The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00309: CFP Speech

Bruce Sterling []

Bruce Sterling holding his CFP speech. Photo by Declan McCullagh,

Key concepts: Computers Freedom and Privacy conference, Bollywood actresses, Swiss Army knives, Mickey Mouse, email spam, free beer, nuclear terrorism

Attention Conservation Notice: Has practically nothing to do with the Greenhouse Effect, but I needed some handy place to archive this rant.

Closing Speech

Computers, Freedom and Privacy 12

San Francisco, April 19, 2002

by Bruce Sterling

Hello. The last time I saw you lot was in my home town four years ago: CFP in Austin, 1998. I also closed that conference: I closed it by inviting everybody over to my house for free beer. If you weren't in Austin in 1998, too bad for you. You should have seen that user response. Man, they came out of their seats in a wave!

I won't pretend to match that performance here. My house is half a continent away, and besides, in 1998, that was a bubbly, sparkly, cheap-champagne kind of CFP. Whereas this is a sober, spooky, post-9/11 CFP, with grave political responsibilities. When you start drinking heavily under those conditions, the next stop is the Betty Ford Clinic.

You may well wonder what I've been doing in the past four years, after congratulating CFP people on their stellar defense of electronic free expression. Well, I've been expressing myself freely by electronic means, that's what. It's kind of the point there. That's the game plan, that's the victory condition. So, in 2002, I've got, like, an active Internet mailing list, and a couple or three vanity websites, and I'm conducting a local writers' workshop with some Internet aid, and I'm involved in diffuse, chatty, epistolary relationships with authors on other continents. I've got a blog -- a weblog, and how could I not? -- on It's on a wide range of topics -- an alarmingly wide range of topics.

And of course, being a novelist, I've published some novels in the past four years. So, if you go to the little bookstore there outside the hall, where they are selling books by CFP attendees and such.... Well, mine are the fiction books, which have attractive covers. The books that are actually fun to read.

If I were to ship you all the free expression I've punched up on my quivering keyboard in the past four years, I could bury you all alive. But the final speech at an event like this can't be too short. You've been through a lot here. I have pity. I have a warm sense of human solidarity for your info-burnout, and your glazed eyes, and your myopia, and your carpal tunnel. After 12 years together, we should know one another well enough. We should be frank and confiding now. We should be crying on each other's shoulders here. We should be commiserating, and chucking each other's chins.

So let me tell you all about my email. You know, back in 1990, at CFP One, I had a freshly minted Internet address. I used to get about five messages off the Internet, every day. They were all from guys with engineering degrees. Guys like Dave Farber.

But the last time I took my daily look at my daily email, which was just before I got on the plane to San Francisco, I had 44 pieces of email. A very common ration of email for me, 12 years after 1990. And what were those 44 emails?

They were

  • Six pieces of spam from Korea.
  • Five pieces of spam from mainland China.
  • O
  • ne spam from Hong Kong.
  • Two porn spams.
  • One marketing spam.
  • One job spam.
  • One music rave spam.
  • One toner cartridge spam.
  • One inexplicable message with a missing attachment.
  • One message bounce.
  • Two items related to my business as an author.
  • Fifteen messages from various useful and entertaining mailing lists.
  • Four messages relating to a list I run myself.
  • One weekly digest from a news website run by Indians.
  • One issue of the "Daily Corruption," from the NGO, Transparency International.
  • And, finally, one pleasant personal message from a good friend.

Oddly, I got no viruses that day. I get five or six viruses a week. In 1990, there were fewer than 500 viruses. By 2000, they numbered about 50,000.

So, my email is a decidedly mixed blessing. I find that I'm perfectly happy without it. I haven't read my email all week. I feel nothing but relief. You see, at CFP One in 1990, I'd already been a published writer for 12 years. I wrote my first two novels on manual typewriters. I still own my manual typewriter -- an Olympia B-12. I was tempted to bring it here and sit in on the sessions with the thing on my lap.

I'm sure I would have received many awestruck compliments. From an engineering perspective, an Olympia manual is a far, far better-crafted machine than any laptop ever made. You can drop one to the floor from waist height and it will rebound undamaged. However, I didn't have a ribbon for my manual typewriter. Unsurprisingly.

Still, the thought of not reading email was so liberating that I decided not to bring a computer to "Computers, Freedom and Privacy." Nor did I bring a handheld. Not even a lowly cellphone. I know this goes against the grain of this event. That was my point. I knew that I had to write the final speech here. I decided to do it with -- a fountain pen. Yes! It was a Waterman "Phileas" Jules Verne memorial fountain pen, for you hardware freaks in the audience.

I'm not a fanatic about my abstinence. I'm still wearing my digital wristwatch. Kind of a brainy little wristwatch. It has the storage capacity for 30 names and addresses. Of course, I had to replace its dead battery last month, so all those names and addresses instantly vaporized. I haven't gotten around to the cruelly laborious work of replacing them. But -- technically speaking -- I've got a computer strapped to my wrist.

So, I went to my hotel room here. Very nice, perfectly acceptable. It has a bedside digital clock that was never reset for daylight savings time. There's even digital media on the hotel TV. Did anyone else notice Channel 19? It's supposed to be showing a promotional DVD for San Francisco tourist sites. But it's a scratched DVD. So there has been a scratched record, repeating the same 5 to 7 seconds of video, around the clock, in this hotel, all week. DVDs really suck. When they malfunction, the visual damage on the screen is just awe- inspiring. Why several hundred computer experts at CFP never complained to hotel management about this stuck DVD, that is beyond me. I mean, it is a commercial DVD, so maybe they were afraid of being prosecuted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But come on! How long has this thing been malfing? Maybe it's been screwed-up ALL YEAR!

Having no laptop, I was spared a further moment of distress when the hotel security guys freaked out over the number of laptops at this event. There are laptops just lying in careless heaps, apparently, like stale bread slices abandoned to thieving pigeons. At every event we get that customary CFP soundtrack: that dry rattle of keyboards in the audience, a sound like a flock of hens pecking corn.

I'm not surprised that CFP people would be so reliant on these devices. Obviously they are of dubious usefulness if you are genuinely interested in what the speakers are saying. But at CFP, laptops are like peace tokens or protective armor. At CFP One, twelve years ago, computers were the one topic that everyone could talk about. Those were the electronic frontier days, when the woods were full of owlhoots, and Comancheros, and guntoting sheriffs. "So, Sheriff, what kinda box you packing there?" "Why, it's 256K, son!" Wow! And if you asked nicely, you could even get the banditos to take you up to their crash room and show you a Redbox! "Look at this! I saved a dollar-seventy-five on long-distance phone calls, and I only had to commit three state and federal felonies!" Boy, those were the days, weren't they? They were good people, but they still measured in kilobytes.

So I figured that, armed with my fountain pen, I'd be able to offer you guys some bracing historical perspective. I might point out that some extremely fine speeches have been written, on the road, with handheld writing implements. Like the Gettysburg Address, for instance. Famously written on a scrap piece of paper -- and a good thing, too, because there isn't any writing paper in my hotel room. Not even an envelope. Not a hotel postcard. There's a Gideon Bible with a few blank pages in it, but although I like to cite Abraham Lincoln, I'd feel a little funny about trying to out-compose God.

Besides, after I bought this cheap, one-dollar notebook at the neighborhood Japanese grocery, I found out that my pen couldn't websurf to Google. So I couldn't find out all the particulars about how Abe Lincoln wrote that speech. I'm sure that you wireless 802.11 Pringles- can characters can find that out right now, though. 'Lincoln,' 'Gettysburg,' 'scrap paper,' that ought to keyword it. So, you know, just email among yourselves.

I've got bigger fish to fry here than Abraham Lincoln. Let me mention something rather fishy that I've noticed at this CFP. Since the beginning, people at CFP have worn a lot of hats. They never have just one job. CFP is always about the guy who's a Supreme Court law clerk, and a Linux installer, and a Greek History major. CFP people tend to play both sides of every possible fence. They had to. There weren't any fences. It was all frontier.

At CFP, it's like the plot of every Hollywood Western you ever saw. First, they shove the hobbyists off the tribal lands. They bring in the railroad and the telegraph. The schoolmarm and the newspaper man show up. Somebody robbed the stagecoach, and every year they bring in more lawyers in those derby hats, and finally STATEHOOD! Hallelujah!

Well, this was the CFP where people started sidling over and telling me about their tie-ins with security and intelligence. "Well, Bruce, I don't exactly approve of the Attorney General's rash actions, but I am on this, uh, telecommunications security policy network thinktank...." And I heard about Richard Clarke, the cyber-security czar. When exactly did it become the custom to refer to this guy as "Dick" Clarke? Is he the host of "American Bandstand"? Is "Dick" that swell a guy? He sure seems to be making a lot of friends.

I'm rather unsurprised to see CFP people drifting in this direction because, really, who the hell else is there to do it? Every network activist does seem to take on a mild flavor of spy, after a while. It's pretty well beyond a mild flavor at CFP 12. I would have to describe this as the chile pequeno flavor of spy.

Even the Indymedia guys... I mean, like, even the hairiest Indymedia guys, with tatts and piercings and Circle-A sweatshirts... When you really look at their cool, alternative set-up, aren't they kinda running this vast, independent, global, surveillance and tattletale machine?

I'm clicking on the ol' Indymedia site there, and it's kind of hard to miss, isn't it? "Here's the latest RealPlayer videos of the cops in Genoa beating the crap out of us... It's part of a 30-part series... Lots of digital photos here, every speech, every spray of peppergas..." Big Brother, c'est moi!

It saddens me that most Americans, Joe Sixpack, Jane Winecooler, they still watch that capitalist slave media. They miss out on the bracing spectacle of European peaceniks sleeping on bulldozed rubble in Jerusalem. The only hacktivist that American TV consumers know is the domesticated, mediatized, corporate sell-out, G-rated version of a hacktivist.

And that would be -- Steven the Dell Dude. "Dude, you're getting a Dell." This guy has become the public face of the computer consumer. Steven has got the facade of being a knowledgeable computer user... but he certainly never says anything challenging or complicated. For instance, he never tells you how to get the lingering venereal curse of a Microsoft Outlook virus out of your Dell.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you well know, I am the least judgmental of men. But I have to confess that the Dell Dude is beginning to creep me out.

Especially in the most recent Dell TV ad campaign. That's the one where Steve is in the fancy car with his girlfriend, that wardriving 802.11 phreak, or whatever she is. In this ad, we see Steve's innate sneaky dishonesty clearly asserting itself.

"Steven... isn't this your father's car?"

But Steven the Dell Dude is trying to deceive his nubile girlfriend into granting him some sexual favors, who he replies "Uh.... No?"

To hell with Dad's convertible! What is Steven doing with his Dell? That's the operative question here. That mischievous look on his mug, that augurs very poorly.

"Steven... isn't that Mr Eisner's movie on your Dell?" "Uh... No?"

Steven... isn't your hard disk crammed with other people's MP3s? Oh yeah! You bet it is! And is our Steven an academic musicologist? Are those the complete road bootlegs of Michael Tilson Thomas's classical performances in there? I find myself doubting that.

Who wants to bet that what Steven has in his Dell are the exact items that will make his girlfriend beam on him approvingly? Would that be vi and emacs? RedHat Linux? Stochastic analysis programs for Yugoslavian war crimes? Why no!

Steven has mysteriously acquired the commercial products of Britney Spears, Pink, the Backstreet Boys and NSync... the very items his girlfriend no longer has to buy from Wherehouse Music! Now she can have them from Steven for -- let's be charitable here -- for a hug.

Is Steven, our Dell Dude expert, going to buy himself an audio set of ProTools, so that he can create and distribute his own, original, digital music? Uh... No? Steve could also mow enough lawns so that he could buy his dad's convertible. But why would he?

What's the upshot here? One would idealistically hope for a vast Internet ocean of cool free music created by the Stevens of the world. I live in a town crowded with Stevens, many of them the children of Dell employees. They're cool guys fresh out of high school, guys who love music so much that they're sacrificing every hope of a bourgeois life, waiting tables and hoping they can be Kurt Cobain. Kurt at least could sell his records and buy himself some heroin. But these poor guys live in 2002, not 1990.

So they have to make their music in this shell-torn commercial crossfire! This culture war, where crazed monolith behemoths struggle to cut off each other's market oxygen! You innocently stick some legitimately purchased music CD into your Macintosh, and the evil thing blows up your RAM BIOS! It's a suicide-bomber CD, disguised as Celine Dion! There's this anguished invisible scream from the whirring guts of your Ono-Sendai Cyberspace Seven, as the Black Ice takes hold of your system! Oh my God! It's a hellish security nightmare!

But it could be worse! You could be one of those trusting suckers who innocently bought a federally-backed digital HDTV. Too bad there's no product for it. It's a giant television that's gonna die like the Clipper Chip. And for the same reason... because corporations and content owners won't go there.

It's the Wintel Gates OS versus Hollywood and the music industry, and as elephants fight, the grass is trampled. This is one of those new kinds of war, where the soldiers are perfectly safe and the consumers supply all the casualties. The hallowed halls of Best Buy and Circuit City are strewn with broken glass and broken promises.... The supposed explosion of digital creativity on a million websites and a thousand channels... Well, come 2002, it boils down to 95% market share by a single ruthless feudal empire! And you wonder where your excitement's gone? A thing like Linux... that isn't a competitive free-market innovation, that thing is like a slave revolt.

But it gets weirder. The public interest in public- domain intellectual property freezes dead with the humble birth of a cartoon mouse on a tabletop in Kansas City. The Mouse is flash-frozen in legal ice. He's unrotting. He's undying. He's cryogenically preserved.... In ancient Rome, folks thought it was pretty decadent when the Emperor Caligula made his horse into a Senator. But in the modern US Senate, there's a Senator who's a cartoon mouse!

I have to say I felt deeply moved when Mr. Eisner of Disney-ABC complained that the rampant digital piracy of his products was debasing the morals of the American population. The gentleman has a point. The situation as it stands only allows behavior that is squalid, and unworthy of a free people. It is corrupting. It's devious. It's disingenuous and cynical. What really bothered me was Mr. Eisner's obvious and growing anxiety to punish the public at large for the failure of his own political tools.

If Mickey's old enough to be preserved in Jurassic amber, then how come we human beings, who are still alive, are so unworthy of Mr. Eisner's creative services? Maybe we're no longer a 1920s America, but come on, Mr. Eisner is certainly no Walt Disney. It's like that weird tantrum from Microsoft, when they swore they'd stop producing Windows if the mere Justice Department didn't stop nagging them.

These people are supposed to be our captains of industry. How on earth did it come to this? It's a corporate lockout policy, where the entire American population is pitched outside the factory gates of Hollywood and Redmond. Our wealthy and powerful moguls are fed up with the behavior of the voters! They're anxious to teach us a lesson.

"Where do you want to go today, Mr. and Mrs. America?" "Hey, I want to cruise in Steve the Dell Dude's borrowed convertible, playing borrowed MP3s!" "But no no NO, that's not what we meant! We meant, where do you want to go today, to GIVE US SOME MONEY."

Since I'm an artist who spends a lot of my time dangerously flirting with digital media, I suppose I ought to say something tiresome and obligatory about the growing likelihood of my starving to death. But since so many of you guys are lawyers, let me put this in a more complicated way. When "creative acts are not incentivized," there are some pecular and painful consequences on the structure of media.

Case in point. I can see a thoroughly corrupt popular media system in my own neighborhood. No, it's not FOX News. It is the local Indian grocery, which is an absolute, decadent, Mom 'n' Pop hotbed of street-level media piracy.

Here we have a fine example of a movie production system in which almost every sin that Mr. Eisner thinks is terrible happened decades ago. In Bombay, movies somehow do get made. Sometimes they are even made relatively honestly. But quite often, the finances for these movies are supplied by swinging, with-it, murderously violent Bollywood gangsters. They are Muslim minority gangsters, actually. They spend a lot of their time offshore in the Gulf States, especially Dubai, where they are intimately involved in the money-laundering systems that were so intensely useful to Al Qaeda. Really, you guys with the wireless laptops out there, you could look that up. You could Google it. 'Bollywood,' 'mafia,' 'Dubai,' give that a try.

Bollywood itself even makes movies about this. Like the recent release "Company," directed by Ramgopal Varma. That Varma guy is a rather gifted movie director. I'd love to see what he could do with the budget of Disney or DreamWorks, but I hardly see how he'll ever get the chance. Mr. Varma's talent and dedication are beside the point, because his production system is corrupt and dysfunctional. I have a tender conscience. When I watch Bollywood cinema, my natural feelings of enjoyment are muddied with guilt and dread. It's spoiling my joy as a patron of the Bollywood arts.

Indulge me for a minute here. Let me, as a working American artist, make my disquiet more fully known to you. Let's take, for instance, the compelling topic of my favorite Bollywood actress, Kajol Devgan. And who is that?

You see, India boasts about 500 million women. You techies in the audience: imagine that you do this stochastic winnowing of this huge database of women, with maybe some Bayesian analysis. You find the cutest and most endearing one. That would be Kajol. She's the star of numerous Bollywood blockbuster superhits.

I don't believe that a single dime I've ever spent on Bollywood vehicles -- and they cost about a dime, because they're pirated -- has ever reached the mehndi-patterned mitts of Kajol Devgan. I feel genuinely offended by this. Really, I do. Because of a fundamentally dishonest, badly maintained, commercial media system, against my own will, I have been coopted into a conspiracy to exploit this woman and harm her interests. Now, if this were Fox, or AOL Time Warner, or ABC Disney, or some other universally loathed and feared corporate arm of American cultural imperialism, really, the urge to rip them off would speak for itself. I scorn to do such a thing, but I understand the impulse. But people: I'm am American fan of Bollywood movies who is ripping off artists who live IN BOMBAY! In Mumbai, where whole families sleep on the pavement! We're moving into the realm of blood diamonds and sweatshop sports shoes here. It's unethical. It's creepy. I feel soiled by it.

Now, Kajol isn't perishing of a vitamin deficiency. She's a movie star, so unless she's shot by the mafia, she's probably going to live. But I have to say -- as a fan of a major actress -- this offends my sense of masculine gallantry. Practically speaking, what am I supposed to do about this? PayPal? Should I fly to Mumbai, knock on her mansion door and slip her a nice crisp fifty? How come I know her, and her art, and her actions, so well -- yet our economic relationship is so crazy? It's bad!

Then I read, in my favorite tell-all Bollywood gossip website, that Kajol's disgruntled chauffeur has looted her house and driven off in her car! This poor woman must be experiencing some genuine sense of Spenglerian cultural decline!

I'm pulling for you, Kajol, okay? I get it about the problem. I'm complaining aloud to informed people who should take a coherent interest. I hope you're ego- surfing the web.

Now, it's easy to say that India is a crooked country with deep, endemic corruption. I lived there once, and yes, it definitely is. You don't need personal, local experience to tell you these things. You can read them every day in the global headlines from the "Daily Corruption," from Transparency International, the German NGO. I read that e-publication with great interest. I recommend it highly.

But! As a necessary consequence of globalization, Bollywood is finding a growing audience inside the USA. I'm one of them. Nothing odd about that -- it's like my wife's fondness for Hong Kong costume dramas, or my daughter's ferocious need for anime cartoons. The question is: as we globalize, is India Westernizing, or is America Indianizing?

Just maybe, you live in a nation of arrogant maharajas, sinister influence peddlers, dubious elections and corrupt accountants. With big software industries, and alarming gaps between the privileged and the underclass. Where multi-generational political dynasties reign over Congress, in a center of government bedevilled by Moslem terrorists. Is that your country? Really, pick any two.

So. After having expressed my partial sympathy for Mr. Eisner's point of view, I'd like to add to your cognitive dissonance by saying some warm and supportive things about the Bush Administration. Because, like a lot of CFP people, I too have been hanging out in Washington with spooks, lately. I've been covering the war. I saw the Pentagon. I saw Ground Zero. By my nature, I'm a whimsical, paradoxical sort of fellow. Those two sights didn't make me a happier guy.

So: John Ashcroft. Yes, I know that Attorney General

Ashcroft is our designated Beast of the Apocalypse. But people: it is one of the oldest rules in politics to distribute rewards yourself and punishments through a subordinate. Complaining about John Ashcroft is like biting the whip. John Ashcroft is the lightning rod for American popular discontent. He's the designated heavy of this Administration.

I get it that Ashcroft, as a bogey, is useful for partisan maneuvers on both sides. But really, do we at CFP have to get all bent out of shape about this guy? That's like hissing uncontrollably when the melodrama villain parades on stage. I've got no stomach for it. People with a serious interest in governance shouldn't be reduced to this behavior. It's sappy. It's naive.

Let me level with you here. John Ashcroft didn't have to cover himself with villain's greasepaint just so the likes of Cheney and Condi Rice can look moderate. He's doing it because he has no genuine political base of his own, because he lost an election to a corpse. He could have gone home to some trailer park to eat banana chips and watch Bollywood movies. Instead, he decided to be the heavy Enforcer inside the Beltway, most likely because he was asked by the President, and he thinks it's his duty. He's gonna go to his own grave as this hissable villain figure for the Left, this arrow-riddled scarecrow.... His real problem is that the US Senate, where he used to work and have some dignity, is harassed by vicious anthrax mailers and he, John Ashcroft, can't find them. Now that -- that is a genuine problem.

Now, without particular enthusiasm, let me say a few kindly and supportive words about the Bush Cabinet. It's true that their behavior often seems secretive, erratic, and peculiar. It's easy to read sinister overtones into this.

My belief is that there is a central motivation in the Bush Cabinet. It doesn't get much press play, but this is the enlightening, analytical key to most of the vagaries of their behavior. The key is that the Bush Cabinet does not want to get killed.

You see, there are marked peculiarities in America's New Kind of War. It's a war whose center is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere. If you are going to wound a superpower in a war without battlefronts, you might as well shoot it in the head.

To attack the military nerve center in a nation's capital shows a distinct taste for decapitation. Al Qaeda has had enough of killing diplomats and sailors. The Bush Cabinet expects Al Qaeda to try to kill the American command structure. In other words, them. If they were Al Qaeda, that's certainly what they would do: they would bunker-bust. If they, the Bush Cabinet, have to take out Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, that's certainly what they will do. They're redesigning nuclear missiles to bust government headquarters bunkers right now.

This is what the Cheney "undisclosed location" business is all about. This is what the Cheney "secret government" is all about. I don't know where all those midranking officials are going, with their toothbrushes and their pyjamas, but I can promise you one thing: it's out of nuclear blast range of downtown Washington DC.

This is what the "Axis of Evil" is about. Of course they're not actual allies. North Korea isn't a radical Moslem state. Iran and Iraq hate each other's guts. What these nations have in common is nuclear ambitions and the fact that they manufacture Scud missiles in large numbers.

They don't have to imagine a way to destroy Washington and its imperial ruling class. They can read Donald Rumsfeld's own pronouncements in his "Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States." You put the Scud inside a tramp freighter -- probably hiding it under several convenient tons of heroin -- and you park it in international waters. You launch a nuclear-tipped warhead into Washington. In the resultant horror and confusion, you act just as surprised as everyone else.

That is the source of the Bush Cabinet's discontent with the Axis of Evil. They don't want to be killed en masse with surreptitious, cheap, covert, untraceable, weapons of mass destruction.

They're not making a big public deal over this likelihood of Washington DC getting incinerated. That would definitely put a crimp in tourist visits to the cherry blossoms. But add up what we've seen in the past year. Congress subjected to a biowar attack. The Pentagon blown up. In India, Moslem carbombers raided the national Parliament and did their level best to kill every lawmaker they could find.

The decapitation scenario is a hard thing to keep a level head about. Once you've gotten it about this, and internalized it as a likely enemy initiative, it makes everyone else seem quite childish, and very poorly- informed. The Bush clan are paternalistic, noblesse oblige, right-wing aristocrats with an intelligence background. They think they know more about global realpolitik than the American public can face. That's why they treat us like idiots. They expect us to panic. They are trying to spare us that.

Here is the proof of their sincerity. The Bush Administration has a secret, back-up government, in case they get killed. It's parked outside Washington, with a spare-tire Vice President to run it when and if the President is turned to glassy slag. Does AOL Time Warner have that? Or Disney, or Microsoft? How about you? Does your law firm have a strategic action plan for what to do when the Supreme Court is turned to ashes? How about you NGO activists? Who's the first guy you plan to email when you hear that Washington has had a nuclear, biological, or chemical strike? Can you email them, without routing the traffic through Washington?

The Bush Cabinet isn't afraid about the danger. Rumsfeld is not a jittery guy. Wolfowitz is a little pocket Bismarck. Condi Rice is scary. Colin Powell is a general, and he's the softie of the group. Bush himself is ticked-off. He's personally insulted. He's got a dead cop's badge in his desk drawer and he looks at it every damn day. Their courage is not the problem here. The problem is that they consider the rest of us to be children. Like the Congress, for instance. The Congress are children. Today, I noticed that the Congress is getting around to building themselves a backup Congress. Saw it on the news just this morning.

I don't consider myself a child. I've got my own children. When I'm at CFP, I tend to be in my journalist mode. That means I'm in the Danny Pearl contingent. If Al Qaeda had any idea who I was or what I most enjoyed doing, they'd be eager to cut my head off. I'm a major league Salman Rushdie fan. You ever read that novel, SATANIC VERSES? You should go home and read that book right away. That's a much better book than you think.

I can remember, back in the old days, when the cops and prosecuting lawyers at CFP used to warn us about the "Four Horsement of the Infocalypse." Those would be Terrorists, Mafia, Drug Dealers, and Pornographers. Supposedly, if computer law and order ever failed us, these four guys would be all over the Internet. Well, here it is, 2002, and Al Qaeda is using Yahoo and hotmail. They're terrorists. They're mafia. They grow poppies and sell heroin. They're Drug Dealer Mafia Terrorists. Obviously there's been a certain amount of industry consolidation here.

So far so good -- except the part we didn't get is that the Taliban are also the cops. They hang people from lampposts. They insist on imposing Koranic Sharia law, som that makes them the lawyers to boot! They're a Lawyer Cop Drug Dealer Terrorist Mafia.

I finally got that figured -- but what's in it for me? That's my question. Well, I kinda like Bollywood actresses. I admire and appreciate women. I encourage women to shed those stifling burqa robes and take a public role in public life. So, I'm probably a pornographer. I'm glad we've got ourselves an order of battle here. If this is netwar, bring the noise.

Let me tell you what bothers me most. It's when we're in a war, and the government does childish things. Pretty soon, this speech of mine will be over. I'll be going home, to face my 900 pieces of email. I'll be seeing my abandoned computer, and I'm not going to be falling on it with glad cries of glee, because I have to work there. You know what I'm really missing right now? I'm missing what everybody here is missing, except maybe the native San Franciscans.

I"m missing my Swiss Army Knife.

What's that about? They're banning a 3-inch length of edged steel? That's eyewash. It's hokum. It's banal and stupid. It's got nothing to do with our security. Nobody is every going to hijack an aircraft with tiny knives, ever again. They used that stunt up. It's over. Why am I deprived of a corkscrew and a nailfile?

I can live at CFP without a computer. Look, the gig is over, I did it. I had a pretty good time here. I wrote you a speech. But your speaker has brushed teeth, combed hair, and ragged, dirty fingernails! I'm an inkstained wretch because I wrote with a fountain pen, but really, is there any affront more intimate than the tips of your own fingers? The same must be true of conferences all over America!

Cruise missiles, we got. Daisy-cutters, we got. Nail files, we don't have.

Our security people are going nuts over kids' toys. Could we shape up and be a little less juvenile, please?

I'm going home now. Thanks for listening. Have a safe flight. Long live Victorinox. And long live the Net.

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