Give a bureaucrat an inch . . .

. . . and he’ll take a yard – and he won’t give it back, either.  Two news items caught my eye this morning to confirm that.

First, on a smaller scale, courtesy of a link at Joel’s place, we learn of a town council that seems to have arrogated to itself far too much power.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

The city [of Columbiana] is not out to take away your freedom. To think so is “ridiculous,” according to Mayor Bryan Blakeman.

Blakeman made the statement during last week’s council meeting in response to a Facebook post by resident Tony Dolan which indicated that legislation pertaining to gardens is another step by the city to encroach on personal freedom.

“It has been frighteningly apparent that we in this city have given our freedoms up in ways that we never really saw coming,” Dolan wrote in the Columbiana for/against Chickens Facebook page.

. . .

The city had no laws pertaining to residential gardens, which means they were technically not allowed.

According to the city’s laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited.

“Right now, if there is not something expressly in this code that says that you can have one, you technically can’t,” Blakeman confirmed.

There’s more at the link.

Just who the hell do those councillors think they are?  That report makes them sound like Big Brother in Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘!  And how the heck did the citizens of Columbiana allow themselves to be dragooned in that way?  Were they asleep at the wheel when it came to voting in their councillors?  One hopes they’ll read that report, realize the depths of their predicament, and vote in a new town council, one that will undo the damage before it’s too late.

The second report is on a much broader, even global scale – but it could (and probably will) affect all of us.  Pew Research Center undertook a large-scale survey titled ‘The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online‘.  Once again, bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Anonymity, a key affordance of the early internet, is an element that many in this canvassing attributed to enabling bad behavior and facilitating “uncivil discourse” in shared online spaces. The purging of user anonymity is seen as possibly leading to a more inclusive online environment and also setting the stage for governments and dominant institutions to even more freely employ surveillance tools to monitor citizens, suppress free speech and shape social debate.

. . .

Those who believe the problems of trolling and other toxic behaviors can be solved say the cure might also be quite damaging. “One of the biggest challenges will be finding an appropriate balance between protecting anonymity and enforcing consequences for the abusive behavior that has been allowed to characterize online discussions for far too long,” explained expert respondent Bailey Poland, author of “Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online.”

The majority in this canvassing were sympathetic to those abused or misled in the current online environment while expressing concerns that the most likely solutions will allow governments and big businesses to employ surveillance systems that monitor citizens, suppress free speech and shape discourse via algorithms, allowing those who write the algorithms to sculpt civil debate.

Again, more at the link.

That’s the problem with trusting, or allowing, governments to shape and control the exchange of information.  They love the idea.  They’re staffed by bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians, so ‘control’ is in their genetic make-up, as it were.  They aren’t interested in individual rights and liberties, except for controlling them.

President Gerald Ford famously warned:  “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”  If we look to government to solve the problem of online trolling and bad behavior, we should not be surprised if (when) that government seizes the reins of the online environment and refuses to let go.  Further, we should not be surprised if (when) that government solves the problem to its satisfaction, rather than ours.  After all, who’s in charge here?  Certainly not us!

More and more, in every area of life, we need to vigilantly defend, safeguard and be aware of threats against our freedom, privacy and discourse.  If we let them go by default, history shows us that we’re unlikely to get them back again without a fight . . . so, rather than do that, with all the cost and effort it involves, why not hold onto them firmly in the first place?



  1. "And how the heck did the citizens of Columbiana allow themselves to be dragooned in that way?"

    I doubt they played any part in it. My guess would be the town solicitor gave the council his/her lawyerly opinion and that became the position of the council.

    There is the some of the same logic used with our own Constitution. Half the country believes it is there to limit government, the other half believes it's there to limit citizens.


  2. It is government's "Law Enforcement" who enable this. Once you convince them that they chose the wrong career, it is fairly simple to deal appropriately with the mayor and the rest of the swill. Until then, however, you don't stand a chance.

    Dead pigs tell no tales. But they do a good job of getting the REST of the pigs to rethink their career choice…

  3. "According to the city’s laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited."

    That may not be the stupidest thing a government has come up with, but it's at least right up near the top. Do they even think how impossible it is to legalize every possible thing that a person routinely does in a normal day? One wonders what the reaction would be if a citizen of the town called the police to report a crime? Namely that there is no law allowing wearing shoes on Mondays, eating lunch, and walking through a doorway, and one of the councilman was just spotted doing all three.

  4. Randy has a great answer. But "According to the city’s laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited." is just about where the entire country is now.

  5. "Hello, yes is this code enforcement? Okay, yes I'd like to report an incident… well yes, the mayor you see, well I've been reading through the code and I noticed that he has a tree in his front yard… it really is a lovely tree, but I don't see anything in the code that allows him to have a tree in his front yard and I don't think it's right!"

    Next phone call…

    "Hello, yes is this code enforcement? Okay, yes I'd like to report an incident… well I was looking through the local codes and all, just to make sure I understand them correctly… well, you see… I'm looking at the mayors house and there is somebody mowing the grass making a terrible racket! It's Thursday and I don't see anything in the code that says he can pay somebody to mow his lawn on Thursday, not to mention the horrible noise, and I don't think it's right!"

    Next phone call…

    "Yes I'd like to report an illegal fruit tree in the mayors side yard… yes, it's a pear tree, a Bradford pear to be specific and there's nothing in the law that say's he can have one…"

    How long would it take before he changed his mind on that one?

  6. I hate to break this to you, Clinton J, but if you dared to do any such thing, your ass would be in jail after the second call. And they wouldn't do jack shiite to the mayor.

  7. My step father was telling me one time about a train trip he took cross country in the US back when he was in the Army in the 70s. He was seated next to a German fellow, and my step father took the opportunity to brush up on his German.

    He asked the man what he thought of the US so far. The man replied that he loved it. He said in Germany, you can't do anything unless it is expressly allowed. In the US you could do anything unless it was expressly forbidden.

    This stuck with me as a pretty good proxy for evaluating how free a society is. The city council in question might want to think about what their position implies. Thank god they are only a city council.

    Here in California, we have a full time legislature to make sure everything is expressly forbidden. One wonders when they will make the switch to doling out privileges rather than forbidding transgressions.

  8. That would certainly be an amendment to the city code that would set people's hair on fire: "Anything that is not specifically prohibited by this code is permitted."

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