good fight, the aggressors will look elsewhere. Note that this does not require that the target be better prepared than the aggressor--merely that they be comparable. A robber isn't going to go after $50 if it means he'll have a 5%--or even 1%--chance of getting shot. He'll instead either try to find another target or--if there aren't any safe targets--another advocation (e.g. burglary or auto theft).

Anyway, sorry if I'm rambling a bit, but I just can't let your claim--that any and all forms of kiling are morally wrong--pass. While killing is never desirable, there are times when ALL of the alternatives are worse. In such cases, it is both proper and in some cases morally obligatory to kill another.

John Payson supercat@mcs.com

The Communications Decency Act
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I saw (a reprint of?) something called "Extinguishing the CDA Fire" that may have been written by you.

I hate to sound like a moron, but I've read the CDA and three of four primers on constitutional law. I am asking, no begging, to have explained, in little baby words, why should anyone be surprised?

The wording of the CDA was blatantly unconstitutional, and if that wasn't enough, the means either nonexistent or excessively restrictive.

Okay, maybe I'm an idiot, but I *know* I'm not alone. I have spoken with six other people I trust and admire, and we all agreed that there wasn't a hope in heck of the CDA being upheld. Please, help us morons out, pretty please.

Pretty please, make it really, really simple and clear. Please.

George J Kamenz z005318b@bc.seflin.org

The fact that something appears blatantly unconstitutional to you and me doesn't guarantee that the Supremes will find it so. Free speech decisions, like last years' Denver case, tend to be very fragmented, with no more than four justices joining one opinion. I was more worried than most First Amendment advocates that a conservative plurality would uphold the CDA based on the alleged "pervasiveness" of the Internet.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

You note in your discussion of the Supreme Court's decision in Reno v. ACLU (CDA decision) that the court sarcastically chided Congress for passage of the illconsidered legislation.

It is the first time I've seen anything that approximates the real truth regarding the motivation behind the inclusion of the CDA in the Telecom bill . . . and thus this post.

But the Court was wrong. The CDA, as passed by Congress, was not ill-considered. Rather, it is my opinion that the legislation was a clever, calculated attempt to divert the public's attention from the 1995 Telecommunications Bill.

First, let me say that as a former (low level) Congressional staffer, I have great respect for Congress. There are, and always have been, some sharp people there. I feel in my gut they knew what they were proposing was patently and absurdly unconstitutional. So, why did they do it.

While my respect for the "intelligence" of committee of 535 is great, current election funding almost guarantees favorable treatment of large established, organized industries.

Notably, the rewrite of the Telecom bill largely deregulated the not only telecommunications industry, but broadcast and CATV. All of these industries are "favored" industries know for their contributions to campaign coffers.

The bill as passed and signed, was good for the industries -- in some cases great for the industires. It eliminated or greatly relaxed ownership rules, and included a host of other provisions that would have been the subject of much greater public scruitiny if the CDA had not been proposed and passed.

The major national media, (broadcasters including newspaper publishing giants with broadcast and cable interests) had little interest in exploring the details as they were among the new laws beneficiaries. The public's interest was, in my opinion, secondary. For just one example, the 1995 law overturned the 1992 CATV re-regulation law that had been passed because of the abuses since the 1984 CATV deregulation law.

The public was giving up a great deal more than it should or could have, but this were rarely printed or published. Why?

It was foregone that there would be overage of the Telecom bill. The real question among those on the Hill was simply, "what would the media scruitinize?"

The stage was set for the CDA.

It was the perfect ploy to remove critical focus off the dollars and cents issues of the telecom bill. Include the "hot" issue of sex on the internet would leave broadcast and traditional journalists no choice.

Sex sells is a mantra in the news business heard as often as the local TV truism that if it bleeds, it leads.

Such a move would also allow those in the new Congress to (harmlessly -- no way could this law pass constitutional muster) placate their supporters from the religious right. The rural Southern Baptist preacher could point to the passage of the CDA as proof that his support for the Christian Coalition was making life better for his congregation -- none of whom probably have access to a computer on the Internet.

The CDA was at the time nothing more than a smoke screen to hide the sell out of Congress on the 1995 Telecom bill.

It is nice that the Supreme Court said what it said about the Internet. It is nice the issue has been settled this early.

The changes to the Telecom happened. Today, we see a continued entralization in broadcast industry, some of it in foreign hands. Still, the public's largest due bills are yet to come.

G. Patton Hughes neomax@waga.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Reading your discussion about the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the CDA reminded me of an idea proposed by Robin Hanson of Caltech. To summarize his argument:

  1. It's possible to create a financial market in which buying and selling directly express opinions about a specific political issue.

  2. Such a market is socially useful as an indicator of what people believe, and how strongly they believe it. (Strongly enough to invest their money in it? That's a pretty strong belief!)

  3. Investing in such a market would constitute "speech" in the same sense that numerous other non-vocal actions (such as flag-burning) constitute speech.

  4. Current regulations forbidding such markets are in fact a serious restriction on speech. We don't get upset about this restriction merely because we're unfamiliar with the medium -- as many people still are unfamiliar with the Internet, and so are not interested in the CDA.

Mr. Hanson's full description of the idea is on the web at:


The first paragraph of the page has links to his arguments about the connection to free speech.

Jesse Perry

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I have a quote that is relevant:"Thay that give up liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin in TheHistorical Review of Pennsylvania.

The freedom of speech or the access to that speech is one of the most basic.

Denise Lacina dlacina@pcpartner.net

Dear Jonathan,

First, let me introduce myself. I am an attorney in Brazil and have been studying legal aspects of Internet since 1995. In my country there is no legislation concerning this subject. I wrote my postgraduation theses on Computer Crme and would like to change some ideas regarding jursidiction in cyberspace. I read an article from Mr. Henry Perrit, from Pensilvania Law School but would appreciate receiving some more "papers".

Thank you very much.
Sandra Gouvea spgouvea@uninet.com.br

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I wrote an article a few months back on the CDA which references (links to) your site a number of times. My article draws parallels between our government's attempt to "prohibit" certain content on the internet and the challenges the Catholic and Protestant leaders faced in prohibiting cinematic amusements earlier this century. I frequently visit your site, and enjoy the content very much. I have found it a valuable resource on a number of occasions. I would like to eventually have a site as large and comprehensive as yours. I would be honored if you could include me in on your links page.


Thank you.

Kimball W. Jensen

Free Speech
Dear Jonathan:

I've just been reading "The (Semiotic) Stench of a Burning Flag (Amendment)". You do write excellent articles :-)

If you happen to know of any other articles (and can find a few minutes to respond) that could be thought-provoking re semiotics, or specifically relevant to attempting to establish that an article on shoplifting should not be subdivided (for the purpose of criminal law speech sanction) into two sections: political speech and speech instructing in and allegedly advocating an illegal activity, I'd appreciate a clue as to where to same might be found.

If you don't know what (Aust) case I'm talking about, and want to know, the background is at The Rabelais Case page. The defence solicitors are seeking information/ideas they might use in an appeal on the ground, amongst other things, of (Aust) constitutionally -implied- freedom of -political- expression.

Irene Graham rene@pobox.com

Dear Jonathan:

Providing a beacon of substance in a sea of loose talk, you wrote to the naysayers:

Aha! I'm glad you asked. Here is an excerpt from my paper on the use of censorware in libraries, . . . .


Tom W. Bell
Director, Telecommunications and Technology Studies
The Cato Institute

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am going to be using some of the information off An Auschwitz Alphabet in an essay. In order to properly cite the information, could you give me your internet address and the date which the information on the "United States" was published on the web.

Richard Hitchens rh@webgate.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you for the web site. In particular, "What I learned from Auschwitz," and the letter from your uncle.

I was on a business school class trip to Europe in 1990, and it included a stop in Munich. While most of the class met with German bankers, I snuck off to Dauchau. I was left with two dominant impressions then and now. One is how ordinary the setting was. I grew up in Milwaukee, a city 90 miles worth of Chicago settled heavily by German Americans, which is also my background.

In a physical sense, Dauchau reminded me of the suburb where I grew up. You go around a bend in this pleasant little suburb, and there's the KZ, this place of unspeakable horror. So, yes, horror is part of us, part of everyday life.

My other impression was formed by viewing an exhibit that detailed the hierarchy of of camps in Germany and Poland. Death camps, concentration camps, work sites. It is quite clear from that display that ordinary Germans couldn't have helped but be aware of what was happening.

This made me so angry and depressed that I can't really find the words to express it, even now. "We didn't know it was happening." And, you know what? Some people probably didn't! The human capacity for denying the truth, especially that which lies right before once's own eyes, is endlessly astonishing.

I found your comments on the Holocaust being a challenge to traditional theology quite interesting. Dauchau's barracks were flimsy and have been razed, so all you see are the administrative buildings plus a huge open field, and one or two restored barracks. The effect is meditative; I got the sense that there are ghosts there, and wondered what it would be like to walk around at, say, 3 in the morning.

There are also three religious shrines newly constructed, one Catholic, one Jewish and one Protestant. I wrote in one of their guest books that God must have been on vacation from 1933 to 1945. Religion really does get pretty thin in the face of mass death, and I think a real challenge of the 21st century could be the mass realization that we're in it together on our own -- we humans, that is.

One suggestion I have is perhaps a recreation of the map of the camp hierarchy that I saw in Dachau. I think it's worthwhile to point out that there were dozens of KZ's and hundreds of worksites, and that therefore it was common for ordinary Germans to witness, day in and day out, the movement of emaciated prisoners through their streets.

They saw the consequences of what they allowed to happen, right there at the time. These claims to the effect, "If only we had known," are brutal lies. I'd better stop with that before I work myself into a lather whose end consequence would be that I'd be no better than what I oppose.

Again, thanks for the site.

Charles W. Pluckhahn needle@seanet.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thanks for your hard work. I am a christian with compassion for all victims of hatred, especially the holocaust victims. I wish you would expand your alphabet to cover other camps and topics.

Shalom, Sally Burnette spendmoney@mindspring.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am sure you have heard this before, but I thought I should tell you what an extraordinary piece of work the Auschwitz Alphabet is. I was moved at how you were able to paint a moving picture of a hellish place using only a few paragraphs for each 'letter'. I am curious to know how you dealt with the ensuing depression following your extensive study of the topic. I also enjoyed your commentary about God and numerous other things about the holocaust and religion, that are often not spoken about in an academic setting.


Eric Kolve drdoctor@u.washington.edu

Dear Mr. Wallace:

As a high school English teacher who's taught the Holocaust from different angles for 22 years, let me first offer my thanks for your efforts. With your permission, this year I plan to have my students create their own class Holocaust Alphabet after extensive research, reading, and discussion. I'm also going to be curious to hear their response to your essay's conclusions, esp. about the film, "Schindler's List," and the existence of God. I'm also asking your help. This year I plan to conduct a community educational outreach program relating to the Holocaust. Our community is small, rural, and has more "Christian" churches than brew pubs. How would you approach the subject of the Holocaust with a group of adults, largely parents of my students, but also other community members? I'm open to any suggestions. Thanks.

Pete Fredlake mfredlake@einstein.cocsd.k12.az.us

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Working on a documentary film about tourism in Auschwitz, I happened to find your Alphabet and some other writings on the web. I must say I apreciated most of them (especially the chapter you called "What I learned From Auschwitz", which are ideas I completely share with you). (By the way, the "Q" chapter ("Question") is apparently missing and cannot be found on the server.

As I said before, I am preparing a film for which I need informations about recent history of the camp, and I don't know if you have some. As you might have understood, MY purpose is not direcly connected with Holocaust itself, but only with nowadays tourism in the camp.

I have no idea if you have such informations or not, but I thought that you could be one of the persons who could have stocked newspaper clippings and so on…

I thank you in advance,

With my deepest respect, Fabrice Nordmann fabnor01@zigzag.pl

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you for your work, for putting this where people can see it. I was deeply moved and saddened by your compilation...As a Jew in America, I have done my share of reading about the Holocaust, and certainly heard much about it in my thirteen years of Hebrew school. Your commentary on genocide and the numerous incidences of it in world history should be read by everyone; unfortunately, those who read it here probably already think as you do. I fully agree with your comments on the United States, the world's dangerous child. I must go now to absorb all that I have read. Again, thank you for your efforts. melanie frank melanie@together.net

Dear Jonathan:

Great issue!

I enjoyed reading Sigmond Shen's "Tiger Woods" essay. It reveals a great deal about the writer, who spins a good yarn, but has a lot of baggage in them thar words. One of the prime initial points of the essay included the phrase"...in the United States, being a person of color means you don't have rights - only privileges." Then Sigmond went on and on with the typical liberal elitist manifesto stuff about why being white, especially white male and conservative, makes you bad. The aforementioned "race/gender" has totally screwed up the world, but other "races" which have been so screwed are coming to power...if only the mainstream media, and those conservatives at Time Inc??? would play fair. What a total, but entertaining crock of BS.

Shen's own racist hypersensitivity is so damned paranoid, it makes wading through the article a real adventure. To put such relevance and social import on Tiger Woods, a guy who magnificently plays a sport which is dominated by non-blacks, is about as dumb as saying that white men can't jump, ergo, blacks dominate basketball. True, golf is relatively expensive, (though the reason for that is not a grand white conspiracy) and that fact keeps a lot of poor people (many of whom are minorities) from playing...The cost, combined with the fact that I found it very slow and boring when I was young, kept me (a white guy...oooh! Let's hear some liberal stereotypes) from playing golf too. Most of the other deep social, racial, and even geo-political rambling that Shen included in that piece (from Taiwan to Haiti) is simply typical hysterical liberal racist and class warfare rhetoric. Even I, a person whom Shen would doubtless be able to write a book about, filled with racist and gender hate, enjoy reading such goofy, screwed up rhetoric on occasion (just to feel good about not being so encumbered.)

Shen writes "To a conservative interested only in maintaining the status quo, the old "balance of power" that was historically engineered through the strategy of "divide and conquer", this new- equation might seem scary." Not at all, but such ignorant stereotypical pigeon holing of conservatives is a bit "scary" if you take it seriously….

Bob Wilson

PS You insist that I consider it my mission to "balance" the liberalism on your web site. Not so, as I pointed out earlier, though I believe my musings do add some "token color" to your rather "left of center" site. Also, you refer to me as an "ex pilot." I am as much an "ex pilot" as you are an "ex lawyer." I still fly regularly, and hold an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, which does not include the prefix "ex" anywhere. If I should become grounded by physical infirmity or FAA decree, then I will advise you, and you can correctly so refer to me in that manner.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

A first time Spectacle reader here. Kudos.

Regarding: "President Clinton, Paula Jones and Time Well Spent" By Bob Wilson. I enjoyed reading the rant against Bill Clinton, but if Wilson really wants to contribute to balanced reporting of sexual events of public officials, he might do a content analysis of the publicly known sexual dalliances by both the left and the right. In such an analysis he would want to note the abuse of power, use of violence, subterfuge, and drugs, as well as the characteristics of the sexual event itself. I wonder if he would then want to illuminate the differences.

Thanks. I shall keep reading your excellent presentations.

Richard Pauli rpauli@halcyon.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am disturbed and sorry that you do not believe in God. I will pray for you.

Jay Marque marqu34@ibm.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Very nice content.

I am impressed with your partial opposition to gun control. Most "liberals" (I hate those pigeonholing terms) think gun control is Holy Grail. I find the majority of gun control to be a short-sighted, and dangerous proposition, particularly in the face of an increasingly oppressive central government structure.

This topic is briefly covered in analysis by Quigley in "Tragedy and Hope". His conclusions about the growth of civil rights and responsible government and their relation to an armed populace conform to my own. (He had his first, but I had mine before reading him.) People seem to think that the modern world and modern humanity is somehow completely different from that of the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, they are not.

Anyway, this is off the topic. I wrote to ask you to consider a swapping of links. Let me know what you think.


David David H. Stern, M.D. dstern@copi.com

Very few of the pro-gunners I debate would describe my position as "partial opposition to gun control".

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Your writing, your communication is the first I have read in a very,very long time that so clearly articulates the gap..I feel I am just now waking up and the world is unlike anything I know. For example, JFK had a profound influence on me although I was eleven years old. And then it was if waves of denial, horror, and sorrow, crashed over society of those that lived 'as if' rather than with clairity. In fact, those with clarity were severely punsihed. Many live in hiding to this day. I do not recognize the fragmented world within which I awoke. I am sorry that your Dad passed on; he sound like a really, really fine human being. Both of my parents are too; and are still alive but climbing into their early 80's.

It is our turn; our generation who must carry the torch, whether we are brave or not, we must because there is too much to be lost.

Good Luck in your endeavors and I am really glad to have stumbled upon your web site.