Monday, February 14, 2005

And you can spell that F-O-O-L-I-S-H 

Late Friday I received an email from Bill Albrecht, publisher of the St. Cloud Times, which discussed his paper's reaction to the demands from the university's faculty senate and student government that it reveal who posts in the paper's online community called "Story Chat", which we previously covered. His letter was prompted by this opinion piece from Friday's Times by a fellow faculty member. I hadn't read it before then because of work and shuttling to the hospital to keep track of my mother-in-law and taking over most responsibilities for the Littlest Scholar. So I did then, and I realized I missed something to blog Friday.

I need to disclose two things before discussing the details of her article. First, I don't necessarily write for the Times, but as I discussed before the Quarterly Business Report is now to be published in a new publication offered by the Times. So one may reasonably think that I would be favorably inclined to them. Fair enough, though if you Google this site for references to the Times, you'll find a few times I thought their editorials were wrong-headed. I expect to continue to do so.

Second, the author of this piece, a member of the Times' monthly writers series and a faculty member here, is someone I would consider a colleague. She's a diversity crusader on campus but someone who is inclined to intellectual diversity as well. I suppose she will be less happy with me after I write this, but I expect our collegiality to continue. If I'm kinder to her than some others, well, she's earned it in my book.

Last disclosure: I occasionally have posted on the Times Story Chat boards under a pseudonym.
That said, let me say that Prof. Clifford is wrong on several points in this column discussing the desire of the faculty and the student government to stop selling the Times on campus and stop giving interviews to Times reporters.

The St. Cloud State student government, supported by many faculty members, recently took decisive action and passed a resolution that encourages people not to read the Times or talk to its staff for stories until the Times requires online posters to identify themselves by name and city.

I agree. While people have the right to make such comments, they should be accountable for them.

It's worth remembering that many were accountable for their statements during the ratification of our Constitution while signing papers as Federal Farmer or Cato or Pennsylvania Minority. To this day we are not sure who wrote the Anti-Federalist Papers, though we think we do. As well, when someone dresses up as Bushitler for Halloween does anyone require that person to identify him or herself? Do people who boo Daniel Pipes sign in before assuming places in the booing gallery?

Free speech does not require you to identify yourself. I think if you had handed the KGB your passport before standing in front of the Kremlin to denounce Brezhnev you would have been fine for the moment. They always come in the middle of the night.

I talked with a faculty colleague this week who said their subscription to the Times will be renewed when the Times holds people accountable for what they say in public and not before.
What does this mean? How does a newspaper hold people accountable for what they say in public? Does Prof. Clifford's colleague intend to stop watching CNN until it issues a request to the World Economic Forum for the videotape of Eason Jordan?

It is not up to the newspaper to hold writers responsible; it is up to those who read or hear what they believe to be hateful to speak up.

The above alone would have been enough in itself, but then Prof. Clifford descends into the weirdest contortions of logic.

At this time in society, which mirrors so many other times in history when war becomes a means of establishing principles and ideologies, it seems we would know what is at risk if we do not uphold the "freedoms" we enjoy as Americans and which are said to motivate our actions abroad.

We send our soldiers to assist a country in establishing a democratic system of government when elections in our country are fraught with mismanaged actions and court challenges.

Look at the governor's race in Washington state. It's been allowed to go forward amid charges of voting errors and illegal votes.

I don't know what it means anymore to live in the "land of the free" when you can fly in from Castro's Cuba and have a less invasive search procedure than we have in the United States, especially when this country has vilified Cuba's government for decades.

I don't know what it means anymore to have the "freedom" to speak my mind when we use the Department of Homeland Security to justify violating people's privacy every day, or when we know the vice president is connected with a company making money off the war effort. Not only do we not see that as a conflict of interest, but we re-elect him.

Where does one start?
Some of us believe what we are doing in "war" is protecting our freedoms, and others believe we are spreading freedom to other places in the world. We are also trying to spread democracy. We do a lousy job sometimes in places like Washington or Milwaukee, but in this country you can talk about the Silence of the Cheese -- in Saddam's Iraq, the silence was enforced at the muzzle of a rifle. I don't know if Prof. Clifford was moved by the ink-stained fingers or not. I know I was.

As to Cuba, nobody is flying planes into buildings there. Nobody is blowing up Cuban embassies in Africa, or Cuban ships in the Gulf of Aden. If searches were so odious, why does the flow of boats between Cuba and the United States seem so one-sided?

And the last paragraph? Please. Tell me one thing, Professor, that you were prevented from doing by the Department of Homeland Security. Would it be better, do you think, to let private airlines conduct their own searches so they can assure their passengers that the planes they fly on are safe? Would you rather just step on planes where there are no searches? I'm in favor of a diversity of plane safety standards, with pricing to match, but I somehow suspect you are not quite so free market.

The rest of it is

I don't even know where to go to get unbiased information about the war or about actions in my home country.
Hey, me too! Two words: the blogosphere. (I guess you could say also "talk radio" or "Fox News". Your call.)

The federal government is paying people to promote Bush administration policies in Europe and North Africa.
Would that be Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty? News flash: they've been around for decades. They've promoted official US policy for quite some time. Did you want the State Department to fund al Jazeera?

Is it possible, in a free country, to get information without spin?
That, at least, is a good question. Suppose I answer that it is not. What would that mean? Would it mean we must abandon democracy and capitalism for autocracy and socialism? And do you think that, at the time the Founders signed off on the First Amendment, that news was spin-free?
You might wonder what all of this has to do with whether people post their names or post their hateful comments anonymously.

Yes, as a matter fact I have no idea at all what it has to do with a private, for-profit, local newspaper running a chat room with anonymous posters.
I simply think we owe each other accountability.

Because we all live in a "society". In a world where individual rights are trumped by group rights, where there is no fear of the tyranny of the majority as long as it's pursued by those with the right morality and a cosmic sense of justice, I suppose you can say that. We simply see the world differently.

The Times' Story Chat is in some ways a community to itself; some writers know each other, and many reveal who they are either by using their real names on the boards (such as our mayor) or by suggestion and confirmation. Some remain completely unknown. I do not know if others know me by the pseudonym I take.

I use the pseudonym in part as a brand name for what I am trying to get across on the board -- sort of along the lines of "Pennsylvania Minority" -- and in part because there are some things I would say in that format that I would not say here where I do use my real name. Professor Clifford and many of her fellow travellers in the Support the Court controversy call this "speaking truth to power". I call it simply "heckling", calling out that the emperor has no clothes. (The child who does so to the king's parade doesn't identify himself, by the way.)

Take a look at the discussion with Prof. Clifford's post and you'll see what I mean.
We can choose to get along with the people in our community, or we can choose to separate ourselves from them for whatever reasons we come up with: race, religion, class, what they say, the groups they involve themselves with, the way they use the media or how they subscribe to the media sources they choose to use and rely on for their information.

Justice Brandeis, a favorite with the Scholars, once also said "The makers of the Constitution conferred the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by all civilized men�the right to be let alone." We were given the right to separate ourselves for whatever reasons we choose.

That is, in fact, the beginning of all the other freedoms. Just ask Justice Douglas, or any of these other chaps.

To the Professor Cliffords and the Hal Kimballs and the rest, that is spelled B-U-T-T O-U-T.