Tuesday, May 28, 2013
DURBIN, TOCQUEVILLE, AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds linked some comments by Senator Dick Durbin, who said he favors a “media shield law”…but isn’t sure if such a law should protect people who are bloggers and/or tweeters, rather than being employees of Associated Press, Fox News, etc.
“Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection?, asked Durbin. “We need to ask 21st century questions about a provision that was written over 200 years ago.”
As it happened, last night I was reading Alexis de Tocqueville, who (as usual) has some relevant things to say:
In France the press combines a twofold centralization; almost all its power is centered in the same spot and, so to speak, in the same hands, for its organs are far from numerous. The influence upon a skeptical nation of a public press thus constituted must be almost unbounded. It is an enemy with whom a government may sign an occasional truce, but which it is difficult to resist for any length of time.
Neither of these kinds of centralization exists in America. The United States has no metropolis; the intelligence and the power of the people are disseminated through all the parts of this vast country, and instead of radiating from a common point they cross each other in every direction; the Americans have nowhere established any central direction of opinion, any more than of the conduct of affairs. This difference arises from local circumstances and not from human power; but it is owing to the laws of the Union that there are no licenses to be granted to printers, no securities demanded from editors, as in France, and no stamp duty, as in France and England. The consequence is that nothing is easier than to set up a newspaper, as a small number of subscribers suffices to defray the expenses.
Hence the number of periodical and semi-periodical publications in the United States is almost incredibly large. The most enlightened Americans attribute the little influence of the press to this excessive dissemination of its power; and it is an axiom of political science in that country that the only way to neutralize the effect of the public journals is to multiply their number…The governments of Europe seem to treat the press with the courtesy which the knights of old showed to their opponents; having found from their own experience that centralization is a powerful weapon, they have furnished their enemies with it in order doubtless to have more glory for overcoming them.
In America there is scarcely a hamlet that has not its newspaper. It may readily be imagined that neither discipline nor unity of action can be established among so many combatants, and each one consequently fights under his own standard. All the political journals of the United States are, indeed, arrayed on the side of the administration or against it; but they attack and defend it in a thousand different ways.
Durbin referred to the First Amendment as “a provision that was written over 200 years ago,” apparently implying that the passage of time makes it less relevant today. If he were better-educated and more intelligent, he would understand that the press environment of the Revolutionary era and the first half of the 1800s, marked by decentralization and low start-up costs, is more similar to today’s Internet-driven media environment–marked by the same factors–than either is to the era that was marked by a few huge quasi-monopolistic media organizations.
When the Founders referred to “freedom of the press,” what exactly did they mean? I think there is a very strong case to be made (see detailed legal analysis by Eugene Volokh) that they meant freedom of the printing press (and, implicitly, of its technological successors) rather than offering a grant of special privilege to entities within a particular industry. Indeed, what would a grant of special protection to a “press” industry have even meant in an age when any citizen could buy a simple printing press and immediately begin publishing pamphlets or newspapers, without any need for huge capital investments, AP wire feeds, dozens of employees, etc?
I agree with Glenn Reynolds that “We need protections for journalism, not journalists.” The idea of special civil-liberties protections only for a particular industry, with membership in that industry inevitably to be certified by the powers-that-be, is highly dangerous, and takes us back to an environment of licenses to be granted to printers, securities demanded from editors, as in France, and stamp duty, as in France and England.
I notice that the people who want to use “technology” as an excuse for the erosion of constitutional protections are generally people whose ignorance of technology is exceeded only by their ignorance of history.
Monday, May 27, 2013
MEMORIAL DAY 2013
Here are some other Memorial Day links from around the web...most of these are from 2011 and earlier.
, eloquent and thoughtful as always.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
RERUN: THE PERFECT ENEMY
(Originally posted in February 2009. I was reminded of it by recent events in London and Sweden)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Former FDCI head Sheila Bair says that low interest rates are hurting, not helping, the economy
Boring, narrow, think-alike apparatchiks.
Educational credentialism and the landed aristocracy.
The irreversible decline of Sears
Rita King is not impressed with Marissa Mayer's ban on remote work at Yahoo
How volatility boosts career resilience
Seven characteristics of creative people
Stephen Hawking's warped moral calculus
19 emotions for which English has no words
AT&T predicted the future in these 1993 ads...but how many of these possibilities-turned-actualities was it really able to convert into sources of revenue and profit?
The CEO of Siemens USA thinks young people should seriously consider careers in manufacturing. (When he talks about high-level executives at Siemens who started as apprentices on the shop floor, I have to wonder how many of these success stories are in Siemens USA versus Siemens in Germany)
Some vintage air travel photos
The 22 most beautifully secluded places in the world
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Monday, May 20, 2013
ANOTHER (APPARENT) CASE OF POLITICALLY-DRIVEN GOVERNMENT ABUSE OF A SMALL BUSINESS
Catherine Engelbrecht and her husband own a small manufacturing business.
Catherine dared to express political opinions and organize political activities which were not to the liking of the Obama administration and its left-wing allies. Very quickly, Engelbrecht Manufacturing found itself facing inquiries from the IRS and the FBI and OSHA and the ATF.
Of course, we can’t be sure–and Catherine can’t be sure–that these investigations were politically-motivated. Maybe the aggregate of separate actions by separate agencies was merely a matter of chance. It seems about as likely as being hit on the head by a meteor, but it’s possible.
And it is specifically this impossibility of knowing what is really behind discretionary activities on the part of large and powerful government bureaucracies (absent legal action forcing the agencies to reveal their internal documents and discussions, which most people will not be able to afford) that makes this sort of thing so frightening.
I don’t think any seriously-informed person can doubt that a climate of intimidation is being driven by the Obama administration. Obama has clearly brought some of the toxic aspects of Chicago political culture to Washington with him, and these are added to the end-justifies-the-means philosophy which is a staple of leftism in general.
As long as Barack Obama is in office, I don’t see how anyone can feel reasonably assured of fair and nonpolitical treatment by any federal agency.
Catherine Engelbrecht says the harassment has forced her to seriously reconsider whether her political activity is worth the government harassment she’s faced.
“I left a thriving family business with my husband that I loved, to do something I didn’t necessarily love, but [which] I thought had to be done,” she says. “But I really think if we don’t do this, if we don’t stand up and speak now, there might not [always] be that chance.”
Sunday, May 19, 2013
KIPLING: McANDREW'S HYMN
Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
An’, taught by time, I tak’ it so – exceptin’ always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God -
Predestination in the stride o’ yon connectin’-rod.
John Calvin might ha’ forged the same – enorrmous, certain, slow -
Ay, wrought it in the furnace-flame – my “Institutio.”
I cannot get my sleep to-night; old bones are hard to please;
I’ll stand the middle watch up here – alone wi’ God an’ these
My engines, after ninety days o’ race an’ rack an’ strain
Through all the seas of all Thy world, slam-bangin’ home again.
Slam-bang too much – they knock a wee – the crosshead-gibs are loose;
But thirty thousand mile o’ sea has gied them fair excuse….
Fine, clear an’ dark – a full-draught breeze, wi’ Ushant out o’ sight,
An’ Ferguson relievin’ Hay. Old girl, ye’ll walk to-night!
His wife’s at Plymouth…. Seventy-One-Two-Three since he began -
Three turns for Mistress Ferguson…. an’ who’s to blame the man?
There’s none at any port for me, by drivin’ fast or slow,
Since Elsie Campbell went to Thee, Lord, thirty years ago.
(The year the ‘Sarah Sands’ was burned. Oh roads we used to tread,
Fra’ Maryhill to Pollokshaws – fra’ Govan to Parkhead!)
Not but they’re ceevil on the Board. Ye’ll hear Sir Kenneth say:
“Good morrn, McAndrew! Back again? An’ how’s your bilge to-day?”
Miscallin’ technicalities but handin’ me my chair
To drink Madeira wi’ three Earls – the auld Fleet Engineer,
That started as a boiler-whelp – when steam and he were low.
I mind the time we used to serve a broken pipe wi’ tow.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
ABUSE OF POWER
Professor Anne Hendershot, a sociologist, was targeted for an IRS audit in 2010 after she wrote a series of articles, mostly in Catholic publications, that were critical of Obamacare. The IRS summoned Professor Hendershott to a meeting to discuss the “business expenses” associated with her writing. Hendershott reports that the IRS agent wanted to know “who was paying her” and barred her husband from attending the inquiry, even though the Hendershotts file joint returns. Hendershott says that she was so traumatized by the experience that she stopped writing about political topics, which presumably was the intended effect.
“It was clear they didn’t like me criticizing the people who helped pass Obamacare,” she said of the audit,” later adding, ”The IRS is very frightening.”
In addition to creating stress and fear, Hendershott said that the experience came at a great emotional and financial expense for the family, noting that even after the audit the government sought more information from her.
Of course, she can’t prove that she was targeted politically (or couldn’t until now, when subpoenas directed against the IRS may force the revelation of such information.) And that is precisely what makes the power wielded by the IRS and other Federal agencies so frightening. An individual can be sentenced to a Kafkaeqsue subterranean passage of indefinite duration, at the discretion of low-level officials in a local office, Cabinet officials in Washington, or mid-level bureaucrats anywhere in between. Hence, the maintenance of individual freedom requires that Federal Government activities be conducted with a high degree of integrity and respect for law.
What apparently happened to Professor Hendershott should not be happening to anyone in America.
Obama says he is “angry” about the IRS political activities that have been revealed. Sure, he’s angry about the political impact of the revelations on his administration. But is he angry that the activities occurred in the first place?
Friday, May 10, 2013
RERUN: A NEGLECTED BUT SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARY
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
(Here is something I wrote in November of last year)
At a minimum–at a bare minimum–the Benghazi affair reveals a dismal level of incompetence pervading the Obama administration. There is also reason to believe that it reveals decison-making about life-and-death matters based on this President’s desire to preserve his “narrative,” rather than facing reality and acting upon it. And, I suspect, the more we learn about what happened in Benghazi, and why it happened, the more disturbing the answers are going to be.
I’m currently re-reading the memoirs of General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s emissary to France in 1940. There was a disturbing amount of defeatism, and in some cases actual sympathy with the Nazi enemy, among certain government officials and other French elites. Weygand’s friend Henri de Kerillis, a Deputy and newpaper editor, had been consistently pressing Prime Minister Daladier to investigate some sinister behavior by members of the extreme Right.
“Il faut de’brider l’abces,” he had said time and time again to the Premier. He had done so again lately and received this strange answer: I have done exactly what you urged, I have opened the abscess, but it was so deep the scalpal disappeared down it, and had I gone on, my arm would have followed.” This was really very frightening, and I said so. “You cannot be more frightened than I am,” said Kerillis.
I feel sure that we are going to find that the abscess revealed by the Obama administration’s behavior re Benghazi goes very deep indeed.
5/9/2013: A useful source of information about the Benghazi debacle and the related investigations is the site Special Operations Speaks.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
A MISLEADING PRESENTATION
Back in 2004, one of the Ben & Jerry’s cofounders put up an animation using stacks of cookies to demonstrate that the US spends way too little on education relative to its spending on defense. The page showed $35 billion worth of cookies for K-12 education as opposed to $400 billion for defense.
Actually, the US in that year was spending almost $500 billion in government money for K-12 education. The $35 billion looks about right –for Federal government spending only. Most educational funding in the US occurs, of course, at the county, state, and municpal levels. The phrase “Federal budget” does occur somewhere in the presentation. But the manner in which the numbers are presented–in the form of a single bar graph–implied that the $35B for education was directly comparable to the $400B for defense. The casual or not-very-knowledgeable reader would be likely to look at this page and draw very incorrect conclusions about the relative levels of defense and educational spending in the United States.
I was reminded of this misleading presentation of data by another bad infographic, this one appearing in the United Airlines in-flight magazine. The piece, titled “Geek Tragedy,” shows the U.S. having a rank of 27th among developed nations in proportion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) bachelor’s degrees, asserted that the US economy would benefit by $75 trillion (over the next 80 years) if we could match Canada’s math proficiency level…and went on to compare “Annual US Federal Investment in STEM Education Programs” ($3 billion) with “Amount Americans Spent on Beer in 2011″ ($96 billion.)
Sunday, May 05, 2013
COMING SOON, TO PLACES NEAR YOU?
I’ve written before about Rose Wilder Lane, the writer and political thinker. In 1926, Rose and her friend Helen Dore Boylston, both then living in Paris, decided to buy a Model T Ford and drive it to Albania. I recently picked up the book Travels with Zenobia, which is the chronicle of their adventure.
Acquisition of the car–a “glamorized” 1926 model which was maroon in color rather than the traditional Ford black–went smoothly. Acquisition of the proper government documentation allowing them to actually drive it–not so much:
Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour the Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a cafe and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires…
One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car…But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them…
After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car’s papers. Nearly an inch think they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers’ licenses.
Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us…Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car’s papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.
The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.