Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/12/2006

Mainstream Polygamy

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:35 pm

Polygamists normally live on the fringe and try to avoid any attention being called to them. Now, though, they're coming out of the woodwork, banding together, and attempting to legalize their practice. As was predicted, they're largely piggy-backing their effort on the drive to legalize gay marriage. While gay marriage is a separate issue and should be judged on its own merits and not because it is the first step on a slippery slope, it's worrying that polygamy could gain any sort of traction.

A problem with our loosening sexual mores is the idea that nobody is in the position to judge the partnering practices of others. That's just lazy thinking and is indicative of those whose response to important moral dilemmas is a subjective hedonist "whatever makes you happy" instead of doing the hard thinking on the matters.

Polygamy is not a healthy practice in a modern society. When implemented, it results in women becoming akin to property, their value exists only in relation to their husbands or to whom they can be married off, and these patriarchies start marrying off girls instead of women. Women become commodities, useful for sex and salvation, and women (at least those who don’t already buy into the men’s excuses for the practice’s necessity) are forced to participate.

Worse still (at least practically speaking, maybe not morally) is that polygamist communities are inherently unstable due to the natural gender balance. The ratio of men to women is typically 50/50. If multiple women are married off to only some men, though, that means that other men are denied spouses. That is, there is an excess of men and the extras aren't happy at not having a mate. In one fundamentalist Mormon sect in Utah, boys are driven out of the community on trumped up (or simply false) charges and dumped in nearby towns – and at ages as young as 13. The sect's male leaders don't want competition for wives and so they simply eliminate potential challengers before they can become a problem. This illustrates another issue: raw power differentials. The men with the wives wield an inordinate amount of power over not only the females who are wholly dependent on them, but also young males. Any boys who expect to rise to any prominence can do so only under the good graces of those above them.

So I don’t particularly care if some people say they can make polygamy work or that it makes them happy. If they care merely to live together, fine. But if they engage in polygamous marriage and demand equal rights, standing, and benefits given to conventional married couples through legalization of polygamy, they should be handed an unequivocal no. While my libertarian tendencies make me wary of the government intruding on private practices, especially those that are religiously based, marriage is also an important social practice. As such, it warrants the attention and regulation of law. Because of the practical social implications described above (and my list is hardly exhaustive), polygamy should be roundly denounced, outlawed, and actively stamped out wherever it is found. If the polygamists unite, let them – we’ll better know who to prosecute.

2/7/2006

The Globe’s Brave Surrender

Filed under: Media,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:27 am

Providing a paradigm example of irony, many furious Muslims around the world have taken to the streets committing acts of violence in protest of cartoons that implied Muslims were violent. There's nothing quite like playing to type. Thus far, mobs have torched a few embassies, some neighborhoods have been roughed up, a few protesters have been killed as a result of their own rampage, and untold numbers of Danish flags have been incinerated. The non-violent protests have involved boycotts of Danish goods.

As I argued in my last post, this conflict and how the West responds to it is important. It can either defend its core values of free speech and a free press and insist Muslims put up with these values or assimilate them, or the West can roll over and adopt Islamic religious edicts as binding on it through self-censorship. At least one prominent newspaper has chosen the latter course.

In an editorial, the Boston Globe chastises the European papers for publishing the cartoons, accusing them of pulling a childish prank. In fact, this editorial gets things wrong in a surprising number of ways.

This was a case of seeking a reason to exercise a freedom that had not been challenged. No government, political party, or corporate interest was trying to deny the paper its right to publish whatever it wanted.

The Globe certainly demonstrates its shortsightedness as to what constitutes a challenge to free speech. This statement comes just after explaining that what led to the cartoons’ initial publication is that a "Danish publisher of children's books had complained of trouble finding an illustrator to draw a likeness of Mohammed." This wasn't an accident, it was because potential illustrators were afraid to draw such pictures. It was the threat of violence that silenced them. If it was tacitly acknowledged that anyone who drew likenesses of Jesus would face the real threat of death from Christians, I somehow doubt the Globe would be so narrow in their thinking. They might instead think that the Christians’ threat of death constituted a very real challenge to free speech and a free press and that it should be confronted.

This is exactly the case with the Islamists. I don’t suppose the Globe has paid much attention to events in Europe, such as the Muslim riots in France, the murder of Theo van Gogh, that whole Salmon Rushdie thing, and many others, but the Islamists couldn’t make their challenge any more clear or obvious than if they put out a pamphlet called “The Challenge to the Freedoms of Speech and of the Press,” personally authored by Osama bin Laden. To say that the Danish newspaper was exercising a freedom that had not been challenged is a remarkable feat of ignorance.

Journalists in free societies have a healthy impulse to assert their hard-won right to insult powerful forces in society. Freedom of the press need not be weakened, however, when it is infused with restraint. This should not be restraint rooted in fear of angering a government, a political movement, or an advertiser.

This is practically a declaration of surrender. Don't let the fear of censure or strongly-worded letters from governments or politicians restrain the press. Nor let the fear of advertisers pulling their money retrain the press. The fear of riots, death, and the destruction of property, however… well, we’ll let that restrain the press.

The Globe's editorial staff may not agree with what you say, but it will defend to its last advertising dollar your right to say it! Just don’t ask it to put anything else at stake.

As with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material, newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.

As I also argued in my last post, the value of tolerance has been distorted and misused. It merely means that you put up with people with whom you disagree and you don't try to coerce others into believing as you do. Given the violence and calls for violence from some Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, this is clearly a value that hasn't been inculcated among them. If this is the ultimate Enlightenment value, as they say, and if the West is based on it, then how do they expect the West to stand when a significant portion of its population do not hold it? Is tolerance of the intolerant to be pursued to the West’s own self-destruction or should a line be drawn?

Tolerance also does not demand that I not publish cartoons that, to any rational objective person, are no big deal. Name me another religion that would respond in the way these Muslims have if especially tame, mundane cartoons were published about their religious figures?

That aside, the idea that the Enlightenment's ultimate value or contribution to the world was tolerance is absurd. That's the sort of statement a college freshman throws out as a rhetorical flourish with absolutely no support. The Enlightenment was a rationalist movement that relied on science, logic, and secularism, that sought out to diminish dogma and censorship, and helped to separate religion from government. Given this, the societies and nations that base themselves on Islamism and the people rioting are fundamentally anti-Enlightenment. Western entities that practice self-censorship because of certain religious dictates are also being fundamentally anti-Enlightenment.

Just as the demand from Muslim countries for European governments to punish papers that printed the cartoons shows a misunderstanding of free societies, publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. That is why the Danish cartoons will not be reproduced on these pages.

This commits two sins. The first is the part about any pictorial representation of Mohammed being prohibited. This is a particular interpretation that some hold, but it has not been consistently followed by Muslims themselves as you can find plenty of representations of Mohammed in Islamic art. I would imagine and hope that there are also many, many Muslims who don't think the rule is valid and/or simply don't think representations of Mohammed are that big a deal, including ones that feature him wearing a turban bomb. So for the Globe to say that this is a prohibition with "profound meaning for a billion Muslims" is simply false and is another college freshman flourish, one that involves irrational, unsupportable overstatement.

Second, to say the cartoons are equivalent to "Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks" is simply false. Even if you want to believe that of the turban bomb toon, tell me what's wrong with the one that features Mohammed traveling with his donkey or the one with a crescent halo over his head? Please find me a Nazi or KKK caricature that is as benign as these are.

Also, the comparison is invalid. Nazi and KKK caricatures mocked races by exaggerating physical features belonging to those races and by attributing certain behavioral traits or societal maliciousness to them that were utterly without merit. These cartoons, however, comment on an ideology, a religious one, but an ideology nonetheless. None of them exaggerate physical features of any race. They further comment on certain very real components of militant Islam, namely violence. As the riots, death threats, and embassy burnings have demonstrated, this concern is warranted and should have attention called to it. So here we have a third college freshman flourish: false equivalence.

So let us review. The reasons why the Globe will not publish the cartoons:
1) Freedoms had/have not been challenged – False
2) Never restrain only in cases of fear of government, politicians, and advertisers – False
3) Tolerance means we shouldn’t publish them – False
4) The world’s Muslims are offended by representations of Mohammed – False
5) The cartoons are racist and as bad as Nazi and KKK caricatures – False

I don't know what I have to fear more: the weak-will of Western journalists or their muddled thinking.

The CS Monitor has a nice roundup of various press reactions here and the Globe isn't the only media organ that's off track.

Others blogging: Rolled Stone, TheRIGHTJournal, themissinglink, and Volokh.

2/2/2006

The West Must Take a Stand

Filed under: Media,Pics,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 11:38 pm

There's all sorts of uproar among many Muslims about the cartoons of Mohammed that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September. It's supposedly against the Koran or a surah or some such to produce visual representations of the prophet. So for the paper to do was, again, supposedly a great affront and insult to Islam. In response, Muslim groups called for various sorts of retribution: apologies from the media and from governments, anti-discriminatory laws, a boycott of Danish goods, demonstrations, riots, and the ever-popular death of the infidels.

Several other European newspapers, in a show of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten and free speech, recently also published all or some of the 12 cartoons on their own pages. This has naturally been followed by an even greater outcry. So far, there have been demonstrations in the Gaza strip that closed the EU office (way to keep that funding you want, Hamas!), the editor of a French paper that published the cartoons got canned, there have been protests in Pakistan, the Turkish Prime Minister said the freedom of the press should have its limits, and a few prominent Muslim leaders residing in Europe have said, respectively, that "the war has begun," that "Friday be an international day of anger for God and his prophet" in which violence is anticipated, and that anybody to do with the cartoons should be killed.

So what's the big deal, you ask? What are these cartoons? Here are they are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Brutal, right? You should also notice some irony. While the toon with the turban bomb has been getting most of the attention, also observe toons 8 and 11 (the chalkboard one and the one with orange falling on the guy's head). Both of those are criticizing the Danish newspaper for seeking to publish the cartoons. Then you go to toons 3 and 9 (the guy hiding his drawing and the one with Mohammed calling off his guards) and you'll see that they're a commentary on Muslims' potential reaction to the drawings, which was obviously warranted.

Thus far, no MSM outlets in America that I know of have dared publish the images or show them on TV. CNN.com's article, in fact, says that "CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam." The other MSM folks have said pretty much the same thing. European papers have shown up for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but not those in America. Even a newspaper in Jordan published a few of the drawings and told Muslims to chill. And as MM points out, their excuse of respect for religion seems weak when none of the MSM outlets have had hesitations about showing pictures of Kanye West dressed up as Jesus, of the virgin Mary accessorized with an elephant turd, or of the world renowned "Christ in Piss" that featured a crucifix in a jar of urine. Were people upset at those things? Sure, but nobody, not even Pat Robertson in one of his loonier moments, called for the death of those who would insult Christianity. And the protests certainly didn't stop the images from being published, nor should they have done so.

So either the MSM are afraid or this is a case of tolerance gone wild. One should wonder why, with all the things that come out of the media that could fairly be called insulting to Christianity, that Christians don't have the same reaction as the Muslim world is having over these exceedingly mundane scribblings. The answer is multipart (and this list is hardly exhaustive). First, Christianity has had a reformation, something Islam is sorely in need of having.

Second, in the West, Christianity and the government are not the same entity. Once upon a time in Europe, displaying a crucifix in urine as an objet d'art would likely earn you an appointment with flaming lumber or with an inconveniently large stone pressing down on your chest. The separation of religion from government, though, meant that the Church, no matter how put out it was by a particular act of heresy, did not itself have the power to punish; that belonged to the secular authority.

Third, and perhaps most important, in the West, we believe in certain secular values that allow for effective pluralism and debate. Among them are freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Freedom from being insulted or from being miffed, however, is not among them. Thus, my right to say a religious belief is wrong or to violate a tenet I believe is false, e.g. that displaying a depiction of Mohammed is heresy, overrides somebody's perfectly non-existent "right" not to have that tenet violated. Similarly, though I think "Christ in Piss" is insulting to Christianity, the media's right to free speech overrides my non-existent “right” not to be insulted and so they can do display it. I may say that they shouldn't do so, but this is not a normative claim and it is merely another example of free speech. I certainly wouldn't threaten coercive measures to prevent it.

So this is a case of Middle-East meets West. Islamic values are again coming into conflict with Western values, something that is becoming increasingly common in Europe. The question is how will the West respond? Will it stick to its core values, or will it allow itself to be dictated to by a select group? One core value of the West is tolerance. This, however, merely means putting up with people with whom you disagree. Tolerance does not mean that I shouldn't post representations of Mohammed against Islamic strictures. Tolerance also means that the Muslims, in the West at least, should put up with people not of their faith who do not follow the strictures of their faith and so they should not advocate death for those who violate those strictures.

Two cultures enter and two may leave, but one will have to come out a little different. Either Muslims must conform to Western values of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and of tolerance, and they must give up their militancy at perceived slights, or the West must conform to the religious tenets of Islam and through self-censorship not do anything that could possibly insult Muslims.

The latter would be truly unfortunate. I have said before that nobody can ever defeat the West, the West can only defeat itself. We must remain convicted of the importance of our core values and not shy from controversy. If a subculture in the West advocates anti-Western ideals and that the West also take on those anti-Western ideals, then we must confront it. If one side must conform to the others' core values, then the subculture must conform to the West. If it's the other way around, then the West is lost.

Others blogging: Riding Sun here and here, Belmont Club, Dread Pundit Bluto, Flopping Aces, CQ, most especially RWNH which is on the page as me.

1/26/2006

Oprah No Longer Hearts Frey

Filed under: General,Pics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:59 pm

Oprah finally did what she should have done two weeks ago on Larry King: she berated James Frey for his lying memoir. She said all the right things – that she was duped, that he had betrayed millions of readers, and she challenged him on numerous points. For his part, Frey kept clinging to the false but accurate defense. He also blamed his extremely exaggerated portrayal of himself as a rough-and-tough bad boy who's angry at the world on his addiction and recovery:

"In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was, and it helped me cope," Frey said Thursday on Winfrey's show. "And when I was writing the book, instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image."

Right, so that explains it. If only he had been more introspective, he would have realized that he only spent a few hours in a jail instead of three months as he claimed or that he hadn't been beaten by the cops. Only with a lot of soul-searching would he have seen the massive factual errors in his life story.

I know, James, I know. Just this morning, I was reminiscing about my time as President of Uganda. After some deep introspection, however, and after I really explored my psyche did it occur to me that not only have I never been President of Uganda, but I'm only vaguely aware it's somewhere in Africa. I also discovered I have brown hair and that was a shock to me, James, let me tell ya. Introspection is the definitely the way to go for getting basic historical facts right.

This week, the comic strip Fox Trot has been having great fun with the whole Frey debacle. My favorite is the second one which hits on my primary gripe about Frey's deceptions: his is supposed to be an inspirational story of overcoming addiction, hate, anger, and generally being a horrible person. Only he was never the horrible person he makes himself out to be and so his tale of redemption and how he did it are also false and so are not inspirational. It would be like Paris Hilton writing an inspirational memoir of how she escaped her life of grinding poverty while growing up in the ghetto. Anyway, here they are:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

1/25/2006

Sheehan Jumps the Shark

Filed under: Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 1:07 am

If Cindy Sheehan hasn't already jumped the shark, she certainly did with her little jaunt to Venezuela. She's in Caracas this week for the World Social Forum, which is an anti-globalist and anti-American group. She's there talking about how she doesn't like Bush, how the troops should come home, the U.S. shouldn't be meddling in other countries, etc.

It's one thing to do this in the States. That at least has the tone of honest disagreement and using her voice in dissent of the government. Going elsewhere to do this, however, and speaking at a fairly explicit anti-American gathering makes her seem like she is herself anti-American instead of just a concerned American mother, the image she likes to project.

Most Americans seem to have a pretty high tolerance for domestic disagreement, but a curiously low tolerance for bad-mouthing the U.S. on foreign soil. Take the Dixie Chicks, for example. The uproar against them started because they insulted Bush at a concert in the U.K. Had they made the same comment in the U.S., I doubt the retaliation against them would have been as bad. Lefty folks invented the verb of being 'dixie chicked' to describe the phenomenon of popular revolt of red staters against entertainers for speaking their mind. There was also a perception that middle America and especially country folks won't put up with liberal tendencies among country stars.

That's incorrect. Many of the most famous country artists have been anti-establishment and somewhat liberal on many issues: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, among others. And let's not forget Willie Nelson who famously smokes pot and who campaigned on behalf of Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry. Nobody threw away his CDs. Part of the problem with the Chicks is that they didn't own up to their views. They made the comment on foreign soil and then made stupid, weak excuses about being misquoted or it being misinterpreted instead of just defending it and chalking it up to political disagreement. The fact that they ran from the comment instead of embracing it made them look like deceitful sunshine patriots who will praise U.S. actions at home, while disparaging them abroad. They came off as dishonest panderers.

Anyway, tangent aside, by speaking at the World Social Forum and buttering up to dictator Hugo Chavez, Sheehan now looks like a useful idiot of foreign anti-American elements. She's the dancing bear people like Chavez trot out to perform for the slogan-chanting faithful.

1/18/2006

Random Thoughts on Jesse and Al

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:59 am

After the last post, I started thinking about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. First, notice I refuse to use the honorific 'reverend,' since there as much ministers of God as I am a bicycle.

I still remember back in 2001 when Jackson admitted he had a child out of wedlock by a woman with whom he was having an affair. The news came out on a Thursday or Friday and Jackson promptly declared that he was going to take some time off out of the public spotlight so that he could reconnect with his wife and make amends. Family was important, ya see. By Sunday evening he had announced that he was going back to work (such as it is). He was so used to the attention and so drunk on his own hyper-inflated self-importance that he couldn't stand to be away.

Oh yeah, the Rainbow Push Coalition also paid the mother $40K to move to California, $365K to buy a house, and $3K a month in payments. Sure it looks like hush money, but Rainbow Push denied that, although there's no other way to explain why a non-profit advocacy group was laying out so much money for one former employee. If I was a donor to that group, I'd be a little torqued that my cash was going towards covering up Jesse Jackson's indiscretions.

Then there's Sharpton. I already discussed him at length here, but want to add something else. He first preached a sermon at 4 years-old and was an ordained minister at 9. He was known as the boy wonder preacher. Young kids may have an instinctive idea of God's love, but they certainly don't know enough or have lived enough to be able to teach adults or to understand what they preach. A kid preaching that young merely has a gift for rhetoric and they have first learned the power that effective rhetoric can give them. That was Sharpton's earliest lesson and I certainly don't trust him.

Lamest CYA Job Ever

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:39 am

Ray Nagin has caught some heat for saying at an MLK rally yesterday that New Orleans will be rebuilt as a “chocolate” city… 'cause God wants it that way. He also channeled Pat Robertson in saying that God was punishing New Orleans for America's sins, specifically for "being in Iraq under false pretenses," and also for the sins of violence in black communities:

Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country. Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves.

I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.

While there’s plenty of crazy talk you could focus on, it's the chocolate part that is getting all the attention since he's not being very unifying by declaring N.O. will be black and not white. In response, he gave the lamest defense of himself possible:

How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about. New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special.

That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard and I really don't know who he thinks is buying that line of absurd B.S.

It’s sad to see the state of black or civil rights oratory today. MLK gave his great I Have a Dream speech among others. Now we have twits like Nagin talking about chocolate cities or race-shysters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who think a good speech only need have lots of rhyming while spoken in a preaching style.

1/16/2006

AP Does Right on Execution Reporting

Filed under: Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 3:49 pm

I've complained several times about the AP's reporting on captial punishment cases, mainly that they're long on the plight of the condemned and almost wholly omit discussion of the crimes they committed and the people they killed. Well, I need to give credit where it's due as this article is nearly the exact opposite. It goes into some detail of the murders ordered by Clarence Ray Allen who is to be executed tonight, and makes it clear that he was a bad man. It even includes pictures of three of the people he was responsible for murdering. It's worth reading.

Update: It looks like I have to withdraw my praise. CNN.com has changed the article at the link. Instead of being the piece I described, it's now the usual stuff I complain about.

1/14/2006

Eminent Domain Gone Insane

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:47 pm

Professor Bainbridge has an account of eminent domain abuse in L.A. that is head-shakingly, mouth agape unbelievable. It combines official corruption, abuse of power, baiting-and-switching, rejection of voter will, and cronyism all in one case. It's simply amazing. Make sure to read it.

Update: My thanks to the Professor for linking to me. To visitors, this is a pretty short post, but check out the main page for longer interesting stuff.

Chinese Cars Are Coming

Filed under: General,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 5:08 pm

Look out, China is preparing to enter the American auto market. Two Chinese automakers, Geely and Chery, are making plans to introduce cars here in the next several years. Geely even had a booth at this year's Detroit Auto Show where they showed off one of their latest models. The main thing holding them back right now is that their cars don't meet U.S. safety and environmental standards (imagine that). Just one or two more automakers in a crowded field, you might think, but it's expected that the first cars will sell for $10,000 or less, which could make them very popular. China's labor costs are, as you might think, a little less than in most places.

I'm a little ambivalent about this. I don't mind competition and actually quite like it. And though I buy many products made in China (something I noted here), I don't like the idea of forking over so much money to a Chinese corporation. China's politics are oppressive, it's actively working to undermine American interests here and abroad (the Chinese spy network in the U.S. is quite extensive and quite good), and by one trick or another it’s stealing American technology.

Generally, the Chinese government owns a controlling stake in any prominent Chinese corporation (you may recall the state-owned company Haier, which tried to buy out Maytag last year), meaning a large chunk of the profits goes straight into Party coffers, something I don't care to support. Chery admits that it’s straight-out government-owned.

While I can't find much substantive info on Geely, several accounts (all from Geely's CEO or from state news wires) say that the government has no ownership in the company. Considering the sources, I don't know whether to believe that, but I still find it unimportant. Corporations in China simply don't exist without the government's blessing and without government officials or cronies in executive positions, so that any corporation is de facto controlled by the state.

It's bad enough I buy pans and furniture made in China. I don't care to contribute car money to the Chicoms.

More AP Fuzziness on Executions

Filed under: Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 3:20 pm

I complained here that when producing articles about death penalty cases, the AP is remarkably biased. Its stories focus almost exclusively on the plight of the person to be executed and almost completely ignore what the person did that got them on death row to begin with.

Well, they're doing it again. Clarence Ray Allen is to be executed in California Tuesday and, naturally, he and his lawyers are trying to keep that from happening. His defense is that he's nearly 76 years old (he's been on death row for 23 years), is now blind and deaf, often has to use a wheelchair and was even resuscitated after a heart attack last year. Essentially, the defense is that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to execute such an old and feeble man.

"The spectacle of Mr. Allen being wheeled into the death chamber, unable to walk and unable to see those who have come to witness his execution, violates all standards of decency and would amount to nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering prohibited by the Eighth Amendment," said Annette Carnegie, one of Allen's attorneys.

Once again, the AP article severely skimps on describing the crime(s) the condemned has committed that earned him his date with a needle, so let me fill in the blanks.

Allen was first given a life sentence for the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, his son's girlfriend, whom he murdered because she told the police about a burglary he had committed. While in prison, he then contracted with his cellmate to have the man kill eight witnesses who had testified at his murder trial. Upon being released on parole, his hit man, Billy Ray Hamilton, went to the first witness's place of work and shot him square in the forehead with a sawed off shotgun. He then proceeded to kill two of the man's co-workers, shooting them while they lay on the ground, and he wounded two others (one of whom nearly had his arm blown off when he used it to block the shotgun blast).

So let's review. He personally killed one person and conspired to kill eight more people, one of whom was “successfully” murdered. Oh, and another two folks were killed as a result. That's four people whom Clarence Ray Allen is responsible for murdering and when he was a spry 44 and 50 year-old at that. You'll forgive me if I trouble mustering sympathy for Allen considering the horrific crimes he committed, not to mention the further killings he would have carried had his hit man not been captured.

The AP article, though, doesn't tell you about any of this. Here's the best we get:

Allen is set to die by injection Tuesday for ordering three slayings while behind bars for another murder.

and this:

The brother of one of Allen's victims said the arguments in favor of sparing the killer's life are nonsensical. Robert Rocha — whose sister, Josephine, was murdered at a Fresno market in 1980 by a hitman Allen hired — said Allen's repeated appeals are the only reason he is old and frail.

"Mr. Allen feels he is too old to die," Rocha said. "We feel Josephine was too young to die. She was only 17 when she was taken from us and murdered."

Robert Rocha's absolutely correct. People say Allen is too old to die. It’s far worse to be too young to die and that’s Allen forced on his victims.

1/13/2006

Sharpton Dream-Busting

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 8:00 pm

In a Dartmouth speech Thursday, Al Sharpton complained about Bush:

"The irony for me is that George Bush, after spending the week lobbying for Alito, justifying wiretaps and explaining for the thousandth time why he did not respond to Katrina, will stand somewhere on Monday and piously act as though he remembers Dr. King, when in fact, he has stood against everything Dr. King represented and is probably the most renowned Dr. King dream-buster that we've seen in the last 20 years."

A dream-buster, eh? Since we're close to MLK day, let's again look at that dream that King had:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

Here are ways in which Al Sharpton has supported the dream:

In 1987, Sharpton got involved in the Tawana Brawley hoax. A girl, Brawley, scrawled racial epithets on herself and smeared on some feces for good measure. She then claimed that six white men, one of whom was supposed to be a police officer, raped and abused her and then dumped her. Turns out she was just trying not to get into trouble for not coming home for several days. Sharpton, though, jumped on it and went so far as to baselessly accuse an assistant D.A., Steven Pagones, as being one of the rapists.

The hoax was exposed and Pagones, after a ten-year court fight, finally one a defamation suit against Sharpton. Sharpton has never apologized for what he did to Pagones or for his role in defending a liar and falsely inflaming racial passions.

During the Crown Heights riot of 1991, which occured after a 7 year-old black boy was accidently hit by a car in the motorcade of a prominent Rabbi, Sharpton freely incited anti-Semetic anger. Two people were killed by mobs, one Jewish man and another whom the mob thought was Jewish, and another 100 Jews were injured. At the boy's funeral, Sharpton accused the Crown Heights Jews of being diamond merchants working with Israel and and exploiting black labor in South Africa.

Then in 1995, Sharpton accused a Jewish store owner in Harlem, whom he called "a white interloper," of trying to drive a neighboring black store owner out of business by raising the black owner's rent in order to expand his own, Freddy's Fashion Mart (actually, Freddy raised the rent on his black subtenant because the landowner, a large black landlord called United House of Prayer, raised his own rent). He held protests outside the store and the crowd calls for burning down the store. Later, one protester entered the store, shot four people, and set the place on fire, killing three more people. Sharpton initially claimed he never spoke at the rally until video evidence proved otherwise. He defended himself by saying, "What’s wrong with denouncing white interlopers?"

Yes, this is the Al Sharpton who is preserving Dr. King's dream of people being judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. He's a race-baiting opporunist. He's a dream-buster.

1/10/2006

Elitism, Phone Poles, and a No-Spin Progessive CNN

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:02 am

From HuffPo's Jesse Kornbluth:

Would you like to know that the news program you're watching — whatever the politics of the network's owner — presents verifiable facts from respectable sources?

Would you like to watch commentary on the news by experts whose opinions don't come from the daily talking points of either political party?

Me too. That's why I'm writing this open letter to George Soros with one simple request — PLEASE BUY CNN.

If you're like me, you just about choked on your corn flakes with that last line.

Given that George Soros is an uber-liberal who donates heavily to Democratic causes and campaigns and is openly hostile to all things conservative and/or Republican, you'll pardon my doubting that in his hands CNN would be a neutral news organ.

To understand why Kornbluth thinks so, though, you need to read his article. It's the usual lefty reasoning that because the news media is owned by corporate parents and gets its revenue from other corporations, then the news is de facto and necessarily skewed to the right. This is an impressive theory considering the overwhelming majority of liberals in the news media, the constant attack reports on the right and whatever the right is supporting at the time, dour news on whatever could help Bush ("…the economy picked up in the last quarter, but…"), and that even independent studies show the media's leftward tilt.

Oh, but there's also "the most vindictive administration in our history," says Kornbluth. The network suits don't dare cross Bush & Co. lest it bring the pain by canceling parent corporate contracts or siccing the FCC on the networks. It's hard to think this a credible threat when the news media has already given plenty of cause for a vindictive White House to do its Nixonest, and yet CBS still has its broadcast license, Disney World is still operating, and "Joey" was NBC's own fault. Oh, but Kornbluth admits that "it's not the sort of charge you can ever prove" that the suits hold back on Bush and Republicans because of Executive retribution. Well, if that's the case – that you can level accusations that can't possibly be proven – then strap on your tinfoil hat and make any charge you like; they pass the Kornbluth test. Other baseless charges from Kornbluth are that the government has investigated George Soros's taxes and possibly even bugged his phones. No word on whether they've snuck Inch High Private Eye into his office.

Now put down the corn flakes because I don't want you to choke again when you read this next part:

I submit there's an audience that wants more than propaganda from cable TV. I believe many millions of viewers want real news — without spin from any side — and informed opinion that's clearly labeled. And I'd bet that audience is vastly bigger than the numbers CNN is currently attracting.

The business rationale for a progressive CNN?

That's right, there'd be absolutely no spin from any side at a "progressive" CNN. I guess he means there'd be no spin from either the extreme left or the right-leaning left. The reporting would be straight down the middle of the liberal political spectrum.

Kornbluth thinks a "progressive" CNN would be a straight-shooting news network because he dismisses the idea that there are actually two sides to an issue. The only side is his side. Don't, he implies,

Treat all issues as if there are two, equally plausible positions — even when "on the one hand this, on the other hand that" programming results in pointless blather or blatant whoring for Republican causes.

And also realize this:

What would a Soros-owned CNN be like? Not, please, a blindly "liberal" CNN that gives new prominence to the tired Democratic hacks who currently appear on cable — that would be as dreary as Fox. But to the degree that the truth these days favors "progressive" positions — the existence of global warming, the primacy of hard science, support for education and the arts, decent conditions for workers and universal but cost-conscious health-care — yeah, let's get that on.

I'm at a loss to understand how truth "favors" anything and that it’s only doing so "these days" and not previously. I can only presume that progressive positions must have sent truth a gift basket last month and so it now favors them over heartless conservative positions that sent nary a Christmas card. He's using loose, and inappropriate language, of course. Truth is a property of beliefs (and perhaps, derivatively, positions) and favors nothing. It also doesn't temporally shift, or at least not in the respect that Kornbluth is using it.

That aside, this merely demonstrates his elitism and ignorance of differing opinions, something the left likes to do (as well as some on the right). I'm sure he would decry some conservatives saying he supports terrorists merely because he wants to bring the troops home. It's similarly flawed reasoning to assert that I don't support education merely because, say, I support school vouchers.

Kornbluth, however, has determined that truth favors his positions (let's not confuse that with people saying God favors their positions… dude, it's completely different) and so they are de facto right, even when others say they're not or even when they're proven wrong. There are no two sides the story. There is the correct side, which is his side, and so any disagreement is simply unintelligible and should be disregarded. That's a heck of a way to run a news station.

This sort of elitist attitude can be seen elsewhere, though. Observe this piece by Mark Goldblatt in which he relates his adventures at the last MLA conference. After a speaker said she blatantly presented an anti-Iraq war curriculum in her class, he asked if she would ever consider hiring somebody who was in favor of the war or presented a curriculum that favored the war. She dodged the question, but others in the audience were happy to answer him:

An older man was the next person called on; he turned in my direction and said that he'd served on many hiring committees and that he would never hire a teacher who seemed likely to adopt a pro-war curriculum . . . for the same reason he wouldn't hire a teacher who seemed likely to espouse creationism or intelligent design. The issue isn't political, he explained. It's that the theory is simply wrong. A pro-war curriculum would, by necessity, be rooted in falsehoods and false logic. The classroom, he insisted, is a place for truth.

The next comment was also addressed to me, by a young man sitting in the back. He said that, in theory, he would not be opposed to hiring a teacher who supported the war in Iraq . . . but that situation was unlikely to come up because people who teach in the humanities are trained in critical thinking, and no one who thinks critically could support the war in Iraq.

You see, they have the truth and there is no room for disagreement. Anybody who would disagree is necessarily wrong, likely has faulty reasoning capacities, and should be instantly disregarded. Such sorry rejects certainly shouldn't be hired for positions at august academic institutions.

What's amazing is that Kornbluth and those pleasant academics have so surrounded themselves in their own echo-chamber and have so cavalierly convinced themselves of their own righteousness that they cannot fathom that they could possibly be in error on such important political issues. To entertain such a notion simply doesn't compute. While I'm sure they have torn many garments, gnashed their teeth, and wrung their hands over that Bush character who will not admit mistakes, those conservatives who beat their chests with patriotic fervor, and those odd God-believing folks who say God is on their side, they commit the same sins. They're fervently pointing at eye-specks while the telephone pole sticking out of their orbital sockets is breaking the dishes and frightening small children. They too believe that correct judgments are by default on their side and so is truth, and so they are unwilling to entertain debate on important issues.

It's elitist, it's ignorant, and it's naive. Say you're right and that what emanates from your mouth is full of truthy goodness. That's fine; opinions and beliefs worth having are worth advocating. But at least be open to the possibility that you're wrong, that your opponent is right, and certainly advocate that the two sides of an issue deserve equal time, treatment, and respect.

1/9/2006

TSG Puts the Hurt on an Oprah Book

Filed under: General,Pics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:42 am

In late October of last year, Oprah featured James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces as the latest entry to her book club. The book is supposed to be a memoir of Frey's life of booze, drugs, violence, hate, and general malcontentedness… and how he overcame it all. Naturally, it shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list for paperback nonfiction, Frey has become a celebrity and millionaire, and people are talking about the life-changing experience of the book.

One problem… it seems that in the book, Frey lied about his life… a lot. The Smoking Gun, the investigatory site that loves to obtain court records and mug shots, started looking into the claims Frey makes and found they were embellished to the point of just being false.

A pivotal section of the book had Frey hitting a beat cop with his car while on an alcohol and crack bender, being belligerent to the officer, getting beat down by the cops, and then spending three months in a county jail. The actual police report, however, shows that he just ran his car up on the sidewalk while drunk (and not hitting anyone), was very cooperative with police, and spent maybe five hours in police custody before being bailed out. He also incorrectly describes the jail and the officers and attorneys who were involved don't know what he's talking about.

In another instance, he inserts himself as a crucial participant in the tragic train-accident deaths of three teens in his town even though police reports never mention him and the parents of one of the teens say he had no relationship to their daughter. Oh, and he shifted the time of the accident to about five years earlier.

Other parts are simply and utterly unbelievable. Take this bit featured on Oprah's site:

I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I'm in the back of a plane and there's no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood. I reach for the call button and I find it and I push it and I wait and thirty seconds later an Attendant arrives.
How can I help you?
Where am I going?
You don't know?
No.
You're going to Chicago, Sir.
How did I get here?
A Doctor and two men brought you on.
They say anything?
They talked to the Captain, Sir. We were told to let you sleep.

Riiiight. If you've ever watched just one episode of Airline on A&E, you know there's no way in hell a man "covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood" would ever be allowed to board a plane. It's gross, it's a health hazard, and the rest of the passengers would riot due to the smell alone. Not to mention that from his condition (later on, he also says he's in so much pain he can't even walk), he's in dire need of medical attention. A doctor wouldn't stick him on a plane, he'd stick him in a hospital. I mean, really… this passage doesn't even pass the sniff test for believability and this is what's on Oprah's site. Her billions of dollars must be making her gullible.

There's more to the falsification and it's pretty dang interesting. Frey essentially wrote a work of fiction that he's passing off as a true account of his life. He makes himself out to be this evildoer who was filled with hate and whom everybody hated when people who knew him said he was actually a nice and fairly popular well-liked guy.

TSG was apparently willing to be relatively nice until Frey threatened legal action. So it's now lowering the boom on Frey by releasing all the info it's uncovered and carefully laying out the inconsistencies between that of the documentary evidence and witness accounts and that of the book's stories. It's a long, but entertaining read.

What effect it will have on Frey remains to be seen. Oprah's site has a page devoted to the book and is currently soliciting people whose lives have been changed by it to write in for a possible appearance on a future show. Frey has also written a screenplay for a movie based on his "life" that, he says, is being co-produced by Brad Pitt and has several big name actors vying the role of bad boy James Frey. I don't like fabulists, so I don't mind a bit if it all evaporates due to TSG's thorough work.

More so because Frey advocates a method of detox and getting over addiction that is directly contrary to the successful methods of 12-step programs. He pushes a euphemism of Just Say No, called Hold On. Basically he says you just need willpower and you should purposely put yourself in situations in which you'll be tempted by the addiction of your choice. Not only is this stupid, it's downright dangerous for fragile people who don't have the necessary willpower to resist. It's all the more galling coming from somebody who apparently didn't have the addictions he purports to have, or at least didn't have them to the degree he claims.

Stylistically, looking at quotes and excerpts of the book, Frey is annoying and pretentious. He capitalizes things that shouldn't be capitalized, like 'Criminal' and 'Addict.' It also has a staccato flow that's like constantly tapping the brakes of a car. Just let it run.

The most entertaining part by far is this:

Three months after his Michigan arrest, Frey began his studies at Denison University, a 2100-student liberal arts school in the central Ohio town of Granville. It was here, according to "A Million Little Pieces," that Frey majored in substance abuse. He blacked out and vomited daily, frequently bled from his nose due to cocaine ingestion, and even pissed in his bed for the first time. This abuse of alcohol and drugs exacerbated Frey's rage, anger, and extreme pain, a self-destructive cocktail that he named "the Fury."

That's right, he named his anger "The Fury!" This can only make me think of Mystery Men's Mr. Furious, described here as a "Normal human with poor anger management. Mr.Furious claims to have superhuman strength when he loses his temper. Much of the time, he is lying, but on at least one occassion, he did demonstrate some level of increased potency when enraged." Sounds like Mr. Frey to me.

Mr. Furious!
James Frey in costume

12/30/2005

The Old Catch-22

Filed under: Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:00 am

Wizbang points to this Townhall column by Kathleen Parker. In it, she condemns most bloggers as being immature kids:

These effete and often clever baby "bloggies" are rich in time and toys, but bereft of adult supervision. Spoiled and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.

…many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding's children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.

Schadenfreude – pleasure in others' misfortunes – has become the new barbarity on an island called Blog. When someone trips, whether Dan Rather or Eason Jordan or Judith Miller, bloggers are the bloodthirsty masses slavering for a public flogging. Incivility is their weapon and humanity their victim.

Yeah, she goes way over the top complaining about blog swarms. It's a little extreme to say 'humanity' was victimized because a couple of journos were brought down. If you read the rest, you can also see the tremendous elitism she displays.

No matter… I'm actually not concerned about the substance, so much as the form of the argument. This is a nice example of a catch-22 attack; there is no good response. There are three possible options for responding:

1) Agree with her. Most of the people she criticizes will not be inclined to do this.

2) Say nothing. The disadvantage of this is that it can be taken as implicitly agreeing with her. Refer back to (1).

3) Defend yourselves1 and criticize her analysis.

If you take option 3, of course, she's got you. She can then dance around and say that you are merely proving her point by jumping on her, being uncivil, etc.

I'm not necessarily against catch-22's, but I prefer them to be more coyly formed and a bit more Socratic. This was just a crude form and practically dared bloggers to come after her so she could turn it around on them. It's an unfortunate use.


  1. I'm not necessarily including myself in this. I have no idea if I fall into her ill-defined category of malcontents or not. [back]
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