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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Banned Books Week, September 22-28, at the University of Utah Bookstore

September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week special at the University of Utah

Banned Books Week special at the University of Utah

Nice mug!

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Updates on Wisconsin, the War on Education, the War on Americans in Unions, the assault on public employees by Wisconsin Republicans, etc., etc.

April 1, 2011

First, be sure to read Zeno’s work over at Halfway There.  Zeno’s writing will make your mouth water, your pupils expand, your pulse quicken, your hands go all Galvanic on you, and otherwise get your attention — but in this case, his topic is important, too.  Zeno explains the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with a peek inside ALEC’s  sumptuous, legislator-seducing red tent.   He’s got documents from ALEC, secured through not completely legitimate means (but neither are they illegal), and he lays the group bare.  It’s not a pleasant sight if you’re not fond of adipose tissue and necrosis.

Second, at Desmogblog you should check out John Mashey’s work on loose political organizations joined to politically oppose scientists learning about global warming, to oppose publication of findings about global warming, and to oppose government action to do anything to stop global warming.  Interestingly enough, Mashey informs me, the current cast of malefactors in Wisconsin, appear earlier as malefactors in the discussions and actions about global warming.  Coincidence?

And then stay tuned.  There is more to come on the issue of the Republican Party’s rebirth of McCarthyism, and the witch hunt they wish to conduct against historian Bill Cronon, I’m sure.


Historians back Cronon against Wisconsin witch hunt

March 31, 2011

Just the news, folks.  Just the news.

The Organization of American Historians Speaks Out on Academic Freedom and Defends OAH Member and University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor William Cronon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2011

For more information, contact:
Katherine M. Finley, Executive Director
Organization of American Historians
112 N. Bryan Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47401
ph 812.855.7311; fax 812.855.0696

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), led by President Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History at Columbia University, issued the following statement on March 30, 2011, supporting academic freedom and deploring the recent efforts of Wisconsin politicians to intimidate OAH member and professor William Cronon:

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians deplores the efforts of Republican party operatives in the state of Wisconsin to intimidate Professor William Cronon, a distinguished and respected member of our organization and currently the president-elect of our sister association, the American Historical Association. As a professional historian, Professor Cronon has used his extensive knowledge of American history to provide a historical context for recent events in Wisconsin. Requiring him to provide his e-mail correspondence, as the Republican party of Wisconsin has now done, will inevitably have a chilling effect on the capacity of all academics to engage in wide public debate. The timing and character of the Freedom of Information Act request for Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence leave no doubt that the purpose of this request is to use the authority of the state to prevent William Cronon from freely exercising his rights as a citizen and as a public employee.

Cronon, a professor of environmental and U.S. western history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has come under fire from the Wisconsin Republican party. A longtime member of the OAH and a former member of its executive board, Cronon is the incoming president of the American Historical Association. He has been thrust into the spotlight for his March 15, 2011, blog post and for a subsequent op-ed piece in the New York Times, critical of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker. The OAH Executive Committee believes that the action of the Wisconsin Republican party in requesting e-mails sent by Professor Cronon will have a negative impact on academics who engage in wide public debate.

For Further Reading

American Historical Association, “AHA Deplores Effort to Intimidate William Cronon,” online posting, March 27, 2011, AHA Today http://blog.historians.org/news/1293/aha-council-deplores-recent-intimidation-efforts-aimed-at-cronon.

William Cronon, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here),” online posting, March 15, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/.

William Cronon, “Wisconsin’s Radical Break,” New York Times, March 21, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html.

William Cronon, “Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom,” online posting, March 24, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/.

Posted: Mar. 30, 2011


FOIA “request” in Wisconsin could be violation of whistleblower protection law

March 27, 2011

Wisconsinite Jean Detjen sent me a note correcting my misinformation:  Wisconsin does indeed have a whistleblower protection act.  The law protects Wisconsin state employees, against retaliation for disclosing information about wrongdoing.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin photo

My reading suggests that, since professors are not specifically exempted, Prof. Cronon, at the University of Wisconsin, is specifically protected.

If the University of Wisconsin gives that answer to the Wisconsin Republican Party, however, the Party will argue that it is not a government official prevented from retaliating against a government employee.  That would be ample reason for the state to deny the FOIA request of the Party flatly and completely.

There is another, potentially more pernicious angle here:  The Republican Party in Wisconsin is, in this case, an agent of the Republicans in the state legislature, those whose tails are on the line for violating Wisconsin law, and as Prof. Cronon outlines it, Wisconsin tradition and historical norms.  It’s likely that the Party is acting at the direction of legislators.

In short, it’s kind of an organized crime action.  I think that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would cover this sort of action — any retaliation for hire, or by an agent, which creates a pattern or practice of organized crime activities.  Worse for the Wisconsin Republicans, if there were an ambitious U.S. attorney out there somewhere, there is no scienter requirement on RICO actions — that is, there need not be a clear formation of criminal intent.  The mere actions of an organized crime group, even with no intent to break the law, can be a RICO violation.

Even worse for the Republicans, RICO is available for anyone to use.  Were I Prof. Cronon, and were the Republicans to press their FOIA request to court, I’d counterclaim in federal court with the RICO statute.

That’s a nasty escalation.  But in these days, in this case, where a state party organization has gone to the employer of a university professor to get his job after he merely reported history, I wouldn’t take chances that the Republicans would later play fair or nice.

Every step against Cronon, every press release, every statement from a legislator or party apparatchik, provides more evidence of the coordinated effort, and establishes further the “pattern and practice” of organized crime activity.

Maybe cool heads will soon prevail, maybe patriotism and love of the First Amendment will break out among Wisconsin Republicans, and they will retract their demand that Prof. Cronon deliver them all of his e-mails as a professor at  the University of Wisconsin.

Maybe badgers will fly.

“Badger” is supposed to be the mascot of Wisconsin’s top-flight university, not a tool of partisan politics.


Surely ALEC wouldn’t be purging e-mails that are now evidence, would they?

March 26, 2011

You could write a soap opera about this stuff.

You remember Wisconsin?  Remember the teachers, cops, firefighters and other public employee unions?

Of course.  And it’s still a mess.  Gov. Scott  “Ahab” Walker signed into law a bill that would have the effect of abrogating union contracts without any bargaining, but the skullduggery used to sneak the bill through the Wisconsin legislature opened the door to charges that Wisconsin open meetings laws were violated, and a judge has stayed the implementation of the law.

In the meantime, a Wisconsin historian stepped up to lend historical perspective to the whole affair.  He thought he was turning on some lights, but Wisconsin Republicans have treated it like great heat.

[Off-topic note:  Some creatures are negatively photo-tropic, which means they avoid light.  You know, like the way the cockroaches in your first New York apartment scattered when you’d turn on the light.]

So, just as Virginia Attorney General and Chief Inquisitor and Witch Hunter Ken Cucinelli tried with those pesky scientists who keep finding the global temperature rising, Wisconsin Republican legislators have turned on the historian.  Here’s how the  New York Times‘ editorial, “A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin,”  described it:

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)

American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC, in K Street lobbyist parlance.

But, Dear Reader, do you see the potential problem here for Republicans in Wisconsin?  They have based their request on a Wisconsin law that prohibits private use of state-supplied e-mail — no politicking, no religious proselytizing.

What about all those ALEC e-mails to Wisconsin Republican legislators?  Sure, they’re more than fair-game for such a witch hunt, too.  And, since it’s the state Republican Party, and not a state or other public official making the FOIA request, surely that means the Republicans would not mind a similar request to cover contacts legislators had with the Wisconsin Republican Party, to the National Republican Party, or even ALEC itself.

Fair is fair, right?

ALEC generally has better lawyers than state legislators, and so we’d expect a group like that to recognize they could be in trouble.

Of course, purging of e-mails now would be a crime, a Watergate-style cover-up, destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice — after it’s become clear that there could be court action and claims of violation of law.

Jean Detjen provided links to the stories of the attacks on the distinguished Prof. Cronon over the last couple of days.  In a Facebook exchange, I noted that ALEC is fair game for such a witch hunt fishing expedition FOIA inquiry, too.

Don’t look now, Ms. Detjen said — but the ALEC site is down.

Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request.

JRun closed connection.

[Here’s a general link — try it, and let me know when the site is back up, if Paul Weyrich and the other ALEC-ians don’t skip to Brazil.]

Surely ALEC wouldn’t be illegally purging e-mails to Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Florida legislators, would it?

Update:  As of this evening, March 26, 2011, the ALEC site is back up.  Why was it down?

The NYT editorial closed with this:

The party refuses to say why it wants the messages; Mr. Cronon believes it is hoping to find that he is supporting the recall of Republican state senators, which would be against university policy and which he denies. This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

Well, yeah, Wisconsin’s Republicans wouldn’t want to be caught stifling discussion, nor taking revenge on a whistle-blower — because certainly if Cronon’s e-mails are discoverable with an FOIA request, he is a Wisconsin state employee.  “Whew,” the Wisconsin Republicans might wheeze:  Wisconsin has no specific whistleblower protection.  Ah, the plot thickens:  There are general laws that would appear, to me, a no-longer-practicing-in-that-area lawyer, to offer some protections for any employee engaged in general political speech, or in speech protecting the employee’s rights, or in speech designed to shed light on a wrongful or wrongfully executed official act — that is, Cronon’s evidence showing the unsavory and potentially illegal links of legislators to businessmen and business groups, and the potential conspiracy issues of ALEC’s nationally-directed efforts to use state legislators to gut union laws.

I wish Ahab would just get Jesus and quit thickening the plot.

More, resources, links from Jean Detjen and others:

Obviously, big tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen, in Wisconsin.


The Curse of “Not Evil, Just Wrong” — still evil and wrong

December 10, 2009

At the first post on this material, the thread got a little long — not loading well in some browsers, I hear.

So the comments are closed there, and open here.

In fashion we wish were different but seems all too typical, so-called skeptics of global warming defend their position with invective and insult.  But they are vigorous about it.  What do you think?  What information can you contribute?

Here’s the post that set off the denialists, anti-science types and DDT sniffers, and a tiny few genuinely concerned but under-informed citizens:

AP caption: Former Vice President Al Gore, left, listens to speakers during a meeting at the Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Buckingham, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Gore visited the area that is the proposed site for a compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Should be obviously silly for anyone to argue former divinity student Al Gore is evil, as this film implies despite the demurrer. It should also be obviously that it’s evil to call Gore wrong on these issues; but that doesn’t stop brown Earther critics of scientists and Al Gore.

I warned you about it earlier. Crank science sites across the internet feature news of another cheap hit on Rachel Carson and science in movie form.

“Not Evil, Just Wrong” is slated for release on October 18. This is the film that tried to intrude on the Rachel Carson film earlier this year, but managed to to get booked only at an elementary school in Seattle, Washington — Rachel Carson Elementary, a green school where the kids showed more sense than the film makers by voting to name the school after the famous scientist-author.

The film is both evil and wrong.

Errors just in the trailer:

  1. Claims that Al Gore said sea levels will rise catastrophically, “in the very near future.” Not in his movie, not in his writings or speeches. Not true. That’s a simple misstatement of what Gore said, and Gore had the science right.
  2. ” . . . [I]t wouldn’t be a bad thing for this Earth to warm up. In fact, ice is the enemy of life.” “Bad” in this case is a value judgment — global warming isn’t bad if you’re a weed, a zebra mussel, one of the malaria parasites, a pine bark beetle, any other tropical disease, or a sadist. But significant warming as climatologists, physicists and others project, would be disastrous to agriculture, major cities in many parts of the world, sea coasts, and most people who don’t live in the Taklamakan or Sahara, and much of the life in the ocean. Annual weather cycles within long-established ranges, is required for life much as we know it. “No ice” is also an enemy of life.
  3. “They want to raise our taxes.” No, that’s pure, uncomposted bovine excrement.
  4. “They want to close our factories.” That’s more effluent from the anus of male bovines.
  5. The trailer notes the usual claim made by Gore opponents that industry cannot exist if it is clean, that industry requires that we poison the planet. Were that true, we’d have a need to halt industry now, lest we become like the yeast in the beer vat, or the champagne bottle, manufacturing alcohol until the alcohol kills the yeast. Our experience with Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Clean Air Acts and the Clean Water Act is that cleaning the environment produces economic growth, not the other way around. A city choked in pollution dies. Los Angeles didn’t suffer when the air got cleaner. Pittsburgh’s clean air became a way to attract new industries to the city, before the steel industry there collapsed. Cleaning Lake Erie didn’t hurt industry. The claim made by the film is fatuous, alarmist, and morally corrupt.

    When the human health, human welfare, and environmental effects which could be expressed in dollar terms were added up for the entire 20-year period, the total benefits of Clean Air Act programs were estimated to range from about $6 trillion to about $50 trillion, with a mean estimate of about $22 trillion. These estimated benefits represent the estimated value Americans place on avoiding the dire air quality conditions and dramatic increases in illness and premature death which would have prevailed without the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act and its associated state and local programs. By comparison, the actual costs of achieving the pollution reductions observed over the 20 year period were $523 billion, a small fraction of the estimated monetary benefits.

  6. “Some of the environmental activists have not come to accept that the human is also part of the environment.” Fatuous claim. Environmentalists note that humans uniquely possess the ability to change climate on a global scale, intentionally, for the good or bad; environmentalists choose to advocate for actions that reduce diseases like malaria, cholera and asthma. We don’t have to sacrifice a million people a year to malaria, in order to be industrial and productive. We don’t have to kill 700,000 kids with malaria every year just to keep cars.
  7. “They want to go back to the Dark Ages and the Black Plague.” No, that would be the film makers. Environmentalists advocate reducing filth and ignorance both. Ignorance and lack of ability to read, coupled with religious fanaticism, caused the strife known as “the Dark Ages.” It’s not environmentalists who advocate an end to cheap public schools.
  8. The trailer shows a kid playing in the surf on a beach. Of course, without the Clean Water Act and other attempts to keep the oceans clean, such play would be impossible. That we can play again on American beaches is a tribute to the environmental movement, and reason enough to grant credence to claims of smart people like Al Gore and the scientists whose work he promotes.
  9. “I cannot believe that Al Gore has great regard for people, real people.” So, this is a film promoting the views of crabby, misanthropic anal orifices who don’t know Al Gore at all? Shame on them. And, why should anyone want to see such a film? If I want to see senseless acts of stupidity, I can rent a film by Quentin Tarantino and get some art with the stupidity. [Update, November 23, 2009: This may be one of the most egregiously false charges of the film. Gore, you recall, is the guy who put his political career and presidential ambitions on hold indefinitely when his son was seriously injured in an auto-pedestrian accident; Gore was willing to sacrifice all his political capital in order to get his son healed. My first dealings directly with Gore came on the Organ Transplant bill. Gore didn’t need a transplant, didn’t have need for one in his family, and had absolutely nothing to gain from advocacy for the life-saving procedure. It was opposed by the chairman of his committee, by a majority of members of his own party in both Houses of Congress, by many in the medical establishment, by many in the pharmaceutical industry, and by President Reagan, who didn’t drop his threat to veto the bill until he signed it, as I recall. Gore is a man of deep, human-centered principles. Saying “I can’t believe Al Gore has great regard for real people” only demonstrates the vast ignorance and perhaps crippling animus of the speaker.]

That’s a whopper about every 15 seconds in the trailer — the film itself may make heads spin if it comes close to that pace of error.

Where have we seen this before? Producers of the film claim as “contributors” some of the people they try to lampoon — people like Ed Begley, Jr., and NASA’s James E. Hansen, people who don’t agree in any way with the hysterical claims of the film, and people who, I wager, would be surprised to be listed as “contributors.”

It’s easy to suppose these producers used the same ambush-the-scientist technique used earlier by the producers of the anti-science, anti-Darwin film “Expelled!

Here, see the hysteria, error and alarmism for yourself:

Ann McElhinney is one of the film’s producers. Her past work includes other films against protecting environment and films for mining companies. She appears to be affiliated with junk science purveyors at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an astro-turf organization in Washington, D.C., for whom she flacked earlier this year (video from Desmogblog):

Remember, too, that this film is already known to have gross inaccuracies about Rachel Carson and DDT, stuff that high school kids could get right easily.

Anyone have details on McElhinney and her colleague, Phelim McAlee?

More:

Related posts, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


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 »


Bloggers’ rights: A quandary

July 25, 2008

Freedom of expression is the key to all other rights in our American system of government, I am convinced. Defending the First Amendment becomes the way to defend all other rights. Telling the King he has no clothes, without fear of retribution, makes it possible to keep the King clothed.

I support most groups and efforts to defend and protect the First Amendment. I’ve been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists for most years since 1974, I’ve been a member of the National Freedom of Information coordinating committee, and I’ve worked in three states and the federal legislature to expand freedom of information, reporters’ access to information, and especially the people’s right to know.

In the press, there are few hard-core idiots. A few exist, but they are outweighed by the many who make sincere efforts to get the story right. That’s a long way of saying, it’s easy to support rights of people who aren’t always yapping at you.  Their existence puts me in a little quandary, and I need to resolve it.

Last night I found one more deluded, on-line writer working against the First Amendment and, IMHO, hammering away at the foundations of the Constitution in other ways. (Incredibly, this guy asked Jonathan Rowe to abandon commenting at his blog, suggesting Rowe’s carefully crafted, court-tested, generally take-’em-to-the-bank correct ideas about history are “lies.” Yeah, he has a right to hold foolish opinions.)

Does he have a right to do that, on-line?

Yes he does have that right. As I’ve often said before, I put a lot of stock into the old Ben Franklin maxim that truth wins in a fair fight. So we need to keep the fight fair.

We also need to defend the rights of bloggers whose work helps expose the truth, even at the expense of defending the deluded writers who get it wrong.

What are blogger’s rights and protections? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put together a concise and nearly complete legal guide for bloggers — you can find it here.

EFF campaigns to protect and defend bloggers’ rights. Bloggers, and other supporters of freedom, should join that campaign. Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub will display a badge of the campaign to encourage others to join it.

Bloggers' Rights at EFF

Do you like freedom? Do you read a lot? Do you read on-line? Do you express your opinions? Then you have a vested interest in supporting these groups. Since you’re reading this on-line, you have a vested interest in supporting the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s work to defend bloggers’ rights. Click over to EFF, get informed, lend some support, and get involved.

This blog is banned in Turkey, prohibited from viewing in China, non-grata in much of Singapore and Iran, and blocked from the Duncanville, Texas, Independent School District.  I appreciate the freedom to blog, and I hope we can keep blogging free everywhere else, and make blogging free in those areas darkened by bans on expression.

(Okay, I like the cat in the one badge from the EFF — would it kill them to put a dog in one?)


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!


More on McLeroy’s war on Texas English students

May 25, 2008

The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the Texas State Board of Education meetings this week is not well indexed on the web. Following a couple of odd links I found Gary Sharrar’s article (he’s the Chronicle’s education reporter), though the Associated Press Story shows up for the paper’s main article on most indices I found.

Sharrar adds a few details of Kommissar McLeroy’s war on English education, but the significant thing about the story is in the comments, I think. One poster appears to have details that are unavailable even from TEA. Partisans in the fight have details that Texas law requires to be made public in advance of the meetings, while the state officials who need to advise on the regulations and carry them out, do not.

TEA has an expensive website with full capabilities of publishing these documents within moments of their passage. As of Sunday morning, TEA’s website still shows the documents from last March. Surely Texas is not getting its value from TEA on this stuff.

Sharrar wrote:

Two different outside groups offered opposite reactions. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank, favored the board’s action.

“It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren’t learning the basics with our current curriculum,” said Foundation education policy analyst Brooke Terry. “We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills.”

Texas public schools fail to adequately prepare many students for college or the workplace, she said, citing a 2006 survey by the Conference Board found that 81 percent of employers viewed recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” needed for letters, memos, formal reports and technical reports.

But the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.

“College ready” generally means reading well, and reading broadly in literature. From a pedagogical standpoint, emphasizing “grammar and writing skills” over the reading that is proven to improve grammar and writing skills will be a losing battle. I hope the details of the plan will show something different when TEA ever makes them available to the taxpaying/education consuming public and English teachers. NCLB asks that such changes be backed by solid research — it will be fascinating to see whether there is any research to support the Texas plan (not that it matters; this section of NCLB has been ignored by the right wing from the moment NCLB was signed).

Prior to this week’s series of meetings, Commissar McLeroy expressed what sounds like disdain for reading in the English curriculum to the El Paso Times:

But chairman McLeroy said he would fight against some of the measures the educators want, especially the comprehension and fluency portion.

Their suggestions, he said, would have students waste time on repetitive comprehension strategies instead of actually practicing reading by taking in a rich variety of literature.

“I think that time is going to be lost because they’ll be reading some story, and they’ll just overanalyze,” he said.

By the way, calling the Texas Public Policy Foundation a “free market think tank” is misleading. The group is quite hostile to public education, and features on its board several people who have led fights to gut funding for public schools and impose bleed-the-schools voucher programs. The Foundation appears to endorse preaching in public schools and gutting science standards, among other problems.

If it’s good work, why is it done in secret? Remember that I spent years in right wing spin work in Washington. Here’s what I see: Either McLeroy’s administration at the state board is incredibly incompetent and can’t even get the good news right, and out on time, or there is another, darker and probably illegal agenda at work.

Below the fold, the full text of the comment from “WG1” at the Chronicle’s website.

Other resources:

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Rewrite the government and civics texts

May 16, 2008

Government teachers, can you find this in the textbooks you use in your classes?

Nat Hentoff reports:

The Bush administration believes, he said, “that the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he and other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation.”

I noted before, these are exciting times to be teaching, with all these examples of Constitutional law, and Constitution abuses, and President Bush’s War on the Constitution in the headlines, or buried on page 14, every day.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture WarsNat Hentoff’s original column is at WorldNet Daily (!!!).  The Constitution with comments, and also here.

Other resources:


Oregon claims ownership of laws, asserts copyright

April 17, 2008

The comments at Boing-Boing are a lot smarter than the action by Oregon. Oregon mailed cease and desist letters to on-line providers of the texts of Oregon laws.

No, not to the big, hugely for-profit publisher West; only to smaller, on-line providers.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Bumsted.


James Madison’s birthday, March 16

March 15, 2008

James Madison, portrait from Whitehouse.gov, and Wikimedia

Freedom of Conscience Day?

James Madison’s birth day is March 16, Sunday. He was born in 1751, in Conway, King George County, Virginia.

Father of the Constitution, fourth President of the U.S., Great Collaborator, and life-long champion for religious freedom and freedom of speech, press and thought: How should we mark his birthday?


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