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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

3/28/05 apology

Vea Culpa, Corrections editor
Monday, 28 March 2005

In the "Humor Control" section of our 3/28/05 newsletter, editor Rob Rosenberger used a school shooting in Red Lake, Minnesota as the pretext for a computer security parody. Rosenberger essentially turned the deaths into deleted term papers. Reader F.A. Carroll complained:

I believe the "April Fool 'story'" about Red Lake is distasteful and way below the quality you normally put out. The pain of the People is palatable even 1000 miles away...the isolation of that child and is severence from his spirit is not something to crack 'wise' about. You owe the surviving family of that child, the survivors of his rampage, and the peoples of Red Lake specifically, and generally to all the people of the 500 Nations, a huge apology and a retraction of that horrible attempt at "humor."

Rosenberger asked JokeADay.com owner Ray Owens to arbitrate the matter for Vmyths. Rosenberger offered no defense in his email to Owens:

One of my readers bashed me over a joke I wrote in the "Humor Control" section of my weekly newsletter. May I get your ruling on it? Your decision will appear on our website along with a link to you. If I'm in the wrong, I'm in the wrong. I only want a fair judgment. Attachment #1 is the reader's verbatim complaint. Attachment #2 is the verbatim newsletter.

Owens responded as follows.

To me, the joke you wrote is right down the line with the other stuff in that issue. It wasn't "rolling on the floor / laughing out loud" humor, but, rather, wry and extremely biting satire. No different, in my opinion, at the jokes that came out of the woodwork about fifteen minutes after the WTC came crashing down. [portion censored]

Sad to say, school shootings have become so commonplace that the interval between tragedy and comedy has shortened considerably. That IS the formula for comedy, don't you know: tragedy + sufficient amount of time = comedy. It's why we can laugh our asses off at the sinking of the Titanic while we [weep for] that little kid who got butt-diddled by a certain moon-walking dickhead [whose fans] may not find Jay Leno's coming in to work in pajamas particularly side-splitting.

Humor and jokes are human beings' attempts to deal with painful things. Whenever I get someone who writes with their panties all in a bunch over some joke that offended them, I simply point 'em towards the Jewish prisoners of the Nazis. You'd be amazed at the amount of humor these folks came up with to handle the situation they were in. They were finding dark humor while Hitler was turning them into soap.

This is not at all to say I don't understand someone who's directly involved in a tragic event taking a little longer (if ever) to find humor in the tragedy. But [portion censored] life doesn't cease to be funny any more when people die than it ceases to be serious when people laugh. (George Bernard Shaw.)

Owens' statement on "tragedy + sufficient amount of time = comedy" leads Vmyths to conclude Rosenberger broke an established norm for humorists. He did not wait before turning the tragedy into a computer security parody for our readers. His apology follows:

Vmyths routinely documents people who insist Osama bin Laden will terrorize the world in his next attack with a laptop and a 56k modem. We've repeatedly shown the U.S. government considers "cyber-terrorism" to be as dangerous as e.g. a radiological bomb. I launched "Humor Control" to point out the sheer absurdity of these oft-repeated claims. I glean newspapers and online news sites for any topical issue and I parody it as a computer security story while it's topical. For example, I took on the tsunami disaster one week after it occurred and I parodied it as a cyber-terror attack. Last week I humorously blamed a computer virus for one of the controversies in the Michael Jackson molestation trial.

All comedians explore controversial material; they sometimes overstep the boundaries of political correctness. My tsunami humor, for example, clearly would offend Indonesians. But those people do not make up the core of our readers.

The Red Lake tragedy fell into decorum's gray area where a comedian must wait a "sufficient amount of time" until he thinks his audience can laugh at it. Vmyths readers are my audience; I broke an established norm for humorists by failing to wait. I sincerely apologize to our readers and to the Red Lake survivors & families.

Carroll insisted I extend my apology to "all the people of the 500 Nations," but after speaking with him by phone, I feel my apology should extend to all people. It doesn't matter if this tragedy occurred on an Indian reservation, or in an Amish community, or in the heart of a major city. My phone call with Carroll convinced me he is a caring person who clearly understands this.

Owens believed Rosenberger's joke was "right down the line with the other stuff in that issue." Vmyths will not force a retraction.