Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'd love to have their money...

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...
Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But can you imagine being a member of the Cheney family?

And why are these guys always named "Dick"?

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Mark Halperin backs off of "death panel" remark

Protest sign: The Nazis already tried death pa...
Protest sign: The Nazis already tried death panels. How'd that work out? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Freelancer Danny Bloom asks, Is this a day that will live in infamy?

National emblem of the People's Republic of China
National emblem of the People's Republic of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
China announces an expanded air defense zone:

 OPED - Is this a new date that will live in infamy? - re- CHINA ADIZ

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Something different for Christmas?

Check out my self-published "McAdoo" Trilogy:

1.  Why My Dad Hates Ice Cream

2.  Ned McAdoo and the Molly Maguires

3.  Maggie in the Underworld ( a work in progress...maybe it'll be finished by next Christmas)

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A Great Christmas Gift for a Young Adult Who Wants to Know More about Terrorism in America

Here's a sample:

Ned McAdoo and the Molly Maguires

A Novel by

James Ottavio Castagnera

     The man was tall... six feet, at least... maybe seven.  Or was he floating a foot or two above our hunter green carpet?  Most of his face was hidden by a shaggy black beard and handlebar mustache.  But his... oh, Christ almighty, those eyes.  They were two glowing coals, each one orange, shimmering and radiating from a deep black socket, almost like the craters of two recently-active volcanoes.  Or --- it occurred to me later --- two glowing embers of anthracite coal in some 19th century fireplace.  And the mouth.  It was open about half way and what I could see of the inside was bright and bloody red. 
     The body, which walked or floated slowly toward the foot of the bed, was dressed in a black, funereal suit of rough wool.  The sleeves of the coat were too short and the long, powerful-looking arms hung down at the man's side, the ghostly white fingers fully extended but relaxed.  Except for the eyes and mouth, the face, which had an exceptionally high forehead crowned by a thinning crop of ill-cut black hair, was so white that I could have believed it had been dusted with flour.                                                                                     
     The specter did not so much speak as moan its message, which sounded to me like "Juice dish."  The words meant nothing, yet the voice frightened me even more than the messenger's appearance.  I tried to kick off the covers, intending to leap out of the bed and run for it.  In my panic, as I was a little ashamed to recall later, I gave no thought to Judy, asleep beside me in our queen-sized bed.
     I found that, despite kicking and flailing my arms and legs like the panic-stricken coward I was, I couldn't get the bed clothes off my body nor extricate myself from the bed.  The apparition was hovering directly above me, still moaning "Juice dish, Juice dish," while I too moaned and wailed like some Irish banshee in a fairy tale, when I heard a third voice in my right ear.  It was a soft and gentle female voice amidst all the male caterwauling that seemed to fill up the small dark space of the bedroom.  At first I hardly heard it.  But, accompanied by a gentle yet firm shaking of my trembling right shoulder, it persisted until it got through to the agitated recesses of my frantic brain.
     "Ned," the gentle voice said.  "Ned, darling.  Wake up.  It's all right.  You're having a dream.  Ned, wake up," it insisted. 
     I discovered that I could sit upright.  And so, I did.  I sat bolt upright in bed and the blanket and sheet fell down into my lap.
     The rescuing female voice, I was happy to hear, was still there in my right ear, which seemed the only sane part of my head. 
    "Ned, wake up," it persisted.  "You're having a nightmare."
I turned and was somewhat startled to see my wife beside me, her soft, plump hand holding and gently shaking my shoulder. 
"It's all right, honey.  Just wake up now.  Okay?"
     Suddenly, a terrible crashing noise drowned her out.  I looked up and saw that an elephant had appeared behind the human specter.  It filled the space above me and caused me to gasp for breath.  Its trunk slid between the ghoul’s legs and lifted him onto its back.  Our bedroom ceiling and even our roof were gone now.  The elephant bellowed.  I think I bellowed, too.
      Then Judy’s voice was in my ear again.  “Ned, wake up, honey.”  Then, more urgently, “Wake up!”
     I turned and looked into the big, green-gray eyes that were just a few inches from my sweat-covered face.  The two big tears, one dangling precariously from the corner of each of those warm, reassuring eyes, looked to me like tiny crystal balls.  They caught the light coming in from the electric candle on the table in the hallway.  I felt relief flood over and down through me. My whole tense, stiffened body relaxed.  I'm surprised, thinking back, that I didn't just collapse like a pile of cloth.
     Then I remembered my ghastly visitor.  I snapped my head back toward the ceiling.  There was nothing there, except our ceiling fan, rotating slowly, creating shimmering shadows as its blades alternately reflected the soft, yellowish light from the hall.  I figured our roof was back as well.
     "It was Kehoe," I finally spoke to Judy.  "It was Black Jack."
     Her gentle voice did not contradict this mad assertion.  As if I had told her that Archie had just called, she asked in matter-of-fact tones, "What did he want, honey?"
     "I'm not sure," I replied, her calmness catching, my own tone of voice level and fairly soft. "I don't know.  Something about juice, I think."
     "Juice?"  Judy was as puzzled as I.  Or was she amused and just pretending to be interested, as she did sometimes when I tried to tell her about some of my cases?  "What about juice, darling?"
     "Don't know," I mumbled, as an irresistible urge to get back to sleep came over me.  I checked the clock on my night stand: 2:02 AM was the digital reading.  "I don't know.  Maybe he was thirsty."


       It's the summer of 1987 and I'm seventeen years old.  We're careening along Interstate 90, heading west through South Dakota.  I'm driving, Mom is riding shotgun and keeping careful tabs on the quality of my driving.  "Slow down, Ned.  Let him pass you."  "Watch out.  Is that a motorcycle I see ahead there?  Why don't they make them wear proper helmets out here?"
     I'm doing my best to ignore her, as well as my fourteen-year-old sister, Katy, who is providing us with sporadic dramatic readings from something she just purchased called the "I Kid-You-Not Road Atlas."
     "Hey, Ned-o," she says, "Listen to this.  In Nebraska it's illegal for a barber to shave a customer's chest hair."
      I reach for the volume knob on the radio-tape player and turn up the sound another notch.  Though Mom is only allowing us to listen to classical music ("Both for my sanity and so you two cultural Neanderthals learn something during all the hours we'll be cooped up in the van."), Brahms in both ears is better than Mom in one and Katy in the other.
     "Neddy, are you listening?"  Katy is sprawled across the middle bench of the Plymouth Voyager that Pop drove brand-spanking-new from the showroom just three days ago.  "In Arkansas it's illegal to blindfold cows on highways."
     "Oh, my God," exclaims Mom at that moment.  "Is that a cow up there on the road?"
     "No, Mom," I respond.  "It's just another biker."
     "Well, don't pass him.  Your father says motorcycles are liability lightning rods."  Whatever that means, I think to myself.
     "In Gainesville, Georgia, it's illegal to eat chicken with a fork," Katy plows on, giggling softly from time to time as well.  I give up trying to ignore the two females in my life.
     The Old Man, however, is having no such problem.  Having curled his bulk into a big ball on the back bench of our new van, he is quietly snoring away, oblivious to Katy's dramatic reading of unusual American laws and Mom's running commentary on road conditions and the quality of my driving. 
     Like the van, the trip was Archie's idea.  Both were the products of a new prosperity which had visited the McAdoo family of Havertown, Pennsylvania, in the wake of my Dad's successful settlement last August of a somewhat sensational (at least locally) lawsuit.  The case involved AIDS discrimination in employment...  something of a novelty in those days; the Old Man had successfully represented the plaintiff. But the real news was that the guy killed himself in the midst of the litigation.  No matter... Pop's publicity was excellent.
      Always a solo practitioner, Archie had experienced a steady stream of new clients, including a labor union which had obtained his continuing counsel on employment law issues in return for a fairly handsome monthly retainer.  So busy had he become that he had hired a part-time law clerk, a third year student from nearby Widener Law School, whom he had high hopes of being able to hire on a full-time basis after she graduated and passed the Pennsylvania bar.
     And seemingly despite, rather than because, of Pop's notoriety as the successful advocate of a gay HIV victim, Mom's Christmas present from her employer, Regional Econometric Forecasting Group, at the end of 1986 had been a promotion from controller to chief financial officer.  In short, the "long green", as Archie had taken to calling it, was rolling in.  And, so, my Dad had decided it was time for the famiglia McAdoo to take a "real vacation."
      In fact our family vacations to date had all been of the classic Havertonian variety: a week, two if we were really lucky, at the Jersey Shore.  The more affluent your folks, the closer to the beach was your rented house.  The McAdoos usually had a pretty long walk to the shoreline.  Only in the past four or five years --- and then only because Mom had been promoted in 1982 from head bookkeeper to controller at REF Group--- did Katy and I discover how awesome it is to have a door that opens right out onto the dunes, the beach and the breaking waves.  But, Mom, ever the frugal faction in her sometimes fractious marriage to my Dad, had continued to insist that a substantial portion of her salary be socked away for our college educations and their retirement at some indeterminate time beyond that.
    Consequently, even with Dad's substantial fee from the HIV settlement, and the significant, steady increase in his income after that, Mom initially had resisted Archie's idea of a "real vacation to show the kids America."
     Archie had lobbied hard and long.  But I don't think his alternating rounds of cajoling and badgering would have moved Mom, if Maggie Mulhearn hadn't come into the picture.  I think it was in mid-January that she approached Pop about representing her.  Since the beginning of the New Year, Archie occupied a four-room office suite in a reconditioned old house, just a few blocks from our home.  It had once been a branch location of the Haverford Township Library, and was now a 'professional building' of sorts.  Another solo practitioner, Bernard "Bail Bond" Brennan, and an Indian chiropractor, Dr. Something Singh, occupied the two other, somewhat-larger suites in the building.
     It was for the best that Maggie Mulhearn had turned up there and not in Pop's old office at home --- which had now reverted to its intended function of dining room, complete with antique table, chairs and sideboard, Mom's Christmas-cum-Promotion present to herself --- because Maggie Mulhearn, when I got a look at her a couple of months later, proved to be a Celtic heart-stopper.
     Flaming red hair, which was either naturally curly or permed into the most romantic mane of bouncing ringlets my teenaged eyes had ever seen, topped a flawlessly smooth, white complexion.  A prominent nose flanked by two big, radiant blue eyes, and underlined by full, pouting lips came together to create an effect far greater than the mere sum of the parts.  Maybe much of the beauty came from within.  I know now that can sometimes be the case.  Back then I didn't analyze, I just appreciated.   
     Maggie Mulhearn was one of those Irish women who freckled, rather than tanned, in the summer, and then held onto some of those freckles on her nose and high cheekbones all year long.  The freckles made her look adolescent --- and therefore just that much more attractive to little 'ol teenage me --- though she was 26 or 27 when she approached Archie in the winter of '87 with her unusual project.
     Maggie Mulhearn, as Archie recalls vividly her telling him during their first consultation, was a direct descendant of Black Jack Kehoe.  Film enthusiasts, like my Mom, remembered that the famous Scotch actor Sean Connery had played Black Jack in a 1970 film called "The Molly Maguires."  In that movie, filmed by Paramount Pictures in a little Pennsylvania coal town about 90 miles north of Philadelphia, Kehoe is portrayed as the leader of a secret society that is remembered for wreaking murder and mayhem on the coal mine owners and supervisors who exploited their Irish miners and laborers in the 1870s.
     "That's not true," Maggie Mulhearn had earnestly explained to Archie, her big, sincere eyes starring straight into his, until (he told me much later) he had to break the spell by turning and making a note on his legal pad.
     "My great great grandfather was a labor leader and a politician," she continued.  "The capitalists framed him because he and his union were becoming too powerful.  His political organization was gaining too much influence in the mine patches."  The mention of "capitalists" led Pop to detect a rare 1980s leftist concealed beneath the affluent --- in fact, independently wealthy --- Ms Mulhearn.
     After allowing the ebullient Maggie to chatter on about Pinkerton detectives and biased juries and agents provocateurs, Archie finally tore his watery, middle-aged eyes from her seductive gaze and inquired, "What would you like me to do about all this?  To me it sounds as if you have the material here for a very good book, Ms Mulhearn.  Perhaps you should take a stab at writing it.  Or maybe you could find a journalist, or maybe an historian at one of the local universities, who would have an interest in writing all this up.  But that's not me... I'm just a lawyer."  I can see Dad, who hates to tell a client or potential client --- especially one as attractive as Maggie Mulhearn --- “no,” shifting uneasily from one big buttock to the other and staring at his legal pad or his size 12-trip-D shoes as he says this.
      Maggie Mulhearn at this point in the consultation became perhaps a little impatient with what was, however unintended by my Father, a rather patronizing statement of the obvious.  Just as clearly I can see her leaning forward and putting her determined face so close to the listener's that in this instance my slightly embarrassed Dad had no choice but to meet her eyes with his own limpid gray pools.
     "I know you're a lawyer, Mr. McAdoo," she pressed on.  "And a very good one from things I've read and heard lately.  And it's a lawyer I want and need.  I don't want my great great grandfather's story told again.  I want him pardoned."
     For some reason he could never quite articulate, Archie felt compelled to write her words down on his legal pad, very precisely.  As I've said, I think he couldn't stand to stare into those extraordinary eyes for too long and used his note taking as a means of escape from them.
     "Well, justice, they say, is blind," my Dad replied lamely, not knowing what to make of this beguiling, insistent young woman, who seemed determined to retain his services to somehow reopen a case that had climaxed in an official execution some hundred and ten years earlier.  "Sometimes it loses sight of the truth, and eventually the truth is lost forever."
     "That's just it," insisted Maggie Mulhearn. "Do you mind if I smoke?"  She pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes and a cheap Bic butane lighter from her purse and lit up before Archie, a bit surprised that such a "wholesome" (his word) "girl" (also his) smoked (unfiltered cigarettes at that!), could say no.  "That's it exactly: I want the world, and especially the justice system, to remove the blindfolds and see my great great granddad's innocence.  And you're the lawyer who can do it... I think."
     At last Archie turned away from his legal pad, swiveling his creaky oak sheriff's chair so that he faced his would-be client squarely.  He turned so abruptly toward her that his reward was a face full of exhaled cigarette smoke.
     "Oh, dear.  I'm so sorry," said the persistent Ms Mulhearn.
     "That's all right," my Dad half gasped.  "Look, I still think a good historian is..."  He was stopped in mid sentence by the check which she apparently had drawn from her purse along with the cigarettes.  Made out in large green letters, the draft was for ten thousand dollars on the First Pennsylvania Bank.
    "Perhaps this will express my seriousness, Mr. McAdoo," she stated flatly, holding the beige colored check with its Kelly green ink, almost directly under my Dad's bulbous nose... which no doubt could very nearly smell the money.  "I am authorizing you, as my lawyer, to travel wherever you feel in your judgment you should, examine whatever relevant records you can locate --- starting with a good deal of material I have in the trunk of my car right now --- and when you have satisfied yourself of Black Jack Kehoe's innocence, institute whatever proceedings, or lobbying or whatever is required to have him pardoned."
     Well, you've probably guessed that Pop took the check and the... what?  The case?  Not really.  "Assignment" is what we have always called it, down to the present day.  He also walked out to Maggie Mulhearn's car... it proved to be a Porsche ... and took custody of two cardboard boxes that she had jammed into its tiny boot.  The boxes, appropriately labeled "Jameson's Irish Whiskey" and obviously obtained from a liquor store, were not filled with spirits.  Or were they?  The boxes, when Archie opened them after his new client had departed, where stuffed with books, articles and notes written in a neat, rather large penmanship that matched the handwriting on the green and beige check. 
    Archie walked the check down to the bank, then stopped on the way back at MacDonald's and wolfed down two Big Macs, a large order of fries and a strawberry shake in hearty celebration of this latest windfall from his new found reputation.  On the way back to the office he distractedly munched one of Mickey D's apple pies. 
     Back in his office, seated not in the hard sheriff's chair but rather in a cracked-leather easy chair in the corner near the window, he idly browsed through the materials in the first Jameson's crate.  Selecting a battered paperback, "The Molly Maguires" by a college professor named Wayne Broehl, he began reading.  But soon the combination of warm sunlight streaming in the window with its western exposure, and the fairly massive amount of pure MacDonald's fat in my Father's stomach, sent Archie swirling downward into a somnambulant state from which he could not pull out.  Broehl's tome resting in his ample lap, the great, crusading lawyer of Stanley Avenue, Havertown, Pennsylvania, snored rather delicately as he slept the remainder of the afternoon away.

“Is Violence Ever Justified?”
by Maggie Mulhearn [1]
     The Black activist H Rap Brown has called violence “as American as cherry pie.”  Nowhere has this claim enjoyed greater cachet than in labor-management relations.  The Pullman Strike, the Haymarket Riot, the Homestead Strike, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building... these murderous confrontations characterized the war between labor and capital around the close of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries. 
     Predating --- and prefiguring --- these well-known incidents in America’s labor history are the enigmatic events that occurred in the hard coal region of central-eastern Pennsylvania from 1865 through 1876.  Sometimes archaically called “the Molly Maguire Riots” (there were no riots as we understand that word today), this protracted conflict accounted for 16 murders, followed by 20 hangings... or what one might call state-sanctioned homicides.
     Since the days when 20 so-called Molly Maguires were marched to the gallows in Pottsville, Hazleton and Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania between 1876 and 1878, historians and writers have quarreled vehemently over whether these men were organized terrorists or innocent victims ala Sacco and Vanzetti.  Detractors point to a long tradition in the west of Ireland of Whiteboys, Ribbonmen and other vigilante groups, which tradition is said to have spawned the killings, beatings and arsons in the anthracite coal fields after these self-same nightriders, or their progeny, immigrated to the U.S.  Conversely, left-leaning commentators have contended that the hanged Irishmen were labor leaders and politicians targeted by the mining interests for liquidation.

     Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Molly Maguires really were what the Pinkerton detectives and the county prosecutors claimed they were:  a secret society, founded in County Donegal to terrorize landlords and their agents, and transplanted to the Pennsylvania coal fields, where they launched a reign of terror --- murders, assaults, and arsons --- in the 1860s and 1870s.  If all of that were true, would it not also have been justified?

       No American ever raises doubts about the justice of the Boston Tea Party.  If those Boston patriots were morally entitled to dump the private property of English merchants into the ocean, then the equally-aggrieved Irish coal miners of a century later surely were entitled to rip up railroad tracks and burn down an occasional colliery.
       Though the 19th century Catholic Church condemned the Molly Maguires, no Christian ever doubted Jesus Christ’s justification in throwing the money lenders out of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Arguably the early Christian church was a band of conspirators striving to displace the state religion and the official gods of the Roman Empire, as well as the Jewish faith from which their cabalistic schism had sprung.  So was the Church not hypocritical in condemning the Mollies?
     And is not even homicide sometimes justifiable?  The law has always recognized my right to defend my home against intruders, even to the point of using deadly force.  And if a man may fire his gun to protect his family from another who is intent on entering his home and wreaking deadly harm, he ought to be able to fire that same gun at the man who is intent on slowly murdering his family by means of starvation wages.
     No less a legal mind than the great Clarence Darrow made similar arguments in defense of violent union behavior a little later in the last century.              

[1] Maggie Mulhearn, “Is Violence Ever Justified?” RAMPARTS, June 1987, page 22.

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Maggie in the Underworld

BDSM activity
BDSM activity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've begun a new novel... my 20th book and third of a self-published fiction trilogy:
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The abuse excuse: still alive and well in 2013

English: Clarence S. Darrow
English: Clarence S. Darrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Abuse Excuse: One Size Fits All?

By James Ottavio Castagnera 

         Perhaps it’s Clarence Darrow’s fault.  The famous trial attorney, best known for the Scopes Monkey Trial immortalized in “Inherit the Wind,” also represented the thrill killers Leopold and Loeb.  That 1924 trial inspired at least four feature films: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948), “Compulsion” with Orson Welles in the Darrow role (1959),  the kinky “Swoon” (1992), and most recently “Murder by Numbers” (2002).  Called the crime of the century at the time of the trial, the murder of teenaged Bobby Franks by two wealthy college boys in Chicago has fascinated us down the decades.

        Realizing that no jury would find his two privileged and brilliant clients not guilty by reason of insanity, Darrow entered a “guilty” plea on the capital crimes of kidnapping and murder.  He then mounted a three-month-long hearing before the trial judge, known to be a softy, for mitigation of the sentence.  A dizzying succession of psychiatrists and other experts painted a picture of two disturbed young men who had been ignored by their parents and placed at the tender mercies of nannies who engaged them in sex games.  Summing up this weird array of witnesses, Darrow made one of his most famous assertions:

      “Why did they kill little Bobby Franks?  Not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.”

          As a defense attorney, Darrow was a genius.  His argument is one-size-fits-all.

          “Why did President Bill Clinton engage in sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?  He did it as he might open his fly, for the experience.”

          “Why did New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey appoint his gay Israeli lover to a key homeland security post?  Because he was made that way.”

           The once-disgraced Governor McGreevey is well on his way to reconstruction (as the Chinese Communists used to term it).  Earlier this year he published a mea culpa memoir.  In his 2004 resignation speech qua leap from the closet, he proclaimed, “I am a gay American.”  The press, of course, had a field day. The May 2006 book brings onto the light of the printed page his sordid peccadilloes from his personal perspective.  The whole debacle was the result, he writes, of his agonizing effort to juggle a “man’s man” image, via strip clubs and pub crawls with his cronies, with his clandestine gay love affair.  Poor media-abused Jimmy… his publisher has reportedly consoled him to the tune of a $500,000 advance on sales.

           Now former-Congressman Mark Foley has joined the queue for his turn.  Having recently resigned in disgrace from the U.S. Congress, following disclosure of sexually explicit emails sent by him to teenaged Congressional Pages, Foley was reportedly under consideration by the U.S. Justice Department for related criminal charges.  Once, ironically, the chair of a House committee dealing with Internet predators, his downfall looked like it might bring the Republican ascendancy to an end in the November mid-term elections.

      Two weeks ago his attorney released a claim that Foley, between ages 13 and 15, was abused by a clergyman.  How convenient for Mr. Foley that he was raised Roman Catholic.  By now the media have persuaded most of America that every Catholic priest for the past 50 years was a sex fiend.  Poor little Mark… those salacious instant messages weren’t his fault at all.  The prelate made him do it.

          In 1994 Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, best known for the book and film “Reversal of Fortune,” published The Abuse Excuse… and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories and Evasions of Responsibility.  Since its publication the book has spawned no major motion picture.  But perhaps it should.  Or perhaps a new TV series awaits discovery in its pages.  Says Dershowitz, “From the Menendez brothers to Lorena Bobbitt, more and more Americans accused of violent crimes are admitting to the charges -- but arguing that they shouldn't be held legally responsible. The reason: They're victims -- of an abusive parent, a violent spouse, a traumatic experience, society at large, or anything else -- who struck back at a real or perceived oppressor. And they couldn't help themselves.”

       I wonder what Darrow, who died in 1938, would make of this state of affairs?  He doubted the existence of free will.  However, he didn’t attempt to obtain an acquittal for Nathan Leopold and Dicky Loeb.  He only argued, successfully, to save them from the hangman’s noose.  His clients received life sentences.  I hope he wouldn’t endorse the abuse excuse as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

      Rather, I hope he would recognize that the whole of our criminal law is based upon the belief that all but the truly insane can see the difference between right and wrong and have sufficient self control to choose the former over the latter.

      Replace that principle with a one-size-fits-all alibi and we might just as well tear down our courthouses and replace them with clinics.  Hopefully, even you lawyer-haters out there don’t endorse that.

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From Second Life to Bitcoin: When reality meets the Virtual World, New Opportunities for Crime and Terror Abound

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his...
Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday; March 17, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Real Laws Meet Virtual People
James Ottavio Castagnera
(Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia lawyer and writer, is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University, Princeton/Lawrenceville, USA)
In his 1997 novel, “Idoru,” sci-fi writer William Gibson postulates a pending marriage between a real-life rock star and a virtual vamp. The bride is an “idol-singer” or Idoru. Although Idoru are computer-generated fantasies, “Some of them are enormously popular.”
The kids with whom the Idoru are “enormously popular” inhabit a virtual world that is more real to them than their own homes and families. In an early chapter, “They met in a jungle clearing. Kelsey had done the vegetation: big bright Rousseau leaves, cartoon orchids flecked with her idea of tropical colors…. Zona, the only one telepresent who’d ever seen anything like a real jungle, had done the audio, providing birdcalls, invisible but realistically dopplering bugs, and the odd vegetational rustle artfully suggesting not snakes but some shy furry thing, soft-pawed and curious.”
Less than a decade later, Gibson’s vision is here. In case you — like me — are not one of the 900,000 already enrolled, “Second Life” is a virtual world in which you can buy property and build a home, indulge yourself in a pseudo-career and… even conduct real business. []
Yes, in Second Life’s Linden City you can really sell stuff. Something close to half a million bucks exchanges hands every day in Linden, according to a recent Yahoo report on the Internet phenomenon. Concludes Yahoo, “The IRS is interested and Congressional economists are looking into how to tax digital assets accrued” in virtual worlds.
Is virtual taxation without virtual representation tyranny? Search me. Frankly, I’m more interested in issues such as blackmail. If Linden City citizen A threatens to expose some peccadillo of citizen B, where does jurisdiction over the crime lie? Let’s make citizen A a Brit and citizen B an American. Sure, both John Bull and Uncle Sam have an interest in the dirty deed. But where did the crime occur? In England, where the perp lives? What if he joined the website and made the blackmail threat while airborne over — oh, I don’t know — Uganda? And what if victim B joined the “game” and got the threat while airborne over Australia in an Air China aircraft?
Forget the geography. The crime occurred in Linden City, which falls under the jurisdiction of the state of Second Life. I guess that’s not quite the state of Grace. But for the religious the analogy is apparent.
For the record, our law enforcement apparatchiks can’t even cope with the Nigerian scams. A case on point: an international student recently decided to sublet a room or two in her condo, her family having returned to China. She advertised on the worldwide web. An offer came in via email from Africa. The offer was followed by four $500 American Express checks, an amount equal to a month’s rent plus the security deposit. The student deposited the doe. Next thing she knows, her new tenant is asking for half of the money back to buy a plane ticket. The student sends the money, not waiting for the four checks to clear. When the American Express checks prove to be counterfeit, she’s out a grand she can ill-afford to lose. Who can help her? Answer: nobody!
You see the problem, right? Mystics and new age twits talk of Gaia, an ecological theory that the living matter of planet Earth is a single organism. Who knows? What we do know is that the Internet — the worldwide web, more or less — is greater than the sum of its billions of parts. The Internet, one might fairly argue, is an entity which has passed beyond the control of any nation, any corporation, any set of statutes, even any international organization.
Anarchists and libertarians may applaud this state of global affairs. Those of us who have devoted our lives to the rule of law may justifiably feel differently.
Following World War II, we created the United Nations to bring all nations under one legal umbrella. We developed a canon of international codes, everything from crimes against humanity to international intellectual-property regimes.
Perhaps what is needed now is a virtual counterpart to the U.N. I wonder if Bill Gibson would agree? - See more at:
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