Category Archives: Freedom

Now THIS is courage in the cause of free speech


A lot of people have had trouble understanding my point that there is nothing noble about holding contests to see who can mock Mohammed the most, It’s just stupid, immature and offensive.

Many imagine that those who participate in such pointless insults to Islam are courageous defenders of freedom of expression.

No. In case you’re still having trouble telling the difference, this is the kind of cartoonist that we have a First Amendment to protect:

Iran’s thin-skinned mullahs have jailed an artist who drew a cartoon disparaging members of parliament over their decision to restrict birth control for women.

Atena Farghadani, 28, had what Iran considers a trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 19 and is now awaiting a verdict. She was charged with “insulting members of parliament through paintings” for drawing  the officials as animals, according to Amnesty International. It is not clear what kind of maximum sentence she could face.

“She’s truly an angel,” a relative of Farghadani told on condition of anonymity. “She just loves people and animals, and besides for all her artistic talent, she is such a strong supporter of human rights.”…

See the difference? Standing up and criticizing the powers that be in your own oppressive country is courageous, and has a point. We have a First Amendment to protect people who do that in this country. That is essential to being a free country.

Being intentionally offensive to millions of innocent Muslims who have done you no harm is just being a jerk, not a hero. You’re free to do it, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back for it.

Graham plants himself squarely in pro-gun territory

Lindsey Graham, widely expected to face a challenge next year from right out of the 1830s, has responded to President Obama’s gun proposals today with words that place him safely in NRA territory:

Graham Expresses Opposition to President Obama’s Gun Control Proposal

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement in opposition to President Obama’s gun control proposal.

“The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is heartbreaking and beyond words.  However, the gun control plans brought forward by President Obama fail to address the real issues and I’m confident there will be bipartisan opposition to his proposal.

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“One bullet in the hands of a homicidal maniac is one too many.  But in the case of a young mother defending her children against a home invader — a real-life event which recently occurred near Atlanta — six bullets may not be enough.  Criminals aren’t going to follow legislation limiting magazine capacity.  However, a limit could put law-abiding citizens at a distinct disadvantage when confronting a criminal.

“As for reinstating the assault weapons ban, it has already been tried and failed.

“Finally, when it comes to protecting our schools, I believe the best way to confront a homicidal maniac who enters a school is for them to be met by armed resistance from a trained professional.”


But take heart, gun control advocates: At least he doesn’t want to arm teachers, right? Not unless that’s what he means by “trained professional.” I initially took it to mean “cop,” but can we be sure?

First sex offenders, then gun permit holders…

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Chip Oglesby (the guy who very kindly gave this blog a whole new theme this week, just because y’all complained about the comments format in the previous new one) brings this to my attention today.

The L.A. Times is reporting on a contretemps precipitated by another newspaper, on the East Coast:

It’s getting hard to find a public official in Putnam County, N.Y., who thinks putting the names of gun permit-holders on a map does anybody good.

On Thursday, a flock of officials gathered at a news conference to announce their support for County Clerk Dennis Sant’s decision to refuse a public-records request by the White Plains-based Journal News for a list of licensed handgun permit-holders, whose names and addresses are public record under law.

The state’s top open-records official previously told the Los Angeles Times that county officials would be breaking the law by refusing the newspaper’s request.

On Dec. 22, the newspaper published online an interactive map that included the names and address of people who had pistol permits  licensed by Westchester and Rockland counties. The map led to so much outrage that the newspaper has hired armed guards to protect its newsroom. Reporting on one recent incident, the newspaper said it received a suspicious envelope containing white powder on Wednesday evening, which was deemed to be nontoxic.

The Journal News also wants to publish a similar map for Putnam County, but officials have resisted. On Thursday, there was no indication of the battle easing after Putnam County officials said they’re prepared to take the fight all the way to its conclusion, according to statements released by the office of state Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the area…

This raises all sorts of questions, mainly about privacy in an age in which very little privacy exists. Also about the principle that so many newspaper editors like to go on about, which holds that “the people have a right to know” pretty much anything that an editor gets it into his head to publish.

Do the people have not only a right, but a need, to see this map? And does it outweigh any presumed privacy that a gun permit holder might feel entitled to? I mean, it’s one thing for permits to be public information, so that an individual holder could be looked up. It’s another to publish a map, holding these people up to… I don’t know what, really. Because I don’t really understand what practical purpose the map serves. Is it intended as a sort of sociological study of the county, to satisfy someone’s curiosity as to where permit holders are most likely to live?

I’m curious to know the editors’ thinking on that, because without knowing that, I don’t know what to think. Going by this story, the editors haven’t been forthcoming on that point. But the publisher said, “We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it. We’re troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information.”

In response, a critic of the newspaper’s position says, “The Journal News has really come up with the perfect map for the perpetrators and for the stalkers and for the criminals. They have yet to give us a cogent reason why, except for the reason that they can. I am sorry — that is not acceptable.”

Frankly, I’m not persuaded either that the editors had a clear, thought-out reason for using that portion of their newshole for this purpose. Nor am I convinced that anyone has been harmed by their doing so. But that’s the way it is with so many things that people get really, really stirred up about…

Questionable claims for the AR-15

Just read an interesting piece over at Slate, by a guy who calls himself “a Second Amendment supporter” (although, living in NYC, he doesn’t own a gun — but I guess that’s as close to pro-gun as Slate gets), discussing the claims that the AR-15 is a great weapon for hunting and home defense.

Which seems doubtful to me on both counts. This writer, Justin Peters, cites most of the reasons I already thought that. If I were into hunting, I’d use a rifle (or for birds, a shotgun), rather than a weapon that, as Sean Connery’s Raizuli would say, “fires promiscuously.” A matter of sportsmanship. For home defense, a pistol seems far more practical than a long gun, even a carbine.

But then I’m not trying to sell “modern sporting rifle” to the public.

Here’s the core of the article’s argument:

But the AR-15 is not ideal for the hunting and home-defense uses that the NRA’s Keene cited today. Though it can be used for hunting, the AR-15 isn’t really a hunting rifle. Its standard .223 caliber ammunition doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game. Hunters themselves find the rifle controversial, with some arguing AR-15-style rifles empower sloppy, “spray and pray” hunters to waste ammunition. (The official Bushmaster XM15 manual lists the maximum effective rate of fire at 45 rounds per minute.) As one hunter put it in the comments section of an article on, “I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. I see more men running around the bush all cammo’d up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR’s. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors.”

In terms of repelling a home invasion—which is what most people mean when they talk about home defense—an AR-15-style rifle is probably less useful than a handgun. The AR-15 is a long gun, and can be tough to maneuver in tight quarters. When you shoot it, it’ll overpenetrate—sending bullets through the walls of your house and possibly into the walls of your neighbor’s house—unless you purchase the sort of ammunition that fragments on impact. (This is true for other guns, as well, but, again, the thing with the AR-15 is that it lets you fire more rounds faster.)

AR-15-style rifles are very useful, however, if what you’re trying to do is sell guns. In a recent Forbes article, Abram Brown reported that “gun ownership is at a near 20-year high, generating $4 billion in commercial gun and ammunition sales.” But that money’s not coming from selling shotguns and bolt-action rifles to pheasant hunters. In its 2011 annual report, Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation announced that bolt-action hunting rifles accounted for 6.6 percent of its net sales in 2011 (down from 2010 and 2009), while modern sporting rifles (like AR-15-style weapons) accounted for 18.2 percent of its net sales. The Freedom Group’s 2011 annual report noted that the commercial modern sporting rifle market grew at a 27 percent compound annual rate from 2007 to 2011, whereas the entire domestic long gun market only grew at a 3 percent rate…

Just before that excerpt, Peters cited what I suspect is the biggest appeal of the AR-15: “because carrying it around makes you look like a badass.”


A communitarian view on gun control

I thought y’all might be interested in this perspective on gun control from Amitai Etzioni, who is sort of the godfather of the rather modest communitarian movement in this country. An excerpt:

etzioni_mainWe should not wait for our elected officials, in President Obama’s good words, “to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” We should do our share. One way to proceed is to mark our homes, apartments and condos, with a “gun free” sign. Parents should notify their friends that they would be reluctant to send their child over for a play date unless the home was safe from guns. Residential communities should pass rules that ban bringing guns onto their premises, clearly marking them as gun free.

Anyone who puts up such signs will become an ambassador for gun control, because they are sure to be challenged by gun advocates to explain their anti-gun positions. Here are some pointers they may wish to use against the typical pro-gun talking points.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

• Tragically, it is the case that there will always be dangerous individuals, but they can kill a lot more with easy access to guns. On the same day as the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a knife-wielding man targeted a primary school in a Chinese village. Twenty-two children and one adult were wounded, but none were killed.

“Guns deter crimes and save lives.”

• Of the 30,000 gun deaths in America every year, only 200 are caused by self-defense. Studies have shown that a higher rate of gun ownership is correlated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings. The U.S. has a firearms homicide rate 19.5 times higher than the combined rate of 22 high income countries with similar non-lethal crime and violence rates…

Note the emphasis on community-based solutions — starting in one’s home and workplace, engaging one’s neighbors in debate. Very much based in faith in engaged communities.Very different from the “50 percent plus one” forced solutions that left and right tend to jockey for…

Not that a communitarian would object to more reasonable laws regarding guns. As Etzioni says, “No right is absolute. Even the right to free speech, considered the strongest of them all, is limited. You cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater — precisely because it endangers life.”

Thomas Jefferson as unrepentant slaveholder

The usual take on the man best known for writing that “All men are created equal” has been that he owned slaves, but… after which you choose your excuse:

  • He was really conflicted about it.
  • He just didn’t think freeing them would be practical.
  • He was a particularly benevolent master.
  • It’s not fair to judge someone who was born into that system, and knew no other, by modern ethical standards.

The excuses may bear revisiting in light of a new book, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, byHenry Wiencek. Here’s an excerpt from a review of the book this morning in The Wall Street Journal:

The strongest sections of the book track Mr. Wiencek’s close reading of Jefferson’s estate records, where he found a coldblooded taskmaster who ruthlessly exploited child labor and overworked his slaves as a matter of course. Jefferson sometimes countenanced brutal punishment, including the whipping of boys as young as 10 or 11 in his highly profitable nail factory, “whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills,” Mr. Wiencek writes. Despite Jefferson’s occasional assertions that slavery would one day wither away, he never lifted a finger to weaken it as an institution, even when implored to do so by friends and allies who regarded slavery as an affront to the values for which patriots had fought the Revolutionary War.

In his youth, Jefferson did hold antislavery convictions. And in his earliest draft of the Declaration of Independence, he may well have had slaves in mind when he declared that all men were created equal.(Southerners were sufficiently worried that they tried unsuccessfully to have the word “men” changed to “freemen.”) By 1784, however, in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” he expressed in graceful but cringe-inducing prose a deep personal distaste for blacks, who, he asserted, smelled wrong, copulated with apes in Africa, and were incapable of intellectual achievement.

Whatever moral ambivalence he may have felt toward the institution of slavery he overcame when he sat down and did the numbers for Monticello. In 1792, he calculated precisely what his slaves were worth. Mr. Wiencek writes: “What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved children were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest.” To intimates, Jefferson described slavery matter-of-factly as a good investment strategy, advising one friend that if his family had cash to spare, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes.”…

Actually, I was a bit surprised that Jefferson even handled the books for his estate. I supposed he followed the practice of the landed gentry of having a “man of business” deal with all that. I had supposed he was detached from the enterprises that gave him his wealth, devoting all his time to politics, science and music. I had read that he was a terrible money manager, embodying the Southern planter’s typical indifference to debt, spending above his means on books, scientific instruments and other things that scratched his intellectual itch.

I supposed that, to paraphrase John Travolta (on being a loan shark) in “Get Shorty,” he was never that into it. But supposing he remained above the details of running his estate was just my way of offering him another excuse, I guess.

Mr. Wiencek’s premise seems to be that he was not only his own man of business, but a particularly hard-eyed one, especially on the subject of slavery.

Not that I was ever prepared to give him a pass on that. There are a number of reasons why, among the Founders, I have always preferred John Adams to Jefferson, and have resented that Jefferson was in their day, and still is, more celebrated and revered. One of those reasons was that Adams was adamantly opposed to slavery, while Jefferson, high-minded words aside, was a major practitioner of that evil.

This book should give us all, including those of you who admire Mr. Jefferson more than I do, something new to consider.

What’s the proper price for books that don’t exist?

Just a couple of days after I posted a video of the director of the Ayn Rand Institute, that organization sends out this release:

Apple Should Be Free to Charge $15 for eBooks

WASHINGTON–Apple and five top book publishers have been threatened by federal antitrust authorities. According to the Wall Street Journal, they are to be sued for allegedly colluding to fix ebook prices.

According to Ayn Rand Center fellow Don Watkins, “Traditional books may come from trees but they don’t grow on trees–and ebooks and ebook readers such as the iPad definitely don’t grow on trees. These are amazing values created by publishers and by companies such as Apple. They have a right to offer their products for sale at whatever prices they choose. They cannot force us to buy them. If they could, why would they charge only $15? Why not $50? Why not $1,000?

“There is no mystically ordained ‘right’ price for ebooks–the right price is the one voluntarily agreed to between sellers and buyers. Sure, some buyers may complain about ebook prices–but they are also buying an incredible number of ebooks.

“What in the world justifies a bunch of bureaucrats who have created nothing interfering in these voluntary arrangements and declaring that they get to decide what considerations should go into pricing ebooks?”

Read more from Don Watkins at his blog.

I didn’t know what the Institute was on about until I saw this Wall Street Journal piece:

U.S. Warns Apple, Publishers

The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books, according to people familiar with the matter.

Several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a potentially damaging court battle, these people said. If successful, such a settlement could have wide-ranging repercussions for the industry, potentially leading to cheaper e-books for consumers. However, not every publisher is in settlement discussions.

The five publishers facing a potential suit areCBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster Inc.;Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group;Pearson PLC’s Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc., a unit of News Corp. , which also owns The Wall Street Journal….

This is truly a fight in which I do not have a dog. I think. And it should please the Randians that my own attitude has to do with market forces. I can’t conceive of paying $15 for a book when, after the transaction, I don’t actually have a book.

So I can approach this dispassionately, and ask, to what extent is this a monopoly situation? After all, Apple has competitors — such as Amazon, which actually pioneered this business of selling “books” to people electronically. The WSJ story addresses that:

To build its early lead in e-books, Amazon Inc. sold many new best sellers at $9.99 to encourage consumers to buy its Kindle electronic readers. But publishers deeply disliked the strategy, fearing consumers would grow accustomed to inexpensive e-books and limit publishers’ ability to sell pricier titles.

Publishers also worried that retailers such as Barnes & Noble Inc. would be unable to compete with Amazon’s steep discounting, leaving just one big buyer able to dictate prices in the industry. In essence, they feared suffering the same fate as record companies at Apple’s hands, when the computer maker’s iTunes service became the dominant player by selling songs for 99 cents.

Now that sounds more like what I would think the market would bear, if the market were like me. $9.99 sounds closer to what I might conceivably be willing to pay in order to have access to the contents of a book without actually getting a book. But it still seems high.

Yes, I can see advantages to a e-book. You can store more of them in a smaller space. They don’t get musty, which for an allergic guy like me is nothing to sneeze at. And you can search them, to look up stuff you read, and want to quote or otherwise share. That last consideration isn’t that great for me because I have an almost eerie facility for quickly finding something I read in a book, remembering by context. But… once I’ve found it, there’s the problem that if I want to quote it, I have to type it — which is not only time-consuming, but creates the potential for introducing transcription errors. Far better to copy and paste. (At least, I think you can copy and paste from ebooks. Google Books doesn’t allow it. See how I got around that back here, by using screenshots of Google  Books.)

But I still want to possess the book. Maybe it’s just pure acquisitiveness, or maybe it’s a survivalist thing — I want something I can read even if someone explodes a thermonuclear device over my community, knocking out all electronics.

In any case, all of us are still sorting out what an ebook is worth to us. Let Apple set the price where it may, and try to compete with Amazon. Then we’ll see what shakes out.

First, they came for the Tweets…

I’m not usually persuaded by “slippery slope” arguments, deeming them intellectually lazy. But I have to confess to being a little bothered that Twitter is announcing it has the capability, which it is willing to apply, to censor Tweets by country.

Twitter still maintains that “our policy and philosophy about the importance of supporting free expression has not changed.” But it doesn’t answer the question of whether it would have helped Egypt and other regimes suppress the Arab Spring.

It does draw the line at making a devil’s bargain, as Google did for a time, with China.

Twitter offers the example, to make us feel better, of cooperating with Germany’s anti-nazi laws. So… we’re supposed to feel good that they’re willing to suppress fascism, but personally, that’s a bit outweighed by the fact that the first country they come up with as an example is German. No offense, meine Kameraden.

This makes me wonder… something I am not at all happy about is that the most-viewed video (65,281 views) I’ve ever put on YouTube is a clip of neo-Nazis saying “Sieg Heil!” on the State House steps four years ago (and two make it worse, two other, longer clips I shot at that same rally rank fourth and fifth, which really creeps me out). So I guess that would have been censored, had Twitter been in charge — in Germany, at least.

I like that Twitter is trying to be, if this isn’t too much of an oxymoron, transparent about its censorship:

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page,, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

But I’m still not thrilled about it. You?