Welles… Milo carefully said nothing when Major —— de Coverley stepped into the mess hall with his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there. The hubub began to subside slowly as Major —— de Coverley paused in the doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with ancient eminence and authority, said:

“Gimme eat.”

Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major —— de Coverley a loyalty oath to sign. Major —— de Coverley swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.

“Gimme eat, I said,” he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled ominously through the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.

Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded.

“Give him eat, ” he said.

Corporal Snark began giving Major —— de Coverley eat. Major —— de Coverley turned from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and, with righteous belligerence, he roared:

“Give everybody eat!”

“Give everybody eat! ” Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade came to an end.

– from Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

This weekend it became illegal for U. S. residents to jailbreak their smart phones. The penalty for this violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1996 (DMCA) is “first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.”

This is a larger penalty, I’ll point out, than the one for turning my un-jailbroken smart phone into an explosive device, though to be fair the ATF can throw an extra penalty on top for “brandishing.”

Note — There is some question among readers whether “jailbreaking” or “unlocking” is what’s illegal here and there is certainly some overlap in the two terms. When I wanted to make my original iPhone work on the T-Mobile network rather than the AT&T network, for example, the way it was done back then was called “jailbreaking” which explicitly enabled “unlocking,” for it was only by unlocking (enabled in that case by jailbreaking) that I was able to switch from one GSM network to another. Maybe times have changed and I am now using the wrong term, but I think these disagreements about terminology are mainly pedantic excuses not to consider the underlying fact that the U.S. Government is messing with my innate right to do whatever I damn well please with what’s long paid for and sitting in my junk drawer.

Jailbreaking has actually been illegal since 1996 when there were no smart phones, but those doing it have been enjoying an exemption allowed by the Librarian of Congress, whom I have never thought of as either a law enforcement official nor possibly the biggest jerk in the U. S. Government, but I’m rethinking that today.

This is stupid and represents exactly the type of government nobody needs. It is also a perfect issue to deal with through civil disobedience.

I never even considered jailbreaking my five year-old iPhone 3 but this week I’m going to do it and I suggest you do, too.

I haven’t decided yet whether to do it at the AT&T Store, the Apple Store, or in the middle of the Reading Room at the Library of Congress, but I’m going to do it.

If 10,000 people publicly jailbreak that old iPhone sitting in a drawer the legal system will temporarily grind to a halt and this stupid law will grind with it.

Gimme eat.