Monday, January 30, 2012

Hey Guys, Let's All Go Do Drugs and Make Law...

"Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed." 
 -- Herman Melville

The idea of drug testing welfare recipients has been getting a lot of play lately as one of those hot-button issues that appeals to the baser biases of mankind, inflaming economic class prejudices and causing friction between the people just trying to make ends meet and the people who think they're intrinsically better than everyone else. It's sad, really, but it's an altogether too familiar tactic of conservative authoritarian politicians.

Well, here's what happens when a drug-testing law actually gets put up for debate:

Short version: A Republican in Indiana introduced the law, it was amended to include testing for the legislature because their salaries are from public coffers, and the Republican was so offended that he withdrew his bill, intentionally misstating the law and claiming there was a constitutional issue. Well, the real issue is his hypocrisy.

Situations like these, where a portion of the society tries to exploit endemic inequality for the sake of their own gain are always timebombs ticking. They will blow up in you face eventually. The society might take awhile to cogitate, but the historical trend, especially post-Dark Ages, has always been to attempt to alleviate the injustices of the world. It's actually the one bright point of hope for the human race.

There have been other such predations on the opportunities available to the less fortunate. I won't go through the litany, but it's worth pointing out that the people who are suggesting that it's a moral issue when people who take drugs get government money are often the same people who's mothers and wives were addicted to Valium, who have a standing prescription for pain pills for a "bad back," who are on anti-depressants, or who maybe are overly fond of their local bartender.

You see, people get fucked up. That what they do.  Ask Rush Limbaugh.  Or Ted Haggard.  Maybe your drug's Vicodin or Viagra, maybe it's adrenaline, maybe it's Jesus, but one way or another homo sapiens seek an altered state. At a concert, in a race, in an ashram, in a fistfight, in the back of a '69 Charger... or on an ice-fishing whisky bender. Or maybe in Jamaica with the Rastafari, it doesn't matter, we all want an "enhancement" for our poor, weary bones.  Coffee... (More about coffee later.)  We have a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry that attests to the fact that humanity's ground-state often leaves much to be desired.  And so, desire we do. Every doctor is Dr. Feelgood on some level, the whole point of their existence is to put you at ease. That's why it's called a disease, and the aim is to cure it. But the people who advocate drug testing basically want to hold the fact that people can't afford to run to a real doctor for feel-good pills against them. That stuff is reserved for the upper-crust, and the upper-crust ain't happy unless it's ONLY for the upper-crust.  There's something about the nature of hierarchies and humanity at work.

There's a long standing prejudice against the poverty-stricken in this world. The great unwashed, they were called by the religious and the affluent (meaning both unbaptized and just plain dirty), the rabble, the masses. And a whole lot of other unsavory names. And often the epithets of race and class were combined: poor white trash... The efforts to revive those prejudices in modern politics are pathetically transparent. And the hypocrisy of it is just the most obvious facet. Ask a conservative what the difference is between a banker getting a bailout and a poor man in a welfare line waiting for his paltry bailout and you'll see what I mean.

Besides, anyone who would support drug testing welfare recipients has missed the whole point of welfare, which is to help the most wretched. To just cut the most wretched, the most addicted, the most desperate and diseased out of the system and watch them suffer and die is like using a sledge hammer to fix a faucet. It's the least creative and the least effective way to deal with a complex problem, because the problem won't just go away when you start to ignore it. It'll go to a neighborhood that has money and try to steal its sustenance. The slow leak will become a furious fountain and ruin your McMansion.

Let's let the free people of this nation, especially the ones who claim to want a small government, raise their hands if they think it's a good idea to have a government who's first response to everything is, “Hey, why don't you pee in this cup?” Want a government job? Pee in the cup. Want your tax return? Pee in the cup. Wanna get into the national park? Here's your cup.

"Oh, you're poor. We'll have to put you on a schedule. Uh, and you'll have to supply your own cup. Sorry."

* * *
When I was in law school it was widely accepted (and sometimes boasted of) that the legal profession on the whole was the most drug-addled of all professions. Lawyers were substance abusers through and through. It was a triumvirate of affluence, stress, and too much responsibility, everyone understood this, everyone was at least a little sympathetic. A human being has limits. One can see why a lawmaker would hesitate to pass a law that required drug testing of people who happen to be predominantly lawyers, especially if that lawmaker is a lawyer himself, but the fact remains that lawyers have a whole lot more impact on society and on individual lives than do welfare recipients. And so do lawmakers. If drug use, and the damage from drug use on the state and federal coffers is the moral issue, then this Indiana case really rankles of the worst kind of dirty, self-serving hypocrisy there is in this world.

Mandatory drug testing has its uses, but for a free society it's inherently problematic.  We're all supposed to be agents worthy of trust and respect.  It is our responsibility to abide by the laws.  The enforcers should only come along if there is clear evidence that we haven't.  It's a question of the burden of proof.

I read a story awhile back of a guy who's wife went into the hospital to have a baby. (This is an anecdote and I'm not going to use names, so you'll have to decide the veracity for yourself, but I will say that I'm not just making it up.) They drug tested the kid before they let the parents see her. The results came back with a flag for barbituates (not sure if the flag was a Jolly Roger or not, but it seems appropriate...) and along with the results came a social worker to take the little girl away. The parents protested mightily, but hey, they had tattoos, and they were poor. They let the mom hold her baby for five minutes.  As a kindness.  Then whisked her away.  As it turns out, the hospital had given the mother a sleeping pill the night before she went into labor. Their mistake. The couple, by a stroke of luck, got their little girl back, and as a consolation prize they got to visit the gift shop for a nice set of coffee mugs with the hospital's name on it. The social worker was like, “Here. You've seen how things work now. You're probably gonna want a cup.”

Coffee, by the way is bad for nursing infants. So I'm told.

* * *
The medical profession is the official drug dealer of our society, yet we respect them. Everything else where black market drug sales are concerned pales in comparison. They have all these procedures that are now prescribed by insurance carriers, but before all that went down medical professionals USED to know that just because you CAN test for something, it doesn't mean you SHOULD.  They still know that, really, but they get greedy about charging for tests, and scared about being sued for not testing for something they should have.

Now I doubt a conservative would be caught dead reading this blog.  Nonetheless, I've been trying to think of what might encompass the thought for a conservative in the off chance that he or she stumbles across this blog accidentally.  We have a case where a politician put up a law that adjudged all poor people to require drug testing, but didn't like it much when the tables were turned.  Perhaps something from the Bible would be in order.  "Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself."  Think about it.  You're drug-testing a section of the population for government assistance... because you assume that they're doing drugs.  What the hell ever happened to assumed innocent until proven guilty?  How's that for a fundamental American concept?

Honestly.  I'll never understand the conservative platform.

* * *

There is an inherent problem with any worldview that relies on a purely economic measure of the value of a human.  Such views are responsible for travesties like the French Revolution's Terror, where the aristocrats were decapitated out of hand, often simply for being rich.  We don't want that for our country.  We should take a lesson from history; do not hate rich because they are rich, and don't hate the poor because they are poor.  Monetary wealth is vacillatory in nature- there are booms and busts.  The economy is fluid.  Today's millionaire may tomorrow be singing Harburg and Gorney's old song:

The Bible can say what it may, but the truth is, you can't get through the world without making judgments.  It is better to rely on ideals of virtue and vice to make those judgments, perhaps, that have been established for many millennia. Greed and gluttony, selfishness and hypocrisy, these seem more honest measures of men and women than bulging wallets and black credit cards. They are character assessments that come about according to what people have actually done.  We judge people on their acts, not on the group they belong to, not on our biases.  And this is why.  (In spite of the problems of vast economic disparity, there is still some economic mobility in this country.)  It is interesting; the proposition that traditional ideals of virtue and vice should guide our judgments sounds conservative, but these days it's anything but what conservative front-runners are selling.

By the way, the presumption of innocence is not only an American value, it's a truly ancient concept: "Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat." The Justinian Code.

Every law student, past and present, knows, once you start quoting Latin, you're just about done...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Afraid of Dying

Afraid of Dying
by Clinton Phipps

I think we once talked of trust between us,
I have killed that line of thought.
Some man told me once of how we are connected
and I just could not see it,
not now, not then, not ever,
but then your touch upon my skin left this feeling...
and I am at a loss to describe it,
and I have forgotten all the rest
as though it were a form of death.
So, perhaps there was an inkling in my darkness,
something like a resurrection.

I took a job once where I could have fallen
from scaffolding among the treetops
into the murky black mold of a concrete dungeon.
The bruises delivered me out of suffering,
all that hammering holding on to rungs
made me look into the mirror one night
my arms and legs where I put my weight
all black and purple in a thousand ways and shades,
and in the morning I did not go back.
I felt as if I had been saved.
We are all afraid of dying.

Too often, the sky here is a sopping dishcloth
and the ocean is a liquid rage,
frothing the bubbles among its many teeth
this is how the storms incur their wrath
wringing out a deluge from those cloudy pillars
in the middle of a black night's cathedral.
I learned long ago that you do not traverse those rocks,
slick with the sweat of a weary hurricane, at night,
you wait out the tantrum and then
climb down to the ocean and marvel
at how the beachcombers always arrive before you.

In the desert things were different,
a role reversal, where the thirsty sky
sucked at the dirty rag of my skin
to pull the last moisture into her mouth.
I discerned how I would die if I stayed,
a bunch of bones inside a burlap bag,
some parts and pieces jangling loose...                    a jawbone off alone,
the precious metals left to cogitate their values,
and in some deep cave they would find me,
like a lost miner who wandered in too far
just to escape that damnable sun.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Inspired by Facebook

Well, not inspired by Facebook the company, but rather, by the ability to interact with people through Facebook.  Of course, that interaction is not novel, as much as Mark Z. would like you think he came up with the idea.  People have been writing letters for centuries, and even in the modern age, interaction across the wires has had many iterations.  In fact, our old band website,, built by our buddy Zach (check his efforts at in the early 00's, was heavy on the social end of things.  It'd be audacious to say it anticipated the social networking boom, but, well, Zach's a pretty smart guy...

If only we'd known then what we know now.

Anyhow, Facebook lets our current band, The Pitch Black Ribbons, ask people questions, chat, interact, all that stuff we used to be able to do, except with a whole lot more participants and somebody else owns the machine.  You know the deal.

Well, I set up a survey with the FB "ask a question" feature with a bunch of random humorous options, and as it turns out, Wendy and Jenny Warner responded.  They're sisters.  Jenny builds awesome guitars, and Wendy rides awesome horses.  Ha... how does your job compare to that?  But for the survey, they both answered, "I only like whisky."  ...The whisky sisters.  I had to write about that.

So I wrote a song about them.  Have a listen:

                     The Whisky Sisters

And the intro's true, we recorded it on one of the guitars Jenny built.  Excellent. You should buy one.  Look for a Warner.

I'm not exactly sure how I manage to write country songs after playing rock music for so long.  I sort of tuck my tongue into my cheek and twang the guitar and try not to laugh as I play and sing through my teeth, and sometimes that works.  Copious amounts of liquor helps.  Anyhow, don't take it too seriously, even though every last word is utterly true.  You can believe me.  'Specially when I wear my black hat.  And post on Facebook, 'cause everything on the intrwebz is true.

Upshot is, now y'all cain't say nothin' good never came out of Facebook, no more.  

Pay attention, Anonymous, as you ready your Ion Cannon.  We the People are watching.

Well, that's about it for now.  Enjoy your Friday, people.  I recommend the Jameson tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

War Games

OK, a consolidation of links is in order.  Connect the dots time.

You've probably heard of the hacker group Anonymous.  "Political Hactivists" as they're called.  Recently there was a documentary about their history.  Trailer:

It's hard not to agree with a lot of what they're saying.  Freedom is a good thing.  Speech, press, freedom of information, these are the fundamental ingredients of an open society, and they're enshrined as such in the highest laws of our land.  And yet, it's easy to see that those ideals are continuously eroded in practical application.  Why?  That's an endless question for the myriad philosophers, but I suspect that human nature is such that we tend to love the ideal of something, but think twice about it in the scrum.  That's why the founders saw fit to specifically acknowledge that these rights existed, and write them down.

At any rate, the folks at Anonymous are pissed about the way things break down in the real world.  So pissed, in fact, that they want to crash Marky Z's eighth ethereal wonder of the modern non-existent world, just to make a point about the nature of speech and privacy.  It's war baby, WAR I SAY!  Checkit, it's ON:

So get yer Facebookin' in today, I tell ya, while you can.

The thing about hackers saying there's an "online war" going on, is that you're likely to laugh it off.  "What, you're going to crash my Facebook for a few hours?"  --Ouch.  I won't be able to update my relationship status.  I'll be screwed.  (Well, not literally, 'cause we're all nerds now.)  "Oh, you're taking down the RIAA's website?"  --God, whatever will I do?  It's so SCARY.

On some level it all seems so silly.  You want to tell them, "Hey guys, we need to work on your definition of 'war.'  This is but a public relations skirmish.  I live in the real world, and where's all the blood and gore and fog of combat?"

Until you realize...

"Thousands of Industrial Systems Unwittingly Hooked Up to Internet"
"US Pentagon computers cannot be protected, says NSA head"
"Computer Virus Hits U.S. Drone Fleet"

...all the things in the real world that are controlled by computers connected to the Internet.  And then you start to think.  Hospitals need power.  Nursing homes.  Schools, communications, waste treatment plants.  Clean clear water is necessary for human survival, even in the urban world.  Trains and planes don't crash because of computers.  And all those newfangled weapons systems connected to the ends of wires...  Hmm.

It is an interesting time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

For Want of...

By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.” – Robert Frost

It is easier to do what you have to do in life than it is to do what you want to do. It's easy to let people tell you, “You should do this,” and then go do it. It's easy to pick some socially acceptable profession and suffer through a bit of boredom and the mundane blathering of co-workers who fight the urge loathe you merely because you and they all find yourselves on the same mildly distasteful voyage through the doldrums of the American dream. It's easier to swim with the current. Look out that window and tell me that white picket fence doesn't get you in the gut. Easier to float with a school, and let the dead fish sink to the bottom. Don't tell me that two car garage that you can't fit your cars in anymore doesn't soothe your soul. Easier to run with the herd, let the predators pick off the weakest.  Damn, that new vinyl siding looks snazzy.  Plastic house for a plastic world, right?  It's the newest thing.

But to do something new... something that no one else understands yet, and to make them understand it, now that is hard. Have you ever seen how people react to something new? I mean, unless you're a hipster... They are wary. The prospect of being lost in an unknown thought is like being lost in an unknown city. It's terrifying to people who live their whole lives without straying from the area where they were born. But that's the beauty of it. It is impossible to be lost in anything that is unknown, precisely because it IS unknown. A mind grows bored when confronted with the same thing over and over again. A mind grows weary of monotony, but once monotony takes hold, it's just that much harder to shake it. New thoughts and inspirations get lost within the dust of the mundane.

They say, go to school. There are people there to help you along. You'll get a degree, you'll get a good job, you'll make money. You'll be set. Have some kids, buy a house, mortgage, the whole bit. You'll never look back, and if you do, we've got a cabinet full of anti-depressants you can choose from if you're a productive member of society.  All of this is true, perhaps, but whatever happened to the whole point of school? ...Learning. The search for truth. The acquisition and mastery of knowledge. Because knowledge is power. Knowledge lets you do what you want. When did school get to be something that you do because it's expected, because it will help you do what you should?

And when did getting a job come to be the point of bettering your mind? Not that we don't need jobs in this land, we do, but this whole political narrative about job creation has infected our thinking about everything else that's important.  Perhaps it's the latent Protestantism that haunts this country, but we lose sight of our purpose, our higher calling. This is the land of the free, that's how we bill ourselves, not the land of the worker bees. A job is not freedom. An economy is not culture. Even worse, accountants have chewed the value from the numbers, turning the measure on its head. Numbers themselves mean nothing, they only measure something. The money in your pocket means nothing without a sense of what you can get with it. Context, my friends.

This is the danger with having so much of our nation riding on the financial industry. People begin to believe that money is an end in and of itself. The people who tally our Gross Domestic Product and go about patting everyone on the back for it would love you to believe this. They would love it if you ground your bones to dust for the sake of your job. People forget the original point of money as they sink into that vault of greed that lies at the heart of any financial institution. The invention of money was to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of things of value.  It was the things that had value.  Without those things, money has no meaning.  An economy based on financial industries becomes a shell game, one that you burn your youthful years playing.  "You, who could advance the fields of science and math... what you really want is money. Be a banker!  Better yet, be a broker."  (You know why they call them brokers right?  Because they'll make you broke.)  The fraudulent wonders of the monetary world never cease, but this, this is not freedom. This is prison. A job is a jail, a cubicle is a cell. The world used to understand this. One of Dante's punishments in Hell? Work. Endless work.  (In the 4th level of the Inferno, supposedly, the prodigal, the avaricious, and the miserly roll weights eternally in pointless toil.)
Illustration of Dante's Inferno,
by Jan van der Straet

Of course, I don't believe in Hell, personally. It's a useful metaphor.  But jobs can be useful, too. Work has an obvious, utilitarian function, but we tend to let it subsume us and devour our lives ... because it's what we're supposed to do. It's what we think we have to do with our lives. But the question is, the hard question is, what do we want to do?

Our species put its boots on the moon.  The whole universe is ours, if we want it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Long, Cold Night

The Long, Cold Night
by Clinton Phipps

You send your words out into space,
and what do they do out there?
Do they collect dust?
Do they coalesce into a halo?
Do they convalesce into a magnum opus?
Would you be better off
tearing up their pages
and casting all the pieces
from the old, stone Bridge of Sighs
on some breezy day?
Scattered scraps upon the waves,
tattered poetry in a foreign land
that no one there would understand...
Perhaps your endless books of ragged verse
rounded vowels and jagged hooks
of dangling participles passed by inattention
could start a fire if the globe goes cold
from all this relentless warming.
Pity poetry doesn't burn for long
except within a mind.
It will be a long, cold night.

Your words go out in space,
are they like candles snuffed in darkness?
Some sad, cold matter drifting, smoke,
dark and lazy, surreptitious ether
to taint the hazy brine of our humanity.
We exert our influence
only in the gentlest gestures,
along the grandest scales.
A few atoms strewn across the universe
even know of our existence.
And yet the cosmos
shifts upon its axis
to accommodate the energy.

Your words go on, out into space,
like a snowplow in a blizzard.
And it seems like the snowbanks
conspire to swallow up the road
as soon as it has passed,
But one simple act
may be enough to save a life
and point the way back
through a long cold night.

And the epic struggle continues...

Today the folks from got nicked. It's all over the news, but if you haven't seen it, you can read about it here. The situation is interesting because third party retaliation is not a standard reaction when it comes to federal agents busting in with warrants. Usually people just kind of keep their heads down.

Perhaps the online blackout protests had more effect than one might have imagined. Apparently the people are emboldened.

Copyright law is a balance. There is a difference between using others' work to profit without compensating them and attempting to protect the pure ideal of free access to information.  Those that do the former do us all a disservice, and there are those that have no compunction in doing just that.  That's why we have copyright laws.

At the same time there is something intrinsically repugnant about treating someone who violates copyright law in the same fashion as someone who murders, rapes, or steals... They will tell you it's stealing, of course, but 'copyright piracy' is not the same as larceny, grand theft auto, embezzlement, or whichever crime you pick. At worst it is a loss of potential profits for the copyright holder, and it doesn't deprive the author of access to the original work. He can always make more copies.  The actual damage is a question of markets, of business.  To think of it in any other way would be to commit every library patron to the dungeons of ignorance and the cells of the penitentiary, for they regularly use and 'consume' information without paying for it.

You'll notice though, that we do have libraries in this country. Through our creations of such institutions we have demonstrated that in this society and in all great societies there is a moral imperative to ensure free access to information. That much can be seen in the First Amendment, if not worn into the very stone steps of the worlds' ancient great libraries. And yet that same document that gives us the First Amendment also acknowledges the materiality of existence, a man must get paid, an author must eat, a woman must be able to survive if she is to write her enlightened tome. We have a right to be able to live by our works, and by allowing such a right society will benefit by the sustained ingenuity of its most creative and innovative.

I make music, so I see the dilemma firsthand. Much of what I create has a certain value, but perhaps not the same sort of value of that which ends up in the philosophy section of a library.  Mine is akin to a product, and on one hand, I'd love to get paid every time a person listens to my song. On the other hand, there's a big problem with that. Anyone who has ever tried to sell a product understands the problem, the marketing hurdle.  How do you sell something that no one has ever heard of?  I don't only get paid from the music, of course, I get paid for providing the experience. I sell myself as much as I sell my songs when I play, and for every author it works the same way as a musician – they sell the nuance that makes them individuals. It's just that my product usually has a lot of, “Get up and dance, people!” interjections.  My album is my resume, my promotional poster, my product, and all works of art are like that.  There are times in a career where you want copyright restrictive, and there are times when you want it more open.  How do you appease all the interests?  

Truth: we're stuck in a gray area between ideals set forth in the Constitution. It has ever been such and it ever will be. In this case, you'll find it criminal to provide free access to information, but this is in a land where free access to information is of the highest value.  This is how the constitution is supposed to work. It sets up such tensions intentionally, three branches of government, their powers in conflict, the efforts toward order against the protections of freedom, the enumerated powers and enumerated rights... Some will say the Constitution is clear, and some will say the Founding Fathers knew exactly what they wanted, but neither of these is true. It provides us with the gloaming of a sunrise and a set of scales to weigh our justice. In the gray area it is up to us to strike the balance.

One has to wonder at the chronological coincidence of internet blackout protest and the megaupload raid. The FBI is chasing down intelligent, innovative, productive people who offer a popular service, arresting them and throwing them in jail while the legislature contemplates ways to control the computers of our land. Our society's legal machinery is bent toward protecting the profit margins of massive corporations largely because they wield that power that massive corporations can. (I wonder on occasion what might happen if I tried to get the FBI to enforce some of my copyright claims. Ha.) Meanwhile, people are trafficked into slavery in our towns and cities, murders are committed, gangs sully our streets, and bankers break the law in broad daylight and ruin our economic future... Perhaps the balance is, well, out of balance.

There is one more thing to remember.  The enforcers have the power.  But all the power that they have is by the will and at the pleasure of We The People.

In other news, it's Edgar Allen Poe's birthday. No one knows how he died, but one theory has to do with 'cooping.'

Here's to American politics. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Raising the Jolly Roger

Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”H.L. Mencken

Today is the day. Wikkipedia is dark. Google's logo is inked with the black flag of censorship. How many ships will burn in their once safe harbors? No one can say. And so, on the precipice of change, I begin this blog, the Jolly Roger Project. Today is the day.

They always bray that their vast holdings of intangible property, the palatial tracts of intellectuality must be protected, that the media giants are at great risk … from you. The Internet must be controlled lest the elephant herd succumb to the sucking of mosquitoes. They introduce a law. They erode your access. This suits the suits, this appeases the landlords of mankind's knowledge, it is a class warfare of the mind. They charge you rent. The haves dilute the elixirs of truth for the have-nots, and wisdom becomes a feudal system. The serfs groom the hedgerows of knowledge, but never reap the harvest. You and yours will pay the admission in tuition and licensing fees, to taste those fruits. They will let you think that tasting is owning until you try to share. Until you try to spread the wealth. Then you are a pirate.

Do not let them fool you. The point of passing a law is to advance some interest, and the lawmakers will do their best to convince you that it is the public interest they protect, that it is your interest. But make no mistake. It is their own interests. It is their friends' interests, for what point is there in having power if not to benefit oneself and one's friends? ...A rhetorical question. Merely bear in mind that the highest law of this land says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press, and where copyright is concerned it quite specifically mentions individual authors, not corporations, as the intended beneficiaries of governmental protection, and it specifically mentions a limited time. The plainly stated idea is to inspire progress, not to restrict it, and a lifetime is a limited time only in an objective sense; personal freedoms are always subjective. And let me ask, do you feel free?

The authors and artists get lost in all of this. When we overstep the bounds of freedom and instigate limitations on content, no matter what the reason, we are left redacting the world, and the marks that people may make upon the world become circumscribed by market forces. Gatekeepers edit the truth where the truth should need no edit. The truth will endure, for it is the truth, but, without freedom, that does not mean you will know about it.

Ah. The black flag of censorship. I raise my Jolly Roger against it; one wants to be unequivocal in one's intentions, but then, there is always an inherent duality to any symbol. The black flag is a symbol of death, and it finds an appropriate usage in censorship, where the death it portends is the death of freedom and inquiry. They stifle fact as though knowledge could ever do more damage than ignorance. Cicero recounts a tale where a notorious pirate was brought before Alexander the Great and enjoined to answer for his roguish ways. “Because I do it with a tiny craft, I'm called a pirate. Because you do it with a mighty navy, you're called and Emperor.” We are the same, chasing down the quarry of our own interests, this much is true. We wish to protect what we have created, yes, and so we have these laws. But is there not something more, some delicate ideal that gets lost and crushed under heels among the ship-to-ship fighting?

Pay no mind for the moment to the dissimilarity between real piracy and what our legislators have called piracy. That is a conversation for another time. And I may have strained my metaphor, impugning internet nerds and media moguls the brigands and the emperors of our time. Let me say this: the more liberty there is the more opportunity there is. It is borne out again and again. Freedom, progress, opportunity, optimism … these are the things we seek to foster in this open society. This is what we are too often asked to sacrifice upon the altar of economics, but if we do we will certainly diminish what we have now for the sake of what we cannot afford.

I'm speaking in abstractions, ans so I'll revert to practicality for a moment. This is what strikes me about the online efforts in political activism – is an act of self-censorship actually a protest? It is a curious contradiction, and one that bothers me and interests me at once. I suspect that this is why it works, it is a juxtaposition of opposing ideas. Sort of like the artistic concept of “negative space.” You see, space is always positive...

And self-censorship is a negative act. Though I may understand these acts of self-censorship as a demonstration, an effort to prove how the future may be, and though I have to admit that it works remarkably well, personally, I prefer a positive act. An act of creation in the face of attempts at censorship – I will begin to speak while others fall silent. Fight fire with water. Fight darkness with light.

I say that, while, ironically, I too raise this black flag in reaction to the threat of the censor's redacting black pen. Symbols become confused. Histories are maligned. What happens when the world is cloaked in black, when all our best art is swaddled in the black shroud of the law's restrictions, when all our agencies drive black, unmarked cars, when our judges drape themselves in black and our helicopters hover under black rotors and black heavens? What happens when all the world is black? Does that black flag cease to matter?

I ask you, who is the pirate here? Can you discern the subterfuge in modern politics? Who flies the black flag? Do you? Well then. Perhaps today is the day. A certain gloaming is upon us. Run up the colors in the darkness. It means something, but it may not be what you think.

The real pirates of days past used their black flags when they wanted to tell the truth, when they wanted to cast aside vague disguises and let everyone know precisely where they stood. There is no mistaking a Jolly Roger, men would tremble at the honesty. And in the end, all this talk of modern piracy – it's not about being a pirate. 

It's abut freedom. 

It is about truth. 

Today is the day.