That’s right. Buses. Buses for sale. All kinds of buses. On the internet. You can buy a bus on the internet.

Now I don’t know about you. But I find it next to impossible to see a billboard reading “Busesforsale.com” and not go to it. So I did. To spare you, a screenshot:

You can buy school buses. You can buy transit buses. You can even buy Van Hool buses. I don’t know what a Van Hool bus is – but why wouldn’t I buy one? Maybe I’ve always wanted a Van Hool bus. Maybe that’s what been missing from my life and I’ve never known it. Busesforsale.com sure thinks so.

Actually they have Van Hool buses available started at $89,900. Which is quite reasonable. For a Van Hool.

Of course there is a little gainsayer inside me. “Why would you need a Van Hool bus?” it asks. “Wouldn’t you want to see the bus first? Wouldn’t you want to buy it from someone with a face and a name?”

The answer, naturally, is no. I find dealing with people firsthand detestable. Not to mention that I cannot imagine a bus salesman having a particularly commendable deportment.

But of course now I wonder. What else can I buy online? Snakes?

Too easy. Reptilesncritters.com lets me buy snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and spiders online. And I’m talking some obscure shit. Albino banana Cal king snake? Check. Giant desert hairy scorpions? Check. Bumblebee poison arrow frog? Oh yeah. And they have a a very helpful FAQ section explaining what happens if a shipment arrives “DOA” and why it’s “very difficult, if not impossible, to sex baby reptiles or amphibians.”

That got me thinking. I do so much of my banking online: could I do my sperm banking too?

Why yes. Yes we can.

The California Cryobank is one of several American institutions that allows you to order sperm online from the comfort of your very own home. They walk you through the entire process from account creation through the “insemination countdown,” which sounds enjoyable. You can profile and select donors recruited from graduates of some of the country’s top universities. You can even comparison shop!

Too institutionalized for you? There are of course freelancers aplenty on the World Wide Web. They even include actor, musician and raconteur Vincent Gallo, otherwise famous for being fellated on camera by Chloe Sevigny in a movie everybody but the French hated. For $1,000,000 US, Gallo will “will supply sperm for as many attempts as it takes to complete a successful fertilization and successful delivery,” though he seems keen on a few, shall we say, racial restrictions. Of course one cannot be totally sure this is a good faith offer (and it certainly would require some offline preparations), but nothing else about the man’s web presence appears to be funny and the Internet, as we all know, is a deadly serious enterprise.

There are restrictions, of course. In the UK rules were introduced in 2006 to forbid “fresh sperm” sales and require six months of freezing prior to sale, largely in response to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State being bored at work. In the Netherlands sperm donation is no longer anonymous. But this is no real obstacle to my impulse buying as America has not yet fallen to European commufascism.

Every four year-old who watches GI Joe, of course, knows that freedom is not just the ability to create life. It’s the ability to destroy it. The internet will show me the way here, too.

This is the website of the Iranian Defense Industries Organization. On this website you can register and place orders. What kind of orders? Oh. Well. How about a Taftan Mine Cleaner? But you’ll need to protect it. We have T-72S main battle tanks for that. You’re going to want to clear the area first, so a RAAD-2 155mm self-propelled artillery piece is in order, as are some nuclear-biological-chemical protective gear and a patrol boat for water transport. Missiles optional.

In case you’re wondering, they do accept Visa.

But what will I do with all of this? I’ll tell you. I have to because that’s how movies work.

Not necessarily representative

I am going to splice the sperm of our nation’s best and brightest with the poison arrow frogs. I will create a super-race of poisonous, super-intelligent frog people capable of jumping twenty feet in the air, living off flies, doing long division and loving me just the way I am. Of course the government will try to stop me, but with the help of my super-soldiers/new best friends and the finest munitions Islamic theocracy has to offer, I will fight them off – and eventually, take over the world.

And then?

Then I’m going to buy a specially-modified Van Hool bus. My frogpeople and I will start a family band. We’ll do covers of Journey and Raffi’s greatest hits. Everyone will have to watch us. It’ll be awesome.

And I will live happily ever after. On the Internet.

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Intarnets law?

4 October 2009

I’ll be honest.  I don’t spend a great deal of time being thankful I’m not British.  Quite the contrary.

Witness, then, a novelty.

Voters will be given the power to rewrite laws under Tory plans to transform the way parliament works by importing a popular scheme championed by Barack Obama in last year’s US election.

[…]

Under the Tory plans, a parliamentary bill would be introduced in the way it is now. The first and main debate – the second reading stage, in which the broad principles of the proposed new laws are debated on the floor of the Commons – would be held in the normal way.

But once MPs have held this debate, the bill would be thrown open to voters before it is considered line by line at the committee stage. A website would allow voters to comment on and rewrite the broad principles of the bill, and individual clauses.

Contributors would rank comments so the most popular suggestions appear at the top. This is similar to mixedink, which allows voters to argue for and against various policies and suggest their own ideas.

I have a question for the hapless Mr Hague, who has the misfortune of floating this trial balloon: have you ever been on the Internet?

Seriously.  The difference between an actual policy debate and that which you’re likely to find through such a “popular legislative process” is like the difference between Glee and, well, an actual high school a capella group.  Don’t believe me?  Go onto the comments pages of The Guardian, or Politico, or indeed the one or two occasions somebody I don’t know has commented on this blog.  If you believed what you see on the internet not only would you not want the people to make law, you wouldn’t want them to vote for the ones who do.

I feel a little bit of indignation bubbling up in you already.  What an anti-democratic argument!  Well, maybe.  But then the internet isn’t really democratic.  In the UK, as I’ve written before, things have gotten a lot more virulent even than America, but the question still remains: why do these evil corrupt Congressmen or MPs get to make our laws?  Because we keep choosing them.  They may be unresponsive, lazy sexual predators with their snouts planted firmly in the trough, but they are ours.  Both in theory and in practice there’s nothing stopping anyone from choosing somebody different. To go further there is no excuse.

But people on the internet – by whom are they chosen?  Who decides that they are “the people,” that they speak for some unrepresented segment of the population?  Precisely no one.  They choose themselves, and the reason indeed that they are so often ignored is precisely because of a chronic inability amongst much of the blogosphere to follow basic rules of civility and reason, much less digest complex topics like the cod quota or the politics of disarmament.

But of course this follows from a misunderstanding of “the people” that the political class, in its rush to cater to the Internet Generation, has all-to-quickly developed.  There is no People, at least not in terms of some vast group of unrepresented and unserved proletariat bubbling over with untapped ideas and revolutionary passion.  In both Britain and America there used to be groups such as these.  Something was done about it.  (And by legislatures bereft of these excluded masses.  Funny that.)

Measures like this are really just a reaction to general apathy towards the political process, not the exclusion of some mysterious silent majority.  In their effect they are not only dangerously populist but dangerously anti-democratic as well, in that they threaten to transfer under the guise of enhanced popular sovereignty a law-making power that previously was enjoyed by the people only through the representatives all had the right to accept or reject.  On top of this now will be placed a class of “law-makers” no one asked for and nobody wanted.  Good intentions being what they are, you put yourself on the receiving end of a downmarket House of Lords – the Senate meets the Sun.  (This really isn’t fair.  In the House of Lords there’s at least someone to check and make sure you’re not mad.)

Of course, one might reply, anyone can participate.  Those who do cannot be held responsible for those who do not.  True perhaps, but that is to elevate the theory at the expense of the practice.  If there were such a system, in which people could alter legislation, online, at will, and assuming in Wikipedia-style fashion anyone could, who would actually do it?  Not everybody.  Not the people without access to computers and/or the internet (in the US at least 20%, according to the International Telecommunications Union; I couldn’t find UK statistics but it’s probably comparable or higher; broadband penetration is far lower).  Higher proportions – far higher – for the poor, blacks, etc.  Scratch most of those who work full-time or more.  Mothers with children are probably out, especially if they’re single parents (of either gender).  Tinkering with legislation won’t pay the mortgage.

YOUR NEW GOVERNMENT

YOUR NEW GOVERNMENT

So who will be left, besides these groups too “apathetic” (i.e. struggling) to care?  The wealthy, the bored, and of-course-I-know-best political obsessives who are too reserved, selfish or extreme to actually seek office for themselves.  (Read: me.)  I don’t doubt a few decent people will trickle through – but I don’t doubt they’ll trickle back out again, most of them.  The effect will be that the best-off, most-driven and frequently most-extreme people will take advantage of the opportunity to wreak havoc on the legislative process.  They will be little dictators each and every one.

The example of Wikipedia is instructive.  From its roots as an open source encyclopedia, it has gradually resolved into an organization with permanent staff, a bureaucratic structure that includes courts to resolve disputes between editors and a model heavily-dependent on a few very devoted and profligate senior editors, trusted through their experience and seniority to protect the vast store of information from the ever-present prospect of vandalism.  At least with Wikipedia I can still, if I like, go in and make productive changes.  With the law there’s no such chance: once it’s done, it’s done.  There’s no “work in progress” about it.

This is not to defame the prospect of models like open source governance.  It is promising.  But it is also young.  And this is true of the whole Internet – it moves far faster than even the most youthful and adaptable of its users (and certainly moreso than the legislators tasked with putting it to some political use), and law as an institution depends on consistency far more than adaptability or representativeness.  It’s far more important than you can count on the law than that it be modern or include you in its construction.  Most murder laws were written under an incomplete franchise.  That doesn’t make them bad laws.

This policy, like most attempts to shoehorn the internet into law-making, is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in an attempt to figure out where your sphere went.  It is the wrong solution to the problem of disengagement and inclusion.  Want the public to get back into politics?  Empowering a few frothing obsessives is not the answer.  Try public holidays on election day – public holidays in general.  A reduction of the work week so people have more time for politics.  Or subsidized child care.  Mandatory overtime.  Compulsory voting.  All very scary and socialist ideas probably.  But at least they have the benefit of being fair and of appealing to what is, in fact, the people, rather than those of their number who are indolent, obnoxious, and bored.