4.4 The Brain Tumor Boy
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

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     Like the rest of the world, Usenet has its share of urban legends
and questionable activities.  There are three in particular that plague
the network.  Spend more than, oh, 15 minutes within Usenet and you're
sure to run into the Brain Tumor Boy, the plot by the evil FCC to tax
your modem and Dave Rhode's miracle cure for poverty.  For the record,
here's the story on all of them:
     There once was a seven-year-old boy in England named Craig
Shergold who was diagnosed with a seemingly incurable brain tumor.  As
he lay dying, he wished only to have friends send him postcards.  The
local newspapers got a hold of the tear-jerking story.  Soon, the boy's
wish had changed: he now wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World
Records for the largest postcard collection.  Word spread around the
world. People by the millions sent him postcards.
     Miraculously, the boy lived.  An American billionaire even flew
him to the U.S. for surgery to remove what remained of the tumor.  And
his wish succeeded beyond his wildest dreams -- he made the Guinness
Book of World Records.
     But with Craig now well into his teens, his dream has turned into
a nightmare for the post office in the small town outside London where
he lives.  Like Craig himself, his request for cards just refuses to
die, inundating the post office with millions of cards every year. 
Just when it seems like the flow is slowing, along comes somebody else
who starts up a whole new slew of requests for people to send Craig
post cards (or greeting cards or business cards -- Craig letters have
truly taken on a life of their own and begun to mutate). Even Dear Abby
has been powerless to make it stop!
     What does any of this have to do with the Net? The Craig letter
seems to pop up on Usenet as often as it does on cork boards at major
corporations.  No matter how many times somebody like Gene Spafford
posts periodic messages to ignore them or spend your money on something
more sensible (a donation to the local Red Cross, say), somebody
manages to post a letter asking readers to send cards to poor little
Craig.
     Don't send any cards to the Federal Communications Commission,
either.
     In 1987, the FCC considered removing a tax break it had granted
CompuServe and other large commercial computer networks for use of the
national phone system.  The FCC quickly reconsidered after alarmed users
of bulletin-board systems bombarded it with complaints about this "modem
tax."
     Now, every couple of months, somebody posts an "urgent" message
warning Net users that the FCC is about to impose a modem tax.  This is
NOT true.  The way you can tell if you're dealing with the hoax story
is simple: it ALWAYS mentions an incident in which a talk-show host on
KGO radio in San Francisco becomes outraged on the air when he reads a
story about the tax in the New York Times. 
     Another way to tell it's not true is that it never mentions a
specific FCC docket number or closing date for comments.
     Save that letter to your congressman for something else.
     Sooner or later, you're going to run into a message titled "Make
Money Fast."  It's your basic chain letter.  The Usenet version is always
about some guy named Dave Rhodes who was on the verge of death, or
something, when he discovered a perfectly legal way to make tons of money
-- by posting a chain letter on computer systems around the world. Yeah,
right.