Spam Spam Spam Spam

I am deluged with 10-20 spam a day. I hate spam with a passion. It clutters up my electronic mailbox the way analog spam clutters up my real mail-box– and wastes my time. My first act, when reading my e-mail, is to delete, delete, delete.

The worst thing about spam is that these people are annoying you at your expense. They are quite literally parasites. You pay for your e-mail account, and you pay for the cost of accessing the internet. For some people in Europe, who actually pay by the minute, spam can actually be quite costly.

The solution is real simple– if someone would step in and require it. Every major e-mail program should be required to install a default filter. The filter simply rejects all spam. How will it know what spam is? All companies using email for advertising will be required to clearly mark spam with a couple of bytes in the header of each message.

Now wait a minute– we’re talking about the internet here. The government can’t even stop people from downloading “The Matrix” in DivX;) format from some server in Russia. How is it going to shut down spammers who don’t use the required bytes in their headers?

Well, if they think they can shut down the illegal copying of music files by shutting down Napster, they certainly ought to give it a try.

On the other hand, if they realize that shutting down Napster is a gesture that is utterly devoid of the slightest possible real impact on the downloading of pirated music… they ought to simply admit it and get on with things.

The truth is, they could do it. It would be quite simple. Every ISP in the country would be required to install filters to prevent spam from getting through. Foreign ISPs that allow spam through should be blocked from transmitting to or receiving from North American or European ISPs.

A better solution, a more refined version of this: require all ISP’s to acquire certification from an authoritative body. This body only grants the certification to known, reputable ISP’s who agree to abide by a code of ethics which prohibits, of course, spam.

When a mail is sent by this ISP, it includes code in it’s headers indicating that it is certified: the mail is accepted. It should work like public/private key encryption.

Consumers can be offered the option of signing on with certified ISPs and can then acquire mail programs that filter any mail that does not come from a certified ISP.

If someone really wants to connect to the unfiltered internet, so be it: allow it. But the rest of us can benefit from some controls.


The West Wing

Just about the only television show I watch semi-regularly nowadays is “West Wing”. And The Simpsons. But let’s stay with “West Wing” for a minute.

I have to note here though that the only reason I don’t watch very much television is not because most television is crap, though it is. The fact is that there is a lot of good shows on television too. The trouble is that there are way too many commercials. Did you know that the Dick Van Dyke Show, in the early 1960’s, was about 28 minutes long? The average sitcom today is about 20 minutes. Where did the other 8 minutes go? You need to ask?

In tonight’s episode of West Wing, the President had to make some fateful decisions about possible military action to rescue hostages in Columbia. The story, which parallels reality rather closely, develops after the government gives Columbia $15 billion to fight the drug trade. After a remarkable speech about the utter futility of the drug war, the waste of money, the 80% of the U.S. prison population that consists of drug users, and so on, the dialogue takes a turn on Viet Nam. One of the President’s top advisors warns that he should not repeat the mistake of Viet Nam, which was… what? What was the mistake? The advisor said the mistake was that the U.S. entered the war on the side of a corrupt and unpopular government, and that it did not have clear objectives, and did not have a clear exit strategy. That was the mistake of the Viet Nam War.

The West Wing is one of the few television shows that really is unabashedly liberal. Don’t believe for one minute all that nonsense from Conservative commentators on the so-called “liberal” media– it simply aint true. West Wing is the exception, not the rule.

But the advisor’s explanation about why the U.S. lost the war in Viet Nam buys into a conservative revisionist position that is itself a desperate attempt to rehabilitate the idea of U.S. subterfuge of foreign governments for its own self-interest.

The Viet Nam War began because the U.S. and France refused to accept the results of an election in 1956 which produced a socialist government of a united Viet Nam. With both French and American encouragement, a group of rebels seized power in the South and created a pro-capitalist regime. When the new regime proved unpopular– after all, the people elected the socialists– the U.S. was forced to step in to support the government, and fight a proxy war against the North Viet Namese government, which, reasonably, was determined to reunite the country.

Where did France go? Those silly Frenchmen! They decided that backing a self-seeking, corrupt, illegitimate government against the popular wishes of its own people was a losing proposition! The fools!

The North did not remain democratic, really, but we don’t know what would have happened if the South had not seceded and the U.S. had not involved itself. It doesn’t really matter– the fact is that the U.S. interfered in the domestic policies of a sovereign state and paid the price for it. That’s why they lost Viet Nam. It had nothing to do with unclear objectives. The objective was, in fact very clear: the maintenance of a pro-American proxy state in the region at whatever cost to civil rights and democracy. The problem was not that the Americans did not have an exit strategy: given the objectives, there was no need for an exit at all. And the problem was not that the government of South Viet Nam was unpopular and corrupt: that was at least partly a consequence of U.S. policy, not an impediment to it. Had the U.S. stayed out, chances are quite good that that corrupt government could never have sustained it’s position.

The writers and producers of “West Wing” should know better.

But it’s a great show. It’s subtle, sophisticated, topical, and relevant. That’s rare in television. What’s even more rare is the overt political nature of the program: it is quite frankly Democrat in perspective. The Democrats should be proud.

The Republicans, if they were really smart, would be working on their own television drama by now. On the other hand, they already have a dozen: Law and Order, NYPD Blue, and just about every other cop show on television. They almost all show that respect for civil rights and the assumption of innocence is an impediment to justice and fairness. They almost all propagandize for unlimited police powers. They almost all feed into the right wing paranoia that has led to the creation of America’s idiotic drug and gun laws.

Requiem for the Yanomami

Deep in the rain forests of Venezuela and Brazil, there once lived a people called the Yanomami. They farmed. They hunted. They had wives and children. They fought among themselves, village against village. They had life and death. They had Shamans who taught them about gods and magic and matter and spirit. They were completely isolated from the modern world.

They were, for all intents and purposes, a nation. They happened to live in an abstract, artificial political entity called “Venezuela”, but this meant nothing to them. And why should it have? White men from Europe came to the South American continent and proclaimed that God had given all of the land– and it’s peoples, as we shall see– to them. They set up governments. They demanded money from the people they identified as “citizens” so they could build armies and award each other medals. They invented guns and blades and poisons to ensure that no one would stop them from taking everything they wanted.

The Yanomami didn’t know anything about all this until the 1960’s when they were “discovered”.


Think about the arrogance of the way we Westerners use that word– as if they did not exist, or had no importance, until we “discovered” them. Think of how that word helps us think of appropriating a people, their beliefs, their culture, their technology, and, nowadays, their DNA. We discovered them. Now we can exploit them….

But I’m getting ahead of myself. An American scientist named James Neel, a geneticist, and an employee of the Atomic Energy Commission who took part in studies of the effects of radiation on people in Japan after World War II, found out about the Yanomami and decided that they provided an ideal field laboratory for his strange and rather Nazi-ish view of human evolutionary development. Now the word “Nazi” is tossed around all too carelessly these days, in reference to everyone from feminists to Alliance Party members, but, in this case, it is probably quite appropriate. Neel’s theories of human development provide a remarkably congenial intellectual framework for anyone advocating doctrines of racial superiority.

There is a mystery about James Neel’s role in studies conducted by the AEC on unsuspecting patients in a Rochester Hospital and prisoners in penitentiaries across the U.S. The AEC exposed these people to radiation in order to analyze its effects on them. I stress, the AEC did not obtain permission to do this.

Do you think that government agencies would never, ever do such a thing again? Ever?

No one has any convincing evidence that James Neel himself conducted these illegal and immoral studies, but he worked with the people who did. Has he denounced these criminals? I don’t know. No one will ever know probably– Neel is dead.

Anyway, at the AEC, Mr. Neel worked with a Venezuelan named Marcel Roche. Roche returned to Venezuela after the war and began conducting experiments, injecting radioactive isotopes into the Yanomami and then studying their blood samples. Yes, this man had been employed by the American Atomic Energy Commission. He worked for the United States Government. He helped us defeat those monsters, the Nazis. Then he went into the Venezuelan jungle and injected members of the Yanomami with radioactive iodine.

In 1968, Neel and a then-protégé named Napoleon Chagnon decided to immunize the Yanomami against the measles. The Yanomami didn’t have measles. The Yanomami had never been exposed to the measles. Until Mr. Neel decided to immunize them. There was an outbreak and hundreds, perhaps thousands of Yanomami died.

Mr. Chagnon argues that the idea of immunizing the Yanomami against the measles was the result of an altruistic desire to better their lives. Some medical scientists argue that a measles epidemic could not have been the result of immunization. Other scientists are not so sure. I’m not so sure. In fact, I think it’s rather insane to believe that the measles epidemic– the first ever in the the thousands of years of history of the Yanomami– just happened to coincide with the introduction of the vaccine, or, at the very least, with the introduction of self-seeking white adventurers, missionaries, and anthropologists, but was not caused by them.

Chagnon also induced various Yanomami villages to stage little wars for Timothy Asch’s cameras, to provide documentary “proof” of his assertions about the innate violence of the Yanomami leaders. To ensure that the battle scenes would be vigorous, he gave gifts to villagers that he knew would arouse the envy of their “enemies” of the drama, to the point where real injury and death took place.

For these achievements, Chagnon was lauded around the world as a brilliant anthropologist.

Chagnon is still alive today. He is a retired professor “emeritus”. He disputes Tierny’s charges. So those of us without first-hand knowledge are left to sort it out. You have to read Chagnon’s arguments. They don’t reassure. Tierny, for example, alleges that Chagnon used his helicopter to brazenly flop into Yanomami villages, blowing the roofs off their houses and intimidating them. Chagnon doesn’t claim that he didn’t land his helicopter in the middle of the villages and blow the roofs off houses– he merely tries to convince you that the villagers wanted him to land near the houses, so they wouldn’t have to haul his equipment so far! Why, in heaven’s name, are the Yanomami hauling this self-seeking adventurer’s equipment up into their villages? Because they love him? Because he did so much for them?

Patrick Tierney also claims that Chagnon tried to become a shaman, and that he abandoned a village to the measles. Chagnon admits that he did behave like a shaman at least once, and did paint his body and wear feathers. He claims it was intended to persuade the Yanomami that the damnation and hellfire sermons of a local missionary should not be believed. Chagnon admits he left a village knowing that a man with the measles was there and that the villagers would soon return and were likely to contract the measles from the man. His response is somewhat lame: he thought someone else would make sure the infected man left the village before the Yanomami returned.

Tierney alleges Chagnon shot a pistol off every time he entered a village. Chagnon responds that he once fired a shotgun at a tree, when some Yanomami were threatening to kill him.

Terry Turner, professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, summarizes Neel’s views of Eugenics as follows:

according to his [Neel’s] eugenically slanted genetic theories, dominant genes (specifically, a gene he believed existed for “leadership” or innate ability”) would have a selective advantage, because male carriers of this gene could gain access to a disproportionate share of the available females, thus reproducing their own superior genes more frequently than less “innately able” males. The result, supposedly, would be the continual upgrading of the human genetic stock. Modern mass societies, by contrast, consist of vast genetically entropic “herds” in which, he theorized, recessive genes could not be eliminated by selective competition and superior leadership genes would be swamped by mass genetic mediocrity. The political implication of this fascistic eugenics is clearly that society should be reorganized into small breeding isolates in which genetically superior males could emerge into dominance, eliminating or subordinating the male losers in the competition for leadership and women, and amassing harems of brood females.