Going too far

A few weeks ago Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General of the state of New York, announced that Verizon, Time Warner, and Sprint would “shut down major sources of child pornography.”  California chimed in with a similar plan a week later.  That sounds worthwhile, until you examine how the ISPs are accomplishing the shutdown:  by curbing customer access to part or al of Usenet, the venerable (almost 30 year old) online discussion system.  Time Warner is cutting off Usenet access entirely, Sprint is eliminating access to alt* groups, and Verizon is barring alt* and “tens of thousands” of others.  Cuomo’s office identified only 88 Usenet groups containing child pornography so the ISPs’ announced actions will disable the access of untold numbers of Usenet users to thousands of legitimate news groups.  Were Cuomo compelling the ISPs by force of law to so limit Usenet access then a First Amendment challenge on overbreadth grounds should be a slam dunk, but he is stupid. He is using the power of his office to engage in moral suasion, painting the ISPs as child-porn enablers if they do not go along.  It’s as if Home Depot and Lowe’s agreed no longer to sell lumber because a miniscule percentage contained termites.  This is a breathtaking and insidious display of regulatory over-reaching effected through non-governmental actors.

That Holiday Spirit

The City of New London, Connecticut took the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors by eminent domain for a private waterfront development to spur economic growth. Kelo and the other homeowners challenged the taking, arguing that it was not for a public purpose. In 2005 in Kelo v. New London the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the city. The city paid Kelo $440,000 for her home, $300,000 more than its appraised value.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog (subscription required) reports that Kelo recently sent a “holiday greeting card” to current and former New London city officials. The card featured a picture of Kelo’s house and these words:

Here is my house that you did take
From me to you, this spell I make
Your houses, your homes
Your family, your friends
May they live in misery
That never ends
I curse you all
May you rot in hell
To each of you
I send this spell
For the rest of your lives
I wish you ill
I send this now
By the power of will

I curse you all . . . may you rot in hell seems, oh, disproportionate to the offense. How can Kelo top that opening sentiment in next year’s holiday greeting card? May rabid jackals rend the flesh from your decaying bones? Did this message get the bad juices out of Kelo’s system or merely prime the pump for an annual geyser of invective?

This post’s comments quickly devolve into typical Internet incivility. They do not manifest “Godwin’s Law,” which states “as [an online] discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one,” but amid amusing references to operatic curses and jabs at Kelo’s “shifting rhyming scheme” they display the ready reliance on personal attack that characterizes so much Internet discourse. Commenter seven lazily dismisses Kelo (“i am sure her trailer is irreplaceable. Get over it. A house is fungible . . . buy a shiney (sic) new trailer to live in”), and provokes a body-part insult, albeit politely couched, from commenter eight: “your problems are so deep seated that instead of your needing a psychiatrist’s help, I might suggest a proctologist instead. He’d have your whole body to work on.” Argument by faceless ad hominem attack is as old as Usenet and as new as the 2006 elections, an outgrowth of Internet culture the ubiquity of which does not diminish its ugliness.