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Merrily mining middens

Mining the past

Over the years I have produced a surprising amount of, ah, written material in various disreputable venues. One of the things that I have been doing with the website is reprinting fragments of this material.

In my younger days I published in SF fanzines. There is a pleasure in creating a physical magazine, even if it has ratty production values. However fanzines represent a considerable amount of work for each word published. For that reason my published wordage in fanzines was comparatively limited. That source has been about mined out.

In the early 1980’s I discovered usenet. In modern jargon, usenet is a peer-to-peer online bulletin board system, divided into approximately 100,000 different discusion groups called usenet groups. Each group has its own nominal subject. Originally the purpose of usenet was to provide a convenient forum for discussing technical topics. It still serves that purpose, just as the world wide web still provides a convenient way to exchange physics papers for the physicists who invented the web.

The great advantage of usenet for print babblers is that all you have to do to spread your timeless words to the world is type them into a computer and push the send button. Over the past twenty rather odd years I have sent out thousands of such messages. Some, perhaps most, are inconsequential bits of fluff, but there are some that have some substance.

I have taken to reprinting some of this trash, er, fine thoughtful articles from time to time. Some of it I take directly from my archives. Unfortunately my archives don’t cover all of the past twenty five years. Fortunately for me (but not, perhaps, for my readers) Google maintains a huge archive of usenet articles over time, so I can go to their advanced usenet groups search facility and dig up what a lot of material that would otherwise have decently been lost.

Every once in a while I get the urge to check Google and see what jewels I have overlooked. This was one of those whiles, which explains some of the articles in this month’s issue.

What is the recourse?

Suppose that some individual, whom we will call Z, publishes a series of pamphlets attacking some group and that these pamplets are hate-filled, defamatory, and provocative. What is to be done about this, and who is to do it?

In many countries, e.g., Canada and some European countries, the chosen solution seems to be to have a law against this sort of thing. The objection is raised that such laws are censorship. Proponents of such laws reply that censoring hate speech is a good thing. Opponents reply that governments are not to be trusted in this regard, that they end up censoring that which they would rather not have said. It isn’t just governments that are not to be trusted. Corporations prefer that no one mention faults in their products or their dubious labor practices. In Texas it was (and for all I know still is) a crime to defame beef.

It was for just such considerations that the US made freedom of speech, etc, as part of their constitution. I suppose that it was the right thing to do. Still, there are problems.

If Z were attacking me as an individual, I would have, in principle, recourse. I could sue him, or I could get an injunction. I note as a practical matter that I might not be able to do this; if I were poor and ignorant and Z were wealthy I might not be able to afford the associated legal costs.

Now suppose that Z is attacking a class of people and that I happen to be a member of that class. I, as an individual, might be hard pressed to display damages. On the other hand my class of people might suffer considerable damage collectively. Again, in principle, someone could enter a class action suit against Z. But who is this someone? By what right do they enter a suit against Z? If there is an organization devoted to defending the interests of my class, then they might act. But what if there is no such organization? The whole matter is fraught with difficulties.

Now a possible solution is to have an agency that acts for groups being defamed that are not in a position to act for themselves. This seems to be what the Canadian law is an approximation of. When Z publishes his slurs, agency X gets an injunction against him. This solution is far from ideal; we are relying on agency X but agency X might not be all that reliable. They are now in the position of judging who should be protected and who should not.

It has been said that freedom of speech is paramount, that in a free interchange of ideas lies will be exposed for what they are. I submit that this is not the issue. The issue is one of recourse. If you defame me as an individual, I have recourse. If Zundel had attacked an individual in the way that he attacked the Jews, that individual would have had recourse. But when someone attacks a group, where is the recourse?

Why employers like college degrees

There is a class of people who have a block about completing major projects. They may be brilliant and capable of very good work, but when it comes to that final push to get the job done, they can’t do it, somehow. It is typical of people in this group that they don’t complete college. One of the values of a college degree of any kind to an employer is that it is tangible evidence that the person in question can, in fact, carry a major task through to completion.

Despite what certain persons with Large Black Dogs might think, I am not one of those people. As evidence I have a college degree; I do get my projects done. However I will concede that it took me thirteen years to actually complete my BS degree. There are those of us who handling the juggling of the many balls in our lives by letting some land on the floor and picking them up again later.

In this regard I suppose that I am like a certain large black dog who is always on his best behaviour except when his nose catches an interesting scent and he wanders off to follow something that is important RIGHT NOW.

For sale

FOR SALE: One (1) probability wavemeter, slightly used, still under factory warranty. Meter reading instantaneously drops to zero during electron phototube measurements, otherwise works perfectly. Manufacturer claims that the problem can be fixed but that it is too bohring to work on. Their slogan, “The only physically real things are the nonobservables.” Best offer accepted, preferably in the form of non-negotiable bearer bonds.

This page was last updated March 1, 2008.

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Collected editorials