March 16, 1751, James Madison born

March 16, 2019

James Madison, by Walker Hancock, 1976. Statue from the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Architect of the Capitol photo.

James Madison’s birth on March 16, 1751, gets no attention as a federal or state holiday. Journalists usually mark the date with a week of festivities around the date, honoring Madison’s deep dedication to the principles of free press and open government, including his authoring and passing the First Amendment.

Madison’s chief notoriety comes from his work organizing the Philadelphia convention and working to ratify the U.S. Constitution — sometimes he’s called the Father of the Constitution. He also served as Secretary of State in Thomas Jefferson’s administration, and served two terms as President, including the War of 1812.

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Bill of Rights is location restricted?

August 20, 2014

MoveOn.org posted this photo on their Facebook page:

First Amendment Area?

First Amendment Area?

I presume (the post doesn’t say) this is a photo from Ferguson, Missouri. I presumed incorrectly.  It’s a sign from the Bundy Ranch standoff.

My first thought was, “Do they have a 2nd Amendment area?”  My second thought was, if we put up signs saying “2nd Amendment Area” will cops enforce it?

It’s probably a violation of prior restraint law, of course.  The sign is an indication of just how bizarre and sick things are in Ferguson, Missouri, at the moment.  It’s also an indication of how bizarre things were at Bundy Ranch.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Randy Creath.


“Growing up in East Texas, we didn’t have any money for books” – Moyers on Banned Books Week

October 4, 2012

Since the death of Radio Free Texas, banned books take on even more importance in the history of freedom and free thought, in Texas.

This is the state where, still, even the governor and the State Board of Education carry on unholy crusades against books and ideas, like evolution, racial equality, and voting rights.  Moyers knows what he’s talking about.

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Banned Books Week! Are you with the banned, in 2012?

October 4, 2012

It’s almost gone, and I haven’t even posted on it yet:  Happy Banned Books Week!

We’re celebrating this week from September 30 to October 6 — you’ve got two more days.

Can you identify each of these banned books?

Courtesy of Bookman’s, a book store in Arizona.

A two-minute video produced by Bookmans, an Arizona bookstore, is helping launch a national read-out from banned and challenged books that is being held on YouTube in conjunction with Banned Books Week, the national celebration of the freedom to read (Sept. 30-Oct. 6). The video presents Bookmans’ customers and staff urging people “to turn on the light” by celebrating freedom of expression. With light bulbs burning brightly above their heads, each of them reads a single line from a banned or challenged book that testifies to the importance of reading, books and freedom of speech. “It is a wonderfully creative and inspiring video,” said American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression President Chris Finan. “We hope all supporters of Banned Books Week will use social media to share it with their friends and the rest of the world, giving a big boost to this year’s read-out.” More than 800 people posted videos on YouTube during Banned Books Week last year. More information about the read-out, including updated criteria and submission information, is available here.

Which are your favorite Banned Books?

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Myanmar freedom of the press? Progress, but not there yet

August 26, 2012

English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN ...

Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Economist carries the good news, with the sober warning that press freedom remains beyond the grasp of Myanmar journalists:

But as part of a wider reform programme introduced by President Thein Sein, the old media rules have gradually been relaxed. For several months many editors have no longer been required to submit articles for prepublication censorship on such subjects as the economy. The latest announcement removes the need to submit articles on more sensitive topics, such as politics or Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.

The country’s journalists welcome the news, but they also give warning that this by no means ends restrictions on press freedom. These remain numerous and burdensome. In particular, two bits of repressive legislation remain: the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, dating from the start of military rule in 1962, and the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law. Under the first, publications can lose their licences if they supposedly harm the reputation of a government department, threaten peace and security, and much else. Under the second, a person can be imprisoned for up to 15 years for distributing via the internet information that the courts deem harmful to the state. Meanwhile, the censor board itself seems likely to remain in business, ready to punish reporters or editors who overstep the mark.

But, good news is good news, yes?  See the entire article at The Economist.


Strike a blow for freedom and the Constitution: Read a banned book!

September 26, 2011

John Maunu reminded me this week is Banned Books Week.  Details from the American Library Association:

Banned Books Week 2011

September 24−October 1, 2011

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. In 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; and PEN American Center also signed on as sponsors.

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, please see Calendar of Events, Ideas and Resources, and the new Banned Books Week site. You can also contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4220, or bbw@ala.org.


Naomi Oreskes: The lecture Lord Monckton slept through, which he hopes you will not see

October 23, 2009

Here’s another example of where historians show their value in science debates.

Naomi Oreskes delivered this lecture a few years ago on denialism in climate science.  Among other targets of her criticism-by-history is my old friend Robert Jastrow.  I think her history is correct, and her views on the Marshall Institute and denial of climate change informative in the minimum, and correct on the judgment of the facts.

You’ll recognize some of the names:  Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, S. Fred Singer, and William Nierenberg.

Oreskes details the intentional political skewing of science by critics of the serious study of climate warming.  It’s just under an hour long, but well worth watching.  Dr. Oreskes is Professor of History in the Science Studies Program at the University of California at San Diego.  The speech is titled “The American Denial of Global Warming.”

If Oreskes is right — and I invite you to check her references thoroughly, to discover for yourself that her history and science are both solid — Lord Monckton is a hoaxster.  Notice especially the references after the 54 minute mark to the tactic of claiming that scientists are trying to get Americans to give up our sovereignty.

Nothing new under the sun.

“Global warming is here,  and there are almost no communists left,” Oreskes said.

Nudge your neighbor:

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The article the British Chiropractic Association hopes you will not read

July 31, 2009

Science-based Medicine carried this article yesterday, and several other blogs have joined in.  Below is the article Simon Singh wrote for which he is being sued for libel by the professional association for British chiropractors.  It’s a good cause, so I’ll stretch it another little while.

Science-based Medicine introduced the article with this:

Last year Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian that was critical of the modern practice of chiropractic. The core of his complaint was that chiropractors provide services and make claims that are not adequately backed by evidence – they are not evidence-based practitioners. In response to his criticism the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon personally for libel. They refused offers to publish a rebuttal to his criticism, or to provide the evidence Simon said was lacking. After they were further criticized for this, the BCA eventually produced an anemic list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, but really just demonstrating the truth of Simon’s criticism (as I discuss at length here).

In England suing for libel is an effective strategy for silencing critics. The burden of proof is on the one accused (guilty until proven innnocent) and the costs are ruinous. Simon has persisted, however, at great personal expense.

This is an issue of vital importance to science-based medicine. A very necessary feature of science is public debate and criticism – absolute transparency.This is also not an isolated incident. Some in the alternative medicine community are attempting to assert that criticism is unprofessional, and they have used accusations of both unprofessionalism and libel as a method of silencing criticism of their claims and practices. This has happened to David Colquhoun and Ben Goldacre, and others less prominent but who have communicated to me directly attempts at silencing their criticism.

This behavior is intolerable and is itself unprofessional, an assault on academic freedom and free speech, and anathema to science as science is dependent upon open and vigorous critical debate.

What those who will attempt to silence their critics through this type of bullying must understand is that such attempts will only result in the magnification of the criticism by several orders of magnitude. That is why we are reproducing Simon Singh’s original article (with a couple of minor alterations) on this site and many others. Enjoy.

Here it is:

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Original version published Saturday April 19 2008
Edited version published July 29, 2009

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

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Related material:


Should teachers blog?

January 21, 2009

Teachers are public employees (most of us).  Should we blog about education and teaching?

Interestingly, there is a good case to be made that public employees have more First Amendment protection than private employees (should teachers in KIPP, charter and parochial schools blog?).

Larry Solum at Legal Theory highlights Paul Secunda’s article:

Paul M. Secunda (Marquette University – Law School) has posted Blogging While (Publicly) Employed: Some First Amendment Implications (University of Louisville Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, 2009) on SSRN.

I’ll wager most teachers are not common users of SSRN, so let’s steal Solum’s posting of the abstract of the article, too:

While private-sector employees do not have First Amendment free speech protection for their blogging activities relating to the workplace, public employees may enjoy some measure of protection depending on the nature of their blogging activity. The essential difference between these types of employment stems from the presence of state action in the public employment context. Although a government employee does not have the same protection from governmental speech infringement as citizens do under the First Amendment, a long line of cases under Pickering v. Bd. of Education have established a modicum of protection, especially when the public employee blogging is off-duty and the blog post does not concern work-related matters.

Describing the legal protection for such public employee bloggers is an important project as many employers recently have ratcheted up their efforts to limit or ban employee blogging activities while blogging by employees simultaneously continues to expand. It should therefore not be surprising that the act of being fired for blogging about one’s employer has even led to a term being coined: “dooced.” So the specific question that this essay addresses is: do dooced employees have any First Amendment protection in the workplace? But the larger issue examined by implication, and the one addressed by this Symposium, is the continuing impact of technology on First Amendment free speech rights at the beginning of the 21st Century.

This contribution to the Symposium proceeds in three parts. It first examines the predicament of private-sector employees who choose to blog about their workplaces. The second section then lays out the potential First Amendment free speech implications for public employees who engage in the same types of activities. Finally, the third section briefly considers a potential future trend in this context from Kentucky involving government employers banning employee access to all blogs while at work.

I’ve been wondering where are the cases of student blogs dealing with serious First Amendment issues.  I think we’re overdue for more litigation in that area.


Impromptu Banned Books Week Carnival

October 4, 2008

Banned Books Week flies by way too fast.  So many banned books, so little time.

Was it appropriate for Sarah Palin’s only debate with Joe Biden to come in Banned Books Week?  Or, was it fate?

Liam Sullivan at Panorama of the Mountains had a great idea, running a list of good blog posts on banned books, “Banned Books Week 2008” — I’ll try to encourage readership at his blog by not repeating any of his listings here.  That will make this little impromptu carnival shorter by a lot, and challenging to me to compose.

Let’s start with some of the big dog blogs.

Boing-Boing featured the great window display from the Twin Hickory Public Library in Glen Allen, Virginia:

Window display at the libraray in Glen Allen, Virginia, for Banned Books Week.  via Boing Boing

Window display at the Twin Hickory Public Library in Glen Allen, Virginia, for Banned Books Week. via Boing Boing

A display showing live humans reading may become even more rare over the next few years, as the No Child Left Behind Act begins to affect Americans.

Jesus’s General noted the same display, but with a banner that shows the necessarily political character of standing up for books and knowledge in an era that tries to discount education as “elitism,” and smart and educated people as “elitists,” as if “elite” didn’t mean “the best.”  Which brings up a sore point with me:  How have the book banners been so successful in stamping out dictionaries?  Dictionaries are great books to promote freedom — but just try to find a good one in most homes, or in school classrooms.  My father and mother kept a dictionary on their desk at the store they owned; a good dictionary used to be a great high school graduation gift for a student off to college.  When was the last time you saw such a thing used as such a gift?  I digress.

Banned Books Week banner found at Jesus General

Banned Books Week banner found at Jesus' General

Jesus’ General said:

Books can be dangerous. Many contain ideas. Sometimes unpopular ideas. Ideas that may make one think. Ideas that engage and transform us. Ideas that set off our imaginations. Ideas that can change the way we see the world. Ideas that may make decide to help change the world for the better. Clearly books can be subversive. And we can’t have that! An informed and imaginative people could do incredible things.

Paper Cuts, a book blog at the New York Times site, asks “What are you doing for Banned Books Week?” it features a nice photograph of the public library in Wasilla, Alaska.  Barry Gewen offers great insights into Banned Books Week.

One of the most informative of these lists is “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course, Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” — because it provides background on various censorship efforts over the years. It’s also the most amusing list, though it’s hard to laugh after your jaw has dropped.

George Orwell’s “1984” was challenged in Jackson County, Fla., because it was considered “pro-Communist.” Who would have imagined that the Wichita, Kans., public library would, ayatollah-like, challenge Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” for being “blasphemous to the prophet Mohammed”? In 1973, “Slaughterhouse Five” was actually burned in Drake, N.D. And Lindale, Tex., banned “To Kill a Mockingbird” from a school reading list in 1996 because it “conflicted with the values of the community” — leading one to wonder just what Lindale’s values are, and why anyone would want to live there.

Farm School, in honor of Banned Books Week, does a bang up job of nailing down the facts on the charge that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tried to ban books, when she was mayor of Wasilla (not exactly, but the details — truth is in the details).

Abby the Librarian carries another rundown of posts about Banned Books Week, including one from Mommy Madness that notes that banning books takes away a parental responsibility, giving it to the government.  (Did you catch that, Joe Leavell?)

Everybody’s Libraries carries an explanation of “Why Banned Books Week matters.

I’m Here, I’m Queer – What the Hell Do I Read? notices an uncomfortable trend, that several of the most-challenged books are challenged because they discuss homosexuality in non-condemning terms.

Cover of Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451, via Maias Blog - Just Add Coffee

Cover of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, via Maia's Blog - Just Add Coffee

Maia’s Blog – Just Add Coffee discusses Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the irony of banning a book about banning books, in “Banned Books Week, Day 6.”  As you might imagine, this is the sixth in a series of posts.  The other books covered are Brideshead Revisited, Ivanhoe, Sons and Lovers, The Phantom Tollbooth (challenges coming, I presume, from the Taliban, al Quaeda, and Dick Cheney),  and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish gives Phillip Pullman, the author of The Golden Compass, a vent about religious objections to books.

Another roundup of Banned Books Week posts, at Books Worth Reading.

Chez Namastenancy rounds up even more, and points especially to a quiz about banned books at the venerable on-line site of the venerable British newspaper, The Guardian. (English teachers:  Can you say “bellringer?”)

Notes from Evil Bender discusses the importance of keeping ideas on the shelves of libraries, especially those ideas that some find “offensive” to “family values.”

School Library Media Activities Monthly carries this simple quote:

“Banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile.  Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading.”- Gretchen Knief, librarian, protesting a proposed 1939 ban against The Grapes of Wrath

Which posts about Banned Books Week sang out to you, that I’ve missed noting here?  Comments are open — please share.


Vigilante book banners

October 1, 2008

As we ponder how to keep freedom in America in the middle of Banned Books Week, I worry about the dangers of vigilantes acting to effect a ban on a particular book, despite official actions.

How to fight these anti-reading, anti-American vigilantes?  People in Lewiston, Maine, came up with the fantastic idea of simply buying more books.

Vigilantes sometimes check out the books they want to ban, and then simply don’t bring the book back to the library.  If there’s no book on the shelf to be checked out, they reason, no one else can check it out.  One such vigilante in Lewiston, an activist in favor of homophobia it appears, refused even a court order to return the book she wanted to ban, Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal.

Cover of Robie Harriss childrens health book, Its Perfectly Normal

Cover of Robie Harris's children's health book, It's Perfectly Normal

Jail time for the vigilante?  Oh, the law would allow that.  But instead, freedom fighters purchased four more copies of the book for the library.

Voting with ideas.  What a concept!

Full text of the American Library Association press release, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ready for Banned Books Week?

August 30, 2008

We celebrate Banned Books Week September 27 through October 4 this year. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say we celebrate the books that get banned, and the idea that freedom and liberty require that we not ban books.

Banned Books Week image from Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver

Banned Books Week image from Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver

Banned Books Week has been noted every year since 1982 in a long-running campaign from the American Library Association. Why?

Because ideas matter.  The right to express ideas, and the right to be able to read ideas, are at the foundation of our liberties.

Again in 2007, books most frequently targeted for banning include And Tango Makes Three, a delightful children’s story about two penguins taking care of an orphaned egg (too much like homosexuality), and Mark Twain’s powerful, essentially-American novel that makes the case against racism, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (ironically, because complainants claim to find the book racist).

People who ask that these books be pulled from the shelves often fail to recognize the irony — why should we ban a book about caring for orphans, or the book that makes the case against racism?

The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver sponsors an annual Banned Books Week essay contest for Colorado teens, in conjunction with the Colorado Freedom of Expression Foundation.

How will your school and local public library commemorate Banned Books Week?  Which banned books will you read, and urge others to read?

Which banned books are on your reading lists for classroom use? Does that strike a little too close to home?  Then you need to get informed, and get active.


900,000

August 14, 2008

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub passed the 900,000 clicks mark about 8 a.m. Central Time.

Thanks to readers.

Dear Readers, leave more comments! Anonymous visitors, you know who you are.  Exercise your right to free speech, here, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

As people like Emma Goldman were prevented from speaking, societies formed to protect the right to free speech. A pamphlet created by Alden Freeman alerted people to the fight for free speech. It contains a tongue-in-cheek New York Times account of his attempt to hold a meeting where Emma Goldman could speak freely and without police restriction.

"As people like Emma Goldman were prevented from speaking, societies formed to protect the right to free speech. A pamphlet created by Alden Freeman alerted people to the fight for free speech. It contains a tongue-in-cheek New York Times account of his attempt to hold a meeting where Emma Goldman could speak freely and without police restriction."

From UC Berkeley’s Digital Library, The Emma Goldman Papers, “The Fight for Free Speech.”  Curriculum and lesson plans for high school and middle school classes.


How to start a hoax against a presidential candidate

June 29, 2008

Hoax complaints against presidential candidates are old ideas. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton paid newspaper editors to print stories saying Thomas Jefferson was atheist. It was a minor theme in that campaign, but after John Adams’ political fortunes foundered on the Alien and Sedition Acts, among other missteps, Hamilton stepped up the attacks in the election of 1800.

Jefferson’s great biographer, Dumas Malone, estimates that by election day, fully half the American electorate believed Jefferson was atheist. Jefferson made a perfect target for such a charge — staunch advocate of religious freedom, he thought it beneath the dignity of a politician to answer such charges at all, so he did not bother to deny them publicly. Ministers in New England told their congregations they would have to hide their Bibles because, as president, Jefferson would send troops to confiscate them.

In a warning to hoaxers, we might hope, Americans elected Jefferson anyway.

Such nefariousness plagues campaigns today, still. Boone Pickens, who helped fund the Swiftboat Veterans’ calumny against war hero John Kerry, has an offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can show the charges false. In a replay of Holocaust denial cases, Pickens refuses to accept any evidence to pay the award, last week turning away the affidavits of the men who were present at the events.

At the Bathtub, we’ve already sampled a crude and steady attempt to brand Hillary Clinton a Marxist with creative editing of a few of her speeches.

The assaults on Barack Obama are already the stuff of legend. The comic strip, “Doonesbury,” is running a story line with a volunteer for the internet rumor stopping part of the campaign, FighttheSmears.com. The smears are real.

Doonesbury strip 6-28-2008

Matthew Most of the Washington Post wrote a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper, “An attack that came out of the ether,” on the research done by a woman at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the origins of the internet hoax that Barack Obama is a Muslim — a rumor so potent that Georgetown University Prof. Edward Luttwak repeated it in a New York Times op-ed article, without the fact checkers catching it (the Times consulted five scholars of Islam who all agreed the foundation for the claim is incorrect).

Danielle Allen has tracked the rumor back to its sources, in a failed campaign against Obama in Illinois and a candidate who admittedly was looking for mud, and one constant sniper at FreeRepublic.com. It’s impressive sleuthing, and the article would be a good departure for study of how media affect campaigns in a government or civics class.

The “how to” list is really very short:

  • Pick an area of a candidate’s life that is not well known. As the Hamilton campaign against Jefferson demonstrates, it’s useful if the candidate does not feature the issue in official biographies, and more useful if the candidate doesn’t respond. Michael Dukakis let several issues slide in his campaign for the presidency, saying that he didn’t think the public would be misled. The public was waiting for a rebuttal.
  • It helps if there is a factoid that is accurate in the rumor. Obama’s father was Muslim. Most Americans were receptive to the false claim that in Islam, a child is considered Muslim unless there is a conversion. A part of the rumor claims Obama was never baptized Christian. Of course, no one has asked to see John McCain’s baptismal papers. One wonders whether a rumor about McCain’s not being born inside the U.S. could get similar traction among voters (McCain was born in Panama while his father was serving in the Panama Canal Zone in the Navy; children of U.S. citizens are automatically U.S. citizens regardless where they are born. The issue was litigated during Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, since Goldwater was born in Arizona before Arizona was a state.)

According to the Post story: [A] search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: “Don’t know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends.”

Allen discovered that theories about Obama’s religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin.

Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

  • Repeat the claim, as often as possible, to audiences that are inflamed by it. No one would dare make such a claim before an audience of Democratic delegates from the Texas 23rd Senatorial District Democratic Convention, almost 80% of whom were black — at least not at the convention. However, flyers making the charge might show up on windows of cars parked during church services at Christian churches where delegates attend. A speaker at the Republican convention for the same district might not be hooted down. This rumor of Obama’s faith went to right-wing forums known for rumor hospitality, notably Free Republic. In forums at that site, rumors frequently appear to be judged on just how damaging they might be if true, not on their veracity.
  • Repeat the claim, even after denials.

The story is well worth reading. It can help educate us to how to avoid being victims of such rumors in the future.

Tip of the old scrub brush to e-mail correspondent MicahBrown.


Open thread, open comments

June 19, 2008

Several readers have dropped notes saying they couldn’t find a place to comment on something here, and they didn’t want to mess up a thread.  So, here’s a thread to put those comments in.  (Now watch:  Cat will get the typing fingers of everybody . . .)

And for those of you from the Christian blogs where comments are censored, other than editing out profanity and links to pornography, we generally don’t censor here.

Comments are open – discuss away!


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