Sunday, July 23, 2006

Oregonian Needs to Rethink Journalism Standards

National Archives photo
Actually, it's the sidebar editor in the Living section who especially needs to rethink them.

Nancy Haught has an article in Saturday's Oregonian on the sliding definition of the terms "agnostic", "atheist" and "humanist".

Unfortunately her sidebar editor came up with a quote from Abraham Lincoln taken from a shopping website: One of the storefronts on the website sells atheist products. One is a quotation from Abraham Lincoln that is for sale on t-shirts, tote bags and mouse pads.

The Bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma.

Maybe Lincoln did say this sometime, somewhere. But, the storefront does not give a reference or context. And the sidebar editor apparently wasn't curious enough to check it out.

However, Lincoln's first and second inaugural addresses, which are easy to find and substantiate, tell a different story.

In his first inaugural address, the Lincoln who doesn't find Christianity his cup of tea recommends it in pretty high terms:

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

As for the Bible, which is not his book, Lincoln quotes from both the New Testament and the Old Testament in his second inaugural address:

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." [Mt. 18: 7] If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." [Psalm 19:9]
[scripture references and emphasis are my additions]

I don't mind a strange quotation from Abraham Lincoln. But when it cuts across the clear tenor in Lincoln's official and most well known addresses, you gotta wonder what the editors were thinking. I mean anyone who got a B or above in a college U.S. history course should at least have an idea about the second inaugural address. It's kind of famous.

It may give "color" to a story to throw in an off-the-wall quotation from a famous historical figure. But, even in the Living section, to give a view that is not accurate of the thinking of the man in is prime and to rely on a storefront website for verification . . . Well, I guess the Oregonian won't be criticizing blogs anytime soon for being second-rate journalistic sources.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Islamist Advance

William F. Buckley Jr.’s July 14th column ends with some pessimistic observations on the US position in the world vis a vis the Muslim advance:

The faith of Islam is in fighting trim. In millions, the Islamists are traveling and settling abroad. From these reserves we get occasional irruptions of high-tech loathing, in lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C., in Spanish trains, in British subways. The elderly voices of Islam that stressed toleration and cohabitation are so quiet they might as well be silent.

It is true that “millions” of Muslims are “traveling and settling abroad”. But, is this an indication of Islam being in “fighting trim”?

The vast majority are not Islamic militants. They did not leave their homeland to evangelize or overthrow their host societies. They are people who looked for a better life, economically and socially, for their families. Like millions of immigrants before them, they left because their home societies were poor, weak, intolerant, and they viewed the U.S., Europe, Canada as stronger and better places to live.

One might as well say that millions of Islamic immigrants show the power of Islam as much as millions of Mexican would-be immigrants show the power of Mexico. The power is where people are running to not where they are fleeing from. Islam has engendered societal and economic breakdown in the Middle East and North Africa. That’s why there are millions of immigrants.

With all the Islamic rage in France one does not see Muslims pounding on their home consulates wanting to return to their homelands. One does not see a mass exodus from any of the lands where the terrorists have struck or planned to strike–Spain, Britain, Canada, the US. Whatever the strength of Islam the religion, Islamic society has been a bust despite vast oil riches.

But aren’t Muslim militants growing in power?

Columnist Pat Buchanan gives us a prickly rundown. "Islamists are taking over in Somalia. They are in power in Sudan. The Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the races it contested in Egypt. Hezbollah swept the board in southern Lebanon. Hamas seized power from Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza. The Shia parties who hearken to Ayatollah Sistani brushed aside our favorites, Chalabi and Iyad Allawi, in the Iraqi elections. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the most admired Iranian leader since Khomeini. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is staging a comeback."

Inside already Muslim or previously strong Muslim areas, yes Islamic militant power is on the upswing. But, what new major strongholds have they taken?

Where they have immigrated are they growing more by evangelization or by birth rate? In some cases, that question is academic. In Europe, for instance. Secular Europe is dying. It does not have the vitality either physically in terms of birth rate or intellectually in terms of inspiring new adherents of even renewing itself, let alone expanding. So, the expansion of any group within Europe is a threat to Europe.

That’s not yet the case in the Americas. In the US our real concern is not the explosion of Muslim immigrants and their population growth, but the explosion of Catholic would-be immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries and their population growth. One might say that Catholicism is in fighting trim.

This is not to say that militant Islam is not a problem. It has been a problem since the 7th century. It was a threat to the West and Christianity up until the early 18th century. The threat then was military in the form of conquering armies who gave an ultimatum: convert or die. Since most people preferred to live, Islam gained lots of adherents in the conquered territories.

For the last few centuries, Islamic societies have been militarily weak and not much of a threat. Its societies could not keep up with the economic advance of societies in the West and in Asia. The Islamic bloc is still not much of a threat militarily–except via terrorism and the possibility of sporadic use of weapons of mass destruction.

Two fundamental questions remain as to whether Islam does advance:

1. We have never seen a Muslim society succeed as a civil rights-oriented democracy. Can a free society remain stridently Muslim?

2. Will Muslim immigrants melt into U.S. culture like previous immigrants have and maintain a continuing religious commitment, but one that becomes more formal and secular as generations increase?

Militant Islamists will continue to be a problem as the Mafia or drug traffickers are problems. They are small groups that cause big problems. But, Islam being in “fighting trim” depends on the millions of immigrants and whether they will stick with the values that made them immigrate to a better life or try to recreate the life they fled from.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Containment Conservatives

We are seeing a small number of well known conservatives promoting a limited involvement, containment approach to national defense.

George Will's recent hand wringing in his national column and on ABC's This Week has focused on the disastrous effect of the US proactive stance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.
[emphasis mine]

Hmm. Use of power, if it is not followed by immediate success, emboldens enemies. Possibly. But, as Neville Chamberlain and the rest of the world sadly learned in WWII, not using power emboldens them even more.

What's really strange is Will's prescription for better success: containment.

"Why wait?" Perhaps because the U.S. military has enough on its plate in the deteriorating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which both border Iran. And perhaps because containment, although of uncertain success, did work against Stalin and his successors, and might be preferable to a war against a nation much larger and more formidable than Iraq.
[emphasis mine]

Did "containment" rather than warring work with the Soviet Union and its allies?

Not for poor Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.

Not for Viet Nam.

Not even for Korea--as the families of 54,000 American casualties can attest.

Actually containment only works if you are willing to go to war and sustain lots of casualties. Even though the US lost in Viet Nam, due to a containment and limited response strategy that conservatives used to excoriate, its willingness to lose almost 150,000 American lives in the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts showed that there was some real backbone in the "paper tiger". Without the will behind those losses "containment" would have been a dead letter.

George at Alamo Nation takes Will on and point by point shows the flaws in Will's analysis. It's a must read.

The question remains: Why are a few high profile conservatives taking stances (like Will's counsel to use "containment") they used to fight against tooth and nail?

Hugh Hewitt's answer is that they have had their egos bruised because the White House has not asked their opinion recently.

So what occasioned the turning from advocates of force to proponents of appeasement?

Quite simply their hatred of Bush overwhelmed their understanding of the world. What is the source of that hatred?


In attempting to tell us what drives Bush, Chait is in fact revealing what it is that drives the former supporters of the war turned defeatists and the increasingly frenzied denouncers from respectable perches like the big papers, the Council, and the weeklies: They feel disdained.


Part of the Bush hatred is simply resentment at the exclusion from the councils of war.

If this is true, it's a sad commentary that supposedly responsible commentators would put their own egos above the national interest.

My own view is that George Will, Pat Buchanan and others are exhausted in spirit and intellectually. They fought a long, bitter fight against containment and appeasement policies being applied to the Communist bloc. They were despised as unrealistic and promoters of a nuclear holocaust.

Then, President Reagan followed their advice and kept upping the ante in the Cold War instead of following an equal force strategy. And, the Soviet Union collapsed--without a war--without more casualties. They thought their work was done. They could be good guys now and not have to promote tough policies, hard decisions, and the sacrifices and casualties that usually come when there is a serious threat.

Added to that is a new dimension in political strategy--the power of small states and even small groups to threaten the world via weapons of mass destruction. This is not a threat to take over and dominate the world as with the Nazis or the Soviet Empire. Not a threat that having the biggest and best armies can solve.

These conservatives have had trouble dealing with the new realities. That's why I think they are joining with the Left. The Left had trouble dealing with the old realities and had come up with appeasement/containment as the safest way to deal with the Communist bloc with the fewest upfront risks.

If your goal is to take the fewest risks possible, containment is a good plan. But, if your goal is to defend your life and liberty and the lives and liberty of those you love, risks are unavoidable. It's a bitter pill for the Containment Conservatives to swallow.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

George Will Joins the Left

I just caught a little of This Week with George Stephanopoulos and some of George Will’s comments.

From footage from the The Green Room’s Escalation Nation segment:

Sam Donaldson:

“George Will’s gonna vote Democratic in ‘08.”
“Did you hear his positions? I mean George Will thinks it’s wrong in Iraq. . . .”
[to George Will]: “No, but I couldn’t find much wrong today with what you were saying.”

I guess George Will has joined the Defeatocrats.

In the bit of the This Week show I watched, Will intimated that it was good news that the US was doing so poorly in Iraq and Iran because it was a lesson for the US that it couldn’t control world events.

I wonder why he thinks that anyone needs a lesson that the US can't control world events. I've never heard anyone say we could. But, shouldn’t we at least give it our best shot considering the threat that WMD in the hands of fanatics is to the US--not to mention Islamic terrorism?

One can imagine the modern George Will crowing over bumps in the road for President Reagan’s policy against the “Evil Empire” as a good lesson to the Reagan administration about how the US couldn’t control world events. I mean, dumb Ronald Reagan thought we could actually influence world events and make the Soviet Union crumble.

But, that was another era when “conservative” meant something.

I think Sam Donaldson got it right. It's not that the Left is agreeing with Will, but Will is agreeing with the Democrats and the Left. That's the problem with dancing on the edge of isolationism. Sometimes you step over and find yourself in a whole different crowd.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Arguments on Illegal Immigration

Lowell at the Hedgehog blog site has been raising various practical arguments over the past months on why illegal immigrants should not be treated according to the law. Lowell is an insightful, level-headed commentator. So much so that I list his blog on my sidebar.

But, I think sometimes emotion rather than reason is leading the argument on this issue. Consider two of five questions raised in a Hedgehog May 24 posting on the issue:

Consider a man in his 20's who was brought here by his parents when he was 3 years old. He's grown up here, speaks English, can speak conversational Spanish but cannnot read or write it, and has graduated from college. He's married and has a couple of kids, who are American citizens because they were born here. He's never been to Mexico, or maybe has visited relatives there two or three times in his life. Do you really expect him to pick up and return to Mexico? What will the public reaction be to hundreds of thousands of such forced relocations? Do you want Republicans and conservatives to be identified with such personal tragedies, which will get endless news media attention? Note: I am not defending the situation of such a man; I am describing a reality that we have to deal with.


Do you have any close friends of Hispanic descent?

These are impact/relationship questions. They are important personal questions, but muddy rather than clarify the legal issues.

Everyone should be equal before the law. That one law breaker faces more personal tragedy in being punished than another law breaker should not be a factor in assessing punishment. If personal impact becomes the standard, law becomes a tool of personal preference and of who can generate the most sympathy. Justice needs to be "blind" to that kind of differentiation in order to be true justice.

In a posting today Lowell quotes Paul Greenberg:

Today the party of Lincoln is being told it should demand that all illegal immigrants be deported, even if that means breaking up families, disrupting the economy and denying immigrant mothers medical care and their children an equal right to a college education.

Does anyone think these children will forget how their families, their mothers and fathers, were treated once they grow up to become voters, as they surely will? Childhood hurts endure, and their fruit is bitterness.

All this is true. But, is it helpful in this discussion?

One could say the same thing about the families of any group of law breakers. Recreational pot users, underground economy participants, petty thieves, drunk drivers. Any time you deport or jail a law breaker it has a profound impact on the law breaker's family--especially if there are children involved.

This is an argument against enforcing all laws. At bottom it does not have to do with illegal immigration. Breaking the law has consequences. They are almost always very unpleasant, even hurtful, consequences.

The real issue is not what the impact of breaking the law is but whether a law is necessary and justly applied. I don't know of a responsible commentator who has made the case that immigration laws are unnecessary and unjust.

If we apply immigration laws only to some, we create another sort of outrage and bitterness. Mark Steyn has written of the inequities of current treatment of legal immigrants.

Or how about the people like me. My grandparents were immigrants. My uncle was deported forty years after he came to the US because he "mouthed off" to an immigration officer. He suffered; his adult daughters suffered; his parents suffered; his siblings suffered. He was bitter, but the rest of the family accepted it as within the letter of the law, and we believe in following the law. There is a salve in the fact that the law is being applied even when it is applied in a stupid and personal way.

Having lived in another country, I have friends who have not been given visas. Other friends have come expecting to settle, but their visas were renewed. That has resulted in trauma and upset to their families. Why should the laws applied to them not be reversed as well?

You see where this is leading? If compassion makes us disregard the application of the laws in the case of some people, it is only fair that compassion also require that the laws never be applied to anyone.

Seeing "preferred" law breakers go free while "unpreferred" get punished will not only impact future voting habits, but it is the recipe for societal chaos and vigilante justice. When justice isn't blind, you not only get bitterness but outrage.

Michael Ramirez Again!

Michael Ramirez--spot on!

(click on cartoon for larger image)

Too funny!

Monday, July 10, 2006

End of the Golden Age of the Internet?

John C. Dvorak’s June 21 column in PC Magazine deals with internet trends. His main thesis is that the “Golden Age” of the internet is about to pass because

. . . we are already seeing a combination of government, carrier, and business interactions that will eventually turn the Net into a restricted and somewhat proprietary network, with much of its content restricted or blocked. Only a diligent few will actually have access to the restricted data, and in some parts of the world even trying to view the restricted information on the Net will be a crime.

Dvorak gives some examples.

1. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998:

It's already a crime to post intellectual discussions about copy-protection schemes that are protected by the DMCA. If the American public tolerates that sort of onerous restriction, then it will tolerate anything.

He’s right about this being an outrage. U.S. legislators voted against the public interest for this. Most legislators are in the pocket of Hollywood/Entertainment big business. In fact the Senate vote for The Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 was 99 to nada . . . zip . . . zero-- with only Senator Judd Gregg from New Hampshire not voting.

Where were all the civil liberties defenders? And this was before 9/11. The Patriot Act affects people in the name of saving lives from another terrorist attack. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 affects everyone who uses technology that holds or transmits content–-and anyone who wants to speak about copy protection schemes. And what is its purpose? To protect the fortunes of big entertainment/publishing figures and corporations.

The DMCA is an affront to free speech and the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. But, it is a bit strange for Dvorak to use the DMCA as an example of the decline of the Golden Age of the internet. The DMCA was signed into law in October 1998 by President Clinton. So, if the DMCA is a blow to the Golden Age of the Internet, it was struck before the Golden Age really got rolling.

Two more Dvorak examples.

2. Filtering/blacklists:

Filtering and blacklists now common. Most U.S. government agencies now use filtering mechanisms to keep their own computers from accessing blacklisted Web sites. Third parties maintain these blacklists, and they put whatever they want on the lists. For example, my blog was blacklisted for a while, with no explanation.

3. Monitoring of internet traffic and e-mail:

Most companies go much further and carefully monitor all network traffic. They can then pinpoint the use of streaming media and other verboten uses of corporate computers and simply block such usages and blacklist the sites involved.

Even e-mail is lost in the shuffle. The New York Times has a system in place that prevents certain press releases from getting to the reporters.

These last two points really have nothing to do with free speech except that the folks who run the NYT apparently don’t want anyone management doesn't approve of mucking with their reporter’s minds. So much for the boilerplate about the public’s right to know. They don’t even think their reporters have a right to know.

That the government and corporations (including the NYT) want their equipment, including computers, used for purposes they consider official business is not out-of-bounds. All those employees have complete access on their home computers on their own time.

Dvorak is myopic at this point. He seems to see the internet as primarily a work-based medium or for entertainment file sharers. Even though he has a blog, he doesn’t think of that as a key to the Golden Age of the internet. Probably because he has a print column that he gets paid to do. His blog isn’t important for him to express his opinions.

In terms of widespread access to public discussion, blogs are the Golden Age of the internet. That Golden Age is rapidly expanding as more and more people enter the list of bloggers. Before blogs, other than running for office, most people had few options for entering the public discussion forum. They had the outlets of a bumper sticker, lawn sign, letter to the editor (of which this past week the Oregonian published only 84 of 435 letters received). Not a great shot at getting heard.

Compare that to the Orblogs site which added 25 new Oregon-based blogs in the space of less than 3 weeks (June 20 to July 10). And that’s just the new blogs related to Oregon listed by bloggers who happened to hear about the Orblogs site. There are 1,100 blogs participating in the Orblogs site. I’d bet that less than 1% of those bloggers had or have real access to traditional forms of media expression.

Multiply that by 50 states (most of which have a higher population base than Oregon)–-not to mention the 250+ countries, territories and colonies in the world most of which haven't even gotten a foot into the blog door.

John Dvorak, the Golden Age of the internet is just getting started.