November 2004 Archives

As everyone not living under a rock realizes by now, AOL’s latest ad campaign shows the media conglomerate taking suggestions from its members to improve the Internet.

In light of this ad, I have a suggestion: AOL users should learn how the Internet actually works. Before one can suggest viable improvements to a system, one must understand how it works. Given that the Internet is the product of some of the finest minds of the past third of a century, this is no small task. At a minimum, the following items should be understood:

the 7-layer OSI model


HTML, JavaScript, and Java

modems, routers, and firewalls

viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware

browser plug-ins (PDF, SWF, MPEG, etc.)

Without this knowledge, AOL users don’t know enough to improve the Internet. Once these items are mastered, they can submit an RFC to the IETF just like everyone else does. Asking for advice from the least-competent Internet users of the worst ISP isn't the way to make anything better.

TANGENT: Slate’s Seth Stevenson skewered the AOL ads in “You’ve Got Commercials!,” and mentioned NetZero’s parodies of them in “I Know You Are But What Am ISP?

A Delaware newspaper recently ran two articles on a teenager's battle with his school over an anti-Bush t-shirt. I was in the midst of drafting a letter-to-the-editor about Saturday's article "School orders boy to cover his t-shirt" when an update, "Student's shirt spurs review of rules," appeared yesterday.

Today's paper featured an unsigned editorial ("School would be smarter to ignore student's T-shirt") which, while acknowledging that the district caused the "disruption," recommends ignoring sartorial controversies as a "powerful behavior modification tool." If the student in question were simply interested in garnering attention, this would indeed be a prudent course of (in)action. Doing so, however, would be an abdication of the school's educational responsibilities. In age of dumbed-down science education (supplanting evolution with pseudo-theories of "intelligent design") and dumbed-down health education (ignoring birth control and sexual orientation), can we really afford to dumb down civics education out of continued deference to the fragile sensibilities of the "ignorance is strength" crowd?

As the Supreme Court stated in their protection of a student's right to not salute the flag:

"Boards of Education...have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."

West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943)

This sentiment was affirmed in the Tinker case, which protected the expression of dissent through wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War:

"Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority's opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk."

Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 US 503 (1969)

As the ACLU notes, "The First Amendment exists precisely to protect the most offensive and controversial speech from government suppression. The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution."

As a result of the publicity garnered by the school's suspension threats, Mr. Truszkowski and his fellow students now have some first-hand experience with abuse of power and (attempted) suppression of dissent in public schools. One can only hope that this event fosters in them an appreciation for free speech, which - although frequently lauded in theory - is often abridged in practice.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offense, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them."

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

Thank you for your continuing coverage of the Appoquinimink student's t-shirt tribulations. It appears that the Everett Meredith Middle School administration and Appoquinimink District staff deserve failing grades in the subject of students' rights. Delaware's ACLU executive director correctly paraphrased the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling, where the Supreme Court stated the following: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The students in the Tinker case wore black armbands to protest the U.S. invasion of Vietnam; Stephen Truszkowski's t-shirt protesting Bush's invasion of Iraq is quite similar.

Later court rulings established restrictions on "vulgar and offensive" student language, but that is not at issue here: the only relevant principle is the First Amendment's protection of civil discourse. Whether or not one agrees with either the sentiment or the language of Mr. Truszkowski's t-shirt, his right to dissent from the status quo is protected by law. Why has the school administration singled out this particular criticism of the White House's current occupant? The unmentioned irony is that the current dress code (prohibiting clothing that "glorifies violence or criminal behavior") would actually be violated by pro-Bush t-shirts. Mr. Truszkowski's denunciation of violence and criminality should be celebrated instead of being condemned.

At the very least, Mr. Truszkowski is owed sincere apologies by the Everett Meredith Middle School and Appoquinimink District staff for teaching them a valuable civics lesson. If they continue to demonstrate an incapacity for respecting the rights of students, perhaps they should consider employment in a different field.

[note: In case it is not obvious, this was a letter-of-comment to a media outlet. An article about the events is here.]

After seeing the turmoil over Bill Clinton's new Presidential Center - and the right-wing rebuttal, the Counter Clinton Library - I decided to begin working on an appropriate tribute to Dubya. After a few moments' effort, I am now the proud owner of the domain name

By the time our long national nightmare comes to an end in January 2009, the site will be dedicated to preserving the legacy of George W. (Worst. President. Ever.) Bush and the Busheviks. The main feature will undoubtedly be - appropriately enough for a library - an extensive reading list. (So many books, so little time...)

Chronicling this administration is an ugly job, but someone has to do it.

Cal Thomas' "Liberal Lamentations" arrived in response to the piece on Falwell's fatwa.

My reply follows:

That's typical Cal Thomas, all right: whining about "disparaging labels" (unsourced, of course) and then calling liberals and their writings "condescending," "elitist," "clueless," "insulting," and "insane." (Oh, and "hypocritical," too...but Thomas is more familiar with that word than he realizes.)

I don't have enough free time to fact-check everything that Thomas mentions, but I did read the Friedman piece (which didn't mention "strong odors," "coming theocracies," or "beheadings") and the Wills article (whose legitimate question about fundamentalism Thomas completely ignored by quoting an irrelevant biblical verse). He may not be implying that Wills is an atheist (as if that could possibly matter), but this style of argument makes me wonder if there's anything Thomas won't misrepresent in order to score a point.

It's always instructive to examine rhetoric like "an enormous sea of red (Bush counties) with only tiny patches of blue (Kerry counties) in the usual places where elites and other condescending liberals reside" in light of a map like this, weighted by population instead of acreage:


If you study this map, you have to conclude that the "enormous sea" and the "tiny patches" are nearly equal; has it never occurred to Thomas that he might be objectively wrong?

Satire is alive and well:


"America has once again been threatened by Radical Clerics. In a videotaped message, Conservative Imam Jerry Falwell has issued a Fatwah against what he perceives to be the Infidels in the Liberal northern and western parts of the country..." (


"White House Department of Faith Proposal to Amend US Constitution to Conform to Biblical Principles Regarding Marriage" (


Election Day

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“If we shrug our shoulders and accommodate ourselves to official deception, if we focus only on whether our side wins and ignore how that victory is achieved, if we let cynicism or apathy or fear keep us from standing up for the truth, then we have failed to live up to the citizenship true democracy demands. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.”

(Paul Waldman, Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn’t Tell You, p. 283)

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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