Sunday, March 1, 2009

An Ancient One speaks of a lawgiver from the distant past.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!
Yay, Gibraltar!

The last Flag of February is from my first visitor ever from the tiny nation connected to Spain and less than 20 miles north of Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar. Pretty cool, don't you think? Does Gibraltar rock or what?

I am fully aware that seniority doesn't mean much in the high tech world, but that doesn't change the fact that my first time online was a long, long time ago. Back in the mid-1970s, the Cal State University System bought a CDC "super-computer" and connected it by phone lines to many of the campuses. There was a room full of terminals in the basement of Warren Hall at Cal State Hayward where we proto-geeks could log in and type in messages onto a screen, and those would be sent to everybody else who was logged in at campuses around the state, our words of wisdom being read by people as far away as Sonoma and San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Today this would be called a "chat room", but we called it the CYBER system, named for the make of computer. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, there were no 34 year old guys pretending to be 14 year old girls in this chat room.

It was a simpler time.

Back then, the computer would print out any key strokes you typed in, and that included a key combination that would clear the screen. (Some other dinosaur reading this might remember it. Was it just "Ctrl-C"? I forget now.) This would clear ALL the screens of all users in the chat room. I remember doing it a few times in my first times online, but people in the room at Hayward told me to knock it off, and several people online got upset. I remember there were ways to send private messages, but I don't remember if there was a way to block someone's messages. In any case, if someone persisted in erasing screens, the community would shun that person. This was the first use I ever saw of "Do not feed the troll." This self-policing system worked pretty well. After a few weeks, nobody was blanking screens.

Mike Godwin has more than seniority. He's a truly important person in the history of computers and society. He may dress like a nerd, but Mike Godwin is a lawyer. He has dedicated his career to protecting the rights of people online from unwarranted government intrusion.

In 1990, he formulated Godwin's Law. Scrubbing the original statement of archaic terms, Godwin's Law is as follows: The longer a debate on the Internet lasts, the more likely it is that someone will be compared to Hitler.

News of Godwin's Law quickly spread through the internet community back in the day. If you were in a flame war online, on a bulletin board or a Usenet group, if somebody typed in "Hitler", you or anyone reading the thread could type in "GODWIN'S LAW! YOU LOSE!" and that was that. But as the online community grew at an incredible rate, the percentage of people who knew about Godwin's Law shrunk, nearly in inverse proportion.

So now, comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis are still all the rage. If an Ancient One may state his little bit of wisdom, let it be this.


People who disliked Bush compared him to Hitler. Rush Limbaugh calls women who disagree with him feminazis. Conservative black commentator Thomas Sowell, in a column just this week, called Obama a pragmatist, which means he is like those other pragmatists Hitler and Stalin.

Yo! Ancient One here! I'm talkin' here! KNOCK IT OFF!

A few months back, early in the morning and in a pre-caffienated state, I was commenting over at a blog of one of my buddies and I irritatedly wrote something to the effect of "Knock off the Nazi shit. You look like an idiot." Other commenters treated me like I was a troll.

Yo! Not a troll! Ancient One! Complete opposite of troll! Look it up!

Before I wrote this post, I went through my blog, searching for the words "Hitler" and "nazi", just to see if I have anything to apologize for in breaking Godwin's Law myself. In almost all cases, when I bring up Hitler and the Nazis, it's because I'm 'splainin' something about World War II or the era in Germany between the wars, when the National Socialists came to power.

Here is my worst case. In June of 2007, I wrote a post about Paris Hilton and her press coverage entitled Why Do We Hate Her So Much? I took a picture of her and her dog into my primitive Paint program, gave her a little mustache and put a swastika on the chihuahua's forehead. I didn't use the words "Hitler" or "Nazi" in the post.

If I am accused of breaking Godwin's Law here, my defense is that I was being ironic. Honest to Lenny.

So though I am not without sin (and whom among us is?), I still stand here as an Ancient One to proclaim once again.


Comparisons of your political opponents to Hitler make you look like an idiot. KNOCK IT OFF!

I has spoken.


Tara Mobley said...

There are still forums and places on the internet where you will get "Goodwin" called on you if Hitler/Nazi comparisons are used. These places usually have older denizens who taught it to us young 'uns.

Matty Boy said...

In Dark Age Ahead, the last book of the late cultural critic Jane Jacobs, she argues that many patterns in modern life could usher in a new Dark Age, the most pervasive being cultural amnesia. At first blush, you would think that Google, Wikipedia and YouTube would be great help in avoiding cultural amnesia, but a lot of stuff gets lost because so much information comes crashing into our lives every day.

Godwin's Law is less than 20 years old and deals with the Internet, a topic that touches almost everyone's life, and yet it is only known by a tiny minority of Internet users.

Stuff gets lost, and sometimes it's really important stuff.

Cybernest said...

Just an itzy bitzy correction over your exciting comment about Gibraltar Matty Boy.

For the benefit of your readers... I know they will find this of great import and interest... Gibraltar is NOT an island! Would that it were. If we had not been connected to our dubiously 'friendly neighbours' to our north, we would not have had a sovereignty dispute this past... oh... 300 years or so!

More Gibraltar Information on Wikipedia or on my blog... A Gibo's Tale

Cheers Matty Boy! :)

Matty Boy said...

Thanks, Cybernest! I'll make the correction post haste!

Cybernest said...

Thanks for your prompt response Matty Boy... and I can assure you... Yes! Gibraltar does Rock... more than one might consider comfortable at times!

Saludos! :)

Lockwood said...

I hadn't heard of Godwin's Law either, but I love it. I posted a piece of tired snark on this same topic about two months ago. It's way past time that everyone reconize how tedious this Hitler-Nazi hyperbole has become. And it's nice to have a mental rule that allows me to say "FAIL!" as soon as I come across it. Thanks for the 'splainin.

Undersquid said...

Speaking of Gibraltar, I once wrote an short story about the Strait, and how its waters were only one inch deep to a lady of a certain height.

Man, I compare everything to Hitler. I need me a new fascist leader to connect to everything I argue about.

Emphyrio said...

This sounds like the PLATO system, which ran on CDC CYBER mainframes. I used it at the University of Delaware in the early 80s, and it had features like chat, forums, and online multiplayer games. According to, there was even some gender switching going on.

Matty Boy said...

When I worked at Atari, we had PLATO terminals. They had many more options than what we had at Cal State five years or so earlier.