CyberWire Dispatch: Enemy of Free Speech

Boston, Mass. -- He smokes, he drinks, he swears on occasion. His face twists into a kind of ironic smile when he reels off the phrase, "female genitalia nailed to a board." And he knows how to handle his stick ... as in pool cue."He" is Bruce Taylor, president and director of the National Law Center for Children and Families, arch-defender of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and gargoyle of Truth, Justice and the Moral Way.Taylor, a former prosecutor, takes pride in recounting how many perverts he nailed to the judicial cross during his time before the bench. Now that he's hung up that gig, he's moved into the legislative boneyard of Washington; he is largely responsible for drafting the bill that Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) first introduced. And since that time he's logged more TV time than some of the failed GOP presidential candidates.Taylor must have balls of titanium. He appeared on a panel in DC during the Computer, Freedom and Privacy Conference to defend the merits of the CDA before an openly hostile crowd. This move is akin to voluntarily jumping into the lion's den after having smothered yourself in bar-b-que sauce and then whistling "here, kitty, kitty, kitty."He wasted no time in telling the late-night session that all their concerns were, well, fucked up. "There's nothing in this law that is going to put people anyone in jail for posting classic works of art or literature," he said. Apparently, you can even salt your on-line comments with a few well chosen scatological phrases and still feel safe. Taylor said he'd just come from a panel in Philadelphia where someone asked him if it was okay to use the word "bullshit" on-line. Taylor said, "yes," though he about choked on the word when he said it.This stumbling over uttering the word "bullshit" was a bit amusing, because later Taylor had no trouble trotting out the sentence, "nothing protects pictures of a women's genitalia being nailed to a board."Taylor and his disciples love to parade the description of this picture at any and all forums. He uses it as an example of how perverted Internet content is and that if left unchecked, the Internet will become nothing more than a huge swirling cesspool of pornography, if it isn't already.But there's a small problem: No one's ever seen this picture. Taylor, unfortunately, doesn't carry a copy with him to back up his claims. In fact, I'll pony up $10 to the first person that sends me this picture, in digital form. It's not that I don't believe these fine upstanding folks -- it's just that no one I've ever talked to has seen it.During the question and answer time I asked Taylor: "So, if I write, 'Bruce Taylor's arguments were nothing more than total bullshit,' you wouldn't have any trouble with that as indecent?" Unfortunately, I also asked two other questions and in dodging all of them, never directly replied to the first.I left this exchange wondering what kind of twisted bastard would subject himself to such treatment. Surely the man had to be stopped, and as soon as possible. I figured it was my duty to find out the answer to his strange behavioral quirk and in the process, hatch a plan that would be undoing.Attending a CFP conference is a unique experience. It's like being caught in some kind of cyber-slipstream that sucks you into a parallel universe where the lions lay down with the lambs. Everyone agrees to disagree at certain times and a good time is had by all. FBI agents mix openly with cypherpunks and take notes on cracking techniques; the agents usually respectfully decline to indulge in any recreational hacking, though I've heard stories that, on occasion, they do fire a up a doobie, just in the spirit of unity.I figured I'd tap the closest Fed, by him enough drinks to get him loose and then ask him to call a buddy at Quantico and have him run a personality profile of Taylor for me. These FBI types love this stuff -- it's like running a person's horoscope to them. Plug in a few parameters and out pops the deep-seeded secrets that make a Hannibal Lecter or a Bruce Taylor for that matter, tick-tock.It was just my luck to hook up with a Fed that drinks like a fish; it cost me a small fortune in booze to soften him up enough to make the call. But it was money well invested.The Quantico profile came back encrypted, but a near-by cypherpunk broke the code in about 5.7 seconds by tapping into a mainframe at the nearby MIT. The Fed watched over his shoulder, boozy and smiling, his only comment was, "fuckin' A... wait till I tell [FBI Director Louis] Freeh about this." And then he passed out, his wallet spilling onto the floor with the log-in codes to his Dockmaster account landing face up. I hear they were put onto the Net sometime later that night.Taylor, according to the profile, has a jones for women with breasts that float and a body you can break bricks on. No surprise there. His obsession with the "nailing" picture also led to some surprising insights, but if I reproduced them here, I'd be jailed under the CDA.With this profile in hand, I called a local escort service and ordered up a date for Bruce. My plan was to have her seduce him while I hid in the closest with my digital camera. At the optimum moment, I'd click away. I'd burst out of the closet and boot up my Powerbook and jack in the camera, showing Bruce a set of pictures I could have on the Net before his johnson went limp. The price for dumping the pictures? He would hold a Washington press conference to announce his "retirement," in order to join a Tibetan monastery.Now, all I had I had to do was occupy Taylor until the hooker showed up at the hotel. As I wandered around the hotel bar, trying to scheme a way to lure him into the trap, someone leaned over and said, "I can get Taylor in here -- maybe he'll shoot some pool."That's it! The perfect "plan B." If the hooker didn't show or got hi-jacked by one of the politicians hanging out at the conference, we could always start a bar fight, bust a few pool cues over some heads and get the rat bastard arrested on assault and battery charges.This was all too easy, of course, and nothing works quite as well in real life as it does inside one's own twisted, whiskey-soaked mind. And so it was here. Taylor walked into the pool room and everything turned black and white, like a scene from some old Robert Mitchum movie or maybe a bent version of Burt Lancaster's "Elmer Gantry."Here was Taylor, shirt collar open, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up. He was jocular, cocky. Smiling and at ease. He should have been watching his back. He couldn't care less.From his shirt pocket he grabbed a crumbled soft pack of Lucky Strike filter cigarettes and lit one. Inhaled deeply and blowing the smoke out in one huge puff strode to the pool table where I'd just had my clock cleaned by Spencer Ante of PC Magazine On-line."I got next game," Taylor said, tossing a quarter on the table as his marker.From this point on things get a little blurry. I know that I tapped Spencer as my partner to play Taylor in a game of doubles; no way I was turning my back on him. Todd Lapin of Wired magazine was drafted into service as Taylor's partner. I made Lapin swear to me that he would put his body between me and Taylor if he went crazy and came after me with a broken pool cue. Todd, the warrior he is, agreed. (Of course, a quick call to my life insurance broker, taking out an instant $250,000 policy on the Todd-man helped ice the deal...)Taylor broke like a pro; knocked to balls into corner pockets. He chalked his cue, took another big drag off his Lucky Strike and sank two more. Then he missed a fairly easy side pocket bank shot. "Shit," he muttered loud enough to hear across the table.Spencer was first up for our team... hell, Spencer carried me the whole game, but I'd down a bet with some booze addled bookie in the corner, betting a C-note against us so I wasn't particular shook about the whole scene.I did keep wondering when Fifi the Escort would show; she never did. As I imagined, some cheap jack politician whisked her away before she got five steps into the hotel.Taylor ambled over, chalking his cue, the Lucky hanging from the corner of his mouth. Hoisting his draft beer, he vamped on the evils of tobacco. "Yeah, I started late. Didn't start smoking until my mid-twenties, after I got married. Well, tobacco that is..."Egad! Taylor, a pothead! I was speechless and pissed off this Memorex moment would only be recorded in my hastily scrawled hand on a damp cocktail napkin.You see, I was caught in a strange optical vortex where my mind didn't believe what I was seeing. My brain was rebelling at the input coming in from the ears and my entire sensory network was about to breakdown from sheer overload.After he shared this bit of historical data, I felt fairly safe in broaching the subject of his alleged body piercing. He'd just finished a drilling the 14 ball on a 5-10 combination into the corner pocket. "Nice shot," I said. He muttered a thanks and then screwed up the next shot. "Shit," he said again. Okay, his profanity is decidedly unimaginative."Hey, Bruce, you know, I just have to ask you a question," I said. "It's a bit personal.""Go ahead, but make it quick, we're blowing you off the table here and this game won't take long.""Yeah, yeah, so I never learned to play pool; I was into Three-Card-Monty... but I digress. Listen, is there anything to this rumor that your right nipple is pierced?"He scowled. "Where'd you hear that?"Not important really, you didn't answer the question, I noted. "No truth to it at all. Now, can I finish up this game?"And as he ran the table, I raced to a pay phone and called in the story to Wired magazine's new "Bodily Wired" section.But I kept thinking this guy should be evil. That he should be holier-than-thou, spouting his anti-porn rhetoric like a Donna Rice hand puppet. But no, here he was cursing, divulging his days as a 'head and beating me at pool like a red-headed step child on a rented mule.I know they say "know thine enemy" (but it's beats the hell out of me who "they" are or when "they" actually said it, but if it's not true it ought to be). But this whole black and white celluloid-cyber saga racked me to the core of my being. Who could we pillory from now on? This guy was all smoke and mirrors, with the emphasis on smoke. Did he really believe the gig he's taken on or is he just a mouth piece that loves the fight?I decided to go back to the FBI profiler to find out. But he avoided me. Seems he got an urgent page that a thousand or more hacks had been shoved through the Dockmaster front door inside an hour and forty-five minutes, all using his I.D. He blamed me for some reason. Imagine that.I dragged my tired, pool playing ass up to bed. Smelling of smoke and spilt beer. My ears ringing and my head spinning. I'd felt this way only once before, when I'd ravaged a bad batch of Ibogaine on the campaign trail a few months ago.I was hoping it was all just a bad dream and that I'd wake up and it would all be over. But the next morning when Pete Lewis of the New York Times tracked me down for some quotes on the incident, I stepped back in horror. It must have been true. The New York Times never chases a rumor.Now we'll have to look for a real enemy, not a puppet with a law degree and mortgage to pay. Next year, we get Donna Rice in that pool room. I'm putting in a call to Gary Hart right now.Meeks out...

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