legal 5.08

Where do they find the time?

I have a day job. It keeps me too busy to worry about the state of my neighbors' morals. If my neighbors behave, I'm happy; I have no time to sit around trying to practice mind control. But there are always folks in government who seem to have nothing but time, and nothing to do with it except ponder their fellow-citizens' souls. Fret and worry, worry and fret; a censor's needs are never met.

Before I depress you with recent selected news of such folks, however, I'd like to salute a wise, learned judge, the Hon. Ralph Thomson, US District Court judge for Oklahoma. A while ago I wrote about the seizure of The Tin Drum, the 1979 Foreign Language Academy Award winner. Almost 20 years after it was released, the Oklahoma City basset hounds decided it was child pornography, so they stormed the local Blockbuster one night. Judge Thomson, in a preliminary ruling, gently pointed out that it would have been nice to have a trial over whether the movie was obscene before calling out the SWAT Team. General forehead-smacking followed, I'm sure.

Alas, in nearby Denver, stupidity reigns. Road Dog Ale has been distributed in Colorado since 1995. The Colorado Division of Liquor has now banned it because its label says "good beer ... no shit," which was deemed to be "obscene or profane in nature." Apparently, whether your beer contains shit is not considered relevant consumer information in Colorado. This may explain why they put up with Coors. Personally, I like to know what's in the beer, so in honor of the Colorado Department of Liquor, I propose to open a cold one and root for Green Bay.

In Dallas, Texas, a judge sentenced a Native American teenager to attend church and Sunday School classes for eight weeks for fighting at school. My own experience of Dallas is that the local Christians have as high a percentage of brawlers and goof balls as any other faith, so the judge's theory that Sunday School will automatically rehabilitate the kid is a bit warped. More importantly, Christianizing the heathen by force generally fell out of favor over the last century. Doesn't this story of judicial compassion and moral-improvement fervor just warm the cockles of your heart? (If your cockles get too warm, you can rub them down with dry ice.)

Finally, let's consider Sen. "Bud" Gilbert, of Knoxville, Tennessee. Sen. "Bud" wants anti-pornography software blocks on all city, county and state computers, including those at libraries, schools, universities, museums and research institutions. "It's a matter of making sure our libraries and schools are not used as conveyors for that kind of smut. I'm also getting reports of a lack of productivity in state offices. There's no reason employees need to have access to anything that's pornographic," Gilbert said. He went on to compare porn on the Internet to "a child's first experience of looking up a dirty word in the dictionary."

Now, if Sen. Gilbert thinks that what can be found via the Internet is roughly equal, in power and eroticism, to looking up the word "breast" in Webster's then the Senator, friends, is an idiot. (He would probably spell it "idjit.") And if the Senator also believes that state bureaucratic productivity was high until the Internet became accessible, then his idiocy is a rare and beautiful thing. But the true reason that I salute the Senator as a paragon, as an ideal human being to be emulated by would-be censors everywhere, is that his proposed filter, in practice, prevents computer users from finding out about breast cancer, or chicken breast recipes, because those Internet sites contain the prohibited word, "breast." In other words, not only is he a raging fool, his proposed censorship tool doesn't even work right.

At least the Colorado Department of Liquor could hit what it was aiming at: The Road Dog Beer people now distribute their beer with a label that says "Good Beer...No Censorship." Words to live by. If you are tempted to investigate what your neighbors are up to, take my advice: sit down until the feeling passes. If necessary, nail your shoes to the floor.

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