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We continue to get letters about what seems to be this week’s biggest debate – over whether it is appropriate for Katherine Albrecht, co-author of “Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID”, to come out with a second edition next year that will link Radio Frequency identification technology to the “mark of the beast” written about in the Bible’s Book of Revelations.

Our position is that we think it is a good idea to have a mature, lengthy and comprehensive debate about privacy in America during the 21st century, but that linking the technology to Satanism seems manipulative, ill-considered and a way to prey on the fears of people.

MNB user Dan Murphy wrote:

While I do side with you on the matter of RFID, The discussion of RFID as presented in Ms. Albrecht's forthcoming book reminded me of the following:

I live in New York. In the early 80's when I was just starting to drive, mandatory seat belt laws were put into effect. At that time I remember endless explicit discussions in the newspaper by and between legislators, police administrators and rights groups about how these new laws would never be a trigger event for a traffic stop and would only be issued as ancillary violations to an accident or a speeding infraction et cetera.

Now of course it is a regular and accepted event for one to be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and outside of the driver with the $75.00 fine I am uncertain I hear a lot of complaints. Before the deluge of email-- I am not suggesting that seatbelt laws are wrong at all. I am sure they are beneficial in fact, what I am suggesting is that all power, particularly that made available to the state, and perhaps to multinationals, creeps to expand whatever space we allow it to occupy. Experience suggests that very few folks are interested in pushing back against these expansions, hence the historical tendency towards bureaucratic stagnation in all things large.

All that being said, I couldn't be prouder than to live a country where w get to hear about the plot to turn us into automatons with microchips, see pot leaves on Willie Nelson albums if we want to, and consider naked images of Supreme Court justices in our quieter moments.

Regarding your comment about free speech being simple, I agree. I suspect there are several founders who if they could do so would say-- "make no mistake, free speech for everybody, all of the time is exactly what we meant.”

MNB user Amy Haefele wrote:

I thought I'd throw in my two cents regarding the RFID tags being equated to the mark of the beast. While I agree that I think it's wrong to prey on people's fears regarding end-time, there are some Christian denominations that do truly believe this sort of thing, without taking it to a fanatical point or making money off of the topic. My fiancé belongs to one such denomination, and while I don't share his beliefs regarding end-time prophecy, I do respect the fact that they see things that they feel are warning signs and take on the responsibility to take a stand and point those out to others.

Although we don't know what the outcome will be for RFID tags—beast or not--it doesn't hurt to take a bit of caution when venturing into areas that could be easily abused by those in power. What would have happened if some German convinced enough people that he thought Hitler could be going in the wrong direction, and they worked to stop him before they reached the Holocaust? Regardless of your religious (or even political) beliefs, it doesn't hurt to make sure you're walking into things with your eyes open so that we don't wake up one day and think, how did we get here?

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

I read w/interest the following quote from one of your readers commenting on Katherine Albrecht.

"Thankfully, not everyone is a religious fanatic. Although, these days, we seem to be surrounded by them. They're so unreasonably fearful. If they took all the energy they spend on fearing whatever they fear, and put it to good use feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, and accepting those with different lifestyles & ideologies, WITHOUT AGENDA, we would be stronger both as a nation and within our communities."

Frankly, I had to laugh although this really isn't funny. This person should recall carefully who was on the front lines when Katrina hit. If it hadn't been for the "religious fanatics", there would have been a lot less food/clothing/shelter/care for the victims of Katrina. I didn't see Michael Moore, the ACLU, NAACP,, etc in the trenches taking care of people. What I saw were churches and their parishioners everywhere at al hours of the day/night insuring that people got what they needed to make it to the next day. Both FEMA and the Red Cross were equally ineffective in helping the victims. However, the Salvation Army was very effective in getting to those who needed help the most. I'd say these "religious fanatics" were doing exactly what this misinformed reader is claiming they don't do--such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, regardless of lifestyle or ideology. My guess is that, even if these "religious fanatics" had an AGENDA outside of helping people, the victims could have cared less; they simply appreciated the help and care.

It is important to separate fanatics from people of faith. They are not the same thing, not by any means. And the correspondent you refer to was not trying to equate them.

Your points are well-taken, though. We might argue that perhaps the difference between fanatics and people of genuine faith is that the latter tend to be people of compassion and tolerance.

But perhaps that depends on what kind of deity one has faith in.

(Boy, are we treading on dangerous ground here…)

At one point yesterday, we made the comment that “we don’t think God has a position on RFID tags. She has bigger and better things to worry about.”

This – and our position in general – really irritated this MNB user:

I am disappointed, yet not surprised, that you would launch such an attack on Katherine Albrecht based on just ONE sentence written in Ad Age about the alleged nature of her upcoming work. What kind of a "journalist" are you? Did it ever occur to you that maybe you should go to Ms. Albrecht herself to verify that this is actually an accurate statement? Have you ever been misquoted in a publication, or had your words or ideas twisted to say something other than what you meant?

No respectable journalist is going to ascribe ideas or opinions to an individual without checking multiple sources, including (especially) the individual at the heart of the story. You quoted only one sentence from one article. Looks to me like you are the one trying to manipulate.

Such extreme opinions about Ms. Albrecht and her upcoming book need to be backed up by solid research and interviews; otherwise you have committed character assassination.

Also, I want to address something else you said in today's issue of MNB: "For the record, though, we don’t think God has a position on RFID tags. She has bigger and better things to worry about."

I am not a religious individual, don't regularly attend church, and really couldn't give a flip about what kind of faith people have. Whether you think God is male or female, whatever, fine. But are you trying to piss off your readers? Inflammatory comments like the one above, where you claim God is female, are certain to do just that. Like it or not, most of America still follows the traditional view that God is of a masculine gender.

Here's a little bit of friendly advice: stick to what you know. Your core competency is not religion or politics. I don't want to read about this stuff while I'm at work. If I want strife, opinions, debate, and commentary about religion or politics, I have a TV and can hear it at home. But when I'm at work, I only want to hear about what is relevant to my job, career, and industry. That's why I subscribe to MNB. Continued inflammatory comments from you will only drive me and countless others away from your publication.

We appreciate the friendly advice. Let us offer a friendly rebuttal.

You’re right. We didn’t talk to Albrecht. The deadlines imposed by MNB’s schedule usually don’t make that possible.

But it wasn’t just the Ad Age piece that established her agenda. It also is the revised title of the new version of her book, as advertised on “The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Computer Tracking.”

That title, combined with the Ad Age piece, seemed to establish her agenda pretty clearly. (Besides, we’ve long disagreed with Albrecht’s feelings on these issues.)

Second, about our “claim that God is female…”

Here’s the thing. We needed a pronoun. There were three choices. “It” certainly wasn’t appropriate. Which left us with “he” or “she.” We chose the latter.

Was this a slightly political statement that preferred the image of a nurturing deity? Sure. We’ll admit to that. It seems to us that to claim that God is a “he” is every bit as presumptuous as claiming that God is a “she.” It just doesn’t seem that way, because the presumption has been around longer.

Finally, about the appropriateness of this discussion on MNB

We would contend that if a book comes on the market that links a business technology to Satanism, and by extension links the companies using the technology to the Biblical end of days, then that is a business issue that deserves discussion. We understand why it may seem out of place on a business website – the fact is that we don’t think that many other folks in this business would devote this kind of space to the discussion precisely because it is controversial and provocative and risks annoying so many people. (Hell, this discussion is a lot more germane to the conduct of business than a lot of the debates we’ve had in this space…and we don’t regret any of them.)

We would hope that this would be seen as a place where we can at least have intellectually stimulating discussions of issues that, from time to time, will stray from profits and losses and marketing strategies. We are not trying to inflame, but we are trying to provoke thought and passion and debate about issues that deserve all three. Sure, there’s heat…but we would hope that there is more light.

As for sticking with what we know, we know that we agree with the person who said, "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it."

We’ll buy that.
KC's View: