Transterrestrial Musings  

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Alan Boyle (MSNBC)
Space Politics (Jeff Foust)
Space Transport News (Clark Lindsey)
NASA Watch
NASA Space Flight
Hobby Space
A Voyage To Arcturus (Jay Manifold)
Dispatches From The Final Frontier (Michael Belfiore)
Personal Spaceflight (Jeff Foust)
Mars Blog
The Flame Trench (Florida Today)
Space Cynic
Rocket Forge (Michael Mealing)
COTS Watch (Michael Mealing)
Curmudgeon's Corner (Mark Whittington)
Selenian Boondocks
Tales of the Heliosphere
Out Of The Cradle
Space For Commerce (Brian Dunbar)
True Anomaly
Kevin Parkin
The Speculist (Phil Bowermaster)
Spacecraft (Chris Hall)
Space Pragmatism (Dan Schrimpsher)
Eternal Golden Braid (Fred Kiesche)
Carried Away (Dan Schmelzer)
Laughing Wolf (C. Blake Powers)
Chair Force Engineer (Air Force Procurement)
Saturn Follies
JesusPhreaks (Scott Bell)
The Ombudsgod
Cut On The Bias (Susanna Cornett)
Joanne Jacobs

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« Socialist Libertarians? | Main | Gender-Based Economics? »

Stop The Madness
[Note: this is a more polished version of an earlier post. I've added in a lot of good thoughts based on the comments there, and wish to thank all of the contributers.]

I often disagree with Bill O'Reilly, but I want to defend him.

A lot of smart people are bashing him on line, particularly in the blogosphere, but I think that this just proves his point. I think that he's spot on with this erudite and well-reasoned editorial. This "Internet" is just too powerful.

When the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they could never have conceived a technology that would allow anyone to publish anything at any time, at almost no cost, and have it readable by millions instantaneously.

In fact, inspired by this work, I'm working on a book, tentatively titled "Publishing America: Origins Of The Free-Speech Myth," in which my thesis is that very few people had access to printing presses in colonial times, and this notion of a long American tradition of a free press and individual freedom of expression is simply propaganda of First Amendment extremists. I've painstakingly gone over old probate inventories, and can show statistically that very few homes traditionally had means of printing and, such few as there were, they had mostly fallen into such a state of disrepair as to be useless. Unfortunately, my pet iguana ate all of my notes, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I'm sure the print nuts will employ their usual ad hominem tactics, and call me a fraud.

Anyway, it's one thing to have free speech when the most effective means of communicating ideas is with a printing press that few can afford, and has to have the type carefully set by hand, and they have to be printed on expensive paper, and transported no faster than a horse can run, and distributed by walking door to door.

Such a laborious and expensive process as colonial-era printing ensured that potentially dangerous ideas were more thought out, and well edited, and could usually be easily traced to their author. So, given that the investment in publishing was so high, it made it much more likely that only responsible people would be publishing things, and that you wouldn't have wackos running around spewing crazy or confused, even false or misinformed notions at innocent and naive passers by.

In that environment, it made perfect sense to grant an individual right to print things (to bear presses, as it were), because there was little danger of it getting out of hand.

But surely the Founders never intended for every single citizen to be able to exercise such a right--in their wisdom, they would have known it would lead to chaos and unfettered thought. They couldn't possibly have imagined the rapid-fire distribution of dangerous ideas made possible by twenty-first-century technology. Why, some people might have even put forth the absurd notion that free speech is the right of everyone.

Had they actually anticipated the possibility that the cost of publishing could drop so dramatically, they would surely have made the First Amendment a much more explicitly collective right (like the Second), in which people would only have a right to free speech in a well-regulated state newspaper.

Let's be reasonable--of course it's fine to let people have typewriters, and copiers, as long as they don't have a paper magazine of more than a quarter-ream capacity, and can't print more than two pages per minute in high-density color. There are legitimate uses for such things--printing up book reports for school, making PTA meeting notices and party invitations, and the like. We respect the rights of those who wish to indulge in such innocuous, if pointless activities, long a part of the American cultural tradition (though it would certainly make sense to register such devices, in case they're stolen, or lest they're used to express some untoward or scandalous thought).

Of course, we do need to outlaw the cheap Sunday-night specials, old manual machines still available in pawn shops, with sticky keys, that cause ink stains, and from which a large number of late term papers are produced by the criminal procrastinating class during the witching hours. But really, folks, chill--no one wants to take away your typewriters.

But the Founders would realize also, just as Bill O'Reilly and I do today, that no one, other than the police and politicians, needs the kind of "idea assault" publishing capability offered by word processors, blogging software, and even fifteen-page-per-minute ink-jet printers, which really have no legitimate use--they only propagate calumny and wrong-headed notions, tragically damaging innocent celebrities' egos, sometimes permanently.

This past weekend, just to demonstrate how easy it is to lay hands on such dangerous equipment, I exploited the notorious "computer show loophole," and went out to the big show in Pomona, California. There, I saw entire halls filled with purveyors of high-speed idea processors, rapid-fire printers, and even modems capable of transmitting thoughts at frightening rates, up to gigabytes per second. For only $4.99, with not so much as an ID requirement, let alone a background check, I was able to purchase an "assault keyboard," with several internet hotkeys. It was fully automatic--holding down any key would result in a torrent of characters being spit out, hundreds per minute. I even saw teenaged children buying them.

Yet, when people propose sensible regulations over this, we hear hysterical cries about "freedom of expression," and "from my cold, dead fingers." But surely the far-fringe First Amendment absolutists are misreading it--there is a hint of a shadow of an umbra of a penumbra in there, easily accessed by referencing the Second Amendment. Bearing this in mind, it is more properly read with the following implicit preface: "A well-regulated press being necessary for the security of the State and self-important talk-show hosts, Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble..."

Clearly, viewed in the light of that implicit purpose clause, these were not intended to be individual rights, any more than they were in the Second Amendment, because obviously, the Founders wouldn't have meant one thing by the words "the right of the people" in the one case, and a different thing in the other, particularly in two adjacent amendments.

Accordingly it is equally clear that we need to implement what would obviously have been the Founders' intent had they foreseen the Internet, and immediately pass some laws to get this thing under control. Let's do it for the children.

Particularly Bill O'Reilly.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 18, 2003 05:06 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference this post from Transterrestrial Musings.
First Amendment Extremists
Excerpt: You may have heard about Bill O'Reilly's complaints concerning the Internet, and the idea that just anybody can say whatever
Weblog: The Eleven Day Empire
Tracked: June 19, 2003 04:00 AM
Eat Your Heart Out, Jonathan Swift
Excerpt: Read this....
Weblog: Practical Penumbra
Tracked: June 19, 2003 07:18 PM
Simberg on O'Reilly
Excerpt: Rand Simberg has some thoughts on Bill O'Reilly's recent criticisms of 'these websites these days.' He points out that changing times call for not only changing interpretations of the First Amendment, but also for abandoning principles once thought vit...
Tracked: June 20, 2003 02:48 PM
Amusing satire on collective rights view
Excerpt: Rand Simberg does a good job of reducing collective rights to absurdity. (Actually, one could make a still stronger historical argument. Until 1695, you had to have a goverment permit to publish a book on politics; in the early 1800s,...
Weblog: Of Arms and the Law
Tracked: May 14, 2005 03:02 PM
Amusing satire on collective rights view
Excerpt: Rand Simberg does a good job of reducing collective rights to absurdity. (Actually, one could make a still stronger historical argument. Until 1695, you had to have a goverment permit to publish a book on politics; in the early 1800s,...
Weblog: Of Arms and the Law
Tracked: May 14, 2005 03:02 PM
Amusing satire on collective rights view
Excerpt: Rand Simberg does a good job of reducing collective rights to absurdity. The Framers lived in a time when printing presses were rare, and only responsible people owned them; they could not have foreseen the internet, which allows virtually anyone...
Weblog: Of Arms and the Law
Tracked: July 12, 2005 09:23 AM

Almost sucked me in there, but after a day of resin fumes and kevlar I'm a little humor impared.

Posted by hjd at June 18, 2003 07:11 PM

Oh I dont think so...if O Reilly can dish it out he had better learn to take it..
Luckily, some of us still believe in the Bill of Rights...and no one will take that way from us, despite O Reillys whining..

when IS O Reilly going to apologize about the LACK of WMDs in Iraq anyway?

we are waitingggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg

Posted by Mrs Brown at June 18, 2003 07:17 PM

The fact that we haven't found WMDs in Iraq doesn't mean that they aren't there, or never were. If Bush was "lying" about them, so was the UN, Bill Clinton, and most of the Democrats in Congress last year...

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 18, 2003 07:32 PM

Yes, but Bill Clinton didn't use WMDs to justify putting thousands of U.S. troops in harms way.

Posted by Shawn at June 19, 2003 04:59 AM

No, his excuse was Monica in front of the grand jury...

(Y'all really don't want to go there again, do you?)

Posted by Kevin McGehee at June 19, 2003 06:00 AM



*choke, splutter, snort, wheeze*

Wait, wait...let me stop laughing before I type anything.


Forget it, I'm in stitches!


Posted by The Sanity Inspector at June 19, 2003 11:32 AM

It seems to me that all the commenters here and below (original post) missed the all too obvious answer to this issue.

If there is outrageous and false information on the internet, then it is offset by the correct information being there also. The truth, like diamonds or gold must be mined, it does not lay around waiting to be picked up at random. When have we ever had, or trusted, all the "truth" being told in any one source. It is up to the individual to become informed, to weigh all sides of an issue and to decide what is right. Anyone who reads, or watches, one news account of some event or one account of something concerning some person, and believes that the account is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, well, the person that believes that account is an idiot.

Anyone who does this and watches ABC's network news will believe we lost the Iraqi War.

"A well informed public being necessary for the security of the State, Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of searching for information, or of the people to do said research; or the right of the people to peaceably read and assimilate and discuss said information..."

Oddly enough, I don't believe EVERYTHING I read on the blogosphere. I don't believe everything I hear on Fox News. I don't believe everything I see in my local news papers. I read and watch and surf the net, and THEN I decide what is real and what is not.

I believe Saddam Hussein and Usama Bin Laden are alive, my research leads me to belive that. I do not believe they are hiding in a cave with the Bat Boy. Again, I did my research and it leads me to believe The Weekly World News was a little off on that particular story.

Posted by Steve at June 19, 2003 12:21 PM

This post scared me for a second, because in a recent post I called O'Reilly a "White Slaver" so I get all jumpy when I see bloggers "defending" him.

Very, very, funny!

But seriously now, if we could save just one syndicated life...

Posted by Eric Scheie at June 22, 2003 07:32 PM

If Bill would like to see a liquid piston ballanced gas air steam O2 engine run I would love to show it to him.
138 hp 516 mpg 2500 hp 145 gallons per day.
Water is the pistons in this V twin driving sliding vane rotor on steam and O2 using gas just to maintain the boil .
I am ready to show the world the end of the oil age .
Best regards :
TJ Fraser
DOE and the NAVY with names tryed to hide it from congress and my recording will open many eyes. But my engine will change the world.

Posted by TJ FRASER at September 29, 2003 08:38 PM

Still chuckling.

Actually, you could add a lot of historical arguments to this.

Until 1695, British law required a government permit to publish a book on politics, religion, or philosophy.

In the early 1800s, Congresses that included many of the Framers enacted the Sedition Act, which criminalized publishing any false statement about the President or the Congress. Federalist judges applied it with vigor, and editors and writers of letters to the editor went to jail for up to a year. (The view was that freedom of the press only meant you couldn't be stopped in advance from publishing; if what you published could be said to be false, in any way, you could be jailed after it was printed.)

Posted by Dave Hardy at May 14, 2005 03:12 PM

VERY FUNNY. Too bad today's gun grabbers will never get the point. Just to give an idea of what the founders had in mind with the 2nd Amendement see the Militia Act of 1792. Effectively, every male citizen was required to own a military rifle. As far as how to interpret "well regulated" see that the act sets up the organization of a citizen army.

Posted by RKV at May 14, 2005 04:47 PM

the absence of proof does not equate the proof of absence

Posted by hejde at May 14, 2005 06:17 PM

Ben Franklin, Jon Gutenberg and Martin Luther would be proud of your analysis, although I believe only Ben would recognize its thrust.

There is no stopping the blogosphere. Even without constitutional protection, technology has outstripped the ability to regulate effectively the kind of technology available for pennys a day. Even BO'Reilly, who is looking out for each of us (and who, BTW, and incidentally, I admire in many ways) must recognize this.

A great post, Rand.

Posted by Jim Rhoads at May 14, 2005 08:12 PM

Post a comment

Email Address: