Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 4, 2008

There is hope!

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:05 pm

At some universities, this would qualify a professor for tenure!

Professor ousted after tearing down McCain yard signs

The St. Olaf (Northfield, Minn.) professor who, in a well-read Huffington Post item, recounted tearing down McCain campaign signs has resigned.

Per the Northfield News, it appears that Philip Busse was forced out.

St. Olaf spokesman David Gonnerman issued the following statement Monday afternoon:

“The St. Olaf College administration first learned of Phil Busse’s self-admitted theft and destruction of campaign signs on the morning of Oct. 31 as a result of his posting on the Internet.

“The St. Olaf administration immediately referred the matter to local law enforcement authorities and commenced an investigation of its own.

“Mr. Busse has tendered his resignation and is no longer affiliated with St. Olaf College.

Busse has been charged with misdemeanor theft.

Here’s a link to the original Huffington Post article. Some excerpts:

By early October, however, there were no McCain-Palin campaign signs on the eastbound stretch of Highway 19. It wasn’t because loyalties had switched, but because I pulled them out.

Sure, I understand that stealing a sign will not change anyone’s mind, and, most likely, will only embolden McCain supporters’ disdain for liberals. Even so, yanking out the signs and running like a scared rabbit back to my idling car was one of the single-most exhilarating and empowering political acts that I have ever done.

Today, national politics amounts to slick TV ads and choreographed stump speeches. A vote often feels like a raindrop in an ocean. But this illicit act of civil disobedience was something visceral. It was unscripted and raw expression. It was a chance to stop talking about theories and projections and get my hands dirty. Of course, I realized there was the very real chance my antics in rural Minnesota would be met with a shotgun, or at least a hockey dad tackling me.

But unlike stealing a lawn gnome or a plastic pink flamingo, I admit, stealing a lawn sign is a more heinous crime. There is moral and ethical guilt. I believe in free speech, and also believe and encourage political expression. I guess I could argue that I was flexing my free expression to say “shut up.” But that would put me at the same low-level of political discourse as Bill O’Reilly, who consistently steamrolls over anyone who disagrees with him. If I need to justify my actions, I could argue that I was trying to achieve some great public service for rural voters. In his 2004 book, What’s The Matter With Kansas, Frank Rich explains that working class and family farmers, like these in Minnesota, increasingly vote conservative and against their own interests. By pulling out the McCain signs, I was hoping to curb the impression for passing motorists that family farmers in Minnesota supported McCain. Or, at least that’s the most high-minded explanation that I can offer.

Mature? No. Illegal? Yes. Satisfying? Definitely.

Well, that’s at least one honest Obama supporter!

October 13, 2006

A Chilling Effect on Free Speech

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:19 am

One of my favorite blogs, Likelihood of Confusion reports that it is in danger of being shut down by draconian regulations. See, that blog is written by a lawyer licensed in New York, and if certain proposed rules are put into effect, blogging will considered a prohibited form of advertising for lawyers:

Public Citizen’s CL&P (Consumer Law and Policy) Blog wrote last month that New York is considering draconian advertising rules that would essentially make it impossible for lawyers to maintain blogs. I am excerpting liberally, but urge you to follow the link and the discussion at the CL&P Blog:

Stripped to their essence, the proposed amendments would define the term “advertisement” extremely broadly as any public communication made “by . . . a lawyer . . . about a lawyer.” Sec. 1200.1(k). This definition explicitly includes all forms of communication on the Internet, including websites, email, and instant messaging. Sec. 1200.1(m). There is no requirement that the speech be commercial in nature or related to the lawyer’s practice of law.

You might think, given my opinions on some issues, that I’d think it’s a good idea to shut lawyers up. But you would be wrong.

First, I am a strong believer in free speech, and I don’t think one’s speech should be restricted because of one’s choice of profession. I understand there are certain things about their professions that people can’t talk about (e.g., attorney-client privileged information, classified information, trade secrets, etc.), but that’s no reason to restrict speech that is not “related to the lawyer’s practice of law” or anyone else’s practice of any other profession.

Second, any damage that might be done by lawyers (as a class) to society is not done by lawyers blogging, or exercising free speech in any other way. It usually comes about by abusing the court system, with or without the assistance of an equally abusive client. (“Without” in the case of class actions.) How this can happen is a subject for another post — but it has nothing to do with blogging, emailing, instant messaging, or writing articles for newspapers or journals. Or even, usually, with advertising. While there are no doubt some sleazy “ambulance-chaser” types who advertise for socially damaging services, that’s not a big part of the problem, in my view.

Third, there are an awful lot of very good blogs written by lawyers. Likelihood of Confusion by Ronald Coleman is a fascinating blog about trademark law. The Volokh Conspiracy is a great group blog about (mostly) constitutional law and law education. There are several more linked on the blogroll to your right.

But the over-riding concern here is free speech. I’d be against this rule even if all the law blogs were bad. The great thing about the internet is that if thery were bad, they wouldn’t be read.

As Mr. Coleman points out:

You can comment on the proposed rules by writing to:

Michael Colodner, Esq.
Office of Court Administration
25 Beaver Street
New York, New York 10004

by November 15, 2006. I encourage it.

Meanwhile, before it’s too late, I’d be interested in Mr. Coleman’s opinion on this case:

“The producer of the canned pork product Spam has lost a bid to claim the word as a trademark for unsolicited e-mails. EU trademark officials rejected Hormel Foods Corp.’s appeal, dealing the company another setback in its struggle to prevent software companies from using the word ‘spam’ in their products, a practice it argued was diluting its brand name. The European Office of Trade Marks and Designs, noting that the vast majority of the hits yielded by a Google search for the word made no reference to the food, said that ‘the most evident meaning of the term SPAM for the consumers … will certainly be unsolicited, usually commercial e-mail, rather than a designation for canned spicy ham.’”

Seems to me that if Hormel had acted earlier — before the use of the word “spam” for junk e-mail were so widespread, they might have had a better case. Is that right? Then again, that’s based on what I (think I) know about U.S. trademark law. The E.U. could have different rules.

September 21, 2006

Public School Arson

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:57 pm

If you are a public school teacher and you start a fire in your classroom, in front of the children in your class, filling your classroom with smoke your students have to breathe — and do this not once, but twice — what one factor might prevent you from being charged with a crime?

a) It was an accident.
b) You were insane at the time.
c) The main fuel for the fire was an American flag.

If you picked (c), you’re right!

A Stuart [Kentucky] Middle School teacher won’t be arrested for burning two American flags in his classroom because authorities said his students were not put at enough risk to warrant charges.

“On two occasions, teacher set fire to combustible material (flag), allowing material to burn in garbage can and on desk, then left the classroom filled with students in an attempt to find water to put the fire out,” the investigation concluded.

Holden burned a flag in two classes, one with 30 students and another with 24 students.

The flags were about 18 inches by 12 inches with wooden poles. He lighted the cloth on each flag while holding it over a small metal trashcan, according to investigation documents.

Holden told school officials that he had wet paper towels surrounding the trashcan on his desk, but several students told investigators that Holden had to leave the classroom to get more water to put out the fire.

As part of the fire department’s investigation, arson detectives questioned several of Holden’s students, and school officials provided detectives written statements of what they saw.

One student told investigators that smoke from the fire made students cough.

“It was smokey (sic), cause I’m like allergic to smoke and the whole room was full of smoke and like I was coughing, a lot of people was coughing,” the student said in a transcribed statement in the file.

Asked whether the fire was frightening, the student replied: “Not really. I just thought he could have dropped the flag and could have, you know, made the whole classroom on fire.”

August 23, 2006

Why Aren’t Jews Rioting?

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:50 pm

Six months ago, Muslims the world over rioted over the publication of some anti-Muslim cartoons in a Danish newspaper.

Now, a reader wrote to me to point out that Iran has set up an entire museum exhibit of anti-Jewish Holocaust cartoons:

Organisers of Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon’s Contest said the museum exhibit, which has drawn more than 200 entries, aims to challenge Western taboos about the discussing the Holocaust.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn international condemnation for dismissing the Holocaust as a “myth”. Nazi Germany killed six million European Jews in World War Two.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction.

Iran’s best-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, launched a competition in February for the best cartoon about the Holocaust in retaliation for the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish and other European newspapers.

Notice that Jews are not rioting about this. We are not even rioting “in retaliation” for the Muslim riots before.

In fact, the most strident reaction has been a strong statement by Abraham Foxman of the ADL, who is basically paid to fight antisemitism wherever he can find it.

The Iranian sponsorship and exhibition of a cartoon contest on the Holocaust is outrageous, hateful and cynical.

One should ask two questions: Why is the outrage in the Muslim world to the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed directed against Jews, who were not responsible for the Danish cartoons? Why, if, as President Ahmadinejad says, the Holocaust is a myth, call for a cartoon contest to deride it?

The questions are easily answered in the fact of the constant drumbeat of anti-Semitism and demonization of Jews and Israel emanating from the Arab/Muslim world, through their media and through leaders such as Ahmadinejad. Everyday, in much of the Arab/Muslim world anti-Semitic and other hateful material is produced for mass consumption.

Denying the Holocaust and deriding the Holocaust are two sides of the same coin and must be denounced by the international community as classical anti-Semitism.

I’m not holding my breath. But perhaps it’s worth pointing out that not all religions are equally tolerant.

April 7, 2006

San Francisco Condemns the Catholic Church

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution officially condemning “Christian fundamentalist[s]“, in what appears to me to be a blatant violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

Now, it turns out that 10 days before that, they took it upon themselves to condemn the Catholic Church, as well — and to tell them to change their religious beliefs, and to tell local Catholics to “defy” (their word!) the Vatican:

Resolution urging Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity has head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

WHEREAS, It is a insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City’s existing and established customs and traditions such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need; and

WHEREAS, Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear; and

WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors urges Archbishop Niederauer and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors urges Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican (formerly known as Holy Office of the Inquisition), to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

Now, put aside your opinions on adoption for the moment, and take this as a pure First Amendment issue. Since when does the government have the right to condemn a specific religion, and to direct its citizens to “defy” their religious leaders?

Eugene Volokh suggests that the government:

… is quite entitled to express its views … and to condemn groups that, in its view, express “hateful” ideas.

But it seems to me that the right rule is that government officials must be able to comment on religious groups when their actions touch on secular matters, for instance arguing that terrorism is antithetical to the proper understanding of Islam, or that the Catholic Church’s views on adoption by homosexual couples are wrong.

In a rare [for him] oversight, he seems to miss the distinction between “government officials … comment[ing]” and an official resolution passed by an official governmental body. He also seems to miss the Supreme Court’s clear language in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” This proclamation clearly violated that neutrality.

Clayton Cramer noted the non-neutrality by pointing out what would happen in the reverse case:

I guess San Francisco county government is free to express their opinion — although I would expect if the Butte, Montana city government passed a resolution praising the Southern Baptist Church, the ACLU would be looking through the precedents, looking for some way to turn this into an establishment of religion clause violation.

Frankly, I kind of hope that Butte, Montana, or some other place, does just that, just to prove the point.

One of the commenters on Volokh’s blog adds:

I think the Vatican would revoke the City’s right to use the name of one of their saints.

This might also present a solution to the banning of stuffed rabbits in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the theory that they are offensive to non-Christians.

And Dave Hardy, also commenting there, adds this (obvious?) point:

I suppose that, in light of the Mohammed cartoon affair, it is now mandatory that Catholics riot and break things and kill people in order to get a little respect?

The blatant religious discrimination only seems more blatant when you note the obvious fact that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would never condemn an Islamic organization on such terms. It’s not that Islam is pro-gay — after all, in Islamic Iran, gays are publicly executed by hanging on the orders of Islamic courts.

No, the difference is, radical Islamicists are opposed to the United States in a way that the Catholic Church and Christian fundamentalists are not — and that gives the Islamicists immunity from criticism in San Francisco.


  • The vote for the anti-Catholic resolution was unanimous. There was not one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who thought it inappropriate for the government to condemn a religion.
  • The Catholic League is suing, claiming “that the First Amendment ‘forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs or of religion in general.’” Thanks to Crescat Sententia for the pointer

April 4, 2006

What Kind of Lesson Does This Teach?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:14 pm

What kind of lesson does this teach?

Students at Shaw Heights Middle School [in Westminster, Colorado] are no longer allowed to wear anything that’s patriotic, including camouflage pants, because they have become a political symbol for a version of patriotism.
Myla Shepherd, the principal, said that tensions over the immigration issue were apparent when more than 20 students came to school wearing camouflage jackets and pants, apparently to show what they call their patriotism and American pride.

“We started seeing name calling,” Shepherd said. “Safety is my first concern so I’m going to do things to keep us from getting to a point where anybody is hurt or being suspended for fighting.”

So the lesson taught by the school is: if you threaten and name-call, you get what you want. In other words, threats and intimidation have the respect of those in authority. Peaceful statements expressed silently on clothing do not.

So if you want to get your message across, don’t express your opinion peacefully and respectfully. Just threaten the safety of anyone who disagrees with you. That’s the more appropriate approach, according to the Principal Myla Shepherd.

That’s the lesson being taught in our public schools. And also that patriotism is wrong, or at least something to be kept in the closet. (Literally, since we’re talking about clothes here!)

I wonder what principle of the education establishment would be violated if they taught that name-calling is wrong, that threatening violence is wrong, that one should respect those with other points of view, and that everyone has the right to peacefully express opinions on the issues of the day. Never mind the view that American democracy might be a good thing — that’s been verboten in American schools for a long time.

March 30, 2006

No Free Inquiry at Borders

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:33 pm

A book banned at Borders? Well, actually it’s a bimonthly magazine called Free Inquiry, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, and avowedly atheist organization. (I am tempted to say — OK, I will say — it is a non-prophet organization. :-) )

Why would Borders ban an atheist magazine?

Because it violates the tenets of Islam, of course.

Reports the Buffalo News:

Borders Books and Music, one of the country’s largest bookstore chains, has refused to stock the latest edition of Free Inquiry magazine because the issue includes controversial cartoons that spurred violent and sometimes deadly protests in parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Mind you, it’s not that Borders believes — or at least, admits to believing — in Islam. It’s that they’re afraid of what Muslims might do to them if they carry it:

A Borders spokeswoman said the company declined to sell the Amherst-based publication this month out of concern for the safety of employees and customers.

The cartoons, originally published in a Danish newspaper then in several other European publications, feature unflattering depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Muslim demonstrators responded in February by burning Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria, and scores of people have been killed in protests over several weeks.

Beth Bingham, a company spokeswoman, confirmed that Wednesday.

“We feel strongly for the safety and security of our employees and customers,” Bingham said.

She said the company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

The Borders stores usually stock as many as 1,000 copies of Free Inquiry, and the chain typically is the magazine’s largest newsstand retailer, said Tom Flynn, editor.

Yeah, well, I strongly believe in freedom of the press — and in “free inquiry,” if you will (though probably not in most of what is printed in Free Inquiry).

And this is just the sort of cowardice that encourages violent behavior in people with an axe to grind — like, extremist Muslims, for example.

It would be nice if this could be regarded as an admission that they know Islam is prone to produce violence, but of course they wouldn’t say that out loud either — they might be attacked by Muslims if they said Muslims were violent!

I never expected to be on the same side of a debate as an atheist group, but it’s hard to disagree with this:

Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry’s editor in chief, said Borders’ decision was a disservice to free speech.

“Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire,” Kurtz said. “To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press – so vital for our democracy.”

I wonder what Borders would do if the atheists threated to bomb their stores for not carrying the magazine. They would probably get the police involved — which they aren’t doing when the threat is from Muslims.

By they way, I heard this story from Clayton Cramer, who has had other issues with Amazon in the past. I wonder which offense he thinks is worse.

March 27, 2006

Intolerance in San Francisco

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:56 am

Not Everything is OK in San Francisco

San Francisco has finally found a viewpoint that is too deviant even for its tolerant-of-everything environment. Can you guess what it is? According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

More than 25,000 evangelical Christian youth landed Friday in San Francisco for a two-day rally at AT&T Park against “the virtue terrorism” of popular culture, and they were greeted by an official city condemnation and a clutch of protesters who said their event amounted to a “fascist mega-pep rally.”

“Battle Cry for a Generation” is led by a 44-year-old Concord native, Ron Luce, who wants “God’s instruction book” to guide young people away from the corrupting influence of popular culture.

Luce, whose Teen Mania organization is based in Texas, kicked off a three-city “reverse rebellion” tour Friday night intended to counter a popular culture that he says glamorizes violence and [non-marital] sex.

That’s bad news to Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who told counterprotesters at City Hall on Friday that while such fundamentalists may be small in number, “they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco.”

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the “act of provocation” by what it termed an “anti-gay,” “anti-choice” organization that aimed to “negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city.”

Luce said it was the first time one of his events has been officially condemned.

(All emphasis added.)

So, America’s most “tolerant” city can’t tolerate a rally by Christians. Rallying against the war is OK. Rallying in favor of terrorism is OK. But rallying for sexual restraint is so not-OK it’s worthy of an official condemnation from a government which explicitly wraps itself in the mantle of “tolerance” while declaring that they cannot tolerate anyone less licentious than themselves.

Newspeak, anyone?

UPDATE (4/7/06):

The resolution is now online as a PDF file. It begins:

WHEREAS, It is an act of provocation when a right-wing Christian fundamentalist group brings their anti-gay and anti-choice agenda to the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall; and,

WHEREAS, It is unfortunate and alarming that those who are against reproductive and homosexual rights, and who are anti-gay and anti-choice, aim to negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city; …

Will someone please explain to me why that first paragraph isn’t a violation of the separation of church and state? Isn’t liberal position — affirmed by the Supreme Court in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion”?

And isn’t that second paragraph basically a statement that some people don’t have the right to express their opinions? Doesn’t it also say that the “most tolerant” city can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with its Board of Supervisors?

March 24, 2006

St. Paul Bans the Easter Bunny

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:51 am

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – A small Easter display was removed from the City Hall lobby on Wednesday out of concern that it would offend non-Christians.

The display – a cloth Easter bunny, pastel-colored eggs and a sign with the words “Happy Easter” – was put up by a City Council secretary. They were not purchased with city money.

The council president, Kathy Lantry, said the removal wasn’t about political correctness.

“As government, we have a different responsibility about advancing the cause of religion, which we are not going to do,” she said.

Let me get this straight: The city removes a toy rabbit and some plastic eggs and a “Happy Easter” sign because the mere existence of such objects in a government building might offend non-Christians — but the very name of that city is SAINT PAUL?


Don’t they know that their city was named after one of the main founders of Christianity? And that by calling that person a “Saint” one makes a specific religious claim about that individual?

They haven’t changed the name of their city, so obviously they don’t think a reference to the entire city as Saint Paul is offensive to non-Christians. But they think a little stuffed rabbit tucked away in a city office seen by no more than a few dozen, maybe a few hundred, of the city’s 275,000 residents — that is supposed to be offensive?

Regardless of what you think is the appropriate degree of church-state separation, this is simply preposterous. Hundreds of thousands of people have to acknowlege the recognition of the “sainthood” of Paul every time they write their return address or tell anyone where they live. No doubt at least tens of thousands of them are not Christians, and as such do not believe in the sainthood of Paul. Obviously, they are not too offended by all that, or they would have either moved somewhere else, or advocated for a city name change. Yet we are supposed to believe that those same people would be offended by the knowledge that some city employee who (presumably) is a Christian decided to bring a stuffed rabbit to her workplace.

This is not “being sensitive” — this is implying that non-Christians are stupid and/or inconsistent and/or outright hypocrites, who are happy to live in a city named after a Christian saint, but offended by one little stuffed rabbit.

Frankly, as a “non-Christian,” I find that implication offensive. It’s an insult to my intelligence.

UPDATE (3/27/2006 2:28pm EST):

James Taranto makes a similar point under the title “Hare Remover.” Does this mean I’ve scooped the Wall Street Journal? ;-)

March 7, 2006

China’s Oscar Censorship

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:26 pm

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but I wonder if anyone in Hollywood cares:

Chinese TV cuts Ang Lee’s speech

The Chinese media praised Taiwan-born Ang Lee for his best director Oscar win but state TV cut part of his speech mentioning China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Lee thanked everyone in all three regions. Beijing regards Taiwan as sovereign territory and Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“Ang Lee is the pride of Chinese people,” said the China Daily.

Brokeback Mountain will not be released in Chinese cinemas and can only been seen on pirate DVD.

The Chinese government refused to include it on a list of foreign films approved for domestic cinemas, a move that stops just short of an outright ban.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper contrasted Lee’s success with China’s controls on popular culture.

“China cannot produce a director like Ang Lee,” it claimed.

The paper praised the US for allowing creative freedom.

It would be nice if Variety would note that as well.

AFTERTHOUGHT (5:24pm): I wonder if the PRC government can really get away with having it both ways on this — bragging that a Chinese director won an Oscar, and at the same time refusing to allow the film to be shown. It may seem odd to many in China that the government will not approve a movie that produced the Oscar they seem to be so proud of.

February 8, 2006

Which Side is Chirac on?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:44 pm

At the Drudge Report, Matt Drudge has a list of links to news stories on the cartoon riots. One of them says, simply:


My first thought was, “Chirac condemns … whom? The rioters, or the newspapers?” Click on the link — according to theBBC, it’s as I feared:

French President Jacques Chirac has condemned as “overt provocation” decisions to reprint cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

As another French publication printed the cartoons, Mr Chirac said any subject matter that could hurt other people’s convictions should be avoided.

Now I’m all for being polite, but “hurt other people’s convictions”? (A “conviction” can hurt?) That could mean anything. It could mean they shouldn’t make globes to avoid hurting the “convictions” of flat-earthers.

Again, I’m all for being polite — and for avoiding disrespect to people’s religions — but does it occur to anyone that perhaps burning down buildings and killing people might be, um, a bit worse than merely drawing a cartoon that people find offensive? I mean really — would you rather someone draw a cartoon mocking you, or burn your house down?

The Danish cartoonists are, like King Lear, “more sinned against than sinning.” Why can’t Chirac see that? Does he really believe that rioting, burning down embassies, and killing people is not really so bad compared to the greater sin of printing an offensive cartoon?

I know they don’t have a “First Amendment” in Europe, but this is ridiculous….

February 6, 2006

Proving Humanity

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:46 pm

So, Muslims have been rioting and burning Scandanavian embassies because of a cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted Muhammed.

Now, an Iranian newspaper is running a Holocaust cartoon contest. You might think this is a rather childish attempt to “show them how it feels.” And you would be right. As the editor said:

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,”

I’ll bet he expects Jews the world over to riot when they print these cartoons — thus showing that Jews are no better than Muslims, and that there is some sort of double standard.

He will be proven wrong — Jews will not riot. And the double standard is there, but it’s not in the direction he thinks: everyone sort of expects Muslims to riot, but expects Jews to just sit there and take it.

After all, the President of Iran recently called for the destruction of Israel, and except for some tut-tutting at the UN, nobody really did anything about it. There was certainly no rioting, and no torching of Iran’s embassies anywhere. Meanwhile, Israeli political leaders get indicted for “crimes against humanity” whenever they try to do anything to stop those who want to destroy Israel from doing so. And, of course, the “international community” seems hell-bent on making sure Israel doesn’t do anything to prevent Iran from developing the capability to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons.

Of course, no one seems to notice the real double standard here: Depicting Mohammed in a picture is against Islamic Law. The rioters are in effect demanding that everyone in the world, including non-Muslims, be subject to Islamic Law. This is not the first time this has happened — Muslims have prevailed on French authorities to close down soup kitchens serving pork, under the theory that this is offensive to Muslims and excludes them from eating at soup kitchens. I guess they figure they can get European newspapers to self-censor also. They may turn out to be right.

For what it’s worth, Jews do not demand that non-Jews observe Jewish Law. I don’t eat pork, but if you’re not Jewish and you do, that’s fine with me.

January 17, 2006

Sentenced To Attend Church?

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:15 am

Now this raises some interesting constitutional issues:

Racist Man Sentenced To Attend Black Church

POSTED: 6:51 am EST January 16, 2006

CINCINNATI (AP) — A judge has sentenced a suburban Cincinnati man to attend services for six weeks at a black church for threatening to punch a black cab driver and using racial slurs.

Judge William Mallory Jr. told 36-year-old Brett Haines, “It seems readily apparent to me that you don’t like black people. That’s OK with me. But you have to understand that you are at the whim and authority of a black judge.”

Mallory let Haines choose between attending the black church for six Sundays or spending 30 days in jail. Haines said he’d try the church, although he doesn’t usually worship on Sunday.

Mallory offered Haines the choice Friday after Haines was convicted of disorderly conduct. He was arrested in November after threatening cab driver David Wilson and Wilson’s wife.

Mallory said he was concerned about maintaining the separation between church and state, so the judge asked Haines whether the option would offend him.

Haines said he would like to try it.

The cab driver said he wished Haines had been jailed instead because, in his words, “Church don’t change everybody.”

January 16, 2006

Squashing Freedom of Speech

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:30 am

Here’s “campaign finance reform” in action in the state of Washington, as reported by Brian C. Anderson in City Journal:

Early in 2005, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed—and Democratic governor Christine Gregoire signed—a bill boosting the state’s gasoline tax a whopping 9.5 cents per gallon over the next four years, supposedly to fund transportation projects. … [S]ome citizens organized an initiative campaign, as Washington law allows, to junk the new levy: No New Gas Tax.

Two popular conservative talk radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, explained why the gas tax was bad news and urged listeners to sign the 225,000 petitions necessary to get the rollback initiative on the November ballot, though they played no official role in the campaign and regularly featured on their shows defenders as well as opponents of the tax hike. …

Meantime, however, a group of pro-tax politicians sued No New Gas Tax, arguing that Wilbur’s and Carlson’s on-air commentaries were “in-kind contributions” and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to report them to the proper state authorities. The suit sought to stop NNGT from accepting any more of these “contributions” until it disclosed their worth—though how the initiative’s organizers could control media discussions or calculate their monetary value remained unclear. The complaint also socked NNGT with civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other damages. Even more offensively, to litigate the suit the politicians hired a private law firm, Foster Pepper & Shefelman, which serves as bond counsel to Washington State. The firm, which represents unions, hospitals, and retirement funds among its other clients, could thus clean up from the state’s plan to sell gas-tax-backed bonds. Appearance of corruption, anyone?

If you like reading — or writing — about politics on blogs, you could be next:

Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4 to 2 to exempt the Web. …

But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by McCain and Feingold, sued—claiming that the Internet was one big “loophole” that allowed big money to keep on corrupting—a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldn’t persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal.

Are the hundreds of political blogs that have sprouted over the last few years—twenty-first-century versions of the Revolutionary era’s political pamphlets—“press,” and thus exempt from FEC regulations? Liberal reform groups like Democracy 21 say no. “We do not believe anyone described as a ‘blogger’ is by definition entitled to the benefit of the press exemption,” they collectively sniffed in a brief to the FEC. “While some bloggers may provide a function very similar to more classical media activities, and thus could reasonably be said to fall within the exemption, others surely do not.” The key test, the groups claimed, should be whether the blogger is performing a “legitimate press function.” But who decides what is legitimate? And what in the Constitution gives him the authority to do so?

A first, abandoned, draft of proposed FEC Web rules, leaked to the RedState blog last March, regulated all but tiny, password-protected political sites, so bloggers should be worried. Without a general exemption, political blogs could easily find themselves in regulatory hell. Say it’s a presidential race, Condi Rice versus Hillary Clinton. You run a wildly opinionated and popular group blog—call it No to Hillary—that rails daily about the perils of a Clinton restoration and sometimes republishes Rice campaign material. Is your blog making “contributions” to Rice? Maybe. The FEC says that a “contribution” includes “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office” (my italics). If your anti-Hillary blog spends more than $1,000, you could also find it re-classified as a “political committee.” Then you’ve got countless legal requirements and funding limits to worry about.

And if they get really nasty, “spending on your blog” could be defined to include the purchase price of your computer, which is quite likely to put you over some relevant limit even if you host your blog for free on Blogspot.

And if you think this is purely hypothetical, ask Leo Smith, who was told precisely that when he put some material on a web page urging people to vote against Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) when she was running for re-election — and this was back in 1998, even before McCain-Feingold:

Underscoring the problem is an escalating debate over whether Web sites fall under a 1971 campaign disclosure law governing television advertisements. If so, sites promoting federal candidates or linking to official campaign sites might be required to disclose who is behind a site and report expenditures for erecting the site if they exceed $250.

A November 1998 opinion, for example, states that a Web site erected by Leo Smith of Suffield, Connecticut, fell under the disclaimer and reporting requirements. Smith’s site advocated the defeat of the Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut), and endorsed her opponent, Democratic candidate Charlotte Koskoff.

In reference to Smith, the commission concluded that Web sites endorsing or soliciting funds for federal candidates are considered political advertisements and must disclose the full name of the site’s creator, state whether the opinions expressed on the site are authorized by the candidate, and report expenditures.

“The Commission notes that there are minimal costs associated with creating the Web site,” the opinion stated. “These overhead costs would include, for example, the fee to secure the registration of a domain name, the amounts you invested in your hardware, and the utility costs to create the site.”

So they want to include not only the cost of your computer, but the cost of the electricity to run it when you are posting to your web site. As the FEC itself explains (PDF link):

Mr. Smith created the web site in September 1998 to protest House Republican efforts against President Clinton. On the site, he advocated Ms. Koskoff’s election and the defeat of her opponent, GOP Representative Nancy Johnson. …

Mr. Smith asserts that he spends no money in maintaining the web site, and that it cost him nothing to create it. …

The definition of expenditure includes anything of value made to influence a federal election. 2 U.S.C. §431(9). Mr. Smith’s web site is considered something of value because it advocates the election of one federal candidate and the defeat of another. Thus, any costs associated with construction and maintenance of the web site are expenditures. (Note that, although the web site includes express advocacy, under 2 U.S.C. §431(9), a communication does not necessarily have to contain express advocacy in order to qualify as an expenditure.) Whenever a person makes an expenditure to finance a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate through general public political advertising, the communication must include a disclaimer. 2 U.S.C. §441d. The disclaimer must state who paid for the communication and, in the case of an advertisement that was not paid for by the candidate’s committee, who authorized it. In five advisory opinions, the Commission has concluded that communication via a web site is a form of communication to the general public. AOs 1997-16, 1996-16, 1995-35, 1995- 33 and 1995-9. Thus, Mr. Smith’s web site must include a disclaimer stating who paid for the communication and whether or not it was authorized by any candidate. Mr. Smith’s current attempt at a disclaimer is insuffi- cient. He only identifies himself as an “Independent voter in the Sixth District.” He must use his full name in the disclaimer.

The Commission also concludes that — contrary to Mr. Smith’s assertion — there are costs associated with this web site. A portion of the overhead costs could be apportioned to each web site created by Mr. Smith. Those costs include the domain name registration fee, the amount invested in the hardware (computer and peripherals) that created the web site and the utility costs associated with creating and maintaining the site. If Mr. Smith’s web site activity on behalf of the Koskoff campaign was completely independent of the campaign, then he would be re- quired to file independent expendi- ture reports with the Commission if the total value of the expenditures exceeded $250 in 1998. 2 U.S.C. §§431(17) and 434(c), 441a(a)(7)(B). If, however, Mr. Smith’s web site activity was done in cooperation, consultation or concert with that campaign, then the campaign would be required to report the expenditure as an in-kind contribution from Mr. Smith. 2 U.S.C. §§431(8)(A)(i), 434(b)(2)(A) and 434(b)(3)(A).

And that was the situation before McCain-Feingold. Now, it’s even worse — including a disclaimer is not enough; if it’s political speech about an election, you simply can’t say it within 60 days prior (30 days for a primary).

Warren of Coyote Blog notes:

I find this [the ruling in the Washington case above] offensive. And expect similar “in-kind” donation logic to be coming to a blog near you. And while Democrats may short-sightedly cheer as long as this logic is applied against conservative talk radio, this “in-kind” logic is a Pandora’s Box that will be very hard to close. For example, lets say my wife’s reading club organizes 200 women to go out to a 3-hour rally to support Hillary Clinton. In doing so, the club just mobilized 600 “man”-hours for Ms. Clinton, which at $10 an hour, which is a low value for a professional person’s time, is worth $6000. Have they violated the law? Or, lets say a lawyer who normally bills $300 an hour spends all day Saturday and Sunday marching in a rally for George Bush. Is he over the limit?

We are in the absolutely terrifying and historically unprecedented position of having had Congress pass a law that no citizen (except a few media people and a few government licensed political groups) can criticize a member of Congress by name within 60 days of an election. And the Supreme Court signed off on this travesty!

He’s right — when the FEC comes around to arrest bloggers for blogging about elections, you won’t be able to go to the Supreme Court, since they already ruled in the case of McConnell v. F.E.C. that the “government interest” in keeping money out of politics takes priority over the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press. Way back in 2003. If it makes anyone feel any better, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a blistering dissent, which read in part:

The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Nevertheless, the Court today upholds what can only be described as the most significant abridgment of the freedoms of speech and association since the Civil War. With breathtaking scope, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), directly targets and constricts core politi- cal speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.”

It is not difficult to see where this leads. Every law has limits, and there will always be behavior not covered by the law but at its edges; behavior easily characterized as “circumventing” the law’s prohibition. Hence, speech regulation will again expand to cover new forms of “circumvention,” only to spur supposed circumvention of the new regulations, and so forth. Rather than permit this never-ending and self-justifying process, I would require that the Government explain why proposed speech restrictions are needed in light of actual Government interests, and, in particular, why the bribery laws are not sufficient.

The right to anonymous speech cannot be abridged based on the interests asserted by the defendants. I would thus hold that the disclosure requirements of BCRA §201 are unconstitutional. Because of this conclusion, the so-called advance disclosure requirement of §201 necessarily falls as well.

The chilling endpoint of the Court’s reasoning is not difficult to foresee: outright regulation of the press. None of the rationales offered by the defendants, and none of the reasoning employed by the Court, exempts the press. … Media companies can run procandidate editorials as easily as nonmedia corporations can pay for advertisements. Candidates can be just as grateful to media companies as they can be to corporations and unions. … Media corporations are influential. There is little doubt that the editorials and commentary they run can affect elections. Nor is there any doubt that media companies often wish to influence elections. One would think that the New York Times fervently hopes that its endorsement of Presidential candidates will actually influence people. What is to stop a future Congress from determining that the press is “too influential,” and that the “appearance of corruption” is significant when media organizations endorse candidates or run “slanted” or “biased” news stories in favor of candidates or parties? Or, even easier, what is to stop a future Congress from concluding that the availability of unregulated media corporations creates a loophole that allows for easy “circumvention” of the limitations of the current campaign finance laws?

Although today’s opinion does not expressly strip the press of First Amendment protection, there is no principle of law or logic that would prevent the application of the Court’s reasoning in that setting. The press now operates at the whim of Congress.

December 26, 2005

Is this Religious Neutrality?

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:02 pm

Richard John Neuhaus’ column “While We’re At It” in the back pages of the journal First Things is basically a “printed blog” that pre-dated the online blogs. In the January 2006 issue (not online yet), he writes:

Student from Christian high schools are having a hard time getting accepted at the University of California, Riverside. The university deems some of the high school courses to be biased in favor of Christianity. The curricular review extends to religion classes. “Religion and ethics courses are acceptable,” says the university, “as long as they do not include among its [sic] primary goals the personal religious growth of the student.” If only we were makeing this up.

In 1968, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote: “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion.”

The University of California, Riverside is a public — that is, government — university. And this does not look like “neutrality … between religion and non-religion” to me. Where is the ACLU when you need them?

More detail on the controversy — and the lawsuit — here and here. The issue is not limited to Riverside, but to all 10 branches of the University of California. From this article by Mark Earley:

Calvary[ Chapel Christian School]’s science classes are also not up to snuff, according to UC. A textbook by Prentice Hall, Conceptual Physics, is considered acceptable—which is why Calvary is using it. But the textbook they used to use, titled Physics for Christian Schools, contains exactly the same information. The difference? There’s a Bible verse and theological preface for every chapter. And according to UC chemistry professor Barbara Sawrey, the verses alone disqualify the textbook.

Talk about condemning yourself out of your own mouth! These comments make it clear that shutting down the Christian viewpoint is indeed what UC is up to.

They’re All Wrong!

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:30 pm

Back in October, the California Legislature passed, and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed, a law banning the sale or rental of “extremely violent video games” to children. The law ws supposed to take effect on January 1, 2006. Two video game industry groups sued, and U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law, on freedom-of-speech grounds.

Not only can I not take sides on this, but I think all the sides have got it wrong.

1. The law’s proponents: I can’t side with the law’s proponents, because this law will have absolutely no effect on the problem they are trying to solve. I’m not saying kids should be playing “extremely violent video games” — but there is no reason to believe that this law will stop them. For one thing, those kids whose parents think they ought to have a game like this will just buy it for them, and those kids whose parents provide so little supervision that they can sneak the games in against their parents (weakly communicated) wishes will be able to obtain it anyway, perhaps by ordering it online. (No credit card? They can just buy a Visa, MC, or Amex “gift card” with cash.) Note that this is different from the case of laws prohibiting underage purchase of alcohol and tobacco — those products easily purchased and consumed away from home; video games have to be played somewhere where you can set up the equipment. That’s harder to hide. As for parents who don’t think their kids should have those games, and provide proper supervision — well, those kids already don’t have those games, so the law won’t affect them, either.

2. The judge: Sorry, but I can’t agree with the judge on this one, either. There is a right to “freedom of speech,” but no one who understands the English language (which may not, of course, include the federal courts) would conclude that a video game is “speech.” It may be a “form of expression,” but no one seriously believes that the First Amendment protects every “form of expression.” If you “express” your hatred of someone by strangling them, you will not be able to claim at your murder trial that this is allowed by the First Amdendment — no matter how much your desire to strangle that person was occassioned by your desire to disagree with what he was saying.

3. The video game industry: I can’t take the side of the video game industry, either. I haven’t seen any of the games in questions, but I have trouble endorsing the games if descriptions like this are accurate:

The ruling comes as the $25-billion global game industry faces sharp criticism for sex and violence in some of its titles. Much of the furor has focused on “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” a game that allows players to shoot cops, run over pedestrians and have sex with prostitutes.

Now, putting on my economist hat, I have to ask two questions:

First, I wonder if they are really making that much money off this stuff. If they didn’t make “extremely violent” video games, but made more “other” video games (“a bit violent”?) would their total sales of all video games drop? Or is a substantial percentage of the market for video games made up of consumers who, would buy no video games if they couldn’t get “extremely violent” ones?

Second, are we sure what effect violent video games have on behavior? Apparently, some people think if you do it in a video game, you’re more likely to do it in real like. But isn’t it possible that if you take out your agressions on video, you won’t feel as much of a need to do it in real life? Sort of like the advice to “punch a pillow” when you get so angry you want to punch a person? Having not seen the games in question, or any empirical study of their effects, I can’t say for sure, but I think we might want to consider the possibility that these games reduce, rather than increase, players’ propensity to violence in real life.

December 7, 2005

Climate Change

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:08 pm

AP Reports:

Record Low Temps Seen in Parts of U.S.

Associated Press Writer
Dec 07 5:55 PM US/Eastern

DENVER - Bitterly cold air poured southward across the nation’s midsection Wednesday, dropping temperatures to record lows from Montana to Illinois. The mercury dived to a record 45 below at West Yellowstone, Mont., the frequently cold spot at the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the National Weather Service said. The old record for Dec. 7 was 39 below, set in 1927.

The cold even extended south to the Texas Panhandle, where Lubbock shivered at a record low 6 above zero, the weather service said.

Global warming is starting to sound like a good idea!

In fact, it could even save lives:

The body of a homeless man was found huddled next to a fence in Denver, where the temperature hit 11 below Wednesday, and authorities were trying to determine if he froze to death. He apparently had shed his jacket in a phenomenon called “paradoxical undressing,” where victims of hypothermia become disoriented and hallucinate, deputy coroner Amy Martin said.

The Denver Rescue Mission opened all available space for the homeless.

Does this mean that those who advocate policies to prevent global warming are insensitive to to plight of the homeless?

Or perhaps it is an issue of church-state separation — “Denver Rescue Mission” sounds like a faith-based organization, so cold weather promotes religious affiliation, so the government must act to stop …. no wait, that’s backwards … perhaps the ACLU should sue the environmentalists by advocating politicies that drive the homeless into the arms of religious organizations?


November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving: If the rules now applied then….

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:00 pm

If the rules now applied then, perhaps the First Thanksgiving would have been something like this:

Man in Stocks

(Hat tip: Samantha Burns.)

October 20, 2005

ACLU Opposes Freedom of the Press

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:30 am


October 11, 2005

Is that an “Opinion”?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:33 pm

Clayton Cramer points out how the Oregon Supreme Court has redefined the word “opinion” in the Oregon Constitution‘s protection of “free expression of opinion” to include … um, other things.

The really amazing thing is that the court explicitly acknowleged that the authors of the Oregon Constitution did not mean to say what the court says they meant to say. Cynics have often said that the Constitution doesn’t say what it says, it says what the courts say it says. Now, the courts are saying that themselves — and they’re openly saying that’s the way it should be.

The judiciary appears to have gone from being discretely arbitrary and capricious to being shamelessly arbitrary and capricious.

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