Readers Write Back
3 June 2009 @ 8:49AM >>
Joe Paladino of Lake Mary, Florida e-mailed in response to my piece on
President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. And, no
, the reason I’m posting this is not
because of the first paragraph... I keep telling myself.
First off, let me say that I love your site. There have been very few times were I seem to disagree with your posts. But what I like most is that you seem fair with the issues you write about and present all facts, then state your opinion. And still have time acknowledge the letters of those who disagree with you, even though there have been instances when they don’t seem worthy of anyone’s time. That is far more than I can expect from many other sources.
But for this most recent post, I have to express opinion. To most people, this nomination seems to clearly be a case of affirmative action. Understand that I’m certainly not doubting her qualifications, which may be sufficient. Of course that is to be decided during the Senate confirmation hearing. However, what infuriates me (and should disturb her as well) is that Sotomayor was only considered on the luck that she is female, and better yet, Hispanic. I believe it is safe to say that a majority of this country has no problem working and going to school with whoever desires to be there, so long as they deserve to be there. And by that I don’t mean because a college Dean or the President of the United States wants to even things out a bit.
This inforrmation you provide about her outrage while in college concerning the lack of hispanic students on campus is ridiculous. How is it anyone’s fault that only 66 Puerto Ricans applied to Princeton that year? Perhaps her time would have be better spent encouraging the potential students to consider Princeton as the college of choice. To support my argument I’m going to quote a great man who’s influence is still seen today though the messge is often passed over.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I think it is safe to say that the way our colleges, and appearently supreme courts, are run is not exactly what Dr. King had in mind. It’s common sense that we should judge all people by their character. But it is absurd that in the year 2009 people still want racial equality, unless of course you are white. We already had our run.
But I don’t suppose I can blame her. It would take a extraordinary person turn down such an incredible opportunity and immense honor.
But a black man now holds the highest office in the land. While that certainly does not undo all of the racial oppression this country has seen, it does show that Americans are ready to move forward. Unfortunately, there are some who still think that things just aren’t fair yet.
29 May 2009 @ 6:47PM >>
The recent post
on the FDA’s regulation of Cheerios as a drug generated a lot of e-mail from readers. Last week, I posted a well-reasoned disagreement
with my view on the matter.
Here are a couple more responses:
Maybe the cholesterol lowering qualities are not the result of the Cheerios themselves, but the fact that the person eating Cheerios for breakfast is not eating a food that might increase one’s cholesterol level, i.e. bacon. Would the FDA be justified in stepping in then? I have to imagine if you had a side of bacon (a few slices) with your Cheerios everyday, your cholesterol would not be lower by 4% in 6 weeks. To me this is common sense. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who have given up thinking for themselves and are reliant upon others telling them what is good and what is bad. Enter the Nanny-state.
I just want to encourage you concerning your take on the FDA regulating Cheerios like a drug. It seems as though we as a nation have completely lost all common sense, and I can hardly take it anymore.
Is it really a revelation that food affects health? Before we became a nation of pill popping hypochondriacs, how do you think we consumed beneficial nutrients?
Since Cheerios might be able to make health claims, and therefore should be treated like a drug, it makes sense that the FDA should also treat milk like a drug, and investigate those potentially spurrious claims that it “does a body good”. Several years ago, there was an opinion that eggs increased cholesterol. Should the FDA have classified eggs as a harmful drug? Where does it end?
Food products are already regulated to require the disclosure of ingredient lists and nutritional information. Any nutritional scientist can consume the information already required of a food manufacturer and conclude potential health benefits and risks. If a product contains 3000mg of sodium per serving, for example, does it really take a clinical study to determine that it is not heart-healthy? You could not use the same method to evaluate Ambien or Prosac.
Of course, I am making my argument based on common sense. Since common sense is rapidly going out of style, perhaps I should just concede. Let’s treat anything healthy like a drug, just to make sure everyone is “safe”. Calling my doctor now to stock up on prescriptions for citrus - need that vitamin C.
28 May 2009 @ 6:15PM >>
One reason I really enjoy operating Brain-Terminal.com
is that I get so many nice notes from people wishing me well. Here is an e-mail I received recently from one fan of my work:
From: Aca Acambaro <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Evan Coyne Maloney
Usually I need to hear or read a few sentences to figure out who is a moron, but you win the prize, one can see your utter stupidity in less than 3 words. I wouldnt even bother with any intellectual debate your fucken morons, well I dont mean to insult fucken morons, but thats as close as I can get. Icomplete web site whose IQ adds up to 1.9 if that, I htink I will go talk to a maggot or slug, will getmore out of it, oh well you get the idea, ummm actually you mos liekely dont thats the funny part.
Thank you for taking the time to construct your informed critique of my website.
I have spent years trying to mask the fact that I am a moron. Most of the time, I get away with it. Unfortunately, to an astute observer such as yourself, my “utter stupidity” is readily apparent.
But I would like to rectify that. So if you would be so kind as to identify the “less than 3 words” that made you recognize my mental deficiency, I can rewrite those few syllables and hopefully continue fooling my fellow morons.
Any assistance you can provide in weaning me from my ignorance would be most greatly appreciated.
All the best,
20 May 2009 >>
Brain Terminal reader Blake I. Markus disagrees with my take on the Food & Drug Administration’s apparent desire to regulate Cheerios
I have a small complaint about your article, Kids! Just Say No... to Cheerios. I normally agree with your sentiments, but this one is hard to swallow.
I am very libertarian when it comes to limiting the control of the federal government. I do not believe the government should regulate individual and ordinary decisions of regular citizens. In the game of life, the government’s role should not be deciding where to move the pieces.
However, the government must act as Milton Bradley and set the rules that make it possible to play the game fairly. Rules such as antitrust laws, banking regulations, and criminal penalties are necessary to ensure the People don’t get screwed in one form or another by other people or businesses who take too much control, engage in fraudulent behavior, or try to otherwise gouge or mislead a consumer.
With regard to your article specifically, it appears that your argument for why the FDA’s decision is a bad one, is that the government is just trying to enforce a rule for the sake of enforcing a rule and engaging in “nanny” behavior.
While I agree that the government, especially as of late, has been engaging more and more in parental decision-making, I think the actions taken by the FDA are correct. The problem isn’t that “idiots might get confused and mistake a bowl of Cheerios for a pile of Lipitor.” The real problem is that the FDA cannot set a precedent of letting products be advertised as giving specific health benefits without meeting the rigorous FDA standards established for that type of advertising.
I’m assuming here that the FDA did not approve the so-called “clinical study” that was done by General Mills, a company who does not do “clinical studies” on a regular basis. If such a precedent were to be set, herbal supplement companies could make specific claims about their products (more specific and more often than they already do) that were not correctly tested.
This decision by the FDA is a difficult one, I must say. I don’t believe there would even be an argument if this scenario were more like an herbal supplement company stating that the ingredients in the supplement will guarantee on average a 10% weight loss and 14% muscle gain, but those studies were based only on clinical trials conducted on lab rats, and the results only counted the rats who were left living after the study was over.
But the sad truth is, even though this is a children’s cereal that is practically an institution among breakfast foods (and late night desserts, as you have pointed out), the rules are in place to prevent harm to the consumer in the face of bad studies. If Cheerios conducted an FDA approved study and it was found that the decrease in cholesterol was negligible and it actually increased the likelihood of testicular cancer in young men, you would likely be changing your tone about this “nanny” decision.
Thank you for your time, and please keep writing your wonderful blog entries. While I had to say something against this entry, I am often pleased by what you have to say.
Thanks for the e-mail, Blake. I think you have a good point with respect to herbal supplements. However, I think the Cheerios case is different in one key respect.
Herbal supplements are intended to improve someone’s health or state of mind. That’s the only reason people buy herbal supplements: to consume them like medication. So regulating them like a drug makes sense to me.
But the original and primary function of Cheerios to fill the stomach and provide the body with energy. Cheerios is tasty, and that’s a nice side-benefit, as is the apparent cholesterol-lowering power. But such benefits are secondary.
Now, if General Mills is making claims about Cheerios that are false, that’s a much more defensible case for government regulation. But in the reporting I’ve seen, nobody disputes the health claims made by General Mills. I haven’t seen anyone question the legitimacy of the studies about Cheerios cholesterol-lowering properties.
So why, then, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the government?
Before regulating Cheerios like a drug, why doesn’t the government first commission its own independent study and see if the claims about Cheerios are false?
That seems reasonable to me, and it would certainly constitute far less government interference in private enterprise.
That’s my take on it, although I could be wrong. The media reports on this story haven’t exactly been paragons of clarity.
Update: In another report, it seems the FDA is questioning the claims of General Mills: “We certainly don’t have any issues with the safety of Cheerios,” Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in an interview today. “We just believe that the labeling on this particular product has gone beyond what the science supports.”
27 February 2009 @ 8:27AM >>
Last week, I covered the Borders bookstore in Dallas which appeared to have a display of various Barack Obama items
under a “Religion” sign in the children’s section.
It turns out those pictures were authentic, as Borders has now admitted.
After seeing the photos, reader T. Williams contacted Borders, and he forwarded their response to me. I followed up by contacting Borders and verifying their e-mail, which they acknowledged:
Thank you for contacting Borders.
That email in fact did come from Borders.com, I have forwarded a copy to you.
First, let me underscore that Borders is politically neutral—we take no political stand whatsoever and remain committed to providing our customers with a deep selection of titles that appeal to a wide range of views, tastes and interests. We stand by our customers right to choose what to read and what to buy.
We have no displays in our stores nationwide featuring books about Barack Obama under the heading of Religion in our Childrens sections or anywhere else. What is captured here in the photo is a simple display error made by one store and one store only. In this particular location, the staff expanded the display of childrens books in the category of History and Social Studies horizontally across two display areas and simply did not realize that they had left the Religion category sign up above the newly expanded display, which happened to feature titles related to President Barack Obama. Once alerted to this error, the store promptly removed the Religion category sign. This was a simple oversight and is no way indicative of any political slant on the part of Borders nationwide or even in this particular store. I am sure now that you are aware of the facts, you will agree that it is misleading to continue to circulate this photo and state that it is indicative of a political stance or campaign on our partthat just isnt so. It is my hope that you’ll come back and visit us again soon at your local store and see for yourself.
Borders Customer Care
5 December 2008 @ 8:57AM >>
On Monday, I referenced the story of a Canadian university that cancelled a cystic fibrosis fundraiser
because the disease “has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men.”
Instead of raising money to fight an illness that only affects oppressors, a reader from New Orleans suggests a novel way to bring the races closer together:
There has long been a glaring disparity between blacks and whites in longevity. I think this calls for nothing less than a moratorium on all life-saving medical services for white people. It would also be helpful to remove seatbelts and airbags from their automobiles and police protection from their neighborhoods. Eventually this would lead to equality in longevity, thus contributing to peace and harmony between the races.
26 November 2008 @ 8:52AM >>
A nice, succinct e-mail from a fan:
To: Evan Coyne Maloney
Date: November 4, 2008 11:20:45 AM EST
Subject: You are a liar therefore a MORON
No body, all subject. I especially like the use of “therefore.”
22 July 2008 @ 7:51PM >>
In a recent post, I cited some statistics on this year’s distribution of the income tax: “the richest 1% of tax filers [will pay] more than 40% of the income tax burden. The top 50% will account for 97% of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 50% [will pay] just 3%.”
In response, I commented, “Every time I hear someone claim that ‘the rich’ aren’t paying their ‘fair share,’ I wonder, how much tax would ‘the rich’ have to pay before it becomes fair?”
Steve W. e-mailed me with a good question:
What percentage of the total income earned goes to that top 1% of filers that are paying 40% of the income tax burden? If it is something like 37% of the total income, and they are paying 40% of the total income taxes, that doesn’t seem overly atrocious, but if they are down around 15% of the total income, that seems like a far bigger problem to me.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal supplied the answer:
The nearby chart shows that the top 1% of taxpayers, those who earn above $388,806, paid 40% of all income taxes in 2006, the highest share in at least 40 years. The top 10% in income, those earning more than $108,904, paid 71%. [...] Americans with an income below the median paid a record low 2.9% of all income taxes, while the top 50% paid 97.1%. [...]
Aha, we are told: The rich paid more taxes because they made a greater share of the money. That is true. The top 1% earned 22% of all reported income. But they also paid a share of taxes not far from double their share of income. In other words, the tax code is already steeply progressive.
In other words, the top 1% earned 22% of the nation’s income, but paid 40% of the nation’s income tax. That’s a pretty steep disparity.
So, the question remains: if the rich aren’t paying their fair share even under this lopsided scenario, how much tax would “the rich” have to pay before it becomes fair?
14 June 2008 @ 1:52PM >>
A reader and viewer of Indoctrinate U
recently wrote to me asking about a t-shirt I wore in the film: “I caught a glimpse of one of the t-shirts you were wearing, but didn’t really get the whole thing. It looked like it had a Republican elephant on it with a circle and a line through it. What was it really?”
I wrote back:
You correctly identified the t-shirt. It had the Republican Party logo with a circle-slash through it, and below that the text: “I Hate Republicans.”
For a while during the shooting, I wore a series of shirts deliberately intended to help me blend in to the environment, similar to the way that some species camouflage themselves.
The shirts (two more of which are shown in the attached photos: a CCCP shirt with the Soviet hammer and sickle, and a Joseph Stalin t-shirt) were originally part of an experiment that was intended to be a scene in the film. I wore different politically-themed t-shirts around campus and tried to capture various reactions. We did get a number of under-the-breath comments disparaging my “Viva la Reagan Revolucion!” t-shirt done in the iconic Che style and my “Proud Republican” t-shirt, but unfortunately, we had trouble finding the right mic setup to reliably capture such comments. So we pretty quickly scrapped the idea.
But after I realized that certain t-shirts granted me better access to the campus, I kept wearing those ones around.
Speaking of t-shirts, we’ve now got a few available over at the Indoctrinate U store, where we’ve just added a bunch of Indoctrinate U gear.
However, I should warn you in advance that these shirts probably won’t grant you better access on campus. Quite the opposite, possibly.
24 April 2008 @ 1:12PM >>
Fellow Bucknell alumnus Michael Malice, a founder of the popular Overhead in New York
website, more recently the subject of a book-length profile
by American Splendor
icon Harvey Pekar
, has launched a new online venture.
Called “Worst Email Ever: The Internet’s Inbox,” what the site chronicles is fairly obvious.
Had I known there would eventually be an appropriate venue for airing some of the venomous missives sent my way, I would have made a practice of hanging on to many more of them.
Still, I was able to dig up a few, and I’ve sent them along to Mr. Malice. These e-mails are now publicly available for all to enjoy.
P.S. For you Harvey Pekar fans out there, here’s the scene from David Letterman that couldn’t make it into the film American Splendor. Yikes.
15 January 2008 @ 8:55AM >>
In response to the post Court Closes the “Michael Moore Loophole”?
, Terry Howard
Was reading your most recent post about campaign finance reform and how it relates to private citizens generating “issue oriented” content. This is such a slippery slope, on all sides, that I think the judges and congress should be more worried about than us as private citizens. These guys are still thinking about content distribution and ad placement in terms of quaint methods they can wrap their heads around. How do they plan to apply such decisions to web distribution? What about hybrids like CurrentTV? What about YouTube on your TV via AppleTV? Do people have to give equal time on their blogs and social networks? Podcasts? RSS feeds? Twitter?
Further, as an internet marketer I am really curious to see how they ever plan on extending their reach into the numerous platforms of ad distribution: paid search, organic search, banners, email, pay for post, mobile marketing, embedded ads in video, viral marketing, guerrilla marketing, flash mobs... I could go on for hours, and that’s the point. Are these guys who think of the internet in terms of tubes really ready to delve into that world? They are ill equipped to wade into the pool beyond radio, TV and print, and quite frankly, two of those three are all but off the table for most promotional purposes and TV is quickly becoming unattractive as other methods offer vastly superior ROI. They are making bad decisions that won’t even apply to reality by the time they finally pass anything legislatively.
You can’t control political speech and advertising with today’s technology any more than you can lasso the moon. Whether it should be done or not becomes a moot point then.
I agree that political speech will be harder to regulate as media becomes more fractured and decentralized. But I wish I thought that meant politicians and bureaucrats wouldn’t try. If anything, the seeming chaos of the cacophony of individual voices in online media will probably lead some people to start arguing for tighter controls on political speech.
So as long as speech regulations are pitched as something else—such as campaign finance reform—it ends up getting supported by people who don’t pay much attention to politics but casually believe campaign finance needs reforming. And unfortunately, people have a tendency to care a lot less about free speech when it isn’t theirs being stifled.
It is interesting that, by and large, the editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers supported the McCain/Feingold political speech limitation bill. The fact that the legislation limited the speech of other private citizens—and not newspaper editorial writers—probably didn’t hurt. After all, in a world with less political speech, the power of a newspaper editorial writer is enhanced. Faced with a media environment where more people are getting news online and from independent voices, a cynic might say that newspapers saw campaign finance reform as the McCain/Feingold Endangered Editorialists’ Protection Act.
Being embedded in an old-media business, the ink-and-paper columnists might not have seen the regulations as a direct threat to their speech. But that’s only because they’re confusing their product—words and images—with the physical carrier of their product.
By encouraging the government to regulate political speech differently based on the employment status of the speaker and the medium in which the speech is conveyed, myopic editorialists have guaranteed that busybody bureaucrats will eventually try to tie down whatever medium those newspaperites flee to once the last inch of their sinking paper ship is finally dragged beneath the surface.
Whether they be political activists or not, if private citizens, like the folks who formed Citizens United, do not have the right band together to engage in political speech during certain times of the year, then the First Amendment is just a part-time right afforded to only part of the citizenry.
12 January 2008 @ 12:21PM >>
Matt Walliser writes in to say:
In your January 2 article titled “From Rainbows to Downloads” you suggest (emphasis mine)
when songs are stored as data and can be moved around like any other computer file, consumers will only ever need to buy one copy. As long as open formats are used, people will be able to play their music on any device devised in the future.
In February 2006 I wrote to you in regards to iTunes reaching 1 Billion downloads, loosely predicting that the music industry’s reluctance to evolve would only serve to strengthen Apple’s dominant position in the marketplace (or something like that). Recent anti-trust lawsuits filed against Apple with respect to monopolization of format simultaneously reinforce both your point (above) and mine. For clarification’s sake: I’m neither condemning nor condoning the actions Apple has taken that have brought about the lawsuit (predatory pricing of their hardware being the most credible, imho), I’m merely calling it like I see it.
Even though the music business has been fighting the trend towards Apple’s online distribution dominance since at least 2005, ironically, one reason Apple has so much power today is because of bad decisions made by the music labels themselves.
For years, labels have demanded that digital music be burdened with copy protection technology. In order to get permission to sell music through the iTunes Music Store, labels required Apple to implement copy protection, which they did. That technology, called FairPlay, is one of the less onerous copy protection schemes out there, but it does mean that music files purchased through the iTunes Music Store can’t be played by non-Apple devices (although they can be burned onto standard CDs, which can then be used in any standard CD player). In other words, the labels’ insistence on copy protection ended up giving Apple the ability to lock customers into its file formats, thereby making it more difficult for those customers to switch to devices sold by Apple’s competitors.
Steve Jobs has called on the recording industry to abandon copy protection, and after one label granted permission, Apple now sells some songs in MP3 format without copy protection. Competitors like Amazon are now selling music in unprotected MP3 format as well. Maybe the recording industry is slowly waking up.
Still, I can’t help thinking that Steve Jobs is secretly smiling to himself, knowing that the long-running short-sightedness of the music business is part of the reason that Apple enjoys such dominance in online music distribution. If music labels had allowed sales of unprotected MP3s right from the start, Apple’s iPod would probably be just as dominant in the market for portable music players, but the iTunes Music Store would likely be a different story.
12 September 2007 >>
In the course of defending myself against accusations of quote doctoring, a reader discovered that MSNBC silently changed a quote in an article about journalists’ contributions to political causes.
A few days ago, I was criticized by a reader for allegedly removing an important part of a quote. The reader said I was “bad for democracy” and that I “should be ashamed of [myself].”
I replied that the quote I cited in my post appeared that way in the article at the time I wrote my post. My only defense was that I copied and pasted the text out of the article and did not change it. But the text that the reader cited did differ from mine, and I could not prove that the text had changed since my post appeared. MSNBC had apparently changed the quote without mentioning the change, even though the article does list another correction.
Yesterday, another reader did a bit of forensic websurfing and found proof that I was not lying:
The reason that the internet is so great is that information is rarely ever lost. It’s there if you know where to look. You can, for example, use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
If you use it to search for the URL of the MSNBC article <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19113485/> you come to this page:
It seems that the page has been updated only twice. Once on June 25th, when it was created, and once on June 26th. The June 25th version has the Mark Singer quote exactly as you posted it. But then it’s changed in the June 26th version. And, oddly enough, this change is not included with the other correction noted.
Hope this was helpful!
As happy as I am to be vindicated, I do think it’s odd that MSNBC added to Mr. Singer’s quote apparently to take some of the sting out of it. Especially when the network obviously has a policy of noting corrections—after all, they posted a different correction notice to the very same article.
So what led to the change in Mr. Singer’s quote? Did he demand it? Or did someone at MSNBC just think he needed to be softened up a bit?
Inquiring minds want to know!
10 September 2007 >>
In an e-mail entitled “Why you’re bad for democracy,” a reader takes me to task for this post
, in which I passed along a study analyzing the political contributions of journalists. (The study
said that reporters give $9 to Democrats and liberal causes for every $1 given to Republicans and conservative causes.)
The e-mailer wrote:
It’s so funny that someone who blogs about biased reporting does what you did:
You quote Mark Singer as saying...
“If someone had murdered Hitler Ã¢â‚¬â€? a journalist interviewing him had murdered him Ã¢â‚¬â€? the world would be a better place. I only feel good, as a citizen, about getting rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t regret it.Ã¢â‚¬?
In fact, the quote, in the very article to which you linked, was...
“If someone had murdered Hitler Ã¢â‚¬â€? a journalist interviewing him had murdered him Ã¢â‚¬â€? the world would be a better place. As a citizen, I can only feel good ABOUT PARTICIPATING IN A GET-OUT-THE-VOTE-EFFORT to get rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly don’t regret it.”
You actually then proceeded to suggest that he advocated the murder of Bush (”Ah yes, the fine reporter would have killed President Bush”), when in fact, he was actually EXPLICITLY supporting the notion of ousting him by the vote - which in case you didn’t realize it, is actually what democracy is all about.
I know you’re not too stupid to know the absolutely massive distance in meaning between your quote and the actual quote. So I can only assume you deliberately chose to misquote him. So you could skew it to your own biases. If that’s not “Michael Moore-ish”, then I don’t know what is!
You should be ashamed of yourself.
The reader is correct in pointing out that the article now contains the Singer quote as rendered in the e-mail.
However, the quote as shown in my post is a direct copy-and-paste from the MSNBC article as it appeared at the time of my post. That’s always how I quote chunks of text from other sources. I’m too lazy to retype all those long quotes.
Whenever I modify something I’m quoting, I enclose all changes in brackets, even if I’m just changing the case of a single letter at the beginning of a word. If I’m removing anything from the quote, I note this using an ellipses enclosed in brackets: “This is a quote from which I’ve removed a few [...] words.”
I do this whether I’m removing a word, a sentence, or a paragraph.
The only exception to the rule of using brackets is if I’m changing the case of a publication that for stylistic reasons capitalizes words or several words at the beginning of a paragraph or section.
This is a standard that I’ve used since starting Brain Terminal over six years ago.
I can’t guarantee that I haven’t missed something, and if I have in any way rendered a quote inaccurately, I hope vigilant readers will let me know. I will post the criticism, I will note the mistake, and I will somehow correct the original post.
Still, I do know that the quote in my original post is a direct copy-and-paste. In this case, MSNBC must have modified the page after my post.
Outlets often quietly change text after an article’s original publication. I sometimes update posts after they’re published if there is a simple typo or of I decide that different wording conveys my thoughts and feelings more accurately. I’ve seen a number of establishment media outlets change text after publication without noting it.
In the future, I should keep screenshots of quotes I cite in order to have more fixed documentation than a simple web link can provide.
[Update: Another reader found proof that the original text of the article matched what I originally quoted in my post.]
But even with the new wording, I don’t think Mark Singer sounds any more sympathetic.
A good writer knows that mere juxtaposition can cause readers to draw inferences that the writer doesn’t want to explicitly state. In this case, Singer doesn’t want to come out and say it would be a good thing to kill President Bush, but here is what he said (at least as it appears in the MSNBC article as of now):
1. Singer says there should “probably [...] be a rule against” journalists making political contributions.
2. Singer then says, “But there’s a rule against murder.”
3. He then states it would have been good to murder Hitler (thereby implying that a rule against murder isn’t necessarily a good thing).
4. And then he starts talking about “feel[ing] good about participating in a get-out-the-vote effort to get rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime.”
Either the leap from item 3 to item 4 is an addle-brained non-sequitur, or Singer is saying (1) it’s not necessarily good that there’s a rule against murder, but there is and (2) that’s why I contribute money to anti-Bush causes. And if it isn’t necessarily bad to murder someone as destructive as Hitler, is it such a leap to assume that Singer would support murdering someone he considers “the most destructive president in [his] lifetime.”
I suspect Singer didn’t put those statements in that order by accident. If he’s smart enough and a good enough writer to work for the New Yorker, then I don’t think he’s careless with words.
My take on it is, he’s equating President Bush with Hitler and hinting that Bush’s murder would be a positive event.
9 August 2007 @ 8:49AM >>
Yesterday, I got an e-mail from an earnest-sounding Columbia student who objected to my recently-released Indoctrinate U
outtake, “Columbia Quiz
Here’s what the student wrote:
I’m sure this point has been made before, but don’t you think it’s ironic that you’re claiming to promote freedom of speech - specifically an individual’s freedom to express controversial ideas - and yet your interview on the Columbia campus hinged on the assumption that the Columbia professor should not have expressed such a controversial idea (i.e. his opinion of Israeli Jews)?
If you really supported freedom of speech, you might let people say what they want and have a little faith in students’ abilities not to be brainwashed. Don’t worry - we’re not as dumb as you seem to think.
Columbia College ‘08
Here’s what I wrote back:
Freedom of speech runs in both directions. I agree that Professor Dabashi is free to denigrate Israeli Jews. But I am also free to criticize him for it. You seem to be suggesting that I oppose free speech merely because I’m pointing out what he has said. How Orwellian of you. It looks like your Columbia education is paying off!
When I filmed this scene, my plan was to use it in Indoctrinate U to illustrate a double-standard in academia. Professor Dabashi can say the most vile things about Jews and still maintain his job as Chairman of the Middle East Languages and Cultures department, but other professors have been punished for saying things that are much more tame. I planned on juxtaposing the case of Professor Dabashi with the case of another professor who was removed from her job as department head for the high crime of being a registered Republican.
We see this pattern time and time again: you can say the most extreme, hateful things, as long as you pick the right targets. Meanwhile, simply opposing racial preferences in public or holding a rally to condemn Hamas and Hizbollah can get you brought up on hate speech charges. Being registered in the “wrong” political party can cost you your job. Up at your school, a mob rushed the stage to accost a speaker who had the temerity to argue that our nation should enforce its borders. Free speech is not alive and well on campus.
In fact, free speech is often selectively afforded to people based on what they say. If you haven’t noticed this yet, perhaps it’s because you happen to hold the approved set of views. Good for you. You haven’t run afoul of the censors...yet.
I support free speech and academic freedom for everyone, not just left-of-center professors, but for all professors and all students, regardless of their ideas. I even surprised a lot of friends when I said publicly that Ward Churchill’s explosive comments comparing September 11th victims with Nazi operatives did not constitute an offense for which he should be punished or fired.
Students and professors have repeatedly had their academic careers ruined simply for expressing mainstream views that are far less controversial than what Professor Dabashi said. My purpose in covering his case was not to say that he should be shut down, but to question why people like Hamid Dabashi and Ward Churchill are embraced within academia, while others have their academic careers destroyed for much milder speech. To me, that’s a legitimate question, and it’s the central question of my film.
Thanks for writing,
29 March 2007 @ 12:12PM >>
on Cinnamon Stillwell’s piece
discussing the movie 300
elicited more than the usual amount of e-mails. Here’s a small sample.
Garrett, a freshman at Wake Forest University writes:
I’m sure that you have heard of Victor Davis Hanson and his especially insightful view of the world. He not only wrote the introduction to the book The Making of 300 but has spoken on the radio about the values war between East and West.
Hanson takes a grippingly perspicacious look into the dominance of Western culture in warfare in his book Carnage and Culture. He examines nine different battles and how each are indicative of some facet of Western values and how those values do more for martial success than things like resources and geography.
I don’t know if you have seen the movie, but when Xerxes descends his throne and his slaves form a human staircase for him I could not help but think that one thing this movie got right is that in relative terms of course, 300 is a story of freedom versus serfdom and it is undoubtedly a deciding factor in that epic struggle.
I highly suggest you read it. The book will gives credence and historical evidence to something that many of us who see the war on terror have realized all along.
Mikey from Jacksonville writes:
Cinnamon Stillwell is way, way off in her take on 300 and what she views as a cultural disconnect between critics and masses.
For one, there’s no such disconnect, really. 300 is running a 61% on the Tomatometer at rottentomatoes.com, which is pretty good (and indeed, the best of the weekend’s top five).
Secondly, she posits a very common strawman, which is that critics and audiences are often at odds. This is just wrong. It’s easy to come up with examples (like say, Ghost Rider) where this holds, but the inverse is more often true. The top ten highest grossing films of all time adjusted for inflation are Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, ET, The Ten Commandments, Titanic, Jaws, Doctor Zhivago, The Exorcist, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. These all were, and continue to be, critical darlings.
I agree with her that the critics who criticize 300 are misguided, though. Personally, I loved the film. I think the problem with the negative critics is that they’re viewing a 5th century BC story through 21st century eyes. Of course there were things in Spartan society that today we’d see as less than heroic, but that’s not the point. Other than visual artistic liberties, the film was remarkably historically accurate. Perhaps there are things about Spartan society that bother us and make us think it’s less than worth saving, but this does not make 300 a bad film. Merely one that is disagreed with.
10 February 2007 @ 5:58PM >>
A reader points out that the tax disparity I highlighted in yesterday’s Two Americas
post may be more severe than I indicated:
I think you understate the problem. You say “Yet today, 14 million Americans are receiving representation without paying any taxes, while 50% of the population pays 97% of the taxes. That means there are 14 million free-riders who have a vote that enables them to call for taxes to be raised on everyone else.” But the article says “about 14 million Americans at lower incomes have been removed from the federal income tax rolls since 2000“.
TaxProf’s Blog gave the percentages a couple years ago: 25.2% of filers reported zero tax liability in 2000, compared to 32.4% in 2004. The underlying report reveals the raw number of the untaxed grew nearly 10 million (from 32.5 million to 42.5 million) in those 4 years. I can’t find the latest numbers, but it’s certainly conceivable that 4 million more free-riders were added in 2005 and 2006. And this is just the number of tax returns filed, not the number of Americans. The report goes on to say “roughly 15 million individuals and families earned some income last year but not enough to be required to file a tax return.... Even 57.5 million is not the actual number of people because one tax return often represents several people. When all of the dependents of these income-producing people are counted, roughly 120 million Americans Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 40 percent of the U.S. population Ã¢â‚¬â€œ are outside of the federal income tax system.”
To be fair, however, a study of tax liability and propensity to vote is warranted if you’re going to claim tyranny of the majority. The study concludes by breaking down the numbers by several demographics, but “likely voters” isn’t one of them.
Thanks for the careful reading of the original report, Bill. It seems clear that I did understate the problem.
1 December 2006 @ 8:52AM >>
Fifty-eight days since a mob of Columbia students stormed the stage and shut down the speech
of a guest invited by the school’s College Republicans, and the university is still silent
on the results of its alleged investigation.
A reader e-mailed me with an observation that the wheels of justice don’t always turn so slowly at Columbia; in fact, just a month before the near-riot that required Minuteman speaker Jim Gilchrist to be whisked off the stage by security, the university very quickly suspended the entire men’s hockey team for a much less threatening offense: posting recruitment flyers that contained the phrase “don’t be a pussy.”
Free speech is very clearly not alive and well at Columbia.
Update: Christopher Edele, the reader who pointed out the hockey team suspension, followed up with a note that negative attention ultimately caused Columbia to reinstate the hockey team. However, it is still telling that Columbia’s first inclination is to silence unpopular speech, and to stay silent after student goons did the same.
22 November 2006 @ 8:22AM >>
Alexander Stephens writes:
I enjoyed your posting about the political makeup of the NY Times editors and officials. One thing to ponder might be why they are registered with a party at all? Time was that at least for the sake of objectivity, journalists would register as unaffiliated with any party.
That’s a good point. In the past, journalists hid their political leanings from the world by registering to vote without declaring a party affiliation. Some journalists discovered the benefit of doing this relatively recently.
Until sometime before the 2004 election, Katie Couric—who in conservative circles is perceived as being rather liberal—was a registered Democrat. But according to the New York City Board of Elections, she has since changed her party affiliation to “blank” (which in New York State parlance means unaffiliated; the same as “independent” elsewhere). Perhaps she became frustrated with the Democratic party, or perhaps she grew weary of being labeled a partisan journalist.
I think it’s a good thing that we’re able to discover so much about the people who package the news for us. Knowing the personal political leanings of the producers of the news helps us become smarter consumers of the news. When members of the media withhold that information from us, there withholding an important part of the story. Because as much as we’d like to think otherwise, we all view the world with our own biases, and those biases will inevitably color the way we present our view of the world to others.
Rather than pretending bias doesn’t exist—which is what the old-world journalistic notion of “objectivity” does—bias should be considered a built-in flaw of an imperfect system. And if each of us, as news consumers, is aware of the flaws in the system, we can account for them when evaluating what we’re told by the media.
Only journalists who don’t want you to know the full story will try to hide their beliefs from you. The honest ones will expose their biases to the world and let the public make informed evaluations of their work.
21 November 2006 @ 6:05PM >>
In response to my recent post on transparency in education
, reader J. Gates e-mailed a link to an article
from the Ludwig von Mises Institute that included this revealing snippet (emphasis added):
Excluding student financial aid, public universities receive about 50 percent of their funding from federal and state governments, dwarfing the 18 percent they receive from tuition and fees. Even “private” universities like Stanford or Harvard receive around 20 percent of their budgets from federal grants and contracts. If you include student financial aid, that figure rises to almost 50 percent. According to the US Department of Education, about a third of all students at public, 4-year colleges and universities, and half the students at private colleges and universities, receive financial aid from the federal government.
Given the amount of money taxpayers are forced to spend on higher education, we have a right to demand financial transparency from these institutions. What other industry receives this much of its funding from the public without any oversight or accountability to the taxpayers who are paying for it?
6 November 2006 >>
In response to a post
last week which cited a New York Post
piece noting recent declines in newspaper circulation
, reader Ari sends this possible explanation
from the Freakonomics
For the past several years, newspapers have been reporting on their own circulation declines with a strange degree of intensity. They write prominent, mournful, self-flagellating stories of their own decline that remind me of a friend who used to sniff his own underarm when he knew it was particularly randy. Every six months, when the circulation figures are reported, a new round of articles appears.
Not everyone is convinced that newspapers are dying, of course. Jack Welch wants to buy the Boston Globe; Dow Jones just managed to find a buyer who paid $282 million for six smaller newspapers; and of course several months ago, McClatchy bought Knight-Ridder. Circulation declines notwithstanding, these transactions suggest an underlying value that the newspapersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ own articles do not reflect.
The media executive Allan D. Mutter makes a very interesting point on his blog about circulation declines: a lot of them are essentially intentional. That is, circulation figures are falling in part because many newspapersÃ¢â‚¬â€?in response, I am guessing, to recent audit scandals at Newsday and elsewhereÃ¢â‚¬â€?have stopped distributing free or cheap copies of their papers, which used to be helpful in padding circulation figures.
This may be true, although I don’t see how this can be spun into a sign of health for newspapers. I also find it hard to believe that newspapers aren’t losing any readers due to competition from online (and other) outlets.
But let’s be generous and assume that 75% of circulation declines are a result of gradually eliminating deceptive circulation-pumping practices. What this means is that newspaper circulation is still declining several percentage points a year (depending on the particular paper) and that newspapers are obliquely owning up to the fact that they’ve been releasing artificially inflated circulation numbers for years.
This theory suggests that long-term declines in newspaper circulation won’t be as severe as current numbers indicate, but in order for this theory to be true, newspapers have to admit to yet another ploy that undercuts their credibility. Not exactly a face-saving trade-off.
5 October 2006 >>
In response to my piece
on Bob Woodward’s admission that higher-ups at the Washington Post
claimed an “obligation” to publish State of Denial
before the election, reader Matt S. e-mails:
I’m a regular reader and fan, but yesterday’s post titled “A Question for the Washington Post” was, in my opinion, far below your standard.
Setting aside Woodward’s politics, biases, and agendas, it seems perfectly compatible with standards of professional journalism that a journalist would aim to publish a story before an election if that story contained information relevant to the election.
Citizens are supposed to make informed decisions on Election day; it’s the role of a free press to help citizens become informed. I think it follows that citizens should be informed prior to making such consequential decisions.
I’m perfectly happy to read arguments that question the accuracy, veracity, or objectivity of Woodward’s reporting - I think there are legitimate questions there - but to suggest that there’s something wrong with publishing a relevant story before an election is silly.
Of course a more informed electorate is preferable. But the subject of Woodward’s book is not on the ballot in this election, which is why I find it curious.
The book discusses the Bush Administration and reportedly casts the president in a harsh light. If President Bush were up for election, I would understand the civic obligation felt by journalists to get the facts out—however they perceive them—so that voters could make up their minds. But since the voters will not get to pull the lever for or against the president, I’d figure the folks at the Post would be relatively neutral about whether the book launched in the home stretch of a midterm election that, unlike most, has the potential for both houses of Congress to switch party control.
Instead, there was a sense of importance placed on the timing. Woodward, the Post people felt, had a “real obligation” to make sure the book dropped before a specific date. Woodward acknowledged that he and the Post sat on these stories. He said he didn’t want “to make a splash” by reporting individual stories when they happened, but instead he wanted “to assemble the whole story,” which required waiting until the assembly was done. A fair argument, but usually, newspapers are in the business of telling us things when they happen, not months later when the political timing is right. Besides, isn’t waiting until six weeks before an election going to cause much more of a political splash than a story reported in, say, the spring of 2005?
I can’t claim to know Woodward’s motivation or that of the folks at the Post. But I do suspect that if he were given a chance rephrase his statement, he wouldn’t pass it up. I think it was an admission he didn’t intend to make.
Thanks for writing,
28 September 2006 @ 3:29PM >>
In response to the Berlin opera story
, a reader e-mails:
Isn’t it amazing how there is a global organized entity that is actually successful in dictating conversation to the rest of the world? Has that ever happened before? Seriously, when was the last time a single movement censored the rest of the world? The Nazis were not successful censoring the world, neither was the Soviet Union.
I find it astonishing that the entire world is currently censored by one entity. It’s like The Mob took over the world.
Name Withheld For Fear of Retribution
12 September 2006 @ 2:39PM >>
From: danny email@example.com
Subject: dumb ass
Date: September 12, 2006 2:27:17 PM EDT
To: Evan Coyne Maloney
Why not travel the world and discover a bit about other cultures? That might do good to your humanity
Thanks for the suggestion Danny. However, there are certain places in the world that I’d rather avoid, because I don’t have a strong desire to have my head sawed off. Having my head sawed off might not be too good for my humanity.
14 August 2006 >>
Last week, Senator Joseph Lieberman lost the Democratic Primary in Connecticut. In effect, he’s been booted out of his own party, no longer able to run for Senate under the label “Democrat.”
The Democrats in Connecticut excommunicated Lieberman because he was seen as being too supportive of President Bush’s foreign policy. So, the Democrats’ former Vice Presidential nominee will now be running as an independent in order to keep the seat that he’s held since 1988.
After it became clear that Lieberman was no longer considered a Democrat in good standing by Connecticut’s voters, I argued that it was “a great loss for Connecticut, for Democrats, and for America.”
Brain Terminal reader Keith Leonard disagrees with the level of importance that I and others have placed on the outcome of the election:
Although Lieberman lost it was only by a close margin (52-48).Ã‚Â I keep hearing from pundits, and you, that this is a resounding victory for the anti-war left.Ã‚Â On the contrary, I think it shows that the Democratic party, at least in Connecticut,Ã‚Â is split on the issue.Ã‚Â I think the ‘reasonable’ left (as opposed to the radical left) deserves more credit.
It’s true that the election was not a landslide, but that doesn’t mean that the results are insignificant. The pacifist left has shown that they now have enough power in the Democratic party to knock off a guy who, just six years ago, was respected enough within his own party to be nominated for Vice President. There’s no question this is a turning point.
When one faction within a party achieves dominance over another, that’s significant. Perhaps the reasonable left deserves credit for being reasonable, but they can’t claim credit for controlling the Democratic party, at least not in Connecticut. The reasonable left lost to the pacifist left. There’s no other way to put it. And if anyone should doubt whether the reasonable Democrats lost, just look at the latest Rasmussen poll to come out of Connecticut:
Half (52%) of Lamont voters believe Bush should be impeached and removed from office. Just 15% of Lieberman voters share that view.
More than half of the Democrats in Connecticut who just voted to remove Senator Lieberman from office also believe that President Bush should be impeached. That’s a pretty big bloc of Democrats, and if this bloc represents the new power base of the Democratic party, then they should put their money where their mouths are and try to play that hand.
For a long time, the Democratic party leadership has gotten away with a double game: criticize everything about President Bush’s handling of the war on terror, but don’t offer any solutions of their own. They know that if they offer specifics, those can be criticized as well. But they want to avoid that criticism, so they keep quiet when it comes time to suggest alternatives.
If the Democrats are this cowardly in fighting the war of words that surrounds the war on terror, how can anyone expect them to effectively fight the war on terror itself?
The Connecticut primary shows that the pacifist wing of the Democratic party is on the rise. And if they should ever find themselves holding power in Washington, their first priority would not be to fight the Jihadists whose bombs are exploding all over the world, their first priority would be to impeach the only president who’s made a serious effort to combat those Jihadists. Interesting priorities.
Trying to put President Bush on trial for being too aggressive in fighting this war will tell the rest of America exactly where today’s Democratic party stands. I don’t think they’re politically suicidal enough to try something like that, but if Ned Lamont’s voters had their way, that’s exactly what would happen.
Will the Lamonties have enough influence within the party to push the Democrats towards impeachment after the November elections? Only time will tell.
6 July 2006 >>
The New York Times
’s publishing the details
of our efforts to track terrorist finances seems to have struck a nerve with Americans. Nearly two weeks after the story broke, it is still a hot topic of discussion on political chat shows and the Internet. There is even a protest
planned outside the Times
headquarters next Monday.
Brain Terminal readers are also weighing in. Mike Thorneburg writes:
I just readÃ‚Â your 30 JuneÃ‚Â ”The Times and the Spy Loophole” post on Brain Terminal. In reference to your hunch that the public will be calling for some heads to roll at the publishing of The Times’ next treasonous diatribe, my suspicion is that we’re already sharpening the axes.
We should have demanded from our legislators a fullÃ‚Â accounting of the Times’ expose of the phone database program which is (was) a completely legal and successful method of monitoring the nature of calls placed to and received from terrorist countries by persons living in the United States. Moreover, I think many of us have missed the really big picture here and that is: WHO INSIDE THE ADMINISTRATION OR ACROSS THE AISLE IS LEAKING THIS CLASSIFIED INFORMATION TO THE PRESS? That’s what I really want to know.
Given their track record, I certainly wouldn’t dismiss desperate liberals and Dems, anxious to regain their political power, from abandoningÃ‚Â our country’s security in order toÃ‚Â attempt to discreditÃ‚Â the administration and have it appear that President Bush and his appointees are abusing their power and usurping the general rights of the citizenry. After all, The Times’ story said nothing of this program being illegal nor did it allege any wrongdoing by the program’s developers or administrators. The article was simply a cheap shot at oneupmanship by an arrogant New YorkÃ‚Â elitist cultureÃ‚Â hell bent onÃ‚Â shoving its own particularÃ‚Â leftist agenda down our throats. We should press our leaders for a full investigation of the story and demand they find out WHO is leaking information about these classified programs so that they can be hauled into court and prosecuted.
As for the Bill Kellers of the world, fortunately, we have long been a few steps ahead of them. We’re not so naive that we can’t smell the stench coming from the press barn. Mr. Keller has proven himself time and again an adversary to most mainstream Americans and part of the problem, not the solution. In my book, he’s a traitor and a pig, more concerned withÃ‚Â selling papers and stroking his own ego than keeping America informed.
I’m over here in Iraq and read your article today and have one question that I’m sure has been asked before (but I’m asking it again): If the NYT received classified information in advance of the operation that killed [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi], would they have published it, thus letting [Zarqawi] make his getaway, set up an ambush, or worse, both?Ã‚Â Yet, in a roundabout way, that is exactly what they are doing in the publishing of these stories.Ã‚Â And not only are they hiding behind the first amendment, but there doesn’t seem to be any investigation that I’ve heard of to prosecute their source(s).
Yesterday I witnessed the immediate aftermath of an [improvised explosive device].Ã‚Â Thankfully, no one was killed, yet one soldier was injured.Ã‚Â These attacks, as you point out, were made possible because of the financing.Ã‚Â It takes money to make even a terrorist’s world go ‘round.Ã‚Â Sure, the terrorists know there are programs designed to track their finances.Ã‚Â But I’m sure they don’t have as detailed a picture as they’d like so as to counter and change their tactics.Ã‚Â The NYT was happy to accomodate them, however.Ã‚Â And, in that same roundabout way, one of our soldiers is now in the hospital.
All the muck that’s fit to rake.
Lastly, “DiggaFromDover” sums up the situation with:
Freedom without responsibility is journalism.
Other than Dan Rather’s bogus memos, I can’t recall any other media action that caused this level of anger among e-mailers. While Dan Rather’s memos were intended to defeat a particular politician—President Bush—the actions of the Times put the entire country at risk by making it harder to identify and track terrorists as they move around the globe. And you don’t have to be a fan of President Bush to be disgusted with that.
23 June 2006 @ 9:50AM >>
In response to my piece yesterday on chemical weapons found in Iraq
, Daniel writes:
While I enjoy most of your articles, I cringed at this article because it really doesn’t prove anything. Even on Fox News they admit that nothing that they have found is evidence that Iraq had an on-going WMD program at the time we invaded. I agree with the gist of the article, though, that Saddam repeatedly lied and Democrats believed he had WMD’s, etc., but I think the recent press release by Senator Santorum was little more than a publicity stunt before the vote on troop withdrawal. Maybe some useable WMD’s are yet to be found in Iraq, but I found the recent press release to be pretty inconsequential.
You are correct that the new revelations do not prove that Iraq had an active weapons program. But these weapons do prove that Iraq was in complete failure to comply with the U.N. resolutions that required him to turn over a full catalog of his weapons, and to destroy the very types of weapons that we’ve since found. Clearly, he did not do either. And either of those alone would have been enough justification for action under U.N. Resolution 1441, the 17th consecutive U.N. resolution that Saddam Hussein was violating.
Add that to the fact that Saddam Hussein had been gaming the U.N. inspections for years and apparently bribing U.N. officials as well. Those are not the actions of a man with nothing to hide, and point to the possibility that Saddam was trying to escape the noose of the U.N. sanctions so that he could restart his weapons program once the sanctions had been lifted.
I think the discovery of these weapons is relevant, considering that one of the prime arguments against the war for the last few years has been that no WMDs have been found. That’s not true, and as I pointed out in my original piece, that hasn’t been true for a long time.
Because I covered previously-discovered weapons in the past, these new revelations didn’t strike me as the bombshell that others claimed it was. But it is one more bit of evidence showing that the rationale for deposing Saddam Hussein was sound.
Thanks for writing,
21 June 2006 @ 5:57PM >>
Last week, I posted some e-mails
received in response to “Why Do They Hate Us?
” Although those e-mails took issue with my article, it’s always refreshing to read an argument that is literate and informed, even if it is tinged with bit of condescension.
Unfortunately, most of the arguments that end up in my inbox don’t quite live up to that standard. Case in point, this note from an Australian e-mail account listed only as “LDupont2”:
Dear Mr. Coyne,
I read your article on Why do They hate us? and would wish to point out to you that they hate us because we are hypocrisy. The rest of the World used to look to the United States for leadership. I remember during Clinton leadership that yes I would gladly acquiesce to America being the leader of the free world Clinton was so statuesque so intelligent, so charismatic then he leaves office and what do you present me with a Bush cabal of mental midgets. Sadam as you know had no WMD yet our troops are locked in a battle to the death with the Iraqis and the Iranians are licking their lips. They hate us because we can no longer command their respect. Our soldiers like the Jews bomb people’s houses murder innocent women and children. They hate us because despite our 500lbs bombs we couldn’t even kill Zawquari. He lived long enough to embrace death and his martydom 52 minutes and the cause of his actual demise is arbituary
Thanks for that healthy round of hearty guffaws.
The fact that the United States was so respected during the Clinton Administration must explain all these terrorist attacks that didn’t happen during his presidency.
15 June 2006 @ 7:44PM >>
My article several weeks ago entitled “Why Do They Hate Us
” generated quite a bit more e-mail than usual. Some of it sparked interesting discussions, such as this one with a reader named Daniel Rhodes:
I found your article titled ‘Why do they Hate Us?’ rather simplistic and superficial in its analysis. I think that hate is too strong a word to be used in this context, although for the misinformed it certainly appears as such.
Historically, Islamists are not so concerned about what the West does in its own right, just as long as it does not interfere with their ability to carry out their own religious practices. What we see as hate is simply a reaction to the last century where the West (mostly European countries) have made interventions that have substantially changed interrelations within and among Middle Eastern countries.
In addition, much of the extremism which the US claims to be aimed towards them is actually a reaction to change from within Islam (liberal vs traditional forces), rather than Islam reacting to outside forces (Saudi Arabia is a good example). Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are more or less freak occurrences in these Islamic movements and contrary to what the Bush administration might want the public to believe, the US is probably not the central target for radical and violent Islamists. I would argue that Middle Eastern countries are far more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by violent Islamic movements, one reason why these countries are so oppressive.
If the Jihadists just want to be left alone, and just want to carry out their own religious practices, then what accounts for the Cartoon Riots? To deny that there is a cultural clash, and that our difficulties with Islamists stems mostly from foreign policy issues, seems to be wishful western thinking. We’re so proudly multicultural and accepting of everything that we really can’t imagine people could possibly want to kill us because of our open culture. To westerners, everything must have a rational explanation, so the explanation that fits our view of the conflict is foreign policy. Because if we view it in the realm of the geopolitical—rather than the geocultural—we can relate to and understand their complaints better. Political clashes we get. Cultural ones we don’t.
I don’t deny that foreign policy differences account for some of the turbulence. But I also think that denying the cultural element is simplistic and superficial. As is denying the fact that the reaction to the cartoons shows a desire on the part of the rioting Islamists to have the entire globe under the thumb of Sharia law. After all, if those cartoons can’t be published in Western Europe without people getting killed because of it, then Western Europe is effectively being governed by Sharia law.
Have you seen some of the signs that were held by Islamist protesters in London during the cartoon controversy? The Jihadists are very clear in telling us what their gripes are, but we as a society don’t believe them because we simply can’t fathom the possibility that people want to kill us because we’re too tolerant. That doesn’t make sense to us.
But they are quite explicit in telling us what kind of world they want. Why won’t we listen?
Thanks for writing,
P.S. I agree that Middle Eastern nations are vulnerable, but not for the same reasons you cite. Some Jihadists believe they need a nation state, a parcel of land from which to begin rebuilding the Caliphate. These Islamists also view regimes like the Saudis as sell-outs for being too close to the West. Meanwhile, the House of Saud has been sowing its own demise by incubating and encouraging the spread of the Wahabbist movement, the very movement is turning against the Saudi royal family. Ironically, they are vulnerable only because their own propaganda has been so successful.
Daniel wrote back again:
Thanks for the response. Don’t always be swayed by the things you see in protests (as I recall, you did a video a few years ago on how ridiculous some protesters are).
As for the cartoon riots, that was about as irrational as it gets, although it seems like it was incited rather than spontaneous — Europe has had many problems in integrating Muslims into its society and there is a lot of abuse and racism which occurs that is much more deserving of attention. There is a very good book called ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim’ by Mahmood Mamdani which addresses this culture war idea.
In response to your points about bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, etc.: Most of the really vehement Islamists that come out of Saudi Arabia and other countries have been forcefully kicked out because they are too radical, and they wind up in places like the UK where they continue to preach. Bin Laden was one of the expelled people.
I doubt a lot of the sympathy that bin Laden gets is from people who necessarily like his violent means, it’s probably from people who are more interested in his religious doctrine (or at least the principle of creating a more pure Islamic society) and from those who like a person who stands up to the West (look at Nassar or maybe even Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War; these feelings of needing to stand up to the West go back to the Ottoman Empire and problems with capitulations to Europe).
On your point about the Saudi Wahabbi movement, this is incorrect. The Saudis and the Wahabbists should essentially be seen as one, and this is the basis of Saudi political and religious legitimacy to the people. The last thing they would want to do, if they wish to stay in power, is stop promoting Islam.
However, with oil and the need for modernization, some principles have needed to be watered down, and that has of course threatened its religious base both as the protector of the faith and likewise its political legitimacy (this is where the Islamist threat arises within Saudi Arabia). I would agree that the oppression, as we see it, predated the Islamic movements, although the Islamic movements greatly exacerbated it. Looking at oppression in the Middle East through a western lens can be problematic sometimes given the differing bases of power and legitimacy.
I guess Daniel and I will have to agree to disagree. He believes geopolitics is the overriding source of the tension between the Muslim world and the West. I believe cultural differences are the culprit.
In the days since my e-mail exchange with Daniel, The New York Times reported on a survey that backs up my contention rather strongly. The Gallup Organization conducted “more than 8,000 face-to-face interviews [...] in eight predominantly Muslim countries”:
The most frequent response to the question, “What do you admire least about the West?” was the general perception of moral decay, promiscuity and pornography that pollsters called the “Hollywood image” that is regarded as degrading to women.
An overwhelming majority of the women polled in each country cited “attachment to moral and spiritual values” as the best aspect of their own societies. In Pakistan, 53 percent of the women polled said attachment to their religious beliefs was their country’s most admirable trait. Similarly, in Egypt, 59 percent of the women surveyed cited love of their religion as the best aspect.
When asked what they admired least about the West, notice that the answer had nothing to do with foreign policy. And while it is true that this study only questioned Muslim women, I would expect that those sentiments aren’t wildly different from what would be reflected in their societies as a whole. Muslim men inclined towards Jihad don’t exactly strike me as the sort of gents who lap up every ladleful of Hollywood’s steamy stew.
Now, I don’t doubt that foreign policy disputes have something to do with the Muslim world’s disdain for the West, but assuming that the differences are almost exclusively diplomatic is looking at the world through a decidedly Western lens. I can understand why: multiculturalism requires us to assume that everybody is just as accepting of cultural differences as we strive to be.
It isn’t politically correct to recognize that there are cultures where sawing people’s heads off is considered an appropriate response to an inflammatory film or cartoon. To recognize that such cultures exist requires us to make moral judgments about those cultures. It demands that we say, “You know, maybe it isn’t right to execute people in some excruciatingly grizzly fashion over mere drawings or books.” But the politically correct West is a post-moral society. We’re not allowed to judge the behavior of other cultures; multiculturalism forbids it.
The way the game is rigged, you’re a racist if you don’t adhere to the mantra that all cultures are morally equal. So if you can blame the behavior of Jihadists on Western imperialism, then you can acknowledge that behavior without judging it. You avoid being thought of a racist, and you can still be a concerned and caring multiculturalist in good standing. Political correctness requires that we always point the finger at ourselves. By definition, you can’t be politically correct and assign blame anywhere else.
30 April 2006 @ 6:29PM >>
A number of readers wrote in response to Paul Jimerson’s ugly stereotyping
in his e-mail criticizing my post Tolerance and Hospitality, San Francisco-Style
Mr. Jimerson predicted bloodshed if gay groups visited “small-town America”:
If such a thing should ever take place in small town America what kind of reaction do you think they might receive from the town if/when they came back the next year to do the same thing? How about the third year? There would be blood shed and it wouldn’t take long either. You know it and I know it and it’s typical of Christian tolerance or others and good will towards man.
Most of the e-mail pointed out that Paul’s assumptions were not only bigoted, they were flat-out wrong. Here’s a sample.
I guess the tolerant Paul Jimerson didn’t hear about Shout, the new Gay and Lesbian film festival here in Birmingham - starting tonight actually. I’m getting so tired of hearing Birmingham being used as an example of Nazi America. Birmingham has a large, thriving gay community. This town has come a long way in the past 40 years.
I’m a straight, white, Southern male - and *gasp* I hang out with my gay neighbor all the time. No beatings, no name calling, not so much as a harsh word.
Jeremy Brown adds:
Your recent post “Inside the Mind of a Tolerant One” was particularly interesting because I just read an article in World Magazine about the homosexual group, Soulforce, visiting and holding demonstrations at Evangelical Christian college campuses. This actually fits well with the hypothetical scenario Mr. Jimerson presented, although the welcome they received is significantly different from the one he suggested would occur.
It must be quite satisfying to imagine yourself superior to the rest of the country, so this information could be profoundly disturbing to Mr. Jimerson. Out of respect to him, I will not pass it along.
If ignorance is bliss, I’d hate to ruin his good time.