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 Message
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/26/1997 6:37:00 PM  

Message 1 in thread 

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Some recent rumors have come to my attention over the last few
days, which I hope, in this forum, to put to rest.

The rumors concern messages, posted here, which may have used
the occasional reference -- largely allowed on television, in
magazines, on the radio and elsewhere -- words such as "pissed off" or
"ass," that have been deleted or moved out of public view. That is to
say...censored.

Understand that those words are good enough for the Bible, which
tells us that god will "cut off from His presence he who pisseth
against the wall," and refers to the "jawbone of an ass." Now, if such
language is good enough for the Bible, then it seems to me that such
terms should be good enough for Compuserve.

Now, I say "rumors" because I'm sure that the sysops will now
come forth and explain that this was a terrible misunderstanding, that
no such thing ever happened, and will not happen in future.

Granted, obviously, there are certain words and phrases that
have no place in a forum such as this...the really Tough Words.
"Pissed off" and "ass" are not tough words...they are not even
firecrackers in the world of harsh language, nowhere near the
occasional cannon or howitzer that is out there.

Further, more disturbing, are the rumors that messages inquiring
about these censored messages, which do not in and of themselves
contain any such language, have THEMSELVES been deleted or moved out of
public view (essentially the same thing). That it is now inappropriate
and unallowable to even ASK about such things, regardless of language
used. And that such heavy handedness has caused the resignation of a
number of forum members here.

I say rumors, and I say unfounded rumors, because surely even
Compuserve would not actually take such action, and I'm confident will
now step forward to say otherwise. Why do I believe this?

Because Compuserve has a public image to maintain, and the
information that it was driving off users and deleting messages for
asking questions about censored messages would cause a furor of
substantial proportions.

Because I will be sure to post many colorful quotes from the
Bible in this space, and when they are removed, inform the National
Council of Churches that Compuserve is deleting material from the Bible
on the grounds that people should not see it. In sum, censoring the
Bible. This should go over extremely well in the press.

Because Compuserve and the sysops must know that if such rumors
*were* true that I would be forced to resign from this area myself,
rather than tacitly endorse such heavy handedness. I would publicly
announce that this area is not conducive to the open discussion of this
show, and that users should apply elsewhere.

Because on a daily basis, I give interviews to major newspapers,
magazines, television shows, radio shows, internet publications and
other venues in which I am asked about the online discussions of
Babylon 5; I speak at conventions across the country where these
matters are also discussed. And if this really *were* the situation
here on CIS, then in all of these interviews I would have no other
choice than to talk about messages censored simply for asking about
policies on censorship and their rationalization, let alone for
essentially innocuous words. I would talk about it *at length*, and
ensure that every newspaper and magazine and TV show and radio show
and internet publication and convention I spoke to printed or discussed
this information at length.

I would obtain the name of the CEO of Compuserve, and pass along
that information to journalists so that they could verify this for
themselves, since the idea is, as stated above, utterly
ludicrous...that any reasonably sane person could behave in such a
capricious and brutish manner. If this policy were in fact being
enforced, then I should imagine that the CEO of Compuserve would only
be *thrilled* to defend its practice to journalists at all hours of the
day.

Compuserve would surely know that such behavior can exist only
in the shadows, and that nothing so illuminates the corners of such a
discussion as a few well-aimed journalists...and where the average
person might not have a means of getting the word out...I do. And I
have an obligation to the many B5 fans using this service to maintain
the *reasonable and justifiable* limits of language that have always
been used here in the past, and that a show which encourages the asking
of questions will support those of its fans who choose to ask questions
of others, including "Why was that deleted?" without having to fear
that inquiry being itself deleted or otherwise obscured.

I expect now that the messages inquiring about deleted or
"disappeared" messages will be restored, and reasonable discussion be
permitted here, and this whole silly rumor discounted once and for all.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/27/1997 4:56:00 AM  

Message 2 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

It ain't just you...it's also Tom Knudsen and Stephen Smith and
others who have had this difficulty lately.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/27/1997 6:03:00 PM  

Message 3 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

You may want to check my response to Wes, just posted in this
thread, and add that to the collection.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/27/1997 6:03:00 PM  

Message 4 in thread 

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WizOp Wes Meier <76703.747@compuserve.com> asks:
> Perhaps it isn't an exact parallel, but wouldn't you do something
> similar to avoid Babylon 5 becoming rated "R"? As an example, in
> your role as sole producer/creator of Babylon 5, would you
> tolerate the viewers of your program voicing their opinions of
> its direction while you were producing it?

||Pictures or text exposing extreme cruelty, physical or emotional
acts against any animal or person which are primarily intended to hurt
or inflict pain. Obscene words, phrases, and profanity defined as text
that uses, but not limited to, George Carlin's 7 censored words more
often than once every 50 messages (newsgroups) or once a page (web
sites).||

Well, then you have an immediate probelm here, Wes. The
deletion in question seemed to occur after only ONE appearance. The
rule stipulates "more often than once every 50 messsages." If you are
strictly adhering to this rule, then it stands to reason that you have
the statistics to back it up. Otherwise how can you enforce it?

So it is incumbent upon you to demonstrate that the use of one
word occured more than once in every 50 messsages. Please show me the
stats you used to verify this position. Otherwise it is random,
capricious, and in direct violation of the rules you say you are
following. Because by inference, removing messages that contain words
such as the one you note LESS than every 50 messages is a VIOLATION of
CIS rules...and since only you have the access to the full stats on
this system, it is now incumbent upon you to demonstrate whether or not
you are in adherence to, or violation of, CIS rules.

"As you can see, Joe, we really have NO CHOICE but to adhere to the
"Carlin's 7" list of forbidden words (and "but not limited to")."

Except, of course, that Carlin's list of Words You Can't Say On
Television is no longer applicable, because many of the words he said
you couldn't say back in the 1960s and 70s *can* be said NOW on TV. So
the rule itself is irrelevant. Even Carlin himself has said so...I was
watching one of his HBO specials yesterday, and he his own self noted
that the list was no longer accurate, and he had to revise it upward to
include new and more interesting words (which he enumerated at great
length).

Since CIS seems to be looking to a comedian to define its rules
on language -- odd since I can't ever remember a Supreme Court decision
favoring the Comedian Rule in examining issues of censorship -- then if
Carlin himself has stated that the rule no longer applies, then why
does CIS not recognize this? If Carlin's word was good enough to make
the rule, why is it not good enough to UNmake the rule?

Additionally, the argument falls apart on the basic principles
of language itself. The word Carlin offered, another word for urine,
is not the same word as "pissed. The latter refers to anger, and has
nothing whatsoever to do with bodily fluids of any form. It's spelled
the same, but IT'S NOT THE SAME WORD, WES. It's like *heat* and
*heat*. They're both spelled the same, but one is a unit of
temperature, and the other is a term used in racing for a match between
several cars. So you're in the unlikely position of deleting a message
for using a word that LOOKS like a word you supposedly can't say, but
ISN'T the same word, wasn't intended as the same word, and doesn't
mean the same thing within context.

From a simple, grammatical perspective, it isn't ON Carlin's
(now defunct) list because it isn't one of those words.

"You don't like it. We don't like it. Perhaps it isn't an exact
parallel, but wouldn't you do something similar to avoid Babylon 5
becoming rated "R"?"

I used language that I knew would get us a more restrictive TV
rating just two weeks ago. Also, there is no R rating in TV. The
highest you can go is TV-M. Which was the category under which
Schindler's List was just broadcast...which received praise from
members of Congress (all but one), and was upheld by every conceivable
standard even though it featured full frontal nudity. If I felt it had
sufficient merit, I'd be willing to go for a TV-M. If it's good enough
for Spielberg and Congress, sure, it's good enough for me.

"Members of these forums are welcome to ask about our policies and,
even, to question them. However, such messages are considered to be
between the sender and the senior staff of this forum and are not
subject to open debate."

So in other words, the discussions people would need to
determine what they should and should not say are closed off from the
people so that they cannot see those discussions and thus cannot know
when they offend, or why, or what recourse they may have. "not subject
to open debate" is another way of saying "not subject to open
*dissemination*." Sure, you can't do an offensive thing if everybody
knows about it...so you make sure the discussions of it all take place
in utter privacy.

Every user here is DIRECTLY AND PERSONALLY affected by CIS's
policies on language and message content. So how, then, can
discussions of these policies be excluded from the users? Logically,
you *want* users here to know what the rules are, so that they
understand them, and thus you don't have to enforce policies that seem
arbitrary and blindside people. Therefore the logic of "not subject to
open debate" falls apart on the face of it; the line stems from the
corporate arrogance that says, "We cannot be questioned, and we will
not be held accountable. Only YOU can be held accountable."

"As an example, in your role as sole producer/creator of Babylon 5,
would you tolerate the viewers of your program voicing their opinions
of its direction while you were producing it? Such would be
distracting to the cast and crew and would be something best held in
privacy between those concerned and yourself."

Well, in point of fact, every day I'm online, I hear from the
thousands of people online who express their opinions of the direction
of B5 while we're making it. That's kinda why I'm HERE.

Secondarily, the purpose of message boards is DISCUSSION. The
purpose of a TV studio is to make a show. Two different creatures.
Which puts you in the position of, "The message boards are for the
purpose of users expressing their opinions EXCEPT when the messages are
ABOUT expressing their opinions, in which case they cannot express
their opinions."

Every argument you have presented is either fallacious,
unprovable, involve mass exercises in paralogia, or come down to the
basic bottom line, "Because I *said* so, that's why!"

It doesn't hold up, Wes.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/27/1997 6:22:00 PM  

Message 5 in thread 

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WizOp Wes Meier <76703.747@compuserve.com> asks:
> Perhaps it isn't an exact parallel, but wouldn't you do something
> similar to avoid Babylon 5 becoming rated "R"? As an example, in
> your role as sole producer/creator of Babylon 5, would you
> tolerate the viewers of your program voicing their opinions of
> its direction while you were producing it?

Oh, I forgot this one....

"But if it is our goal to stay off the Parental Control list and
therefore allow children to access discussions relating to topics in
this forum, then we must make every effort to adhere to its
restrictions."

So to avoid restricting children, we will restrict the adults.
In a forum where intelligent discourse is the goal, I'm not sure I
perceive the wisdom in this.

And if the discussions are hobbled, what benefit is there in
guaranteeing access to conversations that are inhibited?

How many children -- and define children here -- use this forum?
I very, very rarely see them here. Are you restricting several
thousand adults for the benefit of 3 children?

All of which is, of course, secondary to issue raised
before...are you actually keeping to the letter of the rules by
numerical content, or are you not? If you are, then please show us
your math.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/27/1997 6:22:00 PM  

Message 6 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

Actually, the FCC does not define foul language in the fashion
you indicate, not in over 20 years. And it does allow the broadcasting
of ALL the words on Carlin's "list" under certain circumstances. (This
from my having worked for 5 years at a Pacificia radio station, which
kept us apprised of such rules.) They don't tell you any longer what
words not to say...they just wait until an accumulation hits. And
there is the 12:00 midnighr rule, which allows virtually everything and
anything to be said, as was the rule at many Pacifica stations.

So, basically, it should be okay to read messages here with
language in them after midnight....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 9:22:00 AM  

Message 7 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

Wes, you have still not replied to the main point of my
message.

You say you are following the CIS rules, which will determine
whether or not sfmedone is placed on the Parental Control List. But
the rules you quoted indicate that in fact this sort of language is
PERMITTED, provided that it does not happen more than once every 50
messages.

You have still not shown to me that this was the case here. On
what basis do you decide that it happened in 49 messages or 51
messages? You have completely ignored my request for you to show me
the figures you used to make this determination...figures without which
you could not have made that determination...unless you just did it
arbitrarily. Which is it?

As for the quotes...every first year journalist understands
what Fair Use is, and what constitutes Fair Use. Surely CIS can afford
one lawyer to consult for one hour to tell you what every journalist
knows...that to a large degree it's a matter of the extent of the
material quoted, its proportion to the original material, and whether
or not proper attribution is made. If a book is at issue, quoting
several paragraphs certainly falls into fair use...while quoting
several paragraphs of a one-page poem would not, again due to the
proportions involved.

I'm still waiting for you to show me the basis on which you
made your decision. If you cannot provide it, you leave only the
impression that it was made arbitrarily, and that you *yourself* stand
in violation of CIS rules, and should be reported as such.

However, that you are "rethinking" the policy is certainly a
good thing...in a way, it's not so much the policy as the *method of
implementing* that policy, and the extremes used, that may be most in
need of attention.

BTW, I was interviewed just this afternoon by a reporter from
SciFi Entertainment on the online world, and went into this at some
length; it will likely show up in the next column there. I'll be sure
to update her on further developments.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 9:22:00 AM  

Message 8 in thread 

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Tina Whitecotton <71620.2013@compuserve.com> asks:
> So where's the problem here????

"I have NEVER ONCE seen the forum participants WIN."

Then it's about time, no?

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 9:28:00 AM  

Message 9 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

PS...you also did not respond to the point that "pissed off" is
NOT on the Carlin list, and is not even the same WORD as what Carlin
cites, does not have the same meaning. It's not nitpicking, it's NOT
THE SAME WORD, so the Carlin "rule" does not apply to it.

One word means bodily fluids, one means a state of anger. You
can say they're the same to your heart's content, but words mean what
they mean, not what you want them to mean. You're shooting at the
wrong target.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 9:28:00 AM  

Message 10 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

Here's the ultimate irony...this began in part because a word
was used just once...and the furor has led to the word being used far,
far more times than would have been the case if the situation had been
left alone by the sysops.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 4:31:00 PM  

Message 11 in thread 

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Ron Chusid <74756.3150@compuserve.com> asks:
> Then it's about time, no?
> Have you considered the odds?

Check my last note...

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 2/28/1997 4:42:00 PM  

Message 12 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

Give Wes some time...he has restored the messages, and is
currently in the position of reconsidering the situation regarding the
rules themselves, and what actually applies within those rules. I
think we should be willing to give him the room to do so without an
immediate deadline, since he has made a good faith effort here.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/1/1997 6:44:00 PM  

Message 13 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

"The ultimate irony is that *you,* our resident atheist, promised to
regale us with a plethora of censorable biblical quotations!"

Who better?

Y'gotta understand, I've read the thing *twice*, cover to cover.
(And ANYone with the patience to get through Deuteronomy, Numbers and
Leviticus has my enduring respect.) It's actually a pretty good book,
all things considered, and despite some misuse by some of its readers.
There's good drama, lots of melodrama, an overall arc (and an ark),
some good writing and some utterly *awful* writing, blood and thunder
and some racy material, the perfect ingredients for a
potboiler...except that it's often redeemed by such terrific parts as
Psalms, and parts of the Song of Solomon, and Proverbs, and the story
of Job, which is probably one of the best stories ever written.

A good editor would've helped *enormously*, but one can't expect
god to be all things at once....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/1/1997 7:14:00 PM  

Message 14 in thread 

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WizOp Wes Meier <76703.747@compuserve.com> asks:
> at work, at home, and at play"?
> That sorta, kinda, leaves us out in the cold, eh?

Related question, Wes: When a conference is promoted at the
opening menu, does it bring in a substantial number of folks who are
not *already* members of the forum? I was just thinking that folks not
into SF likely would not show up for a conference with an SF type...and
those into SF are likely already aware of it from the on-site notice.
Just curious.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/1/1997 7:14:00 PM  

Message 15 in thread 

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{original post unavailable}

"But that doesn't mean I'll back every decision or idea or crusade or
action he takes - and nobody SHOULD (and I bet he'd be the first to
agree with me)."

Yup. When I behave like a jerk here, I fully expect to be told
so.

"The issue he's brought up here is a valid one - but the method he
started with was too confrontational by far. He should have started it
friendly, specially without the threats of splitting, and then, if
rebuffed, gotten brittle."

That one, I dunno...it's easy to second-guess things after the
fact. I knew that a number of people had *already* either been (or
felt) forced off, or were resigning, and sometimes the only way to get
a result is to first get the horse's attention, as the saying goes.
I've had a number of dealings with lots of systems and worked things
out quietly, behind the scenes; you don't know about them *because*
they've been worked out in a friendly way.

Then, there are days when only a howitzer will suffice.

It was my call. I made it. And it seems to have worked. Would
it have worked out with the other approach? Again, I dunno. I'm only
a P3, after all....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/2/1997 5:08:00 PM  

Message 16 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

I see. Though, that would apply only to SFMEDONE, if it got the
PC label...you could still hold COs on SFMEDTWO, with different forums.
In other words...let's say, worst case scenario, SF1 gets PC'd. No
opening menu announcements. But SF2 is *not* PC'd. So the CO could be
held there; and since they're both (presumably) under the same roof, it
all works out the same, yes?

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/2/1997 5:08:00 PM  

Message 17 in thread 

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{original post unavailable}

"Think it'll happen though?"

When hasn't it?

I've been told I'm a jerk before, will be in future; and in a
sense, your message wondering if my actions were right was implicitly
implying a potential state of Jerk...and that's okay.

You're wrong, of course....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/2/1997 5:08:00 PM  

Message 18 in thread 

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Deonaha M. Conlin <102531.2627@compuserve.com> asks:
> Is there a way for those of us not in The Business to glom onto a
> copy of FCC rules?

I imagine that anyone writing to the FCC in Washington DC can
obtain a copy of the rules, since the FCC is a public agency,
regulating the public airwaves, to ensure they conform to the public
"interest, necessity and convenience."

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/2/1997 5:35:00 PM  

Message 19 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

Y'know, I've been thinking about all this a lot over the last
few days (what else do I have to do, run a show or something?) and
here's the thing that gets me in the area of parental controls.

It starts with discussions over language, and nobody wants to
say "We can't have language or other problematic items our
conferences," because it smacks of censorship (which, in fact, it is).
(And, granted, some uses of language are a little more disagreeable
than others, I'm not getting into degrees here, just the overall
notion.)

So someone says, "Instead of doing that, let's have a Ratings
System, which will tell parents which forums (or shows) are safe for
their kids, and which are not, so we can have areas where you can say
whatever you want, and other areas where it's more controlled, and
parents know where to go."

Then the ratings go into place...but nobody wants to be tagged
with the harsher designation. Because that would mean a loss of
revenue, or prestige, or visibility. So now everyone starts doing
whatever it takes to avoid that rating, by changing content or
enforcing stricter rules to avoid the label, since that's somewhat
easier to defend (even though it's exactly the same as the original
problem, they've just moved the target to something that's less of an
obvious flash-point as censorship).

What you therefore end up with is that all forums or shows move
toward the safer designation, and there no longer IS a choice between
"kid" and "adult" conversations or topics or language or subjects.
Because the latter has ceased to exist not for political reasons but
for *economic* ones.

It's much like what happened in the record biz...some groups
wanted labels put on records, have them rated so parents and kids could
tell the hard stuff from the safe stuff, "But we're not pro-censorship,
we just want to be informed." Until the records started coming out, at
which point the same parents groups began screaming about x-rated
albums being even in the same STORE where kids could enter their orbit,
even if protected by cellophane wrapping and warned by labels. It
became a basis for exclusion.

Nobody in TV right now wants to be hit with the TV-M (mature)
rating, because of threatened boycotts. It's the same material that
may have been there before, but now that it has a label, that label has
become a target.

The expressed intent is to create clarity in making choices in
material.

The result is to *remove* choices by excluding material.

The more I look at it, the more insidious it gets.

I think I'll write something about this, one of these days....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/3/1997 4:05:00 AM  

Message 20 in thread 

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{original post had no questions}

So then the concern about not getting opening screen promos
because of parental controls is moot because we can't get the promos
ANYWAY because it's not business oriented, so it's really a moot issue
in any event...?

Fascinating.

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/4/1997 6:00:00 AM  

Message 21 in thread 

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{original post unavailable}

Yeah, that's the problem...it has to be one or the other
Family, or Adult...and if you have any content that ain't kid-approved
it automatically puts you in the latter category, which lots of people
don't want for all the reasons you cite. Something here don't make a
whole lot of sense....

jms
    From: J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com>
 Subject: To Sysops from jms
      To: CIS  
    Date: 3/5/1997 6:14:00 AM  

Message 22 in thread 

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{original post unavailable}

Well said. You really ought to consider giving this writing
thing a shot sometime.

jms

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