Monday, April 28, 2008

Corporate self censorship is betraying our freedoms?

This article by Bruce Bawer will not be easily read by most, if any, lefties. Nevertheless, lefties should not dismiss the threat posed by either an extreme ideology embraced by Muslim extremists (it was Lefties who called for action against the Taliban while the righties ignored things there). While Mr. Bawer points out the problem using largely anecdotal examples, there is one trend in his anecdotes that is worth exploring.

Here is Mr. Bawer's central thesis:

What has not been widely recognized is that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie introduced a new kind of jihad. Instead of assaulting Western ships or buildings, Kho­meini took aim at a fundamental Western freedom: freedom of speech. In recent years, other Islamists have joined this crusade, seeking to undermine Western societies’ basic liberties and extend sharia within those societies.

Mr. Bawer cites as evidence of success of the jihadist attack on freedom of speech, the assasisination of Theo van Gogh, and the response of Muslims to the Danish cartoons depicting a bomb in a turban. Two events, not sure I am convinced this is convincing evidence, that is working. But Mr. Bawer continues on with an easy target to blame, the Western media (and multiculturalism). He claims that the Western media, especially the BBC, basically frame these stories as "we" are the bad guys.

I am not convinced by the evidence Mr. Bawer presents. I am an academic and used to a much, much, higher bar to claim something like he is. A single source who knows some editors is not enough to make such a claim:

Press acquiescence to Muslim demands and threats is endemic. When the Mohammed cartoons—published in September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to defy rising self-censorship after van Gogh’s murder—were answered by worldwide violence, only one major American newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, joined such European dailies as Die Welt and El País in reprinting them as a gesture of free-speech solidarity. Editors who refused to run the images claimed that their motive was multicultural respect for Islam. Critic Christopher Hitchens believed otherwise, writing that he “knew quite a number of the editors concerned and can say for a certainty that the chief motive for ‘restraint’ was simple fear.” Exemplifying the new dhimmitude, whatever its motivation, was Norway’s leading cartoonist, Finn Graff, who had often depicted Israelis as Nazis, but who now vowed not to draw anything that might provoke Muslim wrath. (On a positive note, this February, over a dozen Danish newspapers, joined by a number of other papers around the world, reprinted one of the original cartoons as a free-speech gesture after the arrest of three people accused of plotting to kill the artist.)

I could go on to point out the shortcomings of this article, it is easy to do. Nevertheless, I do think the press underreports this issue, the ideological aspects of this social movement. I am just not convinced it is because they are bowing to dhimmitude. How much does it have to do with the generally dumbed down nature of the press? And when our own government is assualting our basic constitutional freedoms, freedom of speech, in a self-censored manner, is not going to make it very high on anyone's list of atrocities.

I also wonder what effect the corporate ownership of the press has on this lack of reporting? Controversy is usually the news' best friend, but it is not so comfortable in a board room.

But, what troubles me more about Bawer's article is what is the solution?

He begins his conclusion:

Enough. We need to recognize that the cultural jihadists hate our freedoms because those freedoms defy sharia, which they’re determined to impose on us. So far, they have been far less successful at rolling back freedom of speech and other liberties in the U.S. than in Europe, thanks in no small part to the First Amendment. Yet America is proving increasingly susceptible to their pressures.

The key question for Westerners is: Do we love our freedoms as much as they hate them? Many free people, alas, have become so accustomed to freedom, and to the comfortable position of not having to stand up for it, that they’re incapable of defending it when it’s imperiled—or even, in many cases, of recognizing that it is imperiled

So, should we outlaw sharia? Islam? What actions would Mr. Bawer suggest? I suppose he would like to see Islam painted with a signle brush, as 'bad'. Yet, in the name of security, we are trampling all over our bill of rights. Indeed, surveys of our own people show as much support for limiting free speech as there is for support for violence among Muslims...a small, but significant minority.

Now, I am just a college professor. But I ask my students, in classes of mostly freshman, how many think that the 10 Commandments should be made criminal law? About 30% do. How many think non Christian religions should be outlawed in the US? About 10-15% do.

the major problem with Mr. Bawer's analysis is not that jihad is having an effect on our freedom of speech, but rather, that a defense of free speech has already taken such a beating already.

One last thing. Isn't multiculturalism a strong antidote to jihad? Wouldn't that be a counter argument? Isn't the only reasonable counter argument? Freedom of religion seems to me to be a major multicultural statement.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What if the Iraqi government is buying weapons for militias to kill Americans?

Love that provocative title.

WaPo reports our military preparing plans to tke military ations against Iran. At one level, so what. that is what the military does, plans to destroy every other country on earth. We probably have planned to invade Canada. On the other hand, given our current leadership, it is troubling.

I find this very troubling: "Speaking of Iran's intentions, Mullen said: "They prefer to see a weak Iraq neighbor. . . . They have expressed long-term goals to be the regional power.""

Nothing new there. In fact, isn't that the same reason we supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran? So Iran wouldn't be the regional power? And now we are doing it again, except, as critics in the talk back portion of WaPo point out, the Al-Maliki government is friendly with Iran. True. And the same government that is planning military action against Iran, also certified the election of an Iraqi government that is friendly toward Iran. Shouldn't the government of Iraq be outraged at the Iranian action?

But while Mullen and Gates have said that the government in Tehran must know of Iranian actions in Iraq, Mullen said he has "no smoking gun which could prove that the highest leadership is involved."

What if there is amoking gun that the Iraqi government knows about these arms shipments? What if they are paying for them? al Maliki has the most to gain by cozying up to Iran. Without his own militia, (which is why he is the compromise leader), he is personally rather powerless. But if he can buy a militia, or gain a lot of credit with arms, ..., well, this is all speculation.

Imagine that for a Bush legacy. Invade a country based on false premises, certify a democratic government that cozies up to a dangerous US enemy, which in turn is helping to kill Americans. Can his successor somehow get us out of there without leaving a disaster? None of the current Presidential candidates have a plan for doing so. I hoped Sen. Obama would propose something following his questioning of Gen Petraeus and Amb Crocker. So far, however, nothing.

The future of American ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism refers to the tendency of people to evaluate the ways of others as inferior due only to the fact that people are familiar with their own ways. Americans, in large part, due to their relative geographic isolation and an incredible lack of curiosity about the rest of the world, is a very ethnocentric nation. This is not usually a topic or even a concern that many recognize. But the Christian Science Monitor ran an article on exactly that topic with a twist.

The author, Helena Cobban, makes similar points that former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made when I heard him speak st DePauw University on March 3. As I listened to Prime Minister Blair, I though to myself, "we could learn much from Britain's transition from empire to one of many nations. While we are not a classic empire, we do act imperially." Cobban, in her article suggests a strategy for US to "repair" our relationship with the rest of the world:
A smarter approach would be for us to build a new relationship with the world that embraces the key principles of human equality and mutual respect among all peoples.

Many who hold fast to American is always right, who represent exactly the kind of attitude that is the problem, or the ethnocentric attitude, will howl at the comparison she makes:
Here's another imperfect (but also helpful) comparison. America's current relationship with the rest of humanity has much in common with that between South Africa's apartheid-era whites and their disfranchised non-white compatriots. Back then, most white South Africans argued that they were more civilized and more educated than the others; thus it was "best for everyone concerned" if they dominated national decision-making. A far-fetched analogy? Perhaps. But there are echoes of that mentality in the way some Americans still talk about Washington's role in global affairs.

Oneof the things I like about this article is that the author points out that actually what she is suggesting is, is not foreign for the US, she points out how we did things post WWII.

We are going to have to pay more attention to the world on its own terms. In the current Time magazine, there are some startling numbers. 220 million Americans, 71% of our population has internet access. About the same number of Chinese do. But that is only 16% of their population. The Chinese market and the Indian market will swamp the US. The needs of those countries, the wants of their growing middle classes are going to set the prices for us.

I do wonder, however, how successful the Chinese and Indians will be using our energy intensive model for development. There may not be enough petroleum to do it. In the competitive world we live in, those markets could drive our technology development for alternative energy, etc. Or else, those countries might develop it and then America could find itself in a real hard place.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another reason to be disappointed in our elected officials

Remember last year when the Supreme Court laid waste to discrimination laws by intepreting the limitation on filing a discrimination lawsuit to the original act of discrimination and not each paycheck? There were few who defended the Supreme Court on that one. Of course, the law should have been immediately clarified so the Supreme Court's ridiculous interpretation would not stand.

Should have known that the correction would die in a bout of political gamesmanship. You can read the details here.

"Republicans accused Senate Democratic leaders of stage-managing the vote, pushing the bill without seeking a compromise. "We understand people have to run for president," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "But to have the schedule of the Senate completely revolve around the schedule of the Democratic presidential candidates strikes me as particularly ridiculous."

Normally such accusations are just a cover, but in this case, I agree. The Democrats managed to screw up a political winner by trying to make it count for double.

Senator's Obama and Clinton made the most of the opportunity with campaign like speeches. But Sen Mccain, campaigning in the hard fought state of Kentucky (I thought he was the nominee) managed to miss the vote. He's brave; he's a straight talker, but apparently such a miscarriage of justice as that Court decision was, isn't that important to him.

So, now I doubt this will get fixed, though it probably will hurt Republicans. hard to explain a negative vote on this one. Politicians always try to dumb stuff down, and reasonable objections like you have to have a statue of limitations on such a law, which many Republicans and the President cited as the reason for their opposition, but that won't carry the day. And voters aren't going to blame Dems for their poiltical overreaching.

I hope they all lose reelection.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Sorry State of Saudi Women

The BBC runs a series on Saudi Arabia. The most recent focuses on a report by Human Rights Watch. Article here Here is a quote: "It's astonishing that the Saudi government denies adult women the right to make decisions for themselves but holds them criminally responsible for their actions at puberty."

A couple of weeks ago I had some visitors in my class. One of them was a man from Saudi Arabia, a student learning English and will probably be enrolled in our University next semester. He spent a week in my class. One of the topics I covered was "How Different are the Sexes?" Afterward he came up and spoke to me. He was quite bothered by my presentation. He said, in essence, that women were inferior to men. I asked him what his authority for such a statement was. He cited biology texts, religious texts, etc. I asked him what he thought about the sociological concept of sexism we had covered. He didn't seem to get it. To him, it wasn't a matter of justifying unequal treatment, women were to be treated as inequals.

How do we justify our relationship with this country when it treats its women this way? Yes, I am a multiculturalist, without any problem. But, there are limits to everything. And the situation of women in Saudi Arabia is not defensible in today's world.

We ignored the Taliban in Afghanistan to our deep regret. What is the difference between the Taliban and the current Saudi treatment of women?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We’re No. 1 in the U.S. and we demand the best

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 20 April 2008

As a sociologist I am typically fascinated more by people’s responses to events than the event itself. Sen. Obama’s recent remarks given at a private fundraiser is a good example. As is well known by now, Sen. Obama, donning his sociology cap, tried to answer a question about rural, small town Americans. He suggested they were bitter because their local economies are in a shambles and no one pays them any attention.

Instead of discussing this sociological insight into rural America, Senator Obama’s opponents have instead attacked him as an “elitist” and out of touch with regular Americans.

Fascinating. I am not going to defend or even explain Sen. Obama’s remarks. I do want to explore the charge of elitism.

What exactly does elitism mean? According to, elitism has several meanings: 1) practice of or belief in rule by an elite: 2) consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group; and 3) the belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

Aren’t the same folks accusing Sen. Obama of being an elitist also the same ones who suggest he is not fit to be President because he has insufficient experience? All three major candidates work very hard to make their resumés look the best, the longest, with exaggerated claims of legislative daring do, avoiding sniper fire, and brandishing their ignorance of the Middle East. Each one argues they are the most qualified and they believe they are the best to rule. And if experience isn’t enough, we’ll go bowling, knock back a shot and a beer, and appear on late night comedy shows, to show we are hip, regular, and in touch with the “real” people (even if it is just once an election cycle). Does it seem to you that those accusing Sen. Obama of elitism fit the first definition of elitism, too?

If Senators Clinton and McCain are not elitists, according to the second definition, then they must not be proud of belonging to a select or favored group. I wonder which group it is? The U.S. Senate? Both do want out, to join an even more exclusive club (so does Sen. Obama), so are they elitists or not? Perhaps Senators Clinton and McCain are not proud to be Americans? If that were true, they would probably be disqualified. Both have trafficked in suggesting Obama is anti-American, or a lacks pride in belonging to a select or favored group (Americans, or Christians, or Democrats, or Republicans). That then seems a catch-22 doesn’t it? If he is proud to be American he is an elitist. If he is not, then he is anti-American.

Let’s examine the third definition: The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. Hmm. This sounds strangely similar to another idea: meritocracy or (again according to an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth. All three candidates are over-achievers. McCain, a Naval Academy graduate, Clinton, a Wellesley graduate, and Obama a Columbia graduate. Are we to believe that McCain and Clinton would prefer winning the presidency due to their family connections?

I don’t think a charge of elitism is going to make much difference. I think Americans, in general, are elitists. We demand the best, the elite in everything. Everyone wants the best doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, quarterbacks, and presidents. Chanting “We’re Number One” is not common anywhere but in the U.S. That seems pretty elitist to me.

Sen. Obama may be an elitist. But are we to believe those leading the chorus of those charges are not also elitists? Do they fit the opposite of the meaning of elitism? If they accuse Sen. Obama of being an elitist but are them selves elitists, doesn’t that make them “elite” hypocrites?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Paul Krugman is bitter

I usually like Paul Krugman. But, as with most economists, well, "measurement" is not his strong point. let's take today's column on whether Senator Obama's theory about small-town midwestern voters is correct. Krugman tries to argue that Senator Obama is wrong. Well, I live in Indiana, which is full of the kinds of small towns Senator Obama was talking about, and I'd say he is more correct than he is wrong.

Despite Prof Krugman's data, he is not measuring the right thing. For instance:

In fact, the Clinton years were very good for working Americans in the Midwest, where real median household income soared before crashing after 2000.

If things are so great in SMALL towns, then why are they shrinking. Sure, Midwestern household income went up. In the cities. Chicago, Indy, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Cincinatti, even downtown Detroit has improved. And the suburbs around these areas are fabulous. But the small towns, like Rosedale, Indiana, or Kansas, Il, they are losing population, seeing their schools crumble and all during the Clinton years. So, Prof Krugman is conflating the MIDWEST with small-town, rural areas.

Let's move on: Now Krugman tries to stumble into sociology, having already stumbled on econonmics, he breaks a leg with his sociology.

The crucial word here isn’t “bitter,” it’s “cling.” Does economic hardship drive people to seek solace in firearms, God and xenophobia?

It’s true that people in poor states are more likely to attend church regularly than residents of rich states. This might seem to indicate that faith is indeed a response to economic adversity.

Is church attendance the same as being religious or believing in a faith? Church attendance is down across all groups, but belief is not, nor is spirituality. Equating a belief in God with church attendance is just sloppy operationalization. What Senator Obama was really talking about is "fatalism," but that requires too much sociological sophistication for most lay readers.

Then Prof Krugman changes the story line, away from whether Senator obama's is right about small-town midwestern voters and offers his colleague Prof Bartel's up as the truth, that Republican's haven't owned the Presidency becuase the working class votes Republicans but because the South went Republican following the Civil Rights Movement, what suggesting that Republicans are racists?

I read Dr. Bartel's op ed that Prof Krugman refers to in his column. I can't argue with the statistics, but if things are as he claims the data indicates, then why are there so few democrat elected officials in the midwest rural areas?

Too bad neither Prof Krugman or Bartel cared to acknowledge one of their colleagues at the NYT. I urge anyone reading this blog, to click here and read this analysis. I think it is much, much more "on" than the armchair analysis of the Princeton Professors.

Guilting the Pope

Listening to NPR this morning about the Pope's visit with a couple of adults who had been molested as boys by parish priests. Story here. The radio version is better than the print version however. I loved it, one of the men, Olan Horne, guilted the pope:

A burly and commanding man, Horne is the first to tell you he doesn't quite look the victim, but he went to the meeting with the pope armed with photos. He says he wanted Benedict to see the "innocence lost" and the devastation the clergy abuse has caused him.

The radio version, however, went on. Mr Horne said he gave the pnotos to the Pope so in the future, when he is making decisions, he has a photo of what his actions involve. (This begins at about the 2:15 mark) The Pope accepted them graciously. What a wonderfully Catholic way of dealing with authority. Too bad such a move wouldn't work on Protestants.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Obama's "bitter"remarks and what it says

What a circus. Rev. Wright's inflammatory remarks, Clinton's embellished sniper fire story from Bosnia, and now Obama's bitter remark.

What is next? Is one of these candidates also going to say that parents are the reason for so many screwed up kids, underachievement in schools, and a drop in economic productiivty because the new generation of kids have no work ethic?

Wouldn't that be political suicide?

As far as the bitter remark is concerned, I live in Indiana, for nearly 21 years. I am more educated, have lived other places, and am privileged. But I live here, amidst, fly-over country.

Mitch Daniels our governor, a conservative republican is a conservative state is introuble here. His reelection is not a sure thing. And I am going to vote for him (I didn't vote him four years ago) and that I am going to vote for him is part of the reason why "real" Hoosiers aren't.

First, he put Indiana on a single time zone and daylight saving time. I don't believe DST makes us money, but having a single time zone simply makes greater sense.

The roads in Indiana are awful. He leased the busiest stretch of inter state to a foreign company for just under 4billion and real Hoosiers got mad because the company is foreign. Every governor in the midwest would have done the same thing. The nut case Blagoivich (illinois) has been trhying to do something similar, but can't get his mostly rural, small town, legislature to go along.

Daniels reigned in the building of sports palaces (otherwise known as schools), but once the budget was balanced, without the special one year income tax on household incomes above $100000 he proposed, he paid the schools back.

But too much change, too many foreigners, and Daniels could have exploited the ridiculous constitutional ban on gay marriage, or traffiked in abortion demagoguery, or push for a conceal carry right on college campuses. But, he hasn't. He has focused on serious stuff, which this state and rural America needs to, and what does he get for it? Opposition from the very people who trumpet conservatism.

The American Specptator had an interesting article about it here

Bitter? yes, many people are bitter, but they would resent it if you pointed that out. partly because they are victims and often act like it. It oculd never be that their own actions might play into their situation. Never. Oh, sure illegal aliens, liberals, no more prayer in school, those are things that ruined the factories, many would have you believe. The same folks rail against big government, but a proposal by the conservative republican (though highly educated) Mitch Daniels is met with harsh resistance...his proposal? reduce government by half...get rid of the redudnant government structures (township based government).

Why doesn't obama get some credit for speaking the truth, or do you only get McCain's moniker when you speak agasinst your own parties interests?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Physcians for socialized medicine

No one ever said that physcians don't know their interests. Recent survey of doctors show majority now favor national health insurance.

Majority Of US Physicians Favor National Health Insurance
ScienceDaily (2008-04-01) -- The largest survey ever of American physicians' opinions on health-care financing has found that 59 percent of doctors support government legislation to establish national health insurance while only 32 percent oppose it. Support has grown 10 percent over past 5 years. ... >">read full article

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why support has grown so dramatically over the last 5 years.

Study Finds Billions Of Health Insurance Dollars Used For Administrative Costs
ScienceDaily (2005-11-10) -- Billing and insurance paperwork consume at least one out of every five dollars of private insurance health spending in California, according to a new study by health policy researchers. ... >">read full article

That is a lot of money going somewhere else than for medicine. And more dollars in the doctors pockets means better care for us, riiiiight?

After reviewing the study findings, Kevin Grumbach, MD, professor and chair
of the UCSF Department of Family and Community Medicine and an expert on health
policy, commented, "Research conclusively demonstrates that public insurance
systems in Canada and other nations have avoided the costly administrative
inefficiencies that plague the market-oriented US health system. Reading this
study, people may well ask why our nation tolerates such an inefficient system
where 45 million Americans lack insurance coverage."

So, how many clerks and bureaucrats will be out of a job if we extended medicare to everyone?

Doctors have been proletarianized, just like the rest of us; they don't think like entrepreneurs anymore, they think like employees, and employees like things simple. A single payer system is simpler.

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