From: (David Sewell)
Subject: The Spam King and Pancho Villa
Date: 9 Nov 1995 06:02:13 GMT

For weeks now I've been wondering why the Internet's three most barefaced spammers emerged from my own part of the world, the U.S. Southwest. Canter and Siegel of Scottsdale were easy: they're spiritual children of Charles Keating, the Phoenix financier whose greed helped bring down dozens of savings and loan companies in the late 1980s. "Spam King" Jeff Slaton of Albuquerque was more of a puzzle, seeming at first to be some hideous mutation of the shrewd Yankee trader, what you'd maybe get if you took P. T. Barnum and stuck him on Monster Island with Godzilla until the radiation turned him into the Incredible Brainless Huckster. Yeah, the Yankee roots were there, but there was some other ... nagging memory ... out of the desert ....

Then suddenly it took shape from Slaton's bluster and taunting, his nanny-nanny-you-can't-catch-me's as he scampered off inches from the boot-leather of the latest Internet provider who had kicked him off: the Southwest's most ambiguous hero, the one who spat in our faces and got away with it--Pancho Villa, onetime cattle rustler, sometime Governor of Chihuahua, and the revolutionary who led the only armed incursion into U.S. soil in the 20th Century, at Columbus, New Mexico, and led the forces of General Pershing on a fruitless year-long chase after him up and down the Sierra Madre.

Don't get me wrong--this isn't hero worship here. Slaton's no Pancho Villa; instead, you might say he's what Pancho Villa would have been if you took out his guts, his leadership, and every last scrap of his political idealism. But Slaton would very much like you to *see* him as Villa: namely, as the Southwest's Robin Hood, the cyber-bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, the champion of the little guy against the evil old landowners of Cyberspace. Sure, he told us so in the San Jose Mercury News not long ago:

Why spam? To help "the under-capitalized entrepreneur," Slaton says from his home in Albuquerque.

"I got a little tired of seeing people charged enormous amount of advertising dollars for very little value. So I thought I would offer a lot of value" for relatively [little] money.

Brave, noble Internet revolutionary! Followed by an army, not of peasants and small landowners, but of multi-level marketers, 900-number peddlers and magazine subscription salesmen!

No, there are a few small differences between Pancho Villa and Jeff Slaton. Villa aspired to political leadership; Slaton has ambitions of permanently quitting his day job. Villa had some remnants of Victorian ideas about respecting women; Slaton publicly insults them on Usenet in terms that would have had him swinging from a tree limb real quick back in Territorial days. Villa used his booty to set up a fund for widows and orphans of his Army of the North; Slaton the other day took $450 from a ministry for the homeless in Albuquerque to run what they thought was going to be a legitimate Internet solicitation that has netted them little but angry phone calls. Villa was a man of physical courage who had faced battles and a barely commuted death sentence; Slaton is a coward who hides behind forged postings and his smug assurance that he's doing nothing "illegal".

There's a statue of Pancho Villa in downtown Tucson--controversial, to be sure--and a Pancho Villa State Park in New Mexico, testimonies to North America's love-hate relation with the bandit-hero who defied us. The Spam King? He's there on the statue, too, having added his own teeny monuments, by the millions--which we sanitation workers wash off, sighing, dreaming of poisoned grain but holding back from cruelty to small-brained animals.

Ah, but there are no pigeons in the desert. The Southwest will endure, and so, I think, will the Net.

David Sewell  *   | "Night-walkers, wizards,
WWW:      |  bacchanals, revellers,
Dep't of Geosciences, University of Arizona     |  sharers in the mysteries."
                                                |      --Heraclitus
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