Saturday, December 31, 2005

Culture: People Need to be Protected from Free Choice

Via Eminent Domain:

. . . an example of how cultural elites use the U.N. to protect themselves from competition:

The U.N. blocks the only invasion where they really do welcome us with flowers.

Tim Cavanaugh

Revealed preference, like love, dare not speak its name. In October the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization voted 148 to 2 to pass a Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, giving participant countries unspecified authority to “take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve cultural expressions” — widely interpreted to mean protection from U.S. movies and television.

Israel and the United States alone voted against, four countries abstained, and the minister of culture from France (which, with Canada, co-sponsored the initiative) bragged that “we are no longer the black sheep” in the fight against “cultural invasion.” The United Kingdom’s delegate called the vote against American culture “a great day for UNESCO,” saying the two countries had “agreed to disagree.”

But we must use the word countries advisedly. At the same moment France’s culture apparatchik voted to keep Hollywood out, his countrymen were voting very differently with their euros: They made Dreamworks’ Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit the top French film two weeks running. Among France’s other hits of 2005: Bewitched, Fantastic Four, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Star Wars: Episode III. . . .

And France’s partner in cultural protection? Canadians this year doffed their toques to American fare such as Doom, Flightplan, Four Brothers, and Wedding Crashers. U.K. audiences liked all the above plus The Longest Yard, The Dukes of Hazard, and The Ring Two.

This is not to engage in national chest-thumping—irrelevant given that every major Hollywood release is to some extent an international co-production. . . . (The UNESCO plan has more sinister implications as well: The U.S. argues that dictators could use the Convention to keep subversive content away from their populations.)

[. . .]

Canadians, harder pressed for a simple national identity, haven’t sold a distinctive cultural product abroad since Bob and Doug McKenzie, the beer-and-bacon-loving yahoos on SCTV. Tellingly, the McKenzie brothers were designed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas to spoof broadcasting regulations requiring quotas of identifiably Canadian content. (After decades of such rules, U.S.-made shows this season occupy all of the top-10 spots in the Canuck ratings.) The McKenzies became multimedia hits on both sides of the 49th parallel; inspired Wayne and Garth, Bill and Ted, and countless avatars of two-doofus comedy; and show up in guest spots nearly three decades after they were created. Thus, the only time content regulation, from the U.N. or any other source, produced a positive result was when somebody made fun of it.

The rhetoric of the U.N. types somehow suggests that the peoples of the world are having their cultures protected from the American steamroller.

The reality, quite obviously, is that the highbrow elites, the nationalist culture-vultures and the parochial cultural interest groups in nations that can’t compete in world markets are behind this hustle.

Genuinely indigenous cultural forms can certainly do well in a free market. In the U.S. Cajun music has never achieved widespread popularity, but it faces no risk of extinction either. Likewise, Bluegrass and the Blues have been genuinely indigenous forms of music (although Bluegress was highly commercial from the start, but also certainly regional). Yet both remain commercially viable and vital, in addition to having had an immense influence on more “mainstream” musical forms.

Mainstream American culture does not crush such cultural forms, it adopts and coopts them, while leaving the “pure” forms as viable “niche” products.

But the cultural elites supporting the U.N. action are not trying to protect genuinely indigenous cultural forms. They are trying to protect their own power and their own profits.

Eugene Kane Watch

The blog Ask Me Later now actually has a “Eugene Kane Watch.”

It’s a backhanded tribute to the black columnist at the Journal-Sentinel that anybody considers it worthwhile to have a “Eugene Kane Watch.”

We’ve tended to view Kane, whom we don’t read very often, as just another black hustler, expressing the kinds of opinions the white liberals running the Journal-Sentinel doubtless hired him to express.

Checking out his blog shows that this is sometimes the case. For example, he welcomes the vote of the Milwaukee Common Council requiring all firms doing business with the city to research and disclose any history of profiting from slavery.

The truth is that this is merely a racial hustle. Most firms with a long history and any interests at all in the South had some connection with slavery. In no case does that affect in any but the most trivial way how much they are worth nor how they do business today.

We’ve discussed this issue before.

Kane is also the “race man” in his discussion of the fact that President Bush has met with leaders of the NAACP.
It’s good to hear President Bush met with NAACP CEO Bruce Gordon and other black leaders at the White House this week. He also met with a group of African-American officials a few weeks ago. It shows he recognizes his image problems with many African-Americans need to be repaired. In previous years, he hasn’t had much dialog with the NAACP so I hope this is a positive sign of change.
Kane fails to mention the vicious attacks that the NAACP has made on the president, including (most notoriously) the 2000 presidential election ad that implied that Bush was somehow responsible for a racial murder in Texas.

The irresponsible behavior of the NAACP, in other words, has been the reason for their exile, and the organization’s election of a more moderate and conciliatory president has opened the possibility of a decent working relationship with the White House.

But where other issues are concerned, Kane can be a bit independent-minded.

He tends to stress how black people don’t have monolithic opinions, for example. A post titled “All blacks don’t think alike” deals with the caller response when Milwaukee station WMCS-AM (1290) discussed the execution of “Tookie” Williams.
About half of the callers felt Tookie should die because he hasn’t admitted his guilt in the deaths of four people in 1989. Others felt he should not be killed because he possessed the kind of street credibility necessary to convince young black males to reject a life of crime.
In another post, Kane links to an article on the blAckamericaweb.com attacking the Hollywood types who made a hero of “Tookie.” The author, Joseph C. Phillips, argues that:
Here again, wealthy celebrities are telling hard working, law-abiding citizens that the example offered by them is inadequate to save their communities; the models of competence, creativity and virtue that are alive in these neighborhoods are simply insufficient. No matter that hundreds of young people find the strength of character — the hope — to resist the gang life. No matter that many of the stars have themselves found the strength to rise out of the tough streets. All that means nothing as compared to the words and example of Tookie Williams.
That black people can be quite independent-minded isn’t news to us.

But it’s news to a lot of the politically correct crowd, for whom an article of faith is that all blacks think alike, and indeed all blacks think just like white liberals and leftists.

And if you don’t agree with the opinion of “all blacks,” you must be a racist.

Kane also sounds a bit conservative in some of his social views. Consider this:
With the recent death of Richard Pryor, some feel it might be time for more African-Americans to follow his example and never use the N-word again. This commentary is by Gregory Kane, a black conservative writer in Baltimore who makes a good case that too many blacks in hip-hop music like Kanye West and Snoop Dogg use the word way too much.
And again:
Not every black person liked Richard Pryor, either

Amid the praise for the late Richard Pryor, here’s a contrarian point of view by a black Daily News columnist who thinks Pryor’s legacy is flawed because of his vulgarity.

Again, all black people don’t think alike.
Indeed.

The mere fact that we have bothered to write this post is an admission that Kane, no matter how wrong-headed about so many issues, has indeed crossed a threshold.

He’s worth reading.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Parody: Sappy Motivational Posters

One of the perqs of being in academia is that nobody plasters the walls with “motivational” posters.

But some workplaces do.

Via FuzzMartin.com, a site that sells parody motivational posters, cards and books.

Some of our favorite slogans:
Ambition
The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly
Arrogance
The best leaders inspire by example. When that’s not an option, brute intimidation works pretty well, too.
Consulting
If you’re not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.
Destiny
You were meant for me. Perhaps as a punishment.
Effort
Hard work never killed anybody, but it is illegal in some places. (photo of Paris)
Meetings
None of us is as dumb as all of us.
Mediocrity
It takes a lot less time and most people won’t notice the difference until it’s too late. (with photo of leaning tower of Pisa)
Procrastination
Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.
It probably would be good to put these in the average American workplace. Employees doubtless perform better when amused than when insulted.

And finally, a word on “customer disservice:” We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied.

Media Double Standard on Leaks

We’re slow discussing this, but now that the Justice Department has announced it is investigate the leak that revealed NSA spying on terrorist suspects, it bears repeating.

From McBride’s Media Matters, a discussion of the double standard of the media.
The media have obsessed for months over the “leak” of the identity of a supposedly covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame - even though a federal prosecutor did not end up filing charges for leaking her identity.

But someone leaks secret National Security Agency intercepts, endangering our national security, and the media could care less.

And no one seems to be clamoring for a federal prosecutor to investigate the leaker.

Where is the media outrage?

The answer is self apparent. The media take umbrage at leaks only when the leakers are in the Bush administration and the person being leaked about is tied to an Iraq war critic.

But when the leakers are targeting the Bush administration, and the leakers are probably Iraq war critics themselves, the media focus on the information that was leaked, to the exclusion of the leak itself.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bush Approval: You Can Spin It Any Way You Want

From Excelsior blog:

. . . an example of how two different news organizations can report very different things:
“President Bush’s approval ratings do not appear to have changed significantly, despite a number of recent speeches he’s given to shore up public support for the war in Iraq and its historic elections on Thursday.” [source: CNN]

“President Bush’s approval rating has surged in recent weeks, reversing what had been an extended period of decline, with Americans now expressing renewed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq, the campaign against terrorism and the U.S. economy, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.” [source: MSNBC]
Actually, the issue here is not so much “spin” as the fact that two different news organizations got two different poll results.

Both are probably within the margin of error, but with the Washington Post/ABC poll at the high end where Bush approval is concerned, and the CNN/USA Today Gallup poll at the low end.

So the real problem is that two different news organizations have paid a lot of money for their own poll, have a proprietary interest in their own poll, and have to pretend that their poll is the absolute truth.

The serious way to approach presidential approval is to look at all recent reputable polls, which one can do at Real Clear Politics.

Alito: Jews Split Along Orthodox/Secular Lines

Via Yeshiva Orthodoxy blog:

. . . the fact that Jews in the U.S. are split on the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court, with Orthodox groups favoring him, and the (much more secular) Union for Reform Judaism opposing him.
The Orthodox Union expressed support for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito’s record on church-state relations.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, the Orthodox group came out against liberal organizations, who suggest Alito’s rulings would hurt protections of religious liberty.

The letter, signed by Mark Bane, chairman of the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, and Nathan Diament, the institute’s director, said it’s impossible to view Alito’s positions on the separation of church and state as out of the mainstream. “Only those who would advocate the most extreme views of religion-state relations in America — either total separation or total integration — could assert as much,” the letter said.

The Orthodox Union did not specifically endorse Alito. Another Orthodox group, Agudath Israel of America, announced its support for Alito last month; the Union for Reform Judaism announced its opposition to him last month.
“Conservative” Judaism is not really conservative, but rather takes standard liberal positions on virtually all issues. However the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism did endorse John Roberts, but chose not to take a position on Alito.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Guilty — And It Matters Today

From the Los Angeles Times:

. . . stunning new information about the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, leftist radicals who were supposed victims of the “red scare” following World War I.
Ordinarily, Paul Hegness wouldn’t have looked twice at Lot 217 as he strolled through an Irvine auction warehouse, preferring first-edition books and artwork to the box stuffed with old papers and holiday cards.

But then, he wouldn’t have stumbled upon a confession from one of America’s great authors. Inside the box, an envelope postmarked Sept. 12, 1929, caught his eye. It was addressed to John Beardsley, Esq., of Los Angeles. The return address read, “Upton Sinclair, Long Beach.”
Sinclair, socialist and famous “muckraker” had an intense interest in the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants accused of robbing a Massachusetts shoe factory and killing two men in the process.

The case was a cause célèbre among left-leaning intellectuals, authors, professors and journalists, who declared the two men victims of an unjust criminal justice system.

Sinclair was one of these people, but he learned some things that startled him, and convinced him the case didn’t fit the standard leftist template.
Prosecutors characterized the anarchists as ruthless killers who had used the money to bankroll antigovernment bombings and deserved to die. Sinclair thought the pair were innocent and being railroaded because of their political views.

Soon Sinclair would learn something that filled him with doubt. During his research for “Boston,” Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men’s attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore “sent me into a panic,” Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago.

“Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth,” Sinclair wrote. “. . . He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them.”
But why didn’t Sinclair go public with this information?
“I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point,” he wrote to his attorney. “I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case.”

Other letters tucked away in the Indiana [University] archive illuminate why one of America’s most strident truth tellers kept his reservations to himself.

“My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book,” Sinclair wrote Robert Minor, a confidant at the Socialist Daily Worker in New York, in 1927.

“Of course,” he added, “the next big case may be a frame-up, and my telling the truth about the Sacco-Vanzetti case will make things harder for the victims.”

He also worried that revealing what he had been told would cost him readers. “It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public,” he wrote to Minor.

Why It Matters Today

American history, as told by the liberal and leftist academics, journalists and educators, is wedded to the notion that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent, just as it is wedded to the notion that Hollywood writers and government officials charged with subversion during the McCarthy era were innocent.

Actually, the establishment version of history won’t actually say that all these people were innocent. Rather they frame the whole issue in terms of the “Red Scare” after World War I or “McCarthyism” during the early 50s.

What the liberal and left establishment doesn’t want is anybody asking questions about the actions and motives of people on the left.

If one understands that people like Alger Hiss and a host of other government officials were spying for the Soviet Union, one might ask just what about Ivy League educated elites made them prey to communist ideology.

If one faces the fact that some intellectuals, government officials, academics and authors were fundamentally disloyal to America, one might wonder about leftist activists today.

College students might wonder which of their professors were suckered by Mao, or Fidel, or Ho Chi Minh.

People might wonder about the activists who insist that people like Mumia Abu-Jamal are innocent. Aren’t these the same sort of people who have been suckered by Sacco, Vanzetti, Hiss, the Rosenbergs and a lot more?

It’s much safer to give the impression that violent radicals like Sacco and Vanzetti, or urbane and educated traitors like Alger Hiss were just figments of the imaginations of Mitchell Palmer or Joe McCarthy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Anglican Church of Canada: Headed Toward Oblivion

Take a liberal Protestant church, and put it in a culture where elites are, as in Europe, hostile to Christianity, and you have a recipe for decline.

From WorldNetDaily:
The Anglican Church of Canada, once the bastion church of all non-Roman Catholic Christianity north of the American border, was formally warned this month that it is ever more rapidly disappearing, and that unless something drastic is done it will vanish altogether shortly after the mid-century.

The warning came in a report to the church’s bishops. It carried an unusual note of authenticity in that it was founded, not on census figures, but on the actual membership roles of parish churches. All its news was bad. Church membership has declined 53 percent over the last 40 years, it said, the sharpest decline of any major Christian denomination.

That is, it fell from 1.3 million in 1961 to 642,000 in 2001. Moreover, the rate of decline is quickening, the drop between 1981 and 2001 being much sharper than that between 1961 and 1981.

Other churches are losing members as well. The United Church of Canada (an 80-year-old union of Methodists, Congregationalists and some Presbyterians) has fallen from 1.04 million to 638,000 over the 40-year period. Presbyterian membership (i.e., those Presbyterian congregations that did not join the United Church) is down 39 percent, Baptist membership is down 7 percent and Lutheran down 4 percent. The membership lists of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada have meanwhile risen 38 percent over the period to 232,000 in 2001. Last year, that number stood at 243,000.
Familiar pattern here. The cozy, comfortable liberal establishment denominations have lost members.

The article then goes on to quote Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the Anglican primate of Canada. But his response seems distinctly feckless.
. . . the significance of the archbishop’s response lay in what he did not mention, notably the church’s consistent departure from traditional Christian teaching, which has been going on throughout the whole 40-year period of decline. It began with the acceptance of serial marriage, progressed to the ordination of women, then to the funding of terrorist groups in Africa, and finally to the acceptance of homosexual practice. The church’s latest foray is its tacit approval of homosexual marriage, which has seen it virtually disowned by the Anglican churches of Africa and Asia.

[. . .]

But the fact the archbishop refuses to recognize his church’s liberal leaning as a possible explanation for the exodus of more than half its members means he’s highly unlikely to begin reasserting Christian teaching.
There is, of course, an alternative explanation. The person who did the study, Keith McKerracher, blames excessive bureaucracy.
McKerracher says even though his report shocked some of the bishops, he doubts the Anglican Church, as currently organized, can find the willpower to take action. He says Canada’s Anglican hierarchy is woefully bureaucratic, and that most decision-making is bound up in inefficient committees.

“The church should do some marketing research to find out why people are fleeing,” he says. “But I don’t think the Anglicans will do anything.

“They talk things to death. And my impression is that the bishops are not going to go around telling priests to shape up.”
Of course, bureaucracy and theological liberalism go together. The more bureaucratized a church, the further the leadership is from the ordinary believers in the pews, and the closer they are to secular elites in academia, the media, interest groups and politics.

It’s a familiar story, afflicting “Mainstream Protestantism” in the US, and some sectors of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Just Who Did the Angel Gabriel Visit?

From a Christian perspective, one of the following doesn't belong.

Take the quiz and see if you can identify it!
Some would say that God does not exist, Jesus was a dreamer and that Christmas and Christ's birth and living presence among us has no real hold on the world to change it for the better... but I say it's already happening. And it is a miracle!

And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the Law to Moses?

And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the sacred Quran to the prophet Muhammad?

And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
This sermon was preached by Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane, Eighth Bishop of Washington.

Yes, the denomination that ordains gay bishops.

Scrappleface has a good time with this.

Wikipedia & the American Legion

Peter DiGaudio, the Texas Hold ‘Em Blogger, is a member of the American Legion and didn’t take kindly to finding the claim that the organization is fascist on Wikipedia, the online “encyclopedia” written by whomever happens to find it on the Internet and chooses to write an article.

DiGaudio ran down all the supposed sources, and found:
The ONLY sources that claim that the American Legion has longstanding ties to fascism, plotted a fascist coup against FDR and openly invited Mussolini to speak at its conventions are sheer moonbat sites.
DiGaudio then did some research on the author of the article on the American Legion.
Here is a little bit of info I managed to uncover about the original author of the Wikipedia article. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not he has an agenda. His user name is Fluxaviator, but his actual name is Jonathan McIntosh. McIntosh describes himself as “a photographer, filmmaker and media activist from Boston.” Media activist. Read his full biography here. Let’s just say it involves all kinds of leftist protests, including at the 2004 Republican National Convention and at President Bush’s inauguration.

Despite his claim to be a “historical researcher,” one of the links on his website leads to http://capedmaskedandarmed.com, which is dubbed “Superheroes for social justice.” Social justice, another leftist buzzword for socialism. All indications are that Mr. McIntosh, rather than a “historical researcher,” is simply a leftwing activist who likes to play loose with facts and the truth to support his agenda.

In addition, Mr. McIntosh dubbed this link to a press release on the American Legion’s national website as “A Return to Fascism?” What the release contains is a resolution from the American Legion condemning the antiwar protests and offering its unconditional support to President Bush and the troops in the war on terror.
Some of the material DiGaudio refers to is not on the current version of the page, which was updated 19 December 2005.

Wikipedia, however, stores previous versions of the article, which can be gotten by clicking on the “history” tab at the top of the page. This version, from 31 August 2005, has a heading titled “Recent support for fascism - 2005.” It claims:
On August 30, 2005, Thomas P. Cadmus, National Commander, stated in an address to the Legion's National Convention that protests against the occupation of Iraq should be suppressed “by any means necessary.”
In fact, as DiGaudio correctly notes, the statement in question merely says the Legion “vowed to use whatever means necessary to ensure the united support of the American people for our troops and the global war on terrorism.” It continues:
“No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies,” Cadmus said. “It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction.”
This, apparently, is considered “fascism” by McIntosh.

Here is a “backroom” discussion in which the author of the piece attacking the Legion defends himself against critics.

The current version continues to show plenty of sloppiness and tendentiousness. Consider for example, the following:
1940s
The American Legion was active in campaigning for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in relocation camps. [1] [2]
What happens when we look up the two citations?

One of the links is to a leftist website titled “Race, Racism and the Law: Speaking Truth to Power!!” [sic]. It claims:
February 6, 1942
A Portland American Legion post urged the removal of “enemy aliens, especially from critical Coast areas,” including Japanese American citizens.
Assuming this is correct, one American Legion post supported the internment — a policy that was implemented by Franklin Roosevelt and Earl Warren, then Governor of California.

The other citation lists the American Legion among groups “involved” in agitating for the removal of the Japanese from the West Coast. No specifics about the “involvement” are given. The article is from the Trotskyite paper The Militant, and it points out (quite accurately) that “Liberals backed Roosevelt policy.”

Another assertion is that:
1930s
According to congressional testimony in the 1930s several of the American Legion’s leaders, including its original bankroller Irénée du Pont, plotted a fascist coup against the Government of Franklin D. Roosevelt called the Business Plot. According to testimony the plot was averted because Major General Smedley Butler warned Roosevelt of the plan.
In reality, the “plan” was a hoax directed at Butler, and no evidence of any capitalist cabal plotting a coup has ever been discovered. That, in fact, is what the congressional committee which investigated the issue concluded.

One final claim in the Wikipedia article is that “At its January 1923 Convention, Commander-in-Chief of the American Legion, Alvin Owsley endorsed Benito Mussolini and Fascism.” We have been unable to confirm this from any reputable source, although it’s very difficult to prove a negative.

It should be pointed out, however, that in the 20s, long before Mussolini was allied with Hitler, sympathy for the Italian dictator was much more widespread than one might suppose. Lipset and Dobson point out that:
Some who wrote [of Italian fascism] in extremely positive terms were avowedly on the left, and sometimes also pro-Soviet. The New Republic, for example, during the last years of the twenties urged a “sympathetic hearing" for the Italian system which promoted “national cohesion and national welfare.” The “liberal” weekly even justified fascist violence as necessary to end internal strife and disunity . . . . Among the prominent Americans who wrote favorably of fascism were writers wuch as Wallace Stevens and Henry Miller, a variety of humanistic scholars, including Irving Babbitt, Charles Beard, Shephard Clough, Carlton J.H. Hayes, Horace Kallen, Wiliam Lyon Phelps, George Santayana, and Herbert Schneider, and former "muckrakers” S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and Lincoln Steffens. (Seymour Martin Lipset & Richard Dobson, “The Intellectual as Critic and Rebel,” Dædalus, Summer 1972, p. 170)
What we have, in the Wikipedia treatment of the American Legion, is an example of the fact that the material that appears in that online “encyclopedia” is no more reliable than that found elsewhere on the Internet, since the same sort of people who write garbage elsewhere on the ‘net can write the same garbage on Wikipedia.

Which is entirely typical of the Internet. The “problem” is that anybody can say anything. There are no “authorities” to vouch for accuracy. The upside is that no gatekeepers can prevent information from getting out.

This puts a large burden on the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most readers are up to the challenge, so long as they don’t let the authoritative sounding word “encyclopedia” bamboozle them.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Worried About Bush Tapping Your Phone?

From ScrappleFace, via the Dad29 blog:

. . . the solution if you worry that Bush’s wiretapping program will violate your civil liberties.
Bush Announces Do-Not-Wiretap List
by Scott Ott

(2005-12-19) — Just days after the New York Times released classified information about eavesdropping by the NSA on Americans linked to international terrorists, President George Bush at a news conference today announced creation of a new website which allows people to voluntarily exclude their phone numbers and email addresses from NSA wiretap lists.

The new National Do Not Wiretap Registry (DoNotWiretap.gov) follows the successful DoNotCall.gov model of allowing citizens to opt-out of harassment by electronic means.

“If you’re concerned that your civil rights might be violated simply because some al Qaeda member has your information in his cellphone or computer,” the president said, “then go to DoNotWiretap.gov, enter your contact phone number, email address, and names of terrorists who might have you on speed dial and we’ll let the National Security Administration know that you don’t want them eavesdropping on you.”

Jeff Jacoby: De-Christmasing Christmas

Jeff Jacoby, a strongly devout Jew and columnist for the Boston Globe, isn’t one of those people who wants Christmas watered down and diluted in the service of “inclusiveness.” In a column of his published in late November, he argues:
And so it begins again — the annual effort to neuter Christmas, to insist in the name of “inclusiveness” and “sensitivity” that a Christian holiday celebrated by something like 90 percent of Americans not be called by its proper name or referred to in religious terms. We all know the drill by now. Instead of “Merry Christmas,” store clerks wish you a “happy holiday.” Schools close for winter break. Your office throws a holiday party.

Sometimes the secularizing impulse goes to laughable extremes, as when the elementary school play is titled “How the Grinch Stole the Holidays” or when red poinsettias (but not white ones) are banned from city hall. Sometimes it springs from clanging ignorance, as with the New York City policy that prohibited the display of Christian nativity scenes on public school grounds, while expressly allowing such “secular holiday symbol decorations” as Jewish menorahs and the Muslim star and crescent. And some of it is fueled by anti-Christian bigotry or sheer misanthropic bile.

But mostly, I think, this attempt to fade Christmas into a nondenominational winter holiday stems from a twisted notion of courtesy — from the idea that tolerance and respect for minorities require intolerance and disrespect for the majority. Better to call the company shindig a “holiday” party, this line of thinking goes, than to risk offending the few non-Christian employees by calling it a Christmas party. Better to ban all Christmas carols from the school concert than to take the chance that a Jew or Muslim or Hindu might feel excluded. Better to remove the Christmas trees from all the dormitory dining halls because a single student complained — as happened last year at the University of Illinois — than to politely inform the student that the trees will be removed after the Christmas season ends.

[...]

But suppressing the language, symbols, or customs of Christians in a predominantly Christian society is not inclusive. It’s insulting.

It’s discriminatory, too. Hanukkah menorahs are never referred to as “holiday lamps” — not even the giant menorahs erected in Boston Common and many other public venues each year by Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish outreach movement. No one worries that calling the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by its name — or even celebrating it officially, as the White House does with an annual “iftaar” dinner — might be insensitive to non-Muslims. In this tolerant and open-hearted nation, religious minorities are not expected to keep their beliefs out of sight or to squelch their traditions lest someone, somewhere, take offense. Surely the religious majority shouldn’t be expected to either.

As a practicing Jew, I don’t celebrate Christmas. There is no Christmas tree in my home, my kids don’t write letters to Santa Claus, and I don’t attend church on Dec. 25 (or any other date). Does the knowledge that scores of millions of my fellow Americans do all those things make me feel excluded or offended? On the contrary: It makes me feel grateful — to live in a land where freedom of religion shelters the Hanukkah menorah in my window no less than the Christmas tree in my neighbor’s. That freedom is a reflection of America’s Judeo-Christian culture, and a principal reason why, in this overwhelmingly Christian country, it isn’t only Christians for whom Christmas is a season of joy. And why it isn’t only Christians who should make a point of saying so.
One might think that, since Jacoby is a very religious Jew, he might be particularly wary of anything privileging or institutionalizing Christianity.

But somehow it doesn’t work that way.

At the risk of psychoanalyzing somebody we don’t know, it seems to us that Jacoby, who cherishes his own religious faith, and would not want it diluted or secularized, identifies with people of other religions who are likewise committed to their faith.

Not surprisingly, the more secular Jews of the Anti-Defamation League are a lot less tolerant.

Here, as on the other fronts of the Culture Wars, the lines don’t divide Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim, but rather find all believers at odds with the forces of secularism.

Hanukkah

A classic column from Jeff Jacoby, conservative Jewish columnist for the Boston Globe.

Hanukkah began this year at sundown on Christmas day.

Jacoby points out that Hanukkah has become a major event for American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. Indeed, the way it is now celebrated is evidence of the assimiliation of Jews to the mainstream American culture.

But in fact, the festival is not really about assimiliation, but about Jews maintaining their identity.
Ironically, Hanukkah was established to commemorate the very opposite of cultural assimilation. It dates back nearly 22 centuries, to the successful Jewish revolt against Antiochus IV, one of the line of Syrian-Greek monarchs who ruled the northern branch of Alexander the Great’s collapsed empire. Alexander had been respectful of the Jews’ monotheistic religion, but Antiochus was determined to impose Hellenism, with its pagan gods and its cult of the body, throughout his domains. When he met resistance in Judea, he made Judaism illegal.

Sabbath observance, circumcision, and the study of Torah were banned on pain of death. A statue of Zeus was installed in the Temple in Jerusalem, and swine were sacrificed before it. Some Jews embraced the new order and willingly abandoned the God and faith of their ancestors. Those who wouldn’t were cruelly punished. Ancient writings tell the story of Hannah and her seven sons, who were captured by Antiochus’s troops and commanded to bow to an idol. One by one, each boy refused — and was tortured to death before his mother’s eyes.

The fight to reclaim Jewish religious autonomy began in 167 BC. In the town of Modi’in, an elderly priest named Mattathias — in Hebrew, Mattityahu — refused a Syrian order to sacrifice to an idol. When an apostate Jew stepped forward to comply, Mattathias killed the man and tore down the altar. Then he and his five sons took to the hills and launched a guerrilla war against the armies of the empire.
Eventually the faithful Jews captured Jerusalem, and cleansed and purified the Temple.
On the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, the menorah — the candelabra symbolizing the divine presence — was rekindled. For eight days, throngs of Jews celebrated the Temple’s restoration. “All the people prostrated themselves,” records the book of Maccabees, “worshipping and praising Heaven that their cause had prospered.”
One thing Jacoby doesn’t discuss is the fact that, judged by today’s standards, the actions of the the zealous Maccabees might be considered controversial. They were quite willing to use violence against Jews who would compromise their faith and assimilate to the Hellenistic worldview. But then, they faced violent persecution too, in a world where religious tolerance was rare. So the choices were violent resistence or suppression.

But what, for Jacoby, was the significance of all this?
What Hanukkah commemorates at heart is the Jewish yearning for God, for the concentrated holiness of the Temple and its service. The defeat of the Syrian-Greeks was a wonder, but the spiritual climax of the Maccabees’ rebellion occurred when the menorah was rekindled and God’s presence among His people could be felt once again.

The lack of a physical side to Hanukkah is unusual but appropriate. For the Maccabees’ war against the Hellenists was ultimately a war against a worldview that elevated the physical above all, that venerated beauty, not holiness; the body, not the soul. The Jews fought to preserve a different view of the world — one with God, not man, at its center. Had they failed, Judaism would have died. Because they triumphed, the Jewish religion survived. And from it, two centuries later, Christianity was born.
Thus Christians, like Jews, can say “this was part of God’s plan,” and “those zealous fighters were on God’s side.” Religious people today, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are heirs of the worldview that the Maccabees, at one critical juncture of history, fought for and preserved.

Letter to the Editor: Bush and Spying on Phone Calls

From Adam Kirby, Marquette alum and former editor of the Tribune, the following comment by e-mail:

I appreciated the letter from Brian Cain that you posted on the blog regarding the Bush wiretaps story, but I was disappointed by your response. You failed to address Mr. Cain’s primary point — that the wiretaps, whether legal or not, are an affront to democracy. Instead, you dwelled on the media’s coverage of the issue and tried to excuse Mr. Bush’s behavior by virtue of Mr. Clinton’s past position.

Frankly, the media is merely a peripheral part of this story. That you declined to come out explicitly either in favor of the wiretaps or against them is glaring. Instead of taking the media to task for some perceived slights against the president, how about you take the president to task for a very real slight against civil liberties?
A fair question, and here’s the answer.

First, we dealt with the media in those posts because we think the first thing that needs to happen is to put the partisan bias aside and look at this in historical perspective.

Only after we do that can we have a meaningful discussion.

People in the Mainstream Media are constantly insisting that “we’re not the issue! George Bush is the issue!”

But the media are the issue, or at least an important issue. Since they genuinely believe that they represent unbiased Truth, they don’t take kindly to people criticizing them. But it won’t work anymore.

We are going to pay attention to that man behind the curtain. We simply aren’t going to accept what the mainstream media say as the complete and absolutely true story.

Time to get used to that, folks.

Personally, we’re not at all outraged by what Bush did, because it was pretty much authorized by Congress — the main dispute being whether he should have gone to a special court after wiretaps were put in place, rather than not at all.

The truth is that some people need to be wiretapped. Another attack of the magnitude of 9/11 would have all kinds of nasty consequences, including impositions on privacy far in excess of anything done to date, and also make the lives of Arabs and Muslims living in the U.S. a lot less pleasant.

None of this is really new. Echelon was not a Bush invention.

We think the real question is not whether the government is going to do things like this, but what checks and balances there will be.

So calling for the Administration to submit to court supervision on this (especially if the court in question is reasonably sensitive to security needs), or calling for more Congressional oversight are reasonable positions to take.

If the President has an inherent power to do things like this where national security is involved (a position strongly asserted by the Clinton administration), then Congress can’t take it away by statute.

Congress does have the Constitutional power of the purse, and can refuse to fund activities of which it disapproves. And it has the power of “oversight.” It can drag bureaucrats administering any Federal program before it and demand answers about what is going on.

But saying that government simply can’t tap peoples’ phones, nor intercept e-mails isn’t a reasonable argument.

And yes, it would be nice if we lived in a world where we didn’t face threats of another 9/11. Nor of the Madrid or London bombings here on American soil.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!



. . . and a Happy New Year.

Out-of-Control Public School Indoctrination

Via Inside the Beaver’s Dam:

. . . an example of out-of-control political indoctrination by two teachers at the Meadowdale Elementary School, in Lynnwood, Washington.

Students are tasked to “save the rainforest” from the The Poopy-Head Timber Company.

They are not asked to consider costs and benefits from cutting timber, nor to examine any environmentalist claims critically. Rather, it’s all a moralistic crusade.

Death Penalty Discussion — Becker and Posner

Via the Eminent Domain blog:

The blog of intellectual heavyweights Richard Posner and Gary Becker is now in the midst of a discussion of the death penalty.

The Progressive Suckered By Student’s Homeland Security Story

The story has been admitted to be a fraud. But it’s one that perfectly fit the left’s template of Bush’s America with jackbooted Federal agents running out of control.

No, in reality no agents from the Department of Homeland Security visited a student who merely ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book” through interlibrary loan.

So who got suckered? James Carville.

And also Ted Kennedy and Molly Ivans.

And now also Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive magazine.

Rothschild quotes the initial story. He also quotes Homeland Security saying they haven’t been able to verify the story. And the quotes university officials at the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth about how bad this is.

He largely sanitizes the story, removing the elements that created widespread doubt in the blogosphere.

In all fairness to the left, however, the conservative site Newsmax.com accepted the story, and a reader posted it on Free Republic. In the latter case, of course, the story wasn’t posted by the editorial staff of Free Republic.

Also suckered: Professor Christopher Pyle, leftist professor and opponent of the Patriot Act.

A Jewish Perspective: Taking the Christmas out of Hanukkah

From MyJewishLearning.com, Yosef I. Abramowitz offers the following opinion:
Almost every year, Hanukkah falls very near to Christmas, which always leads to feel-good articles and sermons about the similarities in spirit between Judaism and Christianity. Interfaith families, especially those with children, will celebrate both as a way of bringing their families together. And the marketing, sales, and merchandising will further solidify the linking of these two holidays in the American popular consciousness.

The American Jewish community, a mere 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, has watched with amusement as our minor festival has increasingly been elevated to near-equal status as Christmas. We have seen this trend as a validation of not only our buying power, but of our political and social standing in society. As generation after generation of American Jews watched America convince itself of our growing social importance, however, we failed to understand the dangers inherent in our tacit approval of the Christmasification of Hanukkah.

For the sake of both Judaism and Christianity, American Jews must draw a line in the spiritual snow. The danger to both Judaism and Christianity comes from the rabid materialism of the United States, where the commercialization of our winter holidays has transformed and bastardized both.

Unlike many religious Christians who have thrown their hands up and accepted that the growing commercialization is inevitable, Jews know that a small group of zealots with a worthy mission can miraculously overcome great odds. This is, after all, what the Hanukkah story is about.
Since we are strongly opposed to taking Christ out of Christmas, we strongly favor Jewish attempts to take Christmas out of Hanukkah.

It’s simply a matter of religious integrity. Christmas is Christmas. Hanukkah is Hanukkah. Mushing both together into an orgy of commercialism called “the Holiday Season” is not only an attack on Christians, it’s an affront to Jews too.

The proper way to deal with “diversity” in American life is not to dilute everybody’s religious traditions to make each as widely acceptable as possible. It’s to recognize and honor diverse religious traditions in their undiluted form.

Thus a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. A Hanukkah Menorah is a Hanukkah Menorah. Both have a place in the public square, and neither message has to be diluted by insisting that both must appear together, along with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Americans Prefer “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”

We previously reported that a Pew Poll shows that more Americans prefer to be greeted with “Merry Christmas” during this season than with the bland and politically correct “Happy Holidays.”

Now, via the Office of Homeland Security, a Gallup Poll that shows the same thing.

Even majorities of liberals and Democrats prefer “Merry Christmas.”

Some of the resistence to “Merry Christmas” doubtless comes from secular people who are hostile to relgion, and some from people who want to be “inclusive" and not offend any group.

But the simple fact is that December 25 is “Christmas” to all Americans, even those who aren’t Christians, just as Christians in Israel have a Yom Kippur, not withstanding that it doesn’t have the meaning for them that it does for Jews.

Once one understands that the vast majority of Americans aren’t offended by “Merry Christmas,” or having a tree on a public square called a “Christmas Tree,” it becomes obvious that hostility to religion is the only motivation left.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Student Admits Hoax in Claim That Federal Agents Visited Him in Wake of Mao Book Request

From The Standard-Times:

Student admits he lied about Mao book

By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD — The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for “The Little Red Book” by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.

Had the student stuck to his original story, it might never have been proved false.

But on Thursday, when the student told his tale in the office of UMass Dartmouth professor Dr. Robert Pontbriand to Dr. Williams, Dr. Pontbriand, university spokesman John Hoey and The Standard-Times, the student added new details.

The agents had returned, the student said, just last night. The two agents, the student, his parents and the student’s uncle all signed confidentiality agreements, he claimed, to put an end to the matter.

But when Dr. Williams went to the student’s home yesterday and relayed that part of the story to his parents, it was the first time they had heard it. The story began to unravel, and the student, faced with the truth, broke down and cried.

It was reckless of the student to concoct the tale to begin with, but it was almost insane to elaborate on the story when questioned.

Although many blogs accepted the story at face value, many (including this one) raised questions.

Before he broke down and confessed to the hoax, the student named the two agents:
. . . one was Nicolai Brushaev or Broshaev, and the other was simply Agent Roberts. He said they were dressed in black suits with thin black ties, “just like the guys in Men in Black.”
We don’t know whether to be offended that the student lied, or amused at the way he dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole.

But it’s easy to be amused after a hoax has been exposed. Lying about issues like this is serious business.

Molly Ivins, Ted Kennedy Suckered by Claim that Homeland Security Visited Student Who Requested Mao Book

From Tim Blair:

. . . a post on who got suckered by the bogus story that a University of Massachusetts student who ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book” by interlibrary loan was visited by agents from the Department of Homeland Security.

The story has now been admitted to be a hoax.

Blair cites us on the fact that James Carville got suckered, and then links to a column — a long hate-Bush rant by Molly Ivins.

Ivins was suckered too.

And so was Ted Kennedy. In an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, Kennedy asserted the following:
Just this past week there were public reports that a college student in Massachusetts had two government agents show up at his house because he had gone to the library and asked for the official Chinese version of Mao Tse-tung’s Communist Manifesto. Following his professor’s instructions to use original source material, this young man discovered that he, too, was on the government’s watch list.

Think of the chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom when a government agent shows up at your home — after you request a book from the library.

Incredibly, we are now in an era where reading a controversial book may be evidence of a link to terrorists.

Something is amiss here. Something doesn’t make sense. We need a thorough and independent investigation of these activities.

The Congress and the American people deserve answers now.
It’s a sort of litmus test: who hates George Bush so much that they will accept any bogus story that reflects badly on his administration?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Good Words for Home Schooling

From Stand in the Trenches:

. . . an article about home schooling from a person who didn’t start out thinking it was a good idea:
Like many critics, I used to feel vaguely sorry for home-schooled kids. What a shame, I thought, that they might be deprived of the well-rounded education and social skills to become integrated, productive members of society. I never thought to question why cafeteria food fights or the predatory pack habits of teenage girls would be better for molding productive members of society.

This uninformed, critical opinion lasted precisely until I met my first home-schooled children several years ago. Within one month I met five home-schooling families, and their 13 children were among the most polite, well-adjusted, socially adept and academically advanced kids I’d ever seen. Being home-educated seemed to have given them a confidence and maturity — and yes, social skill — far beyond their years. They had many friends, but didn’t seem dependent on their peers for approval — a far cry from what I remember as a kid.
Many home schoolers, of course, are Christians who don’t see the public schools as promoting the values they want their kids to have.

Thus we might wonder whether a real school choice program — one that would allow parents to choose a relgious school — wouldn’t radically reduce the demand for home schooling.

But perhaps the advantages are such that many parents would persist even if faced with real school choice.

Dental School Blogger in Limbo

We previously reported that Dental School Dean William Lobb would rule on the appeal of the student who was suspended over comments he posted on his blog by this past Wednesday (December 21).

Actually, we correctly reported that Lobb would have five days to rule on the appeal, but (following the blogger’s lawyer) assumed that meant business days.

In fact, Lobb has five school days to rule. Which means he could delay until the start of the second semester.

The GOP3 blog contacted Brigid O’Brien Miller who confirmed that no decision has yet been made.

Dean Lobb failed to respond either to our e-mail or our voice mail asking when a decision is expected.

Finally, we e-mailed Provost Madeline Wake asking whether her office would review the Dean’s decision if he fails to rescind or radically reduce the punishment.

She failed to respond to our inquiry.

The fact that Marquette is taking its time — and indeed appears to be stonewalling on the issue — may be a good sign. Our guess is that they were sobered by the firestorm of criticism the punishment provoked.

A Conservative Objects to Bush Wire Tapping

An e-mail from Brian Cain:
In your “Clinton Claimed Authority to Order No-Warrant Searches” post, you point out the problems with the media bias with respect to the recent revelations about President Bush’s authorization of wiretaps. While I was surprised to learn that the President was not the first to authorize this sort of activity, I’m also curious why it should matter that President Clinton did so as well. Matters of media bias aside, I’m troubled that any executive would assume such a power.

The FISA seems to grant enormous powers to the executive to conduct intelligence operations (e.g. the tap-first-get-warrant-later provision), so I’m confused as to why the President needs to assume yet more power. As far as I know, the principle of stare decisis applies strictly to the judicial branch, so just because other US presidents have presumed to execute searches without getting a warrant doesn’t justify the current president doing the same.

I’ve stood behind all of the decisions that President Bush has made while in office, but this one has me nervous. When the President refers to his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the military, it makes me wonder where and when these new (or at least new to me) wartime powers end. I’ve read a couple of legal breakdowns that compare Congress’ AUMF with the Fourth Amendment and the FISA, but the issue for me is not “was this legal given the state of US laws at the time,” but “should we really allow this sort of thing to go on?” I can’t fathom how anyone would think that this sort of tradeoff is worthwhile. I think that this country should serve as a model of democracy, especially if we are to succeed in our attempts to offer it to other nations. If we let this news pass without taking any action, it seems like implicit support for military rule over self-rule.

Other conservatives that I’ve spoken with seem to side with the President, so maybe I’m all alone on this one. My support for the President has done just about a complete 180, to the point where I regret the choices that I made at the ballot box. I’m curious to hear your feelings on the subject.
Our thoughts on the subject are not that Bush was right or wrong, but rather that the media have been obtuse in reporting this, and that the obtuseness largely follows from their hostility toward Bush.

Bush is very much in the legal and historical mainstream in claiming the power to wiretap in the service of national security.

Being in the mainstream is not the same thing as being right.

But a sober consideration of this issue isn’t going to happen as long as the media and the Democrats view it as merely an opportunity to bash the president.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Student in U.K. Forbidden to Wear Crucifix in School

From Nobody’s Business blog:

. . . an example of a warped multiculturalism.
A row has broken out after a teenager was banned from wearing a crucifix at a school where Sikhs can carry ceremonial daggers.

Sam Morris, 16, was reportedly sent home from Sinfin Community School, Derby, after she refused to remove a gold cross on a necklace.

She was told wearing a crucifix was not compulsory for Christians, so the necklace breached dress codes.

Other pupils are allowed to wear kirpan daggers and metal bracelets, as they are classed as religious symbols, said the Daily Express.

[...]

Sinfin’s deputy head Howard Jones said: “Most of our pupils understand allowing Sikhs to wear a bracelet is a compulsory part of their religion.

“Christianity does not require followers to wear a specific symbols.”
Why it should matter whether a relgious symbol is “compulsory” is a mystery.

Of course, the girl in question could simply join the Church of the Compulsory Cross. But why should she have to?

Again, what we have is a strong willingness to accomodate diverse religious views — so long as they are sufficiently exotic. But Christianity is not something that politically correct liberals are willing to accomodate.

James Carville Suckered by Claim that Homeland Security Agents Visited Student Who Ordered Mao Book

The blogosphere is quite skeptical of the story about a University of Massachusetts student who claims to have ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book” by interlibrary loan and then was visited by agents from the Department of Homeland Security.

But some political figures have been less skeptical. James Carville, former political advisor to President Clinton and now a frequent pundit on TV, recited the story as fact on the “Today Show” on December 20, 2005

According to the transcript, accessed via Lexis-Nexis, Carville said the following:
Mr. CARVILLE: Well, first of all my — the holiday ornaments or Christmas ornaments that I have behind me, you never know those blinking lights could be the National Security Agency listening to what I say. No, in all seriousness, I think people take this serious. You see an incident in — a college kid was interviewed for three hours by Homeland Security because he was writing an assigned paper on the Chinese communist. And I think that people have legitimate concerns here. You know, there was plenty intelligence leading up to 9/11. The president, on August the 6th, chose not to act on that — on that intelligence. So we can gather — we have a lot of ability to gather intelligence.
It’s an old story. A bogus claim slips into common discourse and the truth never catches up with a very “good” story.

And what makes the story good? The desire to see the Bush administration as creating am America full of government agents who are out of control.

More: Student Who Ordered Mao Book Supposedly Visited by Homeland Security Agents

We’ve reported on the story of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth student who claimed to have ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book” via interlibrary loan and then been visited by agents from the Department of Homeland Security.

The reporter who broke the story has posted a follow-up.

The reporter interviewed a spokesman from the Department of Homeland Security:
“We’re aware of the claims,” said Kirk Whitworth, a DHS spokesman in Washington, D.C. “However, the scenario sounds unlikely because investigations are based on violation of law, not on the books and individual might check out from the library.”

Mr. Whitworth pointed out that while the original story stated the student was visited by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the DHS does not actually have its own agents. Under the umbrella of the DHS are Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Inspector General, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Coast Guard, among others.

Mr. Whitworth could not comment on the record whether the agency monitors inter-library loans, or whether there is a watch list of books that the agency maintains.
In contrast, Jamie Zuieback, a spokesperson for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, flatly told us that there is no “watch list” of books.

The student in question firmly refuses to talk:
Two UMass Dartmouth history professors to whom the student told the story, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said they still believe the student was telling the truth. But the student and his parents have made it clear to The Standard-Times that they do not want to discuss what happened. The Standard-Times has made numerous attempts to contact the student and his parents by phone and visited their home in New Bedford. He and his family members have rebuffed these attempts for comment.
Of course, the reporter in question, Aaron Nicodemus already knows the name of the student and has declined to reveal it. Thus it is hard to see how the student would be harmed by talking to Nicodemus.

Unless such an interview would make it quite obvious that the whole affair is a hoax.

Bush Had Legal Authority to Order Wiretaps

From Fraley’s Dailytakes:

. . . an analysis of the fact that Federal case law clearly supports Bush’s right to order wiretaps in the interest of national security. In the Chicago Tribune, John Schmidt argued:
In the Supreme Court’s 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president’s authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that “All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority.”

The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 did not alter the constitutional situation. That law created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that can authorize surveillance directed at an “agent of a foreign power,” which includes a foreign terrorist group. Thus, Congress put its weight behind the constitutionality of such surveillance in compliance with the law’s procedures.

But as the 2002 Court of Review noted, if the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches, “FISA could not encroach on the president’s constitutional power.”
The brief bio at the bottom of the article notes: “John Schmidt served under President Clinton from 1994 to 1997 as the associate attorney general of the United States.”

Note that if the President has this inherent authority, Congress cannot take it away, just as Congress cannot decide that the President cannot be the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

Many Americans are unhappy about Bush’s use of this power, feeling instinctively that it could easily be abused. And indeed it could.

But arguing that the president should not have such a power is different from arguing that Bush is some sort of outlaw, scoffing at the Constitution.

All sorts of things limit the President’s power, including public opinion, the Congress (which can do lots to impede presidential action, even when the President is acting constitutionally), and the courts (which can respond to abuses in the exercise of even legitimate powers).

But we can’t seriously address these issues until we get past bogus “Bush broke the law” rhetoric.

“War On Christmas” Cartoons

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No Pork on Menu at Australian Hospital, Muslims Might Be Offended

From the Sunday Times, a story about how an Australian hospital has banned pork on its menu, out of deference to Muslim patients.
A WA hospital has scrubbed baked ham from its Christmas menu, fearing Muslim patients could be offended.

It has also overhauled its entire menu so that all meals are now halal – containing only meat and other food prepared according to Muslim customs.

[...]

The hospital’s nursing director, Judy Davis, said though ham was not on the menu, Christian patients would not miss out on festive cheer.

“We’ll still make Christmas special – we’ve got prawns and all sorts of other special treats,” she said.

But one long-time Port Hedland hospital worker told The Sunday Times the menu change was “unAustralian”.

“It’s going to be a boring old Christmas lunch for the patients,” he said.

“After all, what’s Christmas without a ham, or Sunday morning without bacon and eggs?

“The management of the hospital are unable to stand up to a minority and keep our Australian way of life intact. They are bowing to the pressure of a select few.”

He warned that the only politically correct fare would soon be “a bowl of rice and a cup of tea”.

“No wonder the true-blue Australians are getting angry,” he said.

“Now all we need is for someone of the Hindu faith to jump up and down and we’ll have no beef.

“Before we know it, if you’re sick in Port Hedland, you will have to be happy with a diet of boiled rice and a cup of tea.”
The Marquette Warrior Blog contacted a spokesperson for the Western Australia Department of Health in East Perth who confirmed the policy.

She did add, however, that ham is available on Christmas for non-Muslim patients as a special accomodation. It cannot be prepared in the hospital kitchen, however. On other days, pork simply won’t be available.

We are all for accomodating the relgious practices of all faiths. The problem comes when some get preferential treatment. In Australia, Islam appears to get preferential treatment.

Clinton Claimed Authority to Order No-Warrant Searches

From National Review Online, something the Mainstream Media is either ignorant of, or pointedly ignoring.

While they go ballistic about President Bush ordering the phone tapping of persons suspected of terrorist links making foreign calls, they fail to report that Bush, rather than creating an unprecedented prerogative, is very much in the mold of his predecessors:
In a little-remembered debate from 1994, the Clinton administration argued that the president has “inherent authority” to order physical searches — including break-ins at the homes of U.S. citizens — for foreign intelligence purposes without any warrant or permission from any outside body. Even after the administration ultimately agreed with Congress’s decision to place the authority to pre-approve such searches in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, President Clinton still maintained that he had sufficient authority to order such searches on his own.

“The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes,” Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994, “and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General.”

“It is important to understand,” Gorelick continued, “that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities.”

Reporting the day after Gorelick’s testimony, the Washington Post’s headline — on page A-19 — read, “Administration Backing No-Warrant Spy Searches.” The story began, “The Clinton administration, in a little-noticed facet of the debate on intelligence reforms, is seeking congressional authorization for U.S. spies to continue conducting clandestine searches at foreign embassies in Washington and other cities without a federal court order. The administration’s quiet lobbying effort is aimed at modifying draft legislation that would require U.S. counterintelligence officials to get a court order before secretly snooping inside the homes or workplaces of suspected foreign agents or foreign powers.”

In her testimony, Gorelick made clear that the president believed he had the power to order warrantless searches for the purpose of gathering intelligence, even if there was no reason to believe that the search might uncover evidence of a crime. “Intelligence is often long range, its exact targets are more difficult to identify, and its focus is less precise,” Gorelick said. “Information gathering for policy making and prevention, rather than prosecution, are its primary focus.”
So why haven’t the media put the Bush’s actions in historical context?

The two explanations are bias and ignorance. But they are not mutually exclusive.

More on Apparent Hoax: Homeland Security Agents Visited Student Who Ordered “Little Red Book”

The story of the University of Massachusetts student who was supposedly visited by agents of the Department of Homeland Security after he ordered a copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book” continues to come apart. From the Standard-Times:
UMass Dartmouth statement on “Little Red Book”

UMass Dartmouth spokesman John Hoey issued this statement:

“University of Massachusetts Dartmouth officials are investigating reports that a student at the university was visited by officials from Homeland Security after the student requested a copy of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book.” UMass administrators have interviewed the student who has requested that his identity be shielded, and the University is complying with that request.

“At this point, it is difficult to ascertain how Homeland Security obtained the information about the student’s borrowing of the book. The UMass Dartmouth Library has not been visited by agents of any type seeking information about the borrowing patterns or habits of any of its patrons and did not handle the request for the book in question. The student has indicated that another university library processed the request.

“The UMass Dartmouth library has established policies for handling requests under the Patriot Act and has taken every lawful measure possible to protect the confidentiality of patron records.”

The Library subscribes to the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights and was a signatory to the MCCLPHEI (Massachusetts Conference of Chief Librarians of Public Higher Educational Institutions) resolution on the USA Patriots Act submitted to the Massachusetts Civil Liberty Union in 2003.

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said, “It is important that our students and our faculty be unfettered in their pursuit of knowledge about other cultures and political systems if their education and research is to be meaningful. We must do everything possible to protect the principles of academic inquiry.”
Note that the original article airing this supposed incident says the following:
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.
So now that it has been established that the student did not in fact order the book through his campus library, the story has changed.

Of course, since nobody in the media has talked to the student directly, but merely gotten the story as relayed through one of the professors (Williams), perhaps this is merely an error being corrected.

But there are other problems. The story was covered by Inside Higher Ed, and one of the people commenting on it there left the following information:
I am an academic librarian, and I am among those who smell a rat in this story. While it is true that the Quotations of Chairman Mao (the actual title of the book) is available in abridged versions, a quick search of Worldcat (a very nearly universal library catalog) revealed that there are hundreds of unabridged versions (published by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing) available around the country. Over a dozen libraries in MA have it, and nearly 3 dozen in NY. Moreover, as another correspondent has indicated, the full text of the Quotations exists on the web at not one but many sites (http://art-bin.com/art/omaotoc.html, http://www.marxists.org/, and http://www.marx2mao.com/Mao/QCM66.html, to list a few). While I don’t doubt that the Federal Government monitors such things (and for the record, I oppose such monitoring), the description of what the Homeland Security agents did sounds very odd. Why would they bring a copy of the book with them? I think it far more likely that they’d quietly keep an eye on the student for a while, maybe flagging him for more extensive searching of his luggage during air travel, or something like that. In any case, I suspect that this story will eventually turn up on the Snopes urban legends site, with indications as to its veracity (Snopes includes true stories as well as hoaxes).

Whitestag, at 3:31 pm EST on December 20, 2005
Clearly, this story should not be repeated as fact. The burden is now on the student and his professor to produce more information. Failing that, this has to go in the “hoax” file.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Apparently Bogus: Homeland Security Visited Student Who Ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book”

From the New Bedford Standard-Times:

. . . an account of a student who had his college library order the official version of Mao’s “Little Red Book” and supposedly got visited by agents from the Department of Homeland Security.
NEW BEDFORD — A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a “watch list,” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

[...]

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a “watch list.” They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.
If this is true, we are less chilled by it than appalled at the stupidity.

But there are substantial doubts that it is true.

In the first place, the reporter who wrote the story did not talk to the student in question. He claims to know the student’s name, but admits of the student “He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.”

In the second place, it turns out that the library at the University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth doesn’t ask for social security numbers on its Interlibrary Loan Forms. Further, the library insists that it would not routinely allow federal agents to gather this sort of information. It’s true that Federal agents can force libraries to reveal such information, but libraries (and least not the ones in the University of Massachusetts system) don’t volunteer lists of book requests to be checked against some “watch list.”

Which brings us to another problem. According to Jamie Zuieback, a spokesperson for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the largest investigative agency in the Office of Homeland Security) there is no such thing as a book “watch list.” She insists that the agency is concerned with “violations of the law” and not with peoples’ “reading habits.”

She does not contest that, if somebody has come to the attention of Federal agents, their reading habits (and much else besides) will be investigated. It’s just not the case that routine book requests are checked against some list.

Further, Zuieback says that, when the story broke, the agency’s office in Boston went through their records to see if some actual investigation was the source of the story, and could find nothing. One important proviso, Zuieback insists, is that without the name of the student (which is being withheld by the reporter who wrote the original story and by the University of Massachusetts), no definitive check is possible.

We also have difficulty believing that DHS agents would bring the book in question with them when they went to talk to the student. What was the point of doing that?

Finally, if DHS agents visit people who have done no more than spend some time abroad, and then order a left-wing book through interlibrary loan (and a left-wing book that has nothing to do with radical Islam, at that), should we not have heard of a lot more cases like this?

This whole story first broke when Aaron Nicodemus, a reporter for the The Standard-Times, called two professors and asked them “to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.” One or both of the professors thought the story was relevant and passed it along to the reporter.

Quite obviously, there were ample opportunities for the story to get mangled in transmission, quite aside from the possibility that it was simply a hoax.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Who Doesn’t Like “Christmas?”

From the Pew Research Center, a poll on the “War on Christmas.” Specifically, respondents were asked:
Would you prefer if [sic] stores and businesses greet their customers by saying “Merry Christmas,” OR ... if [sic] stores and businesses use less religious terms like “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings?”
The results, of course, are pretty lopsided. Sixty percent said they would prefer “Merry Christmas” while only 23% preferred a less religious greeting. Seventeen percent volunteered that it didn’t matter to them.


Pew also asked an alternative version identical to the first, which added “or doesn’t it matter to you?” as an explicit choice given respondents.

The pollster is here showing a bias, and apparently trying to drive down the percentage who favor “Christmas.” It works, and asked this way, only 42% of the sample says it would prefer “Christmas.” Pew notes:
. . . the public is largely unconcerned about how they are greeted as they enter stores and businesses this season. By a substantial 60%-23% margin the public does prefer “Merry Christmas” to non-religious welcomes such as “Season’s Greetings.” But given the choice, a 45% plurality says it does not matter much either way.
What Pew fails to notice is that, given the “doesn’t matter” alternative, only twelve percent of the sample would prefer the secular greeting!

Thus, any way you slice it, the number of people who would prefer “Merry Christmas” greatly exceeds the number who want the secular greeting.

Pew is visibly desperate to minimize the preference for a religious Christmas. The poll establishes that the vast majority have no problem with the public display of Christian Christmas symbols. So Pew asks:
As I read a few things about the Christmas holiday season, tell me how much, if at all, each bothers you. First does [INSERT ITEM; RANDOMIZE] bother you a lot, some, not much, or not at all?
The three choices people were offered were “The commercialization of Christmas,” “Opposition to religious symbols in public places” and “The playing of Christmas music in stores and public places.”


Pew was pleased with the result:
Despite their support for allowing Christmas displays on government property and media attention to the controversies over such displays, most Americans are unconcerned by opposition to religious symbols in public places. Indeed, far more Americans say they are bothered at least to some extent by the commercialization of Christmas (52%) than say they are bothered by opposition to religious symbols in public places (35%).
Of course, this about like asking people whether they would prefer a ban on assault weapons in the United States and whether they want world peace, and then, when “world peace” proves to be more popular, reporting that people don’t really care about a ban on assault weapons.

Indeed, as the table shows, even the more conservative Evangelical Christians worry more about commercialization of the holiday. But then, even liberals doubtless want world peace more than an assault weapons ban.

But in spite off all the attempted manipulation, one message comes through clearly: many more people prefer to be greeted with “Merry Christmas” than prefer some insipid politically correct alternative.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bias Against Religious Speech at Madison?

From Letters in Bottles:

. . . what certainly seems to be a clear finding by a University of Wisconsin panel of just such discrimination in the way student fee money is distributed.

We’ll be following this story.

Update:

Here are the two documents detailing the findings of the Student Judiciary on the Madison campus.

The Judgment

Supplemental Order of the Court

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What You Better Not Say in School

With a hat tip to Dave Elswick:

Back in a less enlightened era, you could say things that would get your mouth washed out with soap. Now, you are likely to get diversity training.

“Insurgents” More Committed to Democracy in Iraq Than the American Left

From FrontPage Magazine:
PERHAPS THE MOST STUNNING REVELATION OF THURSDAY’S IRAQI ELECTION IS THIS: SUNNI “INSURGENTS” ARE MORE COMMITTED TO A PEACEFUL, STABLE, DEMOCRATIC IRAQ THAN THE AMERICAN LEFT. As an unprecedented 11 million Iraqis risked their lives yesterday to vote in that nation’s third free election since January, leftists in this country continued to undermine the military operation that permitted those elections to be held and renewed their call for the only measure that could assure their newfound freedom dissolves into an abyss of hopeless violence: immediate U.S. withdrawal.

Sunnis Participate in Democracy

If any event could vindicate the president’s policy and demand Americans stay the course, Iraq’s parliamentary election was that event. Since the nation’s first free election in a generation this January, every segment of society has staked its future on the political process – including the “insurgents.” In one year, the most disaffected segments of Iraqi society have become politicized and decided – through charity or resignation – that only becoming part of a pluralistic, tolerant, democratic Iraq will give them any hope for the future.

How radically has Sunni opinion changed toward participating in Iraqi democracy? The Iraqi Islamic Army, an anti-American milita group, safeguarded the polls in Ramadi. Last January, there was a widespread Sunni boycott; yesterday, militants went into local neighborhoods to encourage Sunnis to vote. As a result, Sunni turnout in that city increased 4,000 percent over the October referendum.

The New York Times captured the mood in Sunni Iraq, where reporters found, “A new willingness to distance themselves from the insurgency, an absence of hostility for Americans, a casual contempt for Saddam Hussein, a yearning for Sunnis to find a place for themselves in the post-Hussein Iraq.”

Polls had to stay open an extra hour due to long lines. Some 80 percent of Saddam’s home province voted. Anbar province ran out of ballots as children danced in its peaceful streets. Four times as many people turned out in Tall Afar this time over last. Even in the former terrorist stronghold of Fallujah – where 70 percent of the populace cast ballots this week – Mayor Dari Abdul Hadi Zubaie said, “Right now, the city is experiencing a democratic celebration.” He compared the municipal euphoria to the Arab world’s most joyful celebration, a wedding. (In fact, a Kurdish couple got married at a polling center.)
Of course, the attitudes and actions of people in Iraq are driven by the desire for a better life. This is true even of people (Sunnis) who have a history of support for the Saddam regime. Like whites in South Africa, they have learned that the old regime is now gone for good and they have to cope with democracy.

The desire of the Iraqis for a better life sharply separates them from liberals and leftists in the U.S., who are often driven by their hostility toward George Bush.