October 4, 2007

Speak•ing Prop´er•ly

Let me aks you a question. What? You’ve never heard of “aks”? Well, if you haven’t noticed, it’s the new way to pronounce the word “ask.” From what I can tell, the mispronunciation of ask isn’t the only casualty of the Americanized English language.

...Here are a few things on which we need to work in an effort to at least pretend that we know how to speak correctly. If we can’t even master these, is it really worth worrying about the whole English versus Spanish debate?

• The word ignorant means lacking education or awareness of something. It’s not a catch-all description that can be applied to something that one doesn’t like, even though it’s become popular to do so.

...I recently saw a news story on television in which a woman referred to a disease as being “ignorant.” I’m not sure how a disease can be ignorant, but if this lady is able to communicate with diseases on a higher intellectual plane, more power to her.

• The term surreal is an adjective describing a twentieth century literary and artistic movement which expresses the workings of the subconscious via trippy images. Surreal is not a synonym for the term unreal.

• Apostrophes are not added to any and every word ending with the letter S. Apostrophes are used to show possession and in contractions.

Their, they’re, and there are not interchangeable, nor are you’re and your.

• The word of is not interchangeable with the word have in phrases like should have, would have, and could have. To say should of, would of, and could of doesn’t even make any sense.

• Finally, I’ve saved my biggest language peeve for last.

...The correct phrase is “couldn’t care less”—not “could care less.” It’s unfortunate, but this new phrase of “could care less” has spread like wildfire, from daily conversation to song titles. I even discovered it not once but twice in a so-called professional journal a few weeks ago.

...Think about it: If you could care less, why would you mention it to anyone? To say that you couldn’t care less means that you can’t possibly care any less than you currently do.

...Now I’m wondering how many people are thinking that they could care less about an ignorant person like me. There sitting their at they’re computer’s pondering such a surreal thought.

July 5, 2007

So That’s Why the Ball is White!

Play Ball
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece on another blog with a similar title to this one, in which I commented on an Associated Press story dealing with the ongoing decline of black participation in professional baseball. Over the last 12 months, even more debate and discussion (both of which are very good things, I might add) have developed in regard to the issue, but as with anything else that pertains to issues of ethnicity, so too did this.

Just before the start of the 2007 regular Major League Baseball season began, a season which marked the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut in the league, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians squared off in the Civil Rights Game.* The topic of present-day black participation in the game was front and center and the question on everyone’s lips was: “What would Jackie think of it?”

Near the same time, Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, gained notoriety after releasing his study on diversity in professional baseball, in which he gave a “solid B+” for ethnic diversity and a “C+” for gender. The gender grade appears to stem from the following statistics, as taken from the official report entitled The 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball: 43 percent of MLB’s Central Office were women; 26 percent of the senior administration level were women; 33 percent at the director and managerial level were women; and 15 percent of team vice-presidents were women.*

As for the ethnic demographics in Major League Baseball, the number of black players has obviously dropped over the last 30 years: in 1975, approximately 27 percent of MLB rosters were black; in 1995, approximately 19 percent of MLB rosters were black; in 2006, the percentage was approximately 8.4 percent.* (I use the word “approximately” due to player transactions that weren’t mentioned in any of the stories about the study. Similar to NHL rosters, players are signed, released, promoted, and demoted throughout the year, meaning that one set number can’t possibly be 100 percent accurate to describe the rosters in September that we might have had in April. Even so, I’m confident that Lapchick’s numbers are valid.)

In April, San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Chris Jenkins decried the lack of ethnic diversity on the 2007 Padres roster in his column entitled “Padres: The Face of San Diego?” In it, he mentioned that only two players on the team were Latino and two were black, whereas a year ago the Padres were a “more multishaded bunch” with Mike Cameron, Dave Roberts, Josh Barfield, Chan Ho Park, Adrian Gonzalez, and Vinny Castilla.*

A few weeks ago the issue came into the spotlight again when Tigers designated hitter Gary Sheffield made the following quote in GQ magazine as to why there are so many Latino players in the game and so few blacks:

I called it years ago. What I called is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English going to be coming out.


[It’s about] being able to tell [Latin players] what to do—being able to control them.

Where I’m from, you can’t control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end, he is going to go back to being who he is. And that’s a person that you’re going to talk to with respect, you’re going to talk to like a man.

These are the things my race demands. So, if you’re equally good as this Latin player, guess who’s going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.

Sheffield’s comments didn’t go unnoticed. Former teammate Eddie Perez remarked that Sheffield’s statement would “hurt a lot of people.” Lisa Navarrete of the Latino organization La Raza said that Sheffield “resorts to the stereotyping that he himself is trying to fight.” Jemele Hill points out that Sheffield appears to be doing what he’s told to do given that he’s on Detroit’s payroll, possibly defeating his own argument.*

In Sheffield’s defense it can be argued that if Latino players are “controllable” that it might be economic more than anything else. The New York Daily News reported that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said: “I guarantee that Latin American people play more baseball than any people, because that’s all we have. You have people playing baseball in Venezuela or the Dominican than anywhere, so there are going to be more players from there.”*

Whether we talk about drafts, signing bonuses, or the prospect of having to return to a poverty-stricken environment if they don’t play well, Latino players need money more but can be paid less. It’s easier—and cheaper—to travel to third-world nations and pick from a pool of players who have an abundance of talent and don’t ask for much in return. Guillen stated:

Maybe we’re hungrier. We’re trying to survive. Those guys sign for $500,000 or $1 million and they’re made. We have a couple of dollars. You can sign one African-American player for the price of 30 Latin players.*

Keeping with this argument, though, we could easily say that foreign-born Latinos should be the only ethnicity in Major League Baseball. That is, of course, unless there’s a bigger conspiracy present—one in which owners have decided to offer a few good white, black, Latino, and Asian players to draw crowds, and then dozens more “filler” Latinos who are there to simply keep the rosters full and costs down. I’m not ready to buy into a conspiracy of that magnitude.

More recently, Dennis Hayes, the interim president of the NAACP, aired his displeasure with Major League Baseball and KPMG over their efforts to increase the number of black players in the game. KPMG, a global group of firms in the financial sector which has a multi-year agreement with MLB to encourage youth participation in baseball and softball, made a $1 million donation to Major League Baseball, which was called a “small step” by Hayes. He went on to say:

I hope that MLB will start listening to current and former African-American baseball players about their disappointment in the dwindling number of young blacks who are being coached and trained to enter the game that they love. They believe, just like the NAACP believes, that if we don’t do something now, African-American players will become extinct when it comes to Major League Baseball.

Hayes also said that he “watched with amazement at how funding for baseball programs has found its way to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other countries.”*

Questioning the Answers
This topic has me asking a few questions which could be posed both independently or as a group:

(1) What is the “right” number for each ethnicity in Major League Baseball and who is in charge of determining this number?

(2) Are all major professional sports intended to follow these demographic percentages, or only select ones?

(3) Are professional sports teams supposed to be determined by the best available players or are they supposed to be a collection of players who represent the national demographics in an effort to make a social statement?

(4) Considering that only approximately nine percent of college baseball players are black, should teams be forced to pick every black player who is available in the draft—even if a particular player might not be as good as another available player who might be white, Asian, or an American-born Latino?

(5) If the argument is made that professional sports teams should mirror the ethnic demographics of its home country, how many people would actually attend the events, whereby keeping the league afloat via ticket sales, clothing sales, television contracts, etc.?

Question (1) is assuming that there exists some pre-determined percentage for each ethnicity in Major League Baseball. If one would be implemented, who would determine it? Would it be determined by Major League Baseball? Would it be determined by the NAACP? Would it be determined by a Latino organization? Would it be determined by an Asian organization? Would it be determined by some kind of panel comprised of all of these? Would it be fair or unfair if the panel excluded representatives for white players? Would players be allowed to pick their ethnic affiliations if they happen to be of a multi-ethnic background, or would the powers-that-be make the final decision? Finally, how would this number be determined? Is it supposed to be a mirror of U.S. Census data or something else?

Question (2) pertains to the NHL, NFL, and NBA. Richard Lapchick’s The 2006-07 Season Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association reports that in the NBA, “almost 79 percent of the players were people of color.”* The African-American Registry reports that “67 percent of all players in the NFL are black.”* Lapchick’s report on the NHL is said to be in the works, but most National Hockey League players are white, predominantly coming from European countries and Canada (a country which has a black population of roughly two percent). The current United States contribution to the NHL is said to be roughly 15 percent.*

Given these percentages, what are we to do? If we decide that each league should mirror the national percentages of ethnicity, do we force some of the black players to leave the NBA and NFL and replace them with whites? Do we mandate some kind of “mass trade” in which we force some black players to join the NHL and whites into the NFL and NBA in an effort to achieve a representation of the nation?

Questions (3), (4), and (5) deal with the entire concept of sports in general, and they’re intended to be more “real-world” in nature than the first two questions.

Sports, whether they’re on a scholastic, amateur, or professional level, are based on one thing: competition. Athletics draw players and fans because people like to win. This is unsettling to some people, but it remains true.

The columnists who lament the lack of ethnic diversity in professional baseball seem to preach a common theme: they always focus on the social message that might be conveyed if the teams mirror the ethnic demographics of the country and avoid the issue of competition altogether.

Take the aforementioned column by Chris Jenkins, for example. He mentions that guys like Eric Young, Vinny Castilla, Ben Johnson, and Chan Ho Park helped to make San Diego’s 2006 team “a more multishaded bunch” and doesn’t seem to be too happy with their departures, but he doesn’t mention anything about the players’ ability—or their status. He didn’t mention that both Young and Castilla retired after last season or that Johnson and Park are both currently in the minor leagues. Park was released by the Mets after posting an ERA of 15.75 and is playing for Houston’s triple-A team; Johnson was batting .185 for the Mets and is currently at triple-A New Orleans.

I’m only speaking for myself, but when I watch a game—whether it’s baseball, hockey, or any other sport—I do so because I want to watch the competition aspect of it. If I’m watching a Cardinals game, I’m doing so because I want to see the Cardinals win (which hasn’t been as often as I’d like this season, but that’s a post unto itself). I don’t watch games because I want to see which team is making a stronger social statement with the diversity of their roster. I’m willing to bet that other sports fans view it in a similar manner.

How many people do you know who have tailored their fantasy teams around ethnic diversity? How many times have you been to a tailgating party where the fans were more concerned with the social statement that their team would be making that day instead of how many touchdowns would be scored?

I ask these questions because they seem to be ignored by those who are consumed with the ethnic-percentage angle of sports. They fail to realize that these leagues exist because fans are willing to spend money on things like tickets and clothing, in addition to television networks being willing to sign contracts to televise them. These consumers are following the sports to witness the competitive aspect of the games. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if we were to make a demographically-representative league, one which would cast aside competition and replace it with political correctness, that it would fail miserably.

I can imagine that there are some radical factions of our nation that might view the opinions expressed here as being racist, simply because even questioning ethnic demographics is a hot-button issue. The best way for me to defend my position is to say it honestly: I don’t give a damn what a player’s ethnic background is as long as he can contribute to the team’s victory. If a team is predominantly Latino, so be it. If a team is predominantly white, so be it. If a team is predominantly black, so be it. If a team is predominantly Asian, so be it.

In addition, when it comes to a particular sport, I would encourage everyone to become a fan. Moreover, if a young person shows a desire to play a particular sport, encourage them to get involved; it doesn’t matter if a person is white, black, yellow, red, purple, blue, or orange.

July 4, 2007

Weed & Speed

Al Gore III was arrested again, this time for going 100 miles per hour and possessing marijuana, Valium, Vicadin, Xanax, and Adderall. Young Gore didn’t have a prescription for any of the pharmaceuticals that were found.

...There was good news to come out of the story, however. Even though he was posing a threat to public safety, he was helping the Earth by driving an environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius.

...There’s no word yet on whether or not carbon credits can be used as his bail.

ABC News

July 2, 2007

When Moore Isn’t Merrier

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my best friend, in which he asked, “Did you hear about the lawsuit against Michael Moore?” I wasn’t positive as to what suit he was referring, however, and my initial thought was the one brought against the portly pseudo-documentary maker by the soldier who claimed that his comments were used out of context in Fahrenheit 9/11. That suit, incidentally, was thrown out a few months ago.

What my friend had heard about was the possible investigation against Moore and the 9/11 workers who accompanied him to Cuba to find medical care for their ailments in Moore’s new movie Sicko by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, given the embargo with the land of Castro. (For the record, you can count me as one person who would support an end to the embargo; if anything, it has helped Castro more than hurt him. His biggest worries in the last few decades seem to have been heart and intestinal problems.)

Anyway, this topic led to me drafting a lengthy e-mail explaining why I’ve come to view Moore as nothing more than an entertainer who has managed to garner a legion of brainwashed zombies by manipulating facts at best and inventing them at worst—essentially the left’s version of George W. Bush (although please don’t think that I’m suggesting that Moore has led us into a war) who did similar things to justify invading Iraq.

In short, I’ve come to view Moore as nothing more than a masterful propagandist with a legion of loyal, feeble-minded followers because, like Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., his philosophy is identical: lie if it’ll help get your message across. It’s akin to hearing millions of Bush supporters chanting, “We need to bomb Iraq to avenge the 9/11 attacks!” Never mind that Osama bin Laden guy.

The Movies
I’ve watched Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11, and each has had too many falsehoods and illogical connections for me to view them as serious documentaries. My skepticism began after learning that many of the folks who were part of the eviction sequence in Roger & Me didn’t actually have any ties with General Motors whatsoever—even though the viewer is led to believe that each was losing their home because of GM’s downsizing. To be sure, the people were, indeed, being evicted; unfortunately the viewer wasn’t informed that they would have been evicted even if GM hadn’t carried out any layoffs.

I would come to learn that the eviction scene wasn’t the only manipulated aspect of this film. I came across an article from the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael that was published after Roger & Me’s popularity began to grow. Kael wrote:

I had stopped believing what Moore was saying very early; he was just too glib. Later, when he told us about the tourist schemes, I began to feel I was watching a film version of the thirties best-seller A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity, and I began to wonder how so much of what was being reported had actually taken place in the two and a half years of shooting the film. So I wasn’t surprised when I read Harlan Jacobson’s article in the November-December, 1989, Film Comment and learned that Moore had compressed the events of many years and fiddled with the time sequence. For example, the eleven plant closings announced in 1986 were in four states; the thirty thousand jobs were lost in Flint over a period of a dozen years; and the tourist attractions were constructed and failed well before the 1986 shutdowns that they are said to be a response to. Or let’s take a smaller example of Moore at play. We’re told that Ronald Reagan visited the devastated city, and we hear about what we assume is the President’s response to the crisis. He had a pizza with twelve unemployed workers and advised them to move to Texas; we’re told that during lunch the cash register was lifted from the pizza parlor. That’s good for a few more laughs. But Reagan visited the city in 1980, when he wasn’t yet President—he was a candidate. And the cash register had been taken two days earlier.*

Interested in finding Moore’s rebuttal to these discoveries, I found little more than “it’s all a lie.” In a 1998 Newsweek interview with Andrea C. Basora, Moore says that when it comes to Kael, everything is “personal” and that Kael lied because he didn’t send her a tape of Roger & Me.* In 2000, Moore called Kael “a deadly serious historical revisionist” and said that articles in the Sacramento Bee and St. Petersburg Times support his side of the issue.* (I’m not suggesting that these articles don’t exist, but for the record I have yet to find either.)

In an interview with the aforementioned Jacobson, Moore stated:

The movie is essentially what has happened to this town during the 1980s. I wasn’t filming in 1982…so everything that happened, happened. As far as I’m concerned, a period of seven or eight years…is pretty immediate and pretty devastating…I think it’s a document about a town that died in the 1980s, and this is what happened…What would you rather have me do? Should I have maybe begun the movie with a Roger Smith or GM announcement of 1979 or 1980 for the first round of layoffs that devastated the town, which then led to starting these projects, after which maybe things pick up a little bit in the mid ‘80s, and then BOOM—in ‘86 there’s another announcement, and then tell that whole story?...Then it’s a three hour movie. It’s a movie, you know; you can’t do everything. I was true to what happened. Everything that happened in the movie happened. It happened in the same order that it happened throughout the ‘80s. If you want to nit-pick on some of those specific things, fine.*

Apparently nit-picking is bad. (The ellipses in the above quote were added by Richard Palmer and/or Edward Champion, who maintain the Michael Moore FAQ page—not me.)

When it came time to watch Bowling for Columbine, I did so with the same approach that I had when I tuned into the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies: I prepared myself to be entertained—not informed.

I was entertained and similar to Roger & Me, I would eventually learn that reality and fantasy were whatever you want them to be. My two favorite fabrications in Bowling for Columbine became the doctored Bush/Quayle advertisement* and the accusation that the Lockheed-Martin plant in Littleton, Colorado, produced “weapons of mass destruction” around the time of the Columbine attack. What kind of WMDs were produced there? Apparently the mentally-destructive kind: the plant made space launch vehicles for television and telecommunications satellites in the late-1990s. The latest date that I could find for anything related to ICBM production in Littleton was the mid-1980s and that was on an unattributed Wikipedia entry.*

Perhaps Moore should have waited a few years to release Bowling for Columbine because he could have included footage of his bodyguard being investigated for having a gun at JFK airport that wasn’t licensed in New York.* (Then again, this story has taken on a life of its own, too. The bodyguard was said to have really been a “former Moore employee”—but not a “bodyguard” per se—who worked as a bodyguard for others, but not for Moore. Um…okay.)*

After viewing Fahrenheit 9/11, I found myself scratching my head not because of the inaccuracies that were presented*, but simply because of the contradictory nature of the film: on one hand we see that George W. Bush is the world’s biggest moron (a notion with which I agree), but on the other hand we are supposed to wonder if he might be genius enough to have pulled off a 9/11 conspiracy. The nature of a jump like this reminded me of a scene in the 9/11 conspiracy theory flick Loose Change, in which we are told that witnesses at the Pentagon who claimed to have seen a passenger jet fly over cannot be believed but a few seconds later we are told that we should believe the same witnesses when they also claimed to have seen a C-130 flying overhead during the attack.* Sorry, but this is like trying to argue that the Earth is both round and flat.

I haven’t seen Sicko yet, but some of the reviews that I’ve read thus far make it apparent that it’s following in the footsteps of Moore’s other mockumentaries. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post says that just when you think that you’re about to see something of substance make an appearance, Moore does an about-face in the name of humor and entertainment.*

MTV’s Kurt Loder has provided a more in-depth review of the movie, one which might very well earn him a few death threats from Moore’s minions. In it Loder points out: Moore gushes over how wonderful Canada’s healthcare system is, but he fails to inform the viewer of how long the average patient must stay on waiting lists for both major and minor medical procedures; he fails to mention how many Canadians travel to the U.S. on a daily basis because they can receive faster care here; and he fails to mention that the quality medical care in Cuba shown in the movie is readily available only for non-Cubans and Cuban politicians who can easily pay for their procedures with cash—not the impoverished Cuban commoners.*

In Defense of Lies
The Internet is chock full of Moore apologists and they offer similar themes: his movies are entertaining; his movies are funny; his movies are riveting; his movies have an important message. Hence, truth be damned.

The best way to illustrate these descriptions is via quotes from support for Moore’s approach to movie-making:

• From a fan who is offended that another Moore fan suggested that Fahrenheit 9/11 might have been “manipulative” and “unfair”: “How do you put it all in one film? Keep in mind that in making such a film, if you concentrate on only one or two misdeeds, and really get into the details necessary to do that you will have defeated your purpose in all likelihood. The movie will be too forensic and not many will be compelled to see it. You also have to make the movie funny.”* Thus, popularity trumps facts.

• From a customer review of Roger & Me on Amazon.com: “[I]f Moore strictly adhered to documentary ethics, would Roger & Me still have been the most successful documentary of its time?” He also states that “one problem Moore’s critics are overlooking is that they are lumping Roger & Me into the largely diverse and loosely defined genre known as ‘the documentary,’ as if all films showing real footage of real people and events should be held to the same standards.” Finally, he summarizes it best by saying: “Like fiction films, the documentary genre has become increasingly more complex and experimental[,] blurring the boundaries of its classification. Moore may have created a new sub-genre of documentary: one that combines [Bill] Nichol’s documentary modes in a heuristic visual essay where accurate historical representation is eclipsed by unbridled personal emotion.”*

Documentaries are “loosely defined”? They’re “experimental”? Accurate historical representation is now eclipsed by unbridled personal emotion?

• A third and final description is more succinct but just as telling: “[Fahrenheit 9/11] holds the viewers’ interest from beginning to end. The film is entertaining in that the events on the screen did not appear to be ‘documentary’ in nature—rather they were riveting, much as a good suspense/action film unfolds before the viewer’s eyes. To ask oneself why this could be so reveals the layers upon which the film is built.”*

Entertainment value becomes the most important concept.

What’s the Big Deal?
For me, Michael Moore has become no better than Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et al. in the propaganda department. In an effort to win the hearts and minds of his audience, Moore has shown that misinformation is a valid weapon and should be used liberally (no pun intended). Who are the “good” guys if both the far-right and the far-left become masters of misinformation?

Unfortunately, discussions on this topic don’t get very far because they quickly turn into a cesspool of rhetorical nonsense: if you criticize Bush it’s said that you’re a supporter of terrorism or that you’re unpatriotic; if you criticize Moore it’s said that you’re obviously a Bush supporter and you’re a war-monger.

Using facts to bring BushCorp down shouldn’t be a problem; there are more than enough things against this administration to make Bill Clinton’s perjury case look like a strawberry social—and Slick Willy was actually impeached over it. Sadly, sensationalism for the sake of impact has become more popular and acceptable.

As we’ve seen, though, this sensationalism is what has made both Michael Moore and George W. Bush as big as they are.

Make no mistake about it—my criticisms of Moore should not be in any way perceived as somehow being support for gun violence, George W. Bush, or any problems that we have with our healthcare system (and there are many). This, however, has become the usual retort of diehard Moore fans; if you question him, the theory seems to be, you must be supportive of the other side.

Instead, my argument is that if you adopt your enemy’s tactics, how different from your enemy are you?

While I’ve watched Moore’s previous movies, if I don’t get around to seeing Sicko it won’t bother me. Besides, I’m busy working on a script for an “experimental” documentary on the Civil War in which Napoleon and Robert E. Lee square off against Ulysses S. Grant and Gerald Ford after Napoleon and Lee bomb Pearl Harbor. In it, Lee and his Nazi forces are pitted against the Grant/Ford army in 1920s Nepal. When things look bleak, Grant whips out his cell phone and says, “Let’s roll.”

Due to the length of this post, asterisks have been placed in the appropriate locations to provide sources.

June 30, 2007


If you didn’t happen to catch Friday morning’s episode of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, you might not have heard that those of us who support the First Amendment won a small victory recently.

Passing by a vote of 309-115-1, the Pence-Hensarling-Flake Amendment (H.AMDT.484 [A031]) made it through the House of Representatives, giving free expression advocates a little more hope that government-mandated speech isn’t on the horizon.

The amendment was attached to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2829) and prohibits the Federal Communications Commission from using funding to impose the coercive Fairness Doctrine, which advocates claim will bolster “fairness” and “diversity” by requiring outlets such as talk radio stations to express certain political viewpoints against their will.

The old version of the doctrine helped to all but eliminate political discourse on the radio dial because stations simply opted to avoid any controversy altogether instead of worrying about who said what and how often it might be said. Time reports that National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said of the Fairness Doctrine: “It actually inhibited free speech because broadcasters simply avoided covering controversial issues because they feared that the FCC might either fine them or revoke their licenses. It actually had the practical impact of chilling speech rather than enhancing it.”

It was laid to rest in the 1980s by the FCC and pertained to radio and television, but given our technological advancements since then there has been concern that the Internet—and most notably blogs—would be added to the list of government-regulated speech if a twenty-first century version of the doctrine was drafted.

Those of us who see the rule as the fascist (and I use that term in the true sense of fascism) mandate that it is will continue to argue in favor of the First Amendment and denounce the Fairness Doctrine. Supporters, some of whom called C-SPAN’s morning show on Friday and stumbled over almost every question that was posed to them by host Brian Lamb, apparently want fairness—even if it means violating the First Amendment . (Then again, we’ve already seen that unconstitutional mandates are popular with a large percentage of the U.S. population, so perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked.)

That aside, a list of representatives who voted for and against free speech can be found below. Some of the prominent names who voted against the idea of not funding the implementation of the Fairness Doctrine: Conyers; DeFazio; DeLauro; Fattah; Frank; Hoyer; Jefferson; Kanjorski; Kucinich; Levin; Lewis; Lowey; McDermott; Murtha; Nadler; Rangel; Slaughter; Wasserman Schultz; and Wexler.

In the transcript of the debate over the amendment, it’s interesting to see some of Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) comments pertaining to the matter: the doctrine will give us “productive public debate” (productive in the eyes of those calling the shots, of course) and will “need to restore accountability to those who use the publicly-owned airwaves” (again, accountable to whomever is in power at that moment). Kucinich concluded by saying that the Fairness Doctrine debate won’t happen while BushCorp is in the White House, but that “it may happen under a future administration.” Oh joy.

We’ll have to see how the bill does in the Senate.

For those who are unaware of what the First Amendment says about government-mandated speech, the text states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For those who don’t like what they hear on a talk radio show (or television or the Internet, for that matter), turn off whatever it is and find something that you like. Don’t attempt to control what others say because you don’t like it or find it “unfair.”

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2829)
H.AMDT.484 (A031)
Roll Call for H.AMDT.484
Transcript of H.AMDT.484 Debate (scroll to middle for Kucinich quotes)

One Person’s Constitution is Another’s Racism

In my last post, which dealt with the recent ruling by the Supreme Court which said that using skin color to determine student placement in public schools was unconstitutional, I had mentioned that what might make this decision so nationally divisive is that we have differing viewpoints on whether or not we should be able to enforce unconstitutional laws as long as those laws have good intentions behind them.

In Thursday’s move by the Court, for instance, we could see that two views on constitutionality emerged: (1) a law is either constitutional or unconstitutional and if it’s unconstitutional it needs to be struck down; and (2) unconstitutional laws should exist as long as they send a socially-just message.

In Meredith we found ourselves with a ruling that was boiled down to one thing: skin color cannot be used as a factor to determine which school a child attends. The ruling has not been popular, though, and the Internet is teeming with dissenting opinions that are in line with the second view on constitutionality mentioned above.

The most applicable remark so far has been on The State of Opportunity (opportunityagenda.typepad.com), where Amanda Ogus illustrated my prediction that the term “racism” would be utilized to describe those of us who don’t think that skin color should be used to make decisions because such a move is unconstitutional: “[I]f we attempt to make policy on the assumption that the government is or should be colorblind, we ignore the existing health, wealth and society disparities, thus invoking a whole new form of racism.” Furthermore, she states: “So letting things ‘run their course’ now, and delaring [sic] that colorblind policies are best is premature, short-sighted an [sic] unlikely to proect [sic] our coutnry’s [sic] core value of ensuring opportunity for everyone.”

I’m not using Ms. Ogus’s view as an example to single her out; I don’t know her from Eve and there are many other opinions in the blogosphere of a similar nature. I picked her comments because they provide the best example of my assertion that issues like race will never be agreed upon because we often disagree on how to handle laws related to them; in addition, we find it difficult to discuss racial issues because it has become common to hear words like “racism” and “racist” the moment that a disagreement arises—even if racism isn’t present.

Sometimes we’re supposed to be colorblind; other times we’re supposed to pay attention to skin color and nothing else. Sometimes we’re supposed to oppose unconstitutional laws; other times we’re supposed to celebrate laws that are unconstitutional. As I had mentioned in the previous post, we need to make up our minds; we have to decide if we want consistent laws or if we want laws that apply to situations whenever we want them to. If we opt for the latter, are we prepared for the outcome that comes with such a double standard?

June 29, 2007

Reading, Writing, & Social Engineering

Color Blind Bind
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, in which they ruled that using skin color to determine school placement for students was unconstitutional, a few items of importance have surfaced that are well worth mentioning.

In last night’s “debate” of Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton said of the Meredith ruling: “You can look at this decision today, which turned the clock back on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, that was resting on the fact that children are better off if they are part of a diverse, integrated society.” Senator Clinton didn’t offer any scientific evidence to back this assertion on diversity, however; moreover, she has jumped aboard the bandwagon which says that the Meredith ruling is opposite that of the Brown ruling. But is it?

On last night’s episode of Nightline, even Mattie Jones, a black grandmother in Louisville, has suggested that the social experiment of forced diversity based upon skin color has backfired. “We don’t have to sit next to a white person—our kids don’t—to be educated,” she said. Her final quote pertained to the state of her neighborhood following the busing requirement that bolstered diversity: “I used to sit on my porch to hear the laughter and the chatter; all we hear now is the noise of the buses.”

I imagine that a few people are calling Mattie Jones a “sell-out” or similar, possibly viler, names. Some are probably sitting at their computer saying, “What? James Phillimore, how dare you not take the position of the minority Justices! You’re racist! You’re bigoted! You’re narrow-minded and ignorant! You’re fascist!” Such utterances might be emotionally gratifying, but they’re nonetheless lacking merit.

Let’s consider, for a moment, the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown ruling was supposed to overturn the absurd “separate but equal” doctrine that was put forth in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Brown we find: “Racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional, 347 U.S. 483, 497, and all provisions of federal, state or local law requiring or permitting such discrimination must yield to this principle.”

So, we find ourselves with a few questions that need to be asked: Why are those who claim to be opposed to using skin color to make determinations—in this case school populations—the same ones who are now opposed to the Meredith ruling, which says that using skin color to make determinations is unconstitutional? If we’re supposed to be a colorblind society, why are we supposed to simultaneously support the idea of using skin color to determine which child goes to which school? If anything, a person should either support both the Brown decision and the Meredith decision or oppose both. It’s contradictory to support one and oppose the other.

NPR’s Juan Williams might have explained it best in a recent interview with Renee Montagne. He said:

Brown said that, in fact, separating children on the basis of their skin color—their race—was unconstitutional, a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal treatment. So yesterday what you had was the majority saying that, according to the Brown decision, you shouldn’t judge children on the basis of their race and you shouldn’t assign them to schools on the basis of their race. The minority said that, wait a second—Brown was intended to remedy the damage done by legal segregation in this country and you’re now turning it on its head by suggesting that you can’t take those steps because of the need to have a colorblind Constitution.

In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union states:

The impact of the Court’s decision will be particularly striking in Louisville. In response to the city’s history of racial segregation, a judicial order that was in place 25 years authorized school officials to take race into account when making student assignments. After the judicial order expired, city officials continued that policy in modified form in the hope of avoiding the resegregation that plagues so many cities. Louisville’s effort has now been derailed by the Supreme Court.

This paragraph from their press release is interesting on two points: (1) the ACLU has concluded that it’s “segregation” if a student goes to school in their own neighborhood; and (2) they openly support taking skin color into account for student assignments, even though such a move violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, the ACLU is apparently taking the position that upholding the Constitution is now a form of “derailment.”

Perhaps this is where the controversy is found. One view is that it’s an either-or situation: Using skin color to make decisions is going to be either constitutional or unconstitutional; it can’t go both ways.

The other viewpoint, in this case the one espoused by the minority Justices and folks who are decrying the Meredith ruling, is that we can use skin color to promote diversity in an effort to remedy the past injustice of segregation (real segregation—not the ACLU’s version of it), but that we must ban it in all other situations.

The second viewpoint is basically saying that double standards are acceptable as long as we get what we want, in this case the possibility of a grand social engineering experiment.

The Benefits of Diversity
It might be disturbing to those who are lamenting the Meredith ruling, but evidence exists that actually calls into question the social value of diversity based on ethnicity.

Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard University, has authored Bowling Alone, in which he says that diversity in communities might in reality cause people “to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.” Furthermore, as City Journal’s John Leo points out, Putnam even suggests that the data “may underestimate the real effect of diversity on social withdrawal.” (His emphasis.)

Unfortunately, Putnam’s book has a dark side-note: he wasn’t happy with what he discovered and hesitated to release the results until he could find evidence that suggested something else.

Leo continued: “Last October, [Putnam] told the Financial Times that ‘he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity.’ He said it ‘would have been irresponsible to publish without that,’ a quote that should raise eyebrows.”

I have to agree with Leo. The idea that a scholar might hesitate on releasing research data simply because he didn’t like what the data showed is disturbing to say the least. While it’s not as serious as the Michael Bellesiles incident from several years ago, it still makes one wonder if the world of academia is making a significant shift from objectivity to subjectivity.

Putnam’s desires aren’t the issue here; the rulings in Plessy, Brown, and Meredith are. As such, we need to ask ourselves if we’re for or against using skin color as the determining factor for public school populations. If we’re going to say that using skin color as a determining factor is a bad thing, as the Supreme Court rightly did in Brown, we should consistently defend that position by denouncing the Plessy decision and supporting the Meredith decision.

If people are opposed to the Meredith decision but claim to support the Brown decision, we need to seriously question their view on using skin color as a determining factor for schools and their opinion of the Fourteenth Amendment in general. To suggest that skin color should be used in an effort to experiment with forced diversity to “remedy” the past injustice of segregation is contradictory to the Brown ruling. Like it or not, opposition to the Meredith ruling is opposition to a colorblind society.

ABC News
City Journal
Cornell University Law School

June 26, 2007

Mouth of the Beholder

I haven’t written anything for The Tempest lately but given that the First Amendment and government regulation of speech is a major issue in my line of work, I’ve found myself becoming frustrated over the last few weeks over an issue that continues to have support: the unconstitutional Fairness Doctrine.

It’s been in the news of late following a “report” issued by the Center for American Progress and the Free Press entitled The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, in which they state that “91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.”

This has opened the door for calls of government-regulation of talk radio to make the views expressed there “fairer” and “balanced.” On the blog This Modern World, Tom Tomorrow says that “it’s fun to listen to Hannity and Limbaugh desperately try to explain why ‘equal time’ = ‘censorship.’” Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), along with other members of Congress like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have also been supportive of bringing back the law that was overturned in the 1980s. When asked if she’d bring back the anti-First Amendment mandate, Feinstein said: “Well, I’m looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris [Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday], because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.”

As such we find ourselves with politicians and their supporters who are willing to call for legislation requiring certain viewpoints to be aired, all in the name of “fairness.”

When I was preparing the rough draft of this post I found myself with several paragraphs explaining how government-regulated speech can never be “fair” because there’s nothing fair about having one’s First Amendment rights violated. Then I came to the realization that I’d be preaching to the choir. Those of us who recognize government-mandated speech as censorship will always do so because that is what it is; those who want to force others to say something against their will will continue to call such coercion “fairness.” It’s like trying to debate the Earth’s shape with someone who insists that the planet is flat.

What this issue has done is helped me to see that segments of our populace—segments that can be represented by the aforementioned Tom Tomorrow—view coercion as a form of “fairness” as long as it helps to get their views promoted. They’ve concluded that if you’re not saying something that they want to hear—in this case viewpoints that are being proclaimed on talk radio—it in some way makes your First Amendment rights invalid. Mr. Tomorrow, for instance, views government-regulation of speech as “equal time” and doesn’t see it as being censorship because the doctrine is to his benefit.

I’ll be the first to say that someone like Sean Hannity has the intellectual capacity of a first grader. I’ve listened to him on several occasions and can sum up his usual response when it appears as if he’s about to lose an argument: “You’re not a patriot. You’re not a real American.”

We can find a similar lack of intellectual weight and logic in the argument that has been offered by supporters of the Fairness Doctrine. We could sum up their stance this way: “You’re not saying what I want to hear so I’m going to have the government tell you what to say.”

Is there really any difference between these two?

Center for American Progress
This Modern World
Fox News Sunday transcript

May 18, 2007

It’s Time to Make the News

A few weeks ago I wrote a few paragraphs questioning the legitimacy of traditional media outlets (e.g., television news, print newspapers, print news magazines, etc.) when compared to newer outlets (e.g., blogs, Internet-only news outlets, etc.). The argument has been that the bigger outlets are “professional” when compared to amateurs with blogs and have more access to getting to the bottom of a story.

...Today during lunch I was discussing the state of television news with my friend ***** (I’m protecting his identity because I don’t want his reputation to be sullied if it should become known that he associates with me) and, given that his line of work is behind-the-scenes stuff for television production (i.e., video, sound, production assistant work, etc.) we found ourselves discussing the current state of television news: Is it information or infomercial? I made the argument that while the best description would be “infomercial,” we have to place the blame for it being this way on the consumers. After all, if more people were demanding informative, in-depth investigations on major stories, the networks would adjust their presentations to reflect this.

...Instead, the majority of television news viewers are tuning in to be entertained. They’re more interested in Paris Hilton’s jail sentence than the estimated 300,000 barrels per day that have disappeared over the last four years in Iraq.

...This isn’t anything new, though. As far back as the late-1800s the country had to deal with yellow journalism, in which the news was essentially invented. From journalists like Joseph Pulitzer to newspaper owners like William Randolph Hearst, we saw fiction pushed as fact in an effort to sell a few more papers.

I hadn’t planned on defending conservative radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, considering that when I was posting on my old blog I lambasted him for railing against drug users while he himself was addicted to prescription pharmaceuticals, but I’m quite concerned when “professional” news services prove to be more amateurish than true amateurs.

...A few weeks ago, in what was either a sign of incompetence or intentional deceit, neither of which can be defended if one is passing oneself off as being “professional,” a television news station in California arrived late to the party and ran a story about a parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro” which was sung to the tune of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. A news story on CBS 13 about the song was chock full of errors, including failure to explain the origins of the tune (which were comments made by Al Sharpton, Senator Joe Biden, and an L.A. Times column from David Ehrenstein using the term “Magic Negro”) and the use of a homemade video for the song found on YouTube that was presented as an officially-made video (in reality no officially-made video for the parody exists).

...Fast-forward to yesterday: The Houston Chronicle ran a piece from Andrew Guy, Jr. entitled “Is Limbaugh Above the Law?” in which he questions why Don Imus and other disc jockeys have been fired for racist remarks, but Limbaugh hasn’t for the “Barack the Magic Negro” parody. In the column, Guy ponders why there are no protests, prepared statements, press conferences, apologies, or even outrage from the public. He also perpetuates the CBS 13 error by referring to the homemade YouTube video as “Shanklin’s video” (Shanklin being Paul Shanklin, who wrote the lyrics to the parody).

...More humorous in the piece is Guy’s interview with Ehrenstein, whose column helped to inspire the parody in the first place. Ehrenstein says that he’s “not sure why no one else has really talked about it.” Perhaps it’s because the song was inspired by actual remarks by Ehrenstein?

As I had mentioned earlier, I don’t consider myself a follower or an apologist for Rush Limbaugh. I do, however, question why and how stories that could be easily investigated by major news outlets are falling prey to slipshod reporting and armchair journalism (i.e., if one outlet reports something—erroneous or otherwise—another outlet simply picks up the story and runs with it; if it’s sensational, it must be good).

...Moreover, keeping with the notion of ideology, I find myself wondering if ideology has become a determining factor in reporting, similar to the yellow journalism of the 1890s. While I don’t buy into the idea that there exists some kind of giant “liberal media” or “conservative media” conspiracy (I’m of the belief that people will find an enemy whenever they hear something that they don’t like—no matter if there is factual basis to the story or not), I do think that the possibility exists that some people are willing to misrepresent facts in an effort to promote their own beliefs. Several years ago author Michael Bellesiles showed us that you can actually garner support for fraud so long as your supporters believe that your overall message is a just one.

In the end, it’s my firm belief that Limbaugh isn’t getting a free pass on this issue in the way that Guy suggests in his column, simply because a parody based upon actual remarks from politicians, so-called civil rights leaders, and newspaper columnists is vastly different than a stereotyped comment about looks à la Don Imus or a stereotyped prank phone call to a Chinese restaurant à la Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay.

...Had Al Sharpton never questioned Barack Obama’s blackness, the parody might be a true controversy. Had Joe Biden never called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” the parody might be a true controversy. Had David Ehrenstein never written that “it’s clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination—the ‘Magic Negro,’” the parody might be a true controversy. Unfortunately for Guy, those things actually occurred.

...I’d sooner argue that the biggest controversy of this story is the willingness of a professional news outlet to hype a story and include inaccuracies in an effort to sensationalize something that wouldn’t otherwise be as sensational.

...Then again, as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer showed us, sometimes you have to lie a little to sell a few more papers.

Houston Chronicle (screenshot 1; screenshot 2)
International Herald Tribune

May 17, 2007

More Bipartisanship

Does this make them Demopublicans or Republicrats?

The Politico

May 15, 2007

The Right to Complain

It’s primary election day in Pennsylvania and, since I refuse to register as either a Democrat or Republican, I won’t be visiting the polling station today. Yes, as a registered voter I could still have my say on our Act 1 property tax ballot question, but two things made me hesitate: (1) if I vote for it today—and if it passes—I’ll find myself fighting against it as soon as I retire; and (2) considering our legislature’s history of having problems with ethics—from 2005’s illegal pay raise to the PHEAA scandal and cover-up—there’s no guarantee that any of these politicians would actually implement “property tax relief” for anyone once they find themselves with millions of dollars with which to play.

...Yes, it’s frustrating to have a primary situation such as this, but it’s even more frustrating to hear the trite locution that usually accompanies any discussion pertaining to wretched ballot choices in the general elections: “If you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about the government.” On About.com’s “teen advice” page, Mike Hardcastle provides a good example:

If you don’t vote you really have no right to complain about government decisions you don’t like (no matter how much they actually suck).

OK, if there is one thing that is really annoying to us actual voters it is the endless ramblings on the bad political policy of a current government spewing from the mouths of eligible voters who never bothered to cast a ballot. If you don’t vote it is like saying you don't care how your country is run, so if you don’t care where do you get the idea that you can complain when something happens that you don’t like? If you don't vote you really have no right complaining about anything the government does and if your [sic] like most young people you like complaining and have it down to a fine art. Want the right to complain when TPTB (the powers that be) make a truly heinous decision? Then you must exercise your right to vote.

...It’s unfortunate to see widespread use of such a philosophy—especially on a Website that is supposedly “advising” young people—because when we analyze it, we can easily see that there’s no logic to such a statement. If anything, the concept is actually contradictory; if one is aware that it’s election day but one refuses to vote, it’s a sign that one is not satisfied with the choices. If one did vote, one wouldn’t—or rather shouldn’t—complain because one would be helping to promote the politician and governmental system in question. For instance, if Voter X casts a vote for Politician X, what logic would there be in Voter X complaining about Politician X being in office?

...In a November 2004 Reason piece entitled “Not Voting and Proud,” Brian Doherty expresses a similar view:

Defending non-voting in bars across this great land, I often hear the ultimate “shut up”—that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about politics or society. The reality is the exact opposite: By voting, you are playing a game whose rules are that the majority vote winner gets to control the reins of government, in all its unspeakable power. If you complain about the results of the game you chose to play, you’re just being a sore loser—or winner.

...The argument might then become this: Those who are dissatisfied should attempt to join the system and change it from within. I would agree; such an argument is quite valid but has alas been met with difficulties. Last year a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Pennsylvania’s signature requirement for commonwealth-wide ballots: Republicans and Democrats need 2,000 signatures on their nominating petition; independents and third parties need 60,070 signatures. Aside from such a disparity, if such high numbers are required to simply be on the ballot, the issue is almost a moot point. After all, wouldn’t the majority have to be something other than Republican or Democrat and wouldn’t the issue quickly disappear?

...My purpose for writing this isn’t necessarily to change the two-party mentality which has permeated our country since the 1800s. To think that I could pull that off in a few blog posts would be unreasonable. Hell, I’m still surprised with how many votes H. Ross Perot received in 1992.

...My purpose for writing this is to defend a legitimate reason for voter abstention in general elections. Moreover, I’m defending abstainers’ “right” to complain when a politician does something that they find abhorrent. Suggesting that non-voters are simply apathetic or saying that critics of a particular candidate must first vote for that candidate in order to gain a right to complain (too bad that Justice Douglas didn’t get to find this one) is borne of a mentality that might win debates in bars or on playgrounds, but the argument doesn’t have any weight anywhere else.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

May 12, 2007

Second Life Strife

I have too much going on in real life to take time to play the virtual reality game Second Life. Others—several million—have joined, though, and as with other Internet-based trends (e.g., chat rooms and MySpace) it has developed a following among pedophiles. It wasn’t designed to be this way but whenever you have a large population you have a playground for predators.

...With that being the case, German police are investigating the site because some of Second Life’s “residents” have created images of virtual child porn. While the images in the game aren’t of real children, Germany has laws against child pornography in any form—even if the “victim” is nothing more than a manmade pixilated image on a monitor. The United States doesn’t have such a law, and it’s creating quite a debate—well…okay, not really a debate; more like lots of jumping to extremes, but this is America and that’s how Americans debate nowadays.

...In 1996, Congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act, which was said to be designed to help fight against the sexual exploitation of children, but the law’s language was severely broad and in 2002 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition that virtual child pornography can’t be criminalized because no real-life child was abused.

...Critics of this ruling have said that virtual child pornography helps to encourage pedophiles and as such the potential for preventing a future crime should trump the existence of a real-life victim. (For a better look at the CPPA and Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition, read Danielle Cisneros’s “‘Virtual Child’ Pornography on the Internet: A ‘Virtual’ Victim?” made available from the Duke Law & Technology Review.)

...The debate—and I use that term loosely—over this issue has increased in recent weeks as federal law enforcement officials have increased criticism of the Supreme Court ruling. An ABC News story reported that an FBI agent was “devastated” by it and that “[a]ll virtual porn does is satisfy [sic] them until they can find their next victim.”

...Comments left on threads pertaining to the story run the gamut, ranging from support for the Supreme Court ruling, citing the fact that “victims” aren’t real, to those who say that “[t]he whole internet should be shut down till this is sorted.” In between are those who refer to virtual child porn as a “gateway drug” and those who blame the whole thing on George W. Bush being in the White House. There are also a few who really aren’t sure what Second Life is but want it shut down anyway.

...Before I continue with my point of this post, I feel the need—in an effort to explain my position to those who quickly jump to conclusions—that I’m adamantly opposed to child pornography and child molestation of any type. I’d actually like to see laboratories use convicted child molesters in cosmetics and household products testing instead of innocent animals; not only would it give us a better idea of what it would do to humans but it would also spare the lives of innocent animals.

...With that out of the way, the point of this post is this: For those who are supportive of criminalizing virtual child pornography, you have to be aware that you’re opening the floodgates for the criminalization of many more fictionalized criminal acts. If we determine that a crime is a crime, no matter if it’s a pixilated image on your computer screen or on the corner of your block outside your door, we have to be ready to criminalize many more things that are currently accepted as being “just make-believe.”

...For instance, games like the Grand Theft Auto series and even the Medal of Honor series will have the potential for being outlawed. This is because in these games—as well as others, but I’m using these as popular examples—the user has the ability to kill. While the “killing” is nothing more than virtual killing, we’ll have already established a precedent saying that there is no difference between the two. Did you run down a pimp in Grand Theft Auto III? If so, and if we apply the concept that virtual crime is akin to real-life crime, we’ll have no choice but to charge the user with murder. Did you play a Medal of Honor game and kill a Nazi? If so, your intentions might have been noble, but you still committed murder and as such will need to be charged.

...We shouldn’t, however, stop there. If we establish that fictionalized crime is still crime, we have the possibility of investigating charges against those in the movie industry, too. Did Robert Englund really kill dozens of people in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies? No, but it wouldn’t matter because we could argue that it had been established that fictionalized crime was equal to real-life crime.

...What about Murder-Mystery Weekends? The argument easily could be made that while a real murder hasn’t been committed, the act could still be punishable because fictionalized crime is still crime.

...In an effort to defend myself from those who quickly misinterpret things, I must reiterate that this post isn’t to defend virtual child pornography. I’d be more than happy to see those who look at virtual child porn removed from our society (having seen no scientific evidence to suggest otherwise, I’m a firm believer that child molesters can’t be rehabilitated). This is why I applaud Linden Lab, which created Second Life, for being willing to remove the user-introduced child porn—virtual or otherwise—from their site. Their blog states: “Linden Lab has absolutely zero tolerance for depictions of child pornography within Second Life.”

...The purpose of this post is to remind those who oppose the 2002 Supreme Court ruling—from those in law enforcement to soccer moms and dads—that while your intentions are more than noble, you’re failing to consider the consequences of criminalizing depictions of crime. Even if you want it to begin and end with virtual child pornography, it doesn’t mean that it must.

ABC News
ABC News (comment thread)
BBC News
Duke Law & Technology Review
Second Life blog
Topix.net (comment thread)

May 8, 2007

That’s Hot Pathetic

I’m happy to report that my life isn’t so mundane that the only thing keeping me going on a daily basis is reading about what Paris Hilton is doing on a daily basis.

...I’m referring to a letter sent to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by a Hilton fan named Joshua, who, hoping to persuade the Governator to pardon Hilton from her pending 45-day stay in the pokey, wrote: “She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives.”

...Paris Hilton gives young people hope?! Hope to do what? Oh—right; she gives others hope that they can be beautiful and exciting by doing whatever she actually does.

...Since I’m the nice guy that I am, I’ve decided to translate this post for Paris Hilton’s fans:

...im hapy 2 report dat mi lif isnt so mundan dat da unly ting dat keep me goin on a daley basis is reeding bout wat paris b doin.

...wat hope b paris givin? gotcha. she b givin da hope a doin wat she do.

Paris Hilton’s MySpace Blog

May 7, 2007

Changing of the Guard

Over the last few years, the possibility of the “alternative media” (read: blogs) becoming rivals to the traditional mainstream media has been discussed quite a bit. Given some of the incidents from the traditional media over the last few months, I’m thinking that blogs should be considered legitimate rivals. Consider these:

...A little over a month ago, ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd, who ironically stole material from blogs last year and passed it off as his own on his show, felt threatened by bloggers so much that he urged his listeners to visit a sports blog called “The Big Lead” en masse, thus crashing its server for two days.

...Not surprisingly, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy illustrated similar childishness and suggested in a March 25, 2007, column that bloggers are just Star Trek and comic book addicts who live in their mother’s basement, eating Domino’s pizza and “living the dream.” If Shaughnessy views bloggers as being insignificant cellar dwellers, why would he feel the need to dedicate an entire column to bashing them? It reminds me of people who say that teaching is the world’s cushiest job, but they themselves won’t enter such a “cushy” field.

...These are just examples of people in traditional media fields who are facing the threat of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, some other traditional media outlets have simply made us wonder if they’re willing to change news stories in a concerted effort to make things more sensational than they really are. Two recent cases can be used as examples:

Don’t Bee Fooled
The issue of colony collapse disorder (CCD) has been gaining attention over the last few weeks, and rightly so. Bees are disappearing in large numbers all over the globe but scientists don’t know why. The world’s food production could be affected because bee pollination plays a major role in fruit and vegetable growth.

...A German scientist, Stefan Kimmel, suggested that cell phone waves might have something to do with the bee disappearance but that his small study shouldn’t be generalized to the world’s bee population as a whole. No matter; headlines like “Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Our Bees?” accompanied by lines such as “Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious ‘colony collapse’ of bees” quickly spread like wildfire.

...In addition, this story spawned a hoax about Einstein saying that if bees disappeared from the Earth, humans could survive for only four years. Einstein researcher Alice Calaprice, who has authored six books on Einstein, has said that she’s never come across his views on bee pollination and human survival. Moreover, Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pointed out that the four-year survival theory is scientifically incorrect because some food—enough to survive—comes from wind-driven pollination.

Pulling a Video from Your Hat
More recently, a television news station, CBS 13 in Sacramento, highlighted a parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro” that first aired on the radio show of conservative blowhard and noted prescription drug aficionado Rush Limbaugh. The song was to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was inspired by comments from liberals who are questioning Senator Barack Obama’s “blackness.”

...Democrat Joe Biden said of Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Obama correctly called Biden’s comment “historically inaccurate.” Biden later took the usual route and said that his comment was taken out of context.

...We shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Biden is no stranger to making ethnically-stereotyped comments. With regard to Indian-Americans in his home state of Delaware, Biden once said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” (Click here to see the video and read comments left by his supporters. It’s proof that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on stereotyping.)

...In addition to that remark, Limbaugh’s parody song also took remarks from Los Angeles Times columnist David Ehrenstein, who referred to Obama as “the Magic Negro”—a reference to “a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education” who “has no past” but “simply appears one day to help the white protagonist.”

...Anyway, the story behind the parody song wasn’t sensational enough for CBS 13—or were they just ignorant to it?—and they posted a homemade video found on YouTube to accompany the song, thus making it look as if it were a shocking official video from the Limbaugh camp.

Due to so many incidents of questionable content (the aforementioned examples are the most recent ones; going back a few more years we could include bigger stories like Newsweek’s fictional Koran-flushing incident and the New York Times incident in which Jayson Blair was caught plagiarizing and fabricating information), we need to ask if we’ve finally reached the point where the “alternative media” or the “new media” is now equal to the traditional media in terms of information, intelligence, and creativity.

...Judging by some of the blogs on the Internet and comparing them to “official” media outlets, I’d say “yes” without hesitation.

Boston Globe
The Independent
Seattle Times
Penn State University
CBS 13
Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
New York Times

Updated Section:
With regard to the parody on Limbaugh’s show, I forgot to add Al Sharpton’s comments, whose voice is impersonated on the song. In March, Sharpton criticized Obama and asked, “Why shouldn’t the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, ‘You all just shut up’?” An unnamed black Democratic activist was then quoted as saying, “It’s driving Al crazy that Obama is as impressive and popular as he is, and he’s not happy about it.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

May 6, 2007


Because my job requires me to work with information and research, I find myself dealing with the issue of Wikipedia on a regular basis. It seems to be an ongoing debate among those within the education community: Of what value is Wikipedia in legitimate research?

...Some of my colleagues share my view that it’s not a legitimate academic resource, citing its history of entries that have not only been inaccurate, but legally libelous. Other colleagues take the opposite position and view it as being the best thing since sliced bread. What I’ve come to notice is that the sides involved have vastly different ways of defending their positions.

...Those of us who look at Wikipedia as being a pop culture Website for pseudo-scholars almost always point out the incidents which have left us with a sour taste in our mouths, namely the number of libelous entries, the questionable credentials of the “writers,” and the ease of creating the libelous entries. (In defense of Wikipedia, it’s been said that they’re making attempts to alleviate the third problem.)

...Fans of Wikipedia, however, appear to take the approach that has been used by those who defended alcohol prohibition during the 1920s and currently defend the war on drugs: The intentions are good, so let’s run with it. The outcome might be undesirable, but the concept is for the public good, so that trumps reality.

...Some go even further and question the accusations of inaccuracy (I highlighted the inaccuracies—which went far beyond basic errors and fell into the realm of libel, which is a crime—in this post, so I feel confident in my stance). A recent blog entry by Wesley Fryer on Techlearning.com is a good example. In it, he states, “Many people falsely perceive that WikiPedia is usually factually inaccurate.” Granted, the use of the word “usually” can suggest that, as a percentage, most of the time Wikipedia is accurate. Unfortunately, that could run from 51 percent to 99 percent; that’s too wide a range for a so-called legitimate research resource, in my humble opinion.

...Fryer also states: “To address and remedy these misconceptions, I know of no better approach than listing [sic] to Jimmy Wales, the founder of WikiPedia, discuss these and other issues in an April 2006 speech available on Fora.tv.”

...Aside from this being akin to telling critics of the Bush Administration that their misconceptions of Bush and Cheney can be remedied by listening to Karl Rove, the Fora.tv site offers evidence of my assertion, via a description by The Long Now Foundation, that Wikipedia’s concept is the most important aspect of its existence.

The free licensing of Wikipedia content means that it is free to copy, free to modify, free to redistribute, and free to redistribute in modified forms, with attribution links. This is in service to the Wikipedia vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.” One byproduct is that Wikipedia’s success is helping shift the terms of the copyright debate, in a public-good direction[.]

...Shifting the terms of the copyright debate in a public-good direction? I’d venture to say that it’s not a good direction for those who actually took the time to do the research.

...Indeed, such a comment not only solidifies the view that intentions are key, but it goes one step further and makes me question the intentions altogether. Shifting the terms of the copyright debate will no doubt make those who oppose intellectual property rights salivate, but when the advancement of an ideology becomes a point of contention for defending a “research” resource, how legitimate can that resource be? Shouldn’t an encyclopedia be agenda-free?

...Moreover, the promotion of theft isn’t something that I’ll be supporting anytime soon; I’m not afraid to say that I support intellectual property rights. I like seeing credit given to those who create things, from books to movies to music to photographs to academic dissertations to news stories. If I use a story or image, I give full credit for it. Why? It’s because someone took the time and had the imagination to create it.

...There’s no doubt that this debate will be an ongoing one. My concern is how vastly different the three sides of the debate seem to be. One faction is critical of Wikipedia and cites examples of gross negligence (read: incidents of libel) as evidence. Yes, other encyclopedias have had errors, but they haven’t been illegal, such as accusing people of having played roles in assassinations or being drug addicts and wife beaters when no evidence exists to support the accusation.

...The second faction is supportive and likes the idea of the community coming together in the name of information as being the most important aspect of the site. Errors are to be expected and victims of libelous entries appear to be viewed as nothing more than collateral damage.

...The third faction is supportive but seems to be more radical than the second group, viewing the site as being an implement to wage war on intellectual property rights within the world of academia. Essentially, what’s yours is mine if I want to take it and use it however I see fit.

...You have my permission to adopt the viewpoints in this post and call them your own.


May 4, 2007

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Nanny State

I’m a huge proponent of safety and personal security. I lock my doors and windows at home; I lock my truck when I’m not in it; I wear my seatbelt while driving; I don’t talk on a cell phone while driving; and I have two smoke detectors with the purchase of a third one imminent. If I rode a motorcycle, I’d wear a helmet.

...What I’m not a proponent of, however, is the incremental nanny state that is spreading across the land—all in an effort to save us from ourselves.

...Rush Township in Pennsylvania has recently passed an ordinance making it illegal for both apartments and privately-owned homes to be absent of smoke detectors. If you don’t have a smoke detector, you’ll be hit with a $300 fine. The move seems to have support from some locals, since it’s in the name of safety, after all. One resident called it a “fair idea” since it involves saving lives. The township’s supervisor said that officials won’t be “knocking on doors” to check if residents have the smoke detectors installed, but that “there are ways to enforce it.”

...I can envision school children being asked questions like, “Does your mommy and daddy have a smoke detector at home?” That aside, this seems to be another move to essentially save us from ourselves. Gone is the potential for residents to take the responsibility and install the smoke detectors on their own, and in its place is the idea that if you’re supposed to do something in the name of safety, your local government will just let you know by way of an ordinance.

...Such a situation would give credence to something that was said by Scottish history professor Alexander Fraser Tytler in his description of democracies:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

...Those in a democracy follow a path:

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again into bondage.

...While I’d sooner argue that as a nation we’re in the “selfishness to complacency” phase, we’re beginning to see dependency creeping in; motorcycle helmet laws and smoke detector laws are prime examples.

...“But James, but James,” you say, “these laws are being passed for safety.” Of course they are, but if we draft laws and ordinances that are designed to control personal responsibility—laws that have nothing to do with keeping Person A from harming Person B—we could quickly create the perfect nanny state. We could pass a law to prohibit eating too much junk food in one sitting; we could pass a law mandating what kind of clothing people wear in extreme temperatures; we could pass a law saying how loud a person can have their music volume if they’re wearing earpieces or headphones. Each law or ordinance could be easily defended by saying that it’s “for safety.”

...Then again, perhaps these laws are next. Perhaps my attempts at being absurd will eventually be adopted under the guise of personal safety.