December 2004 Archives

Security expert Bruce Schneier (author of The Electronic Privacy Papers, Secrets & Lies, and Beyond Fear, among other books) wrote the following in his blog today:

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

For many Americans, the end of the year is charitable contribution time. (The reasons are tax-related.) While there is no shortage of worthy causes around the world, I would like to suggest contributing at least something to EPIC.

Since its founding ten years ago, EPIC has worked to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and democratic values, and to promote the Public Voice in decisions concerning the future of the Internet. They maintain one of the most extensive websites on privacy and free speech issues on the Internet. They litigate Freedom of Information Act, First Amendment, and privacy cases. They publish books on open government and privacy. They train law school students about the Internet and the public interest. They testify frequently before Congress about emerging civil liberties issues. They provide an extensive listing of privacy resources as well as a guide to practical privacy tools.

Remember when it became public that JetBlue (and other airlines) provided passenger information to the U.S. government in violation of their own privacy policies? Or when it was revealed that the CAPPS-II airline passenger profiling system would be used for other, non-terrorism, purposes? EPIC's FOIA work uncovered those stories.

December 15th is the 213th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights. Read through it again today, and notice how the different laws protect the security of Americans. I'm proud to be a member of EPIC's Advisory Board. They do good work, and we're all a lot more secure because of it.

Although Schneier’s announcement may seem self-serving due to his association with EPIC, his analysis is as correct as his suggestion to re-read the Bill of Right is appropriate. In addition to EPIC, the Electronic Frontier Foundation also does valuable privacy-related work.

As the saying goes, “If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention.”

Thanks for reading.


Quote of the Day:

To the question, whom does a bill of rights protect in a popular government? Agrippa [James Winthrop, 5 February 1788] answered: “such a government is indeed a government by ourselves; but as a just government protects all alike, it is necessary that the sober and industrious part of the community should be defended from the rapacity and violence of the vicious and idle. A bill of rights therefore ought to set forth the purposes for which the compact is made, and serves to secure the minority against the usurpation and tyranny of the majority.”

Herbert Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution

Arnoud de Borchgrave

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I received this recommendation (3 December 2004, 8:16 PM):

I don't know if you read Arnoud deBorchgrave, but I wish you would. He's not a conservative, and if anything he doesn't seem to support President Bush's foreign policies, but he seems very intelligent and well-connected. His last two columns concern the radical islamic movement and are very interesting - and scary.

My response follows:

You needn’t call de Borchgrave “not a conservative” and play up has foreign-policy disagreements with Bush to sell me on his writing; I don’t read (or ignore) writers based on their politics. As a philosophe, I look for sources of knowledge (which makes their accuracy paramount); as a writer, I look for quality of the written word. The style of political commentators’ writing is, unfortunately, almost always better than their thinking.

I already read plenty of conservatives’ work, from my local newspaper and the Internet to bookstore magazine racks and the local university library. I have much less reading time than I once did; this has lowered my “bullshit threshold” significantly. Life is too short to fact-check everything, and multiple obvious falsehoods from writers (Cal Thomas and George Will are the most recent examples that come to mind) make it more likely that I’ll pass over their future writings in favor of honest reportage elsewhere. (I do make exceptions for some of the well-known pundits, who – although often biased and inaccurate – I consider sociologically important.)

Anyway, thanks for recommending de Borchgrave; from what I’ve seen so far, he does a decent job.

In turn, I’d like to recommend Andrew Sullivan. He’s a conservative Christian (if that matters to you), a decent writer, and a fairly astute observer. His books (at least “Virtually Normal” and “Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con”) are excellent, and his website has a broad selection of his short writings. His “Federalism Now: More Than Ever” editorial in the current issue of The New Republic is a case in point.

I received this missive lampooning the allegedly widespread liberals desire to emigrate (10 December 2004, 3:58 PM):

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The re-election of President Bush is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say its not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

"I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry.

"He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay."

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields.

"Not real effective," he said. The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves.

"A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley Cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the Bush administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR.

In the days since the election, liberals have turned to sometimes ingenious ways of crossing the border.

Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers.

"If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies.

"I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada, Vice President Dick Cheney met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals, a source close to Cheney said. "We're going to have some Peter, Paul & Mary concerts, and we might put some endangered species on postage stamps. The president is determined to reach out."

My response, a combination of two items forwarded to me, follows:

USEFUL TRAVEL PHRASES

"Hello. Are you a Canadian border guard?"
"Bonjour. Êtes-vous une esti de garde canadienne de frontière?"

"I would like to apply for permanent residence"
"Je voudrais solliciter la résidence permanente"

"I am a political refuge. The reason? My former country has been overrun with morons and rednecks."
"Je suis un chris de refugé politique. La raison? Mon ancien pays a été débordé avec des asti d'innocentes et des batardes."

"Before I step over the border, I have a couple of questions for you."
"Avant que je passe la frontière, j'ai un couple des questions pour vous."

"Can the Prime Minister say the word 'nuclear'?"
"Peut le premier ministre dire le mot 'nucléaire'?"

"Is Canada at war with anyone for no good reason?"
"Le Canada à la guerre avec n'importe qui, et est-il pour aucune bonne raison?"

"Do you allow pretend cowboys to be in positions of power?"
"Laissez-vous des osti de cowboys dans des positions de pouvoire?"

"Yes, no, and no? Fine. Let me the f%#k in."
"Oui, non, et non? Et ben, Laissez-moi rentre la dedans chris de tabarnaque de callis."

NEW MAP OF NORTH AMERICA

20041210-jesusland.jpg

I received this response (25 Nov 2004 9:05 AM) to the John Stuart Mill quote from my piece on freedom of speech:

I confess that I did not read all of the articles to which you refer, but I do agree with the quote from John Stuart Mill. I do perceive that the liberal left has been, and continues to be, the prime violator of free speech in this country. Witness the predominance of liberalism in schools and colleges and Hollywood and the media, and observe the treatment of those who take opposing (conservative) positions in those settings. I rest my case.

Liberalism, as a political philosophy, is as bankrupt as its hero, communism. This is at least partially due to the fact that it adopts the same position that communism took, namely that all opposing schools of thought must be eradicated so that the stupid unwashed masses can be re-educated in the true faith.

I believe that the attached red-blue map is a harbinger of the success of conservatism. It isn't too late to get on the train before it leaves the station.

PS - have also attached two articles that may foretell things to come. [LINKS]

20041125-bushcountry.jpg

I responded with this analysis (1 Dec 2004, 5:07 PM) of the "bankrupt liberalism" charge:

Schools and colleges may have been liberal several decades ago, and I can't really comment on that without further investigation. I can, however, say that - absent the sporadic and overblown "PC" incidents of the early 1990s - higher education is certainly not liberal today. My recent college experience, and that of many acquaintances, bears this out. If you've read articles like George Will's "Academia, Stuck To the Left," check out "Flunking Statistics" for a debunking of the latest attempt to create a "liberal academia" mythology via selective statistics.

Much the same is true of the media. Would the "treatment" of conservatives you're talking about be the difficult struggles of such well-known Hollywood stars as Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pat Sajak, Tom Selleck, Ron Silver, Ben Stein, and Bruce Willis? It's such a shame that they were all blacklisted because of their political opinions, and have been unable to find work in their chosen profession. I must have missed the Congressional investigations into their "un-American" activities.

If liberals actually did dominate the media, they've been extraordinarily incompetent: they have done conservatives' bidding by spending the past few decades demonizing the word "liberal" - using not facts, but the caricature of liberalism constructed by conservatives. This misrepresentation has been accomplished so thoroughly that the great liberal thinkers of ages past (Mill, Jefferson, Paine, et al.) are no longer recognized as such, and the liberal foundations of our nation have, likewise, become invisible.

Despite the fact that news commentary is dominated by conservatives, they (O'Reilly, Coulter, Goldberg, Limbaugh, Savage, Krauthammer, Will, Safire, Thomas, Buckley, Buchanan, Drudge, etc.) complain endlessly about a monolithic "liberal bias" whose existence they have been unable to prove beyond a few anecdotes. While slanted reporting does occur, it's not as uniformly one-sided as the conservative choir pretends. If liberals truly dominated the media, the word "conservative" would be demonized, "corporate-jet conservatives" would be mocked more than "limousine liberals," there would be incessant cries of "conservative bias," and rhetorical conflations of conservatism and fascism would outnumber those of liberalism and communism...but that's not the case.

For me, the attached "Tom Tomorrow" cartoon summarizes much of the past year's campaign. From flip-flops to Swift Boats, lies and libels were certainly effective in putting Democrats on the defensive, but this tactic wouldn't have worked so well without media complicity. As Paul Krugman wrote back in September 2002:

"The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media - fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance' - won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."

Liberalism sees communism as its hero? Hardly. Although this "liberal=communist" equation is part of the popular caricature, I don't know any liberal who idolizes communism...and I'll bet that you don't, either. Most people don't even know (due to another widely disseminated caricature) that communism is an economic system, as is capitalism - and not a political one, as is the totalitarianism with which it is often confused. The past century saw the spectacular failures of totalitarianism on both the far left (Soviet Russia) and the far right (Nazi Germany), but drawing valid conclusions from those extreme examples is difficult at best; one could argue that instances such as those are off the political spectrum and exist as a separate category.

At any rate, liberalism's belief in individual freedoms (particularly those of press, speech, and religion) would make any hypothetical support for totalitarianism nothing short of suicidal; after all, media and education rely on freedom of speech and inquiry to function. Far from being the prime violators of free speech, liberals are its staunchest defenders. The unjustly maligned ACLU is perhaps the best example: they don't just talk about the importance of free speech, they actively protect the speech of those - like the Neo-Nazis - who would never do the same.

It is usually conservatives who demand censorship powers, often by declaring their opponents' positions blasphemous, obscene, or immoral. When high school students form a gay-straight alliance, it's the conservatives who rush to shut down all school clubs for fear of a good example. They are also the prime motive force behind book-burnings, Internet filters at public libraries, "free-speech zones" at public events, loyalty oaths at political rallies, prohibitions against pacifists traveling by air...and the list goes on.

I've seen the electoral map before, and have also pointed out the geographical fallacy involved in how it is usually misinterpreted. Interestingly, I don't recall any Republicans conceding Gore's "mandate" in 2000 when he won a popular-vote majority.

I don't think that's likely that I would get on the current conservative train. It will return to the station eventually, after it has finished its rearward travel and - realizing that liberals were correct all along, but never admitting it - begins moving forward again.

As far as the articles: aside from their ruminations on the pitfalls of cultural assimilation, they merely serve as reminders that power corrupts. This appears to be universal to all governments, all religions - and especially all alliances thereof. As the fundamentalists (the Taliban, Wahhabis, and their al Qaeda brethren) have demonstrated, Muslims will mount their own Crusades and run their own Inquisitions if given the chance. Our task is difficult: we must not only thwart their destructive wishes, but also resist the temptation to abuse our own powers and cause yet more destruction in the process.

Unfortunately, wisdom is in short supply.

This retort arrived (2 Dec 2004, 6:32 PM):

Persons with liberal tendencies do indeed dominate higher education and the media. Their failure to 'convert' this country is not due to their incompetence - it is because liberalism is bankrupt.

My final response follows:

Merely repeating the word "bankrupt" doesn't make your case. As Christopher Hitchens once noted, "that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

If any political ideology can be considered bankrupt, it would be modern conservatism - even if applying the adjective "modern" to the word "conservatism" didn't create an oxymoron. Limiting the discussion solely to their financial bankrupting of our nation (rationalized by the tired recitation of discredited supply-side dogma) still provides more evidence to disprove your thesis than to prove it.

Having been on a nearly unbroken ascent for four full decades, the political Right is at the apex of its power; the Left, having just experienced its "Goldwater moment," is in the midst of some much-needed introspection. The time periods are equal as well: 36 years each from the 1932 New Deal to the 1964 Great Society and from 1968's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam to 2004's not-so-secret plan to start wars in the Middle East. (LBJ correctly observed at the time that Democrats' support for civil rights would cost them Southern voters "for at least a generation.")

You can certainly argue (as do many conservatives, neo- and otherwise) that the Busheviks are not truly conservative, and that their endless push for larger, costlier, and more intrusive government is an aberration which does not represent conservative principles. Remember, though, that such a "theory vs. practice" defense is identical to the one with which Soviet apologists were so long tarred and feathered.

I do not doubt that, to you, the media appear to be liberal. All the studies I've seen - and I'm not counting mere collections of anecdotes (such as Bernard Goldberg's books) or outright falsehoods (such as Limbaugh and Coulter) - show quite the opposite. The media outlets that berate themselves for "liberal bias" frequently ignore the facts in favor of sex, lies, and conservative misinformation.

Your thesis that liberals "dominate higher education and the media" requires the credibility-straining supposition that liberals utilize their vast power by publicly demonizing themselves and their own philosophy. That would indeed require incompetence of the highest order, but perhaps a likelier situation more closely corresponds with reality: that the "liberal media" and "liberal academia" myths are created and disseminated to advance a conservative agenda.

Yesterday, a United Church of Christ advertisement was rejected by TV networks that considered it "too controversial." The problem isn't that the ad and its inclusive message that "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we" is somehow inappropriate or unsavory, it's that civil equality for same-sex couples is contrary to the Bush agenda. Media Matters covered this story earlier today, as did Paul Waldman in his article "CBS and NBC Censor Tolerance:"

CBS says it "touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," and it is "unacceptable" because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman." In other words, ads that contradict President Bush, even in the most round-about way, will not be aired on CBS. For its part, NBC says they're refusing to air it because it's "too controversial."

In their press release ("CBS, NBC refuse to air church's television advertisement," the UCC's general minister and president Rev. John H. Thomas observes, "It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," and asks, "What's going on here?"

The answer, unfortunately, is obvious: media outlets are more obsequious than ever to those in power, especially with continuing control of all three branches of government in one party's hands. The downside of public airwaves being private property is that they are then used strictly for their owners' benefit. One group (the administration and its media lackeys) wins by having the inherent hypocrisy of their "morality" remain unexposed...and the rest of us lose. We lose when voices of reason disappear from the airwaves, we lose when the range of "acceptable" opinion is shifted further to the right, and we lose as our gay friends' and family members' marriages are still unrecognized by law.

What will we lose next?

Thanks for reading.


Quote of the Day:

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line."

Rev. Robert Chase (director of the UCC's communication ministry)

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2004 is the previous archive.

January 2005 is the next archive.

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