Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

January was the tenth anniversary of The Ethical Spectacle. There are times when it is the most compelling activity in my life, and others when I feel tired and have considered hanging it up, but I just can't stop. In the early days, I frequently wrote several essays per issue, so a rough estimate is that I have written about 200 pieces for the 123 issues of the Spectacle. Some continue to bring me monthly email years after publication (An Auschwitz Alphabet, essays on Kent State, God, pornography, and lying) while others sank like stones (some deservedly). Many email and web publications I followed when I started-- Computer Underground Digest, the Network Observer, the Journal of Mediated Communications-- have all gone away, but I'm still here.

Part of the experience has been watching the successive waves of hype wash over the Internet. The latest is blogs. To put them in perspective: if instead of a monthly publication, I posted text every day or two; if instead of full articles, I put up random factoids and musings, and lots of links elsewhere; then the Spectacle would be a blog. Am I missing something?

So all the talk about the blogosphere is amusing. It is nothing more than fragmentary, frequently updated web pages (which have always existed) plus marketing. On the other hand, anything which increases the visibility and influence of Internet-based journalism is a Good Thing.

Of course, fractured communication, frequent updates, lots of links is a format practically dictated by the medium (which, once again, is the message). I am aware that the Spectacle format, a monthly issue aping print, is an archaic way to use the Web. But I plan to continue doing it that way anyway.

Jonathan jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will also respect that. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with your name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I also started using year zero, but refer to this era as the "Millenial Crusades". I write 3 M.C. under my other date when I write people. How do we get rid of the Straussians running our country?


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I only had a brief moment to scan your articles/essay about blocking software.. I am a 22 yr old married , mother of one ..I am a pretty right wing nut who DOES oppose NOW, gay rights, etc etc.( hope I am not being too sarcastic) ...I DO want those sights blocked among others.. My son is only 4, so I am not really restricting his constitutional rights or personal preferences..I just prefer not to happen upon anything I consider objectionable..or have anyone who uses my personal property ( my laptop) do the same....Now, do u advocate NOBODY buying this software or just try to educate those who think they are getting something else otherwise? I just really dont care about censorship I myself am imposing in my own home on things i am paying for ( software, computers, internet service,.)..I have a digital cable box that blocks Law and Order ,one of my favorite shows, which i simply enter my parental code if I so choose..Is this not an option on Cybersitter or just not acceptable? I am really confused on your/ your groups position...? Despite the fact that I am complelty close minded this very much interests me...Now I am kind of concerned , do my constitutional rights NOT include the right to choose my own filtering software? Or that company's right to block sights that the consumers will or will not support the blocking of, which would be indicated by sales and usage of that companys product? Isn't it the free market? If this ever reaches you, respond in some manner it would be enlightening!

Plus, I havent purchased yet and if you got a real good reason , i will keep my $50 bucks!

thanks for the entertainment and getting my brain going

Cameron Whitley

I look at filtering software on two levels.

1. Does it deliver what it promises?

2. Should it be mandated by government?

1. Filtering software companies tend to make very extravagant claims upon which they do not even attempt to deliver (witness the company which promised that its software met the extremely vague Supreme Court (un)defined standard of "obscenity" in that it could block only obscene sites and let explicitly sexual art or social commentary through....a ridiculous claim as software is just not "god-like" enough to make decisions that humans struggle over and tend to make very confusedly and ineptly.)

Filtering software uses one or both of two approaches. Some software is a passive blacklist "fed" by humans who make the decisions. While software companies tend to keep secret any information about the size and background of their blacklisting staff, investigative reporting I did established that these tend to be very modest size groups (as few as fifteen or twenty) who are part time college students, housewives, etc. with no formal training in what to block--and who spend an average of about a minute on each site. This explains why so much of my site, The Ethical Spectacle, www.spectacle.org, has been blocked at one time or another by these products, even though there is nothing indecent on my site.

The failure of this approach can be easily established by common sense and a little math. Google, as of a check I made one minute ago, states on its top page that it searches 8 billion web pages. Assuming for a minute that a scan of one minute per site is adequate, which it grossly is not, lets assume that the entire web could be evaluated in 8 billion minutes. Divide this by twenty (the size of a filtering company's blacklist staff). Take the resulting number of minutes and then divide by the number of minutes in a year to see how many years it would take a filtering company to scan the entire web as it exists at this minute. Of course, by the time you finished, a substantial number of the pages you examined would be offline and new ones would have come on, probably another twenty billion or more....

The second approach is keyword scanning, which the companies exaggeratedly vaunt as "artificial intelligence". *Software cannot make sophisticated human-like choices about the social value of text*. This kind of AI does not yet exist. These products all stupidly scan for banned words, which results in the blacklisting of essays of mine about the social impact of pornography, soccer league sites which use phrases like "fourteen year old female", regional web sites for "Middlesex County", etc. And even these products cannot scan 8 billion web pages in any reasonable time.

The result with every product we evaluated is that they ban numerous useful and innocuous web pages and let through a lot of porn. They thus give parents a false sense of security. *I would never let a software program babysit my child*.

2. It follows from 1 that I think that government ordering us all to use these flawed products is a massive boondoggle, especially as the blocking of sites like mine then becomes unconstitutional interference with freedom of speech under the First Amendment. I think the Supreme Court was wilfully blind to this issue when it upheld a law that says that libraries cannot get certain federal money unless they install this software.

Summary: A parent putting filtering software on a home computer is a matter of personal choice. Just be realistic about the capabilities and limitations of what you're buying.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

So the Americans didn't interfere with the Holocaust because they didn't want the American people to believe the purpose of the war was to save the Jews? This sounds like a rather futile attempt at explaining America's inaction...like the Americans didn't consider it an important enough issue. And you say America is one of the kinder, gentler nations with respect to the Jews.

For one thing, I don't think the general population in the U.S. knew what was going on with the Jews and a military operation to disrupt the flow of "Raw Material" to Auschwitz, such as bombing railroad tracks, could have been kept secret.

The unattractive truth is that the Americans, English, and Russians viewed the Jews in pretty much the same light as the Nazis. The Reich's doctrine was expansionism, and this is what the other powers took exception with and why they fought Germany.

America was neutral until Pearl Harbour was attacked in 1942. Did you know that if Japan hadn't surrendered the U.S. was planning to wipe their country off the face of the planet by mass-producing and dropping Atomic bombs? They were going to do the same thing to Germany but they surrendered as well.

Dear Jonathan,

First of all, I wanted to thank you very much for your Auschwitz site that I found very useful to read as a human being. For the third part, I personally think that it is a very good idea but I am not sure everyone "would be able" to figure it the right way... Try to ask people what they think around you... and youll see. I am a 28 year old French Catholic and for me the holocaust is not a question of Jewish people, it is something that concerns us all! Of course I do not want to offend you as a jewish person. But it's just that I feel so much concerned with what happened there! Its beyond everything I could have ever imagined, I do not think there is any word to describe this horror, as it is stated: "No why". When I think that most of them said that they were only obeying what they were being told/ ordered, it drives me crazy!!! How can you stay in Auschwitz, witness and be an actor of so much sadism without moving one finger?! This really drives me crazy! Also when an asshole (sorry but thats the only word that comes to my mind) says to you "When are we going to let them rest" well, just look at him/ her straight in the eyes and just reply: NE-VER!!!! I also wanted to tell you, that I have never considered or being taught by any priest that "the jews murdered my lord", this is so stupid!!! Everyone, betrayed Jesus, Jonathan! Almost all his apostle did! Did he reject them?! No, never... He loved them all/ us to death and you know why? Because they were just humans, and not JEWS!!!!! Everyone who is offending a jewish person must remember that he is offending Marie in first place and Jesus in the second who were born jewish! and also as it is said "Everything you will do to harm the weakest amongst you, is to me that the harm is done". Regarding the holocaust it is just being crucified once again "They didnt undertsand", this time is the nazi who did not!

Regarding the fact, that there was no God and how can he let that be?!!! We believe that God created man to his image, which means that human beings have exactly the same power as God himself and can do the bad as they can act good, He created us with the free will to use all that in the right way.. but we refused it from the begining (The metaphore of the Garden of Eden). But anyway, if the people who stayed in the camp do not believe in God anymore, I would totally understand it.. I could understand and listen anything from them anyway because this is just unbelievable..

And before God, how can a proper and sensitive human being could have let this happen to one another?!

You should contact Arno Klasferd and the Klasferd family in France.. They all passed their lawyers exams for only one reason: sue the nazi criminals. And they still do.

Take very much care of yourself Jonathan,