Monday, September 13, 2004

Holy Grave Robbers of Gotham, Batman

Holy forty pieces of silver, Judas. This may be in even worse taste than the President using pictures of corpses from Ground Zero in his political advertising.: coins struck from silver recovered from Ground Zero, bearing the image of the WTC. OK, maybe not quite as bad as the Bush ads, but it's pretty close.

So, I'm asking myself, how the heck did an ad for it show up on my blog? Yes, it's true, we've signed on to Google Ad Sense for The Little Teapot. Yes, I did it for the marginal amount of money it may or may not bring, and I'm going to justify it by citing the costs involved in blogging, etc. Writers write, unless they don't get paid.

The content of the site drives the selection of the ads (which, I must point out, I've got utterly no control over) and for some reason a bunch of "9/11" ads come up. In some ways this is the best form of free speech as far as advertisers are concerned. I got ads up from both the RNC and John Kerry's campaign the other day, so I must be doing something good, right?

Therein is my secret agenda for the ads by google: I've been really fascinated with the auto-content-discovery of my Google Mail account. It's not as uncanny as in picking out what I'm interested in just yet (far from it), but it's definitely a source of entertainment to see a clipping forwarded by my Dad generate an ad for lowering my mortgage rate and that sort of thing.

So, I guess, on one level I'm just as disgusting as the people trying to sell you a coin made from silver recovered from 9/11. Or I will if I ever get a check.

I'm reminded of when the brouhaha over the "Internet Decency Act" came up in 1994 or so. Boy, that was a long time ago. I wrote a piece for the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer describing the Internet as it was back then -- it was new to most people, remember? -- and essentially pointing out: (A) Free speech means you have to tolerate disgusting speech, which may not be disgusting to other people, and (b) Technically, it's a fool's errand to try to regulate content delivery on an essentially unbounded medium.

The article got mish-mashed, the Inquirer didn't buy it, and I ended up being quoted (without permission) in an editorial by the editorial board which completely missed the point. Part of the mish-mosh was a description of me "hunched over his keyboard", writing my piece. The misquotation made it seem like I was advocating internet porno -- on the contrary, I was advocating unrestricted free speech so that something other than porno would start showing up on the internet. Needless to say, the print media's misinterpretation of what I wrote ended up causing me some grief, mostly in the form of anonymous letters and phone calls from what I'm sure were well-meaning defenders of morality.

I wrote a follow-up piece for what I guess you could call a pre-blogging blog on one of my web pages the following year called "How I Became the Hunchback Pornographer of the Internet" about the reaction I got to my name appearing in the editorial. The title of the second piece came from one letter that arrived, wherein the writewr apparently misinterpreted even the Inquirer's gratuitous description of me, and drew what I'm sure was a very vivid mental picture of me, my deformities, and my computer bright with interneto porn.

The piece wasn't really about the dolts who wrote to me telling me how hot I was going to burn in hell. It was about the danger of taking things like keywords too literally. The issue of the day was in part whether the FBI was going to start searching for perverts and child molesters and the like on the internet, being "proactive" about targeting such people on-line, by, for instance, searching for the words "child" and "molester" in close proximity to one another. Text searching has advanced a long way since then -- I'm really jazzed by the emergence of semi-adaptive technologies, even if their primary application thus far is ads -- but I'm pretty sure it was a good point at the time, and in the post 9/11 environment, one wonders about its use and misuse for finding terrorists. The problem, as ever, is the false positive rate, and the resources it takes away from "traditional" anti-crime efforts. In all fairness, it looks like some of the sting approaches taken by the FBI have been effective in targeting sexual predators, although not without some controversy. The same issues have been ramped up to the max with the passage of the USA PATRIOT [sic] Act.

So, I guess I'm going to hold my moral outrage at the ad appearing on my site, but I will let it all flow toward the source, which is the ghouls trying to sell back-door souvenirs of 3000 dead. At the risk of costing me pennies, if you see an ad for souvenir coins struck from silver recovered from Ground Zero, DON'T click through them. Thanks.

But if you do want to buy one, make sure you click through from this website.

I'll use the money to upgrade to a silver teapot.

Post-9/11 Postscript
After I posted this, I came back this evening and the following ad was up - quoted verbatim in all its erroneous typographical glory:
God, Eternity, & Sept. 11
Why does God allow evil? Was God present at Gound Zero?

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