Sen. Dodd Calls For Civility In His Farewell Speech; Says Politics In Washington Is “Completely Dysfunctional”

November 30, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

In his farewell address after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Chris Dodd called Tuesday for a new level of civility in an era of hyper-partisanship and said that Republicans and Democrats can pass good legislation only by working together.

Declaring that politics in Washington, D.C. is “completely dysfunctional,” Dodd said the incoming senators who will take office in January will be facing a political world that “seems to favor speculation over analysis and conflict over consensus.”

“Intense partisan polarization has raised the stakes in every debate and on every vote, making it difficult to lose with grace and nearly impossible to compromise without cost,” Dodd said in his prepared remarks. “Americans’ distrust of politicians provides compelling incentives for senators to distrust each other, to disparage this very institution, and disengage from the policy making process.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky described Dodd’s speech as “one of the most important speeches in the history of the Senate.” He said he had never heard ”anyone so cogently point out” the important matters facing the body.

A longtime student of Senate history, Dodd spoke of his love for the august body. That love started back in his childhood when he watched his father, Thomas Dodd, on the Senate floor. In fact, he stood at the same desk for the past 30 years – the desk that his father had used for 12 years until his electoral defeat in November 1970.

“As a 14-year-old boy, I sat in the family gallery of this chamber, watching as my father took the oath of office as a new senator,” Dodd said at the start of his lengthy speech. “A few years later, in 1962, I sat where these young men and women sit today, serving as a Senate page. John F. Kennedy was our president, and Lyndon Johnson presided over this body.”

After briefly discussing his career and thanking his family, Dodd moved on to the broader theme of his love for the Senate.

On the campaign trail in Connecticut, Dodd was asked once by a Hartford Courant reporter about being one of the longest-serving senators in state history. Off the top of his head, Dodd started talking about Orville H. Platt, a Republican from Meriden who served in the U.S. Senate from 1879 through 1905. He also talked about Joseph R. Hawley, a Hartford Republican who served for 24 years until 1905.

Capitol Watch

War and Speech

November 29, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Dahlia Lithwick did a great piece over the weekend about wartime restrictions on free speech and how we haven’t really had many even at a time when civil liberties have been curtailed in many other ways:

In other words, when it comes to antiwar speech we may have reached something like perfect—though that seems the wrong adjective somehow—equilibrium: Americans don’t much care to protest. The government cares very little if we do. And the courts don’t much care about what happens either way. That we find ourselves in an open-ended war on “terror” that will never end but it never becomes quite real to us suggests that maybe the antiwar movement won’t really be taken seriously in the courts until they start to protest in video game format.

I wonder if Julian Assange might be just the man to break down this equilibrium. Currently the rule is that it’s illegal to be the guy with legal access to classified information who passes it on to outsiders, but once you receive the leak you’re free to do what you want with it. But for the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of outrage directed not just at Bradley Manning but also at Assange and WikiLeaks. Operationalizing that anti-Assange outrage would, it seems to me, necessarily entail challenging our current understanding of the First Amendment. Representative Peter King’s suggestion that we designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization is in part grandstanding and in part an effort to devise a way to begin restricting freedom of the press.


Assaults on free speech update

November 29, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The legal intimidation libel case against my colleague Pamela Geller continues. Ohio lawyer Omar Tarazi has filed a $ 10-million defamation lawsuit against Geller for elements of her reporting on the case of Rifqa Bary, the teenage girl who kicked off a year-long custody battle when she fled from her home in fear for her life after her Muslim father discovered her conversion to Christianity. (The battle ended when Rifqa turned eighteen and was free to live on her own as a Christian.) You can read more details here.

An update: Geller’s attorneys have filed a response to Tarazi’s own response to the pro-free speech side’s motion to dismiss the case. In it, Geller’s legal team says that “Plaintiff’s motion is a feckless attempt to avoid responding to Defendant Geller’s properly supported motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint,” so that “he can prolong this vexatious litigation and engage in a costly ‘fishing expedition.’” In fact, “conspicuously absent from Plaintiff’s motion is any discussion regarding the merits of Defendant Geller’s motion to dismiss (or any challenge to the authenticity or accuracy of the information contained in the attached exhibits for that matter). And the reason is obvious: Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint fails as a matter of law, and he knows it. No amount of discovery can change that conclusion.”

But even with all the facts on one’s side, you never know how things are going to go in a courtroom. In any case, this suit is a rather obvious and clumsy attempt to intimidate into silence one of the most effective voices for freedom on the scene today; it is just another example of how Islamic supremacists use our own laws as weapons against us. I’ll keep you updated.

Meanwhile, in Austria the kangaroo trial of freedom fighter Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for telling the truth about Islam has begun. Latest updates here. I offered to testify on Elisabeth’s behalf in that case, and the offer still stands; I’ll be keeping you updated on that case as well.

Jihad Watch

The Front Lines of Reality: An International Perspective on the Battle over Free Speech

November 28, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

by Reverend Manny and The Twilight Empire

With the FBI crackdown on peace activists rapidly buried in the election reporting, I thought it might be nice to take a longer look at just how far into the international horizon the fight for free speech goes. The United States does not always find itself on the side that supports free speech. Saudi Arabia, our oil-based bed-buddy, for example, is essentially a Stalinist religious state with little to no free press or open debate.

On the whole, the September FBI crackdowns are symbolic, and a local reminder, of an international repressive wave against transparency, criticism and rational, open dialogue. As usual, the more violent and centralized the power, the more likely they are to be intimidated by the power of open oversight — i.e. public discourse of the government’s actions by either people or independent institutions.

For example, staying in America for just a quick second, on November 20, 2010, two American journalists working for Moscow-based Russia Today were arrested for merely covering the protest of America’s assassin school, formerly known as the “School of the Americas”

New York, November 23, 2010–Two journalists from the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today were arrested on November 20 while covering a protest against the U.S. military training center formerly known as the “School of the Americas” at Fort Benning, Georgia. On-air correspondent Kaelyn Forde and cameraman Jon Conway, both of whom are U.S. citizens, were charged with unlawful assembly, demonstrating without a permit, and failing to obey police orders, according to The Associated Press. They were both held for 29 hours before each was released on a US$ 1,300 bond.

Journalists and bloggers alike are finding that free Speech, as they say, isn’t exactly free. There’s often quite a serious price to be paid.

Sometimes it means living under occupation and exposing midnight raids.

  • Israeli soldiers had entered Bil’in late last night, intending to arrest Mohammed Abu Rahmah, son of Adeeb, one of the prominent organisers of demonstrations against the Wall. Adeeb has served the past 17 months in prison on charges of ‘incitement’. Mohammed, 15, lives with his mother and six sisters, the youngest aged four. All had been asleep when the soldiers barged in. On resisting arrest Mohammed was beaten and dragged off by soldiers.
  • Haitham hurriedly made his way over to the house with his camera, only to be stopped by the soldiers, keen to keep their antics off camera. Haitham describes the soldier’s anger when they saw he was filming. “Sometimes a camera can stop violence” he told us, “but not that time”. Sensing violence he told them he worked for the Israeli Human rights groups B’Tselem, hoping they’d show some restraint. However after shouting at him to leave they hit him in the chest, which is still bruised, and struck his camera, damaging it severely.

In case you thought simply filming an arrest was too aggressive of a democratic action, did you know that sometimes you can even be arrested for trying to give Allah a Facebook page? Listen friends, Allah almighty hasn’t started his own, so maybe he is technology illiterate and needs just a little help and encouragement to get him going… I thought you “true-believers” would do anything for your unrenderable deity! And you dare call other people infidels? Are you gonna really begrudge a local barber trying to help the exalted one move into the realm of Web2.0? Apparently yes.

  • Palestinian blogger, Waleed Khalid Hasayin (pen name: Waleed Al-Husseini), a 26-year-old barber from the West Bank city of Qalqilya, has been arrested by the Palestinian authorities for creating a facebook page named “Allah”. According to blogger Marwa Rakha, the page has been reported and shut down, but Waleed has created another page. It’s worth noting that other facebook pages carrying the same name “Allah” are still active here and here:

On his blog “Nour Al Akl” or The enlightened Mind, he refuted all religious arguments – specially Islam – and he wrote long detailed posts on the fallacy of religions. In the beginning of Summer 2010, a facebook page titled “Allah” was created by an anonymous user. The creator of the page used his excellent command of the Arabic language and composed poetic stanzas that mimic Qura’anic verses. The page attracted many fans; there were those who liked the creativity of the author, those who were offended and joined to defend their religion, and those who were merely curious.

  • According to this report, an Internet cafe worker, where Waleed has been spending several hours a day, after his mother canceled his Internet connection at home, has provided the Palestinian intelligence services with a snapshots of his Facebook pages. His online activities have been monitored for few months before arresting him in the cafe on October 31, 2010. Waleed has not been charged yet. A Facebook group and a petition dedicated to his support have been created recently:

But if you happen to be one of the bloggers arrested for something ridiculous, at least be grateful that you were given any reason at all, unlike notable Saudi Blogger Fouad al-Farhan who spent 5 months in a Saudi prison without being charged with a crime.

Al-Farhan was detained in December for “violating regulations,” according to official statements that made it clear that charges against him had nothing to do with national security concerns. No charges were ever pressed or outlined. The Interior Ministry issued no statements about the release yesterday.

Al-Farhan has said in the past that he was detained for comments he had made in defense of a group of Saudi citizens who had been meeting to discuss public participation in governance and other reforms.

Sometimes just standing there with a camera, as happened to Brian Conley, will be enough to instigate a 20-hour interrogation, theft of materials and near-instant deportation.

Police arrived at his hotel room in the middle of the night, saying they were investigating alleged threats against foreigners in China. But then the questioning got intense (they repeatedly asked Conley what he was doing in Beijing and what his role was in the Tibet protests) and dragged on for nearly 22 hours, according to Conley. They confiscated his gear and his asthma inhaler—but not before some footage was distributed online (see above). He was also able to send a text message, to his pregnant wife, letting her know that he had been detained. Conley was taken to the Chong Wen detention center, given a prison uniform, and locked in a cell with nine other prisoners from around the world. He was told that he’d be held for 10 days, but after aggressive intervention by the American Embassy, he was released after six, on the final day of the Games. He was then driven to the Beijing Airport, and ordered to buy a $ 1,800 ticket on Air China to Los Angeles—even though he already had a return flight booked on a different day.

Sometimes, though, the big bully authority will promise safe passage for a rabble-rouser. Meet Hossein Derakhshan, also known as the “Iranian BlogFather.” He received one such promise from Iran… and then was summarily arrested.

Hossein Derakhshan, known as the Iranian “blogfather” for starting one of the first Persian-language blogs, has been sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison on charges related to his writing and his visit to Israel, according to the Iranian website Mashreq News. He was also banned from joining any political or journalistic organization and fined over $ 40,000.

Derakhshan was arrested two years ago when he returned to Iran after receiving assurances from the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad that he would not face any penalties apart from questioning, his family has said.

The report comes on the heels of rumors that prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty on charges of espionage. If true, the Mashreq News report indicates that the charges against Derakhshan may have been downgraded from spying to “cooperation with hostile governments.” In 2006, Derakhshan blogged about traveling to Israel using his Canadian passport.

Khodor Salameh of Lebanon was given a less coded message. One day in March after midnite he was called in for 8 hours of intense interrogation followed by “suggestions” that he stop talking about politics and write exclusively about poetry.

On March 15, Lebanese blogger and journalist Khodor Salameh or“jou3an“(Hungry in Arabic) wrote a post[Ar] on his blog where he criticized the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. A few days later, he was called for an interrogation by the Lebanese security forces, where they threatened him with being prosecuted for defamation if he doesn’t change his tone, close the blog or write poetry exclusively.

The Lebanese bloggers were united, despite their opposite political opinions, and showed their support to Khodor -whether they agreed with what he said or not. Here are their reactions below:

While Lebanon has the fewest free speech limitations of any Middle-Eastern countries, the military has started cracking down on bloggers who criticize the military or executive branches of Lebanon.

By way of comparison let’s consider the case of Khaled Said an Egyptian businessman and critic of the US-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship. Police grabbed him from an internet cafe in Alexandria, tied his hands behind his back and beat him to death. Only after a virtual riot involving a Nobel Peace Prize winner broke out in the street did the Egyptian authorities realize that people weren’t about to accept their answer that Said “died after choking on a joint he swallowed when police sought to arrest him.” The truth is, this was a political execution in a long line of political executions.

This is nothing new to journalists and truth seekers everywhere. Consider this rapidfire tidbit from Amnesty International in 2008

  • Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced last week to eight years in prison on charges of espionage after a flawed trial.
  • Gambian journalist Ebrima Manneh who continues to be detained despite a court’s ruling in June 2008 that his rights had been violated by the Gambian government and should be released.
  • Sri Lankan writer J.S. Tissainayagam who was imprisoned in 2008 for writing two articles that criticized the government’s military offensive against the opposition group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Unfortunately for us, this type of stuff keeps happening under regimes we support (often-times for the resources).

Police intimidation is apparently one of the last few American Exports. Hey, I’m not saying we invented it… we’re just the number one supplier at the moment.

One Love, One Beautiful Struggle,
–Reverend Manny of the Human Tribe.

©2010 BlueBloggin. All Rights Reserved.


The Time That is Given Us: the Fight for Free Speech

November 28, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The International Free Press Society sponsored a conference today in Copenhagen. Below is the speech that was given during the event by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff (photo © Snaphanen).

ESW Copenhagen Nov. 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I stand here before you in the city of Copenhagen in the year 2010. This is widely considered to be an enlightened country in the heart of an enlightened continent.

Our basic freedoms have long been guaranteed — first by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as passed by the United Nations in 1948, and then buttressed by the Council of Europe in 1950 through the European Convention of Human Rights, which was later affirmed by the European Union. Our individual countries have additionally codified the same basic rights in their own constitutions.

These rights include the freedom of individual conscience, the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to practice our religion freely, or to have no religion at all. And, perhaps most importantly of all, they include the right to voice our opinions freely and to publish them without hindrance.

Yet freedom of speech is under attack today here in Denmark, as it is in my own country Austria, and indeed all across Europe. Today, in 21st century Western Europe, our right to free speech is being shut down quietly and systematically with an effectiveness that the commissars in the old Soviet Union could only dream of.

A milestone in this ominous totalitarian trend will be reached tomorrow, 28 November 2010, when the member states of the European Union are required to implement an innocuous-sounding legal provision known as the “Framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia”, or, more fully, the “Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.” According to the final article of the Framework Decision, “Member States shall take the necessary measures to comply with the provisions of this Framework Decision by 28 November 2010.”

Why does this matter to the cause of free speech in Europe?

If you read the full text of the Framework Decision (which may be found in the legislative section of the EU’s website), you will learn that “Each Member State shall take the measures necessary… to ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable.” Such “intentional conduct” includes “conduct which is a pretext for directing acts against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

Based on what has recently happened to Geert Wilders and me — and earlier to Gregorius Nekschot, Jussi Halla-aho, and numerous others — we can all guess who will be punished under this provision of the Framework Decision: those who criticize Islam.

Even worse, a complaint made by a member state does not have to be “dependent on a report or an accusation made by a victim of the conduct”, nor does the alleged offender have to be “physically present in its territory”.

In other words, if the dhimmi Austrian government objects to a cartoon published by Kurt Westergaard here in Denmark, Mr. Westergaard may be extradited by the Austrian Ministry of Justice to answer to hate speech charges in Austria. The European Arrest Warrant guarantees that the Danish government cannot legally interfere with such an extradition, and the 800-strong “European Gendarmerie Force” would be available to fetch Mr. Westergaard out of his bed and bring him to Vienna — with impunity.

As of tomorrow, the above scenario becomes a real possibility. It is not a paranoid fantasy. These legal provisions are detailed in the EU’s public documents, and they will enjoy the full force of law in all EU member states as of midnight tonight.

The death throes of free speech in Europe begin tomorrow morning.

As most of you already know, nearly a year ago I was made aware that “hate speech” charges might be filed against me — I had “denigrated religious teachings” by giving one of my public lectures on Islam.

The possibility of my prosecution was not communicated to me directly, but through articles in the press.

It was not until last month that a court date was set for my case. Once again, I had to discover this fact in the press — in NEWS, the same left-wing newspaper that brought the original complaint against me. I was not officially notified of my hearing date until several days later.

The evidence used against me this past week was a transcript of a tape of my lecture, provided to the court by the same socialist newspaper. It included words that were not spoken by me, and words that were not spoken in public, which therefore were not a violation of the law.

But my case is not really about the law. It is a political trial, and like the trials of Geert Wilders and Jussi Halla-aho, it is intended to silence someone who speaks out against the barbaric nature of sharia law.

Above all else, it is intended to discourage anyone who might consider following in my footsteps. The oligarchs who rule Europe are determined to prevent any frank discussion among their citizens of Islam and its legal doctrines.

These are the methods of a totalitarian state.

They are more successful than those of the Nazis and the Fascists and the Communists because they are accomplished quietly and peacefully, with no need for concentration camps or gulags or mass graves or the shot in the back of the neck in the middle of the night.

They are surgical strikes executed via our legal systems, and they are quite effective. Between the summary punishment carried out against Theo Van Gogh and the Framework Decision applied though our courts, there is no room left for us to maneuver.

We are systematically being silenced.

I admire the provisions of the First Amendment that all Americans enjoy as their birthright. Its free speech provisions will make the imposition of sharia that much more difficult in the United States.

But here in Europe we are not so well-protected. Our constitutions and the rules imposed upon us by the EU allow certain exceptions to the right to speak freely, and those little rips in the fabric of our rights are enough to tear the entire structure to pieces.

We desperately need our own version of the First Amendment. We need leaders who are wise and courageous enough to compose and implement legal instruments that affirm the same fundamental rights that are guaranteed to all citizens by the United States Constitution.

We do not yet have any leaders of this caliber. But they are beginning to appear on the scene, and one day they will be the real leaders of our individual European nations, replacing the internationalist totalitarian usurpers who oppress us today.

Our nations will be governed by their own people, by those who truly represent them. Their leaders will be true patriots, people like Jimmie Åkesson and Kent Ekeroth in Sweden, or Oskar Freysinger in Switzerland, or Geert Wilders and Martin Bosma in the Netherlands, or Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke in Flanders.

We are going to reclaim our continent and our nations. We will take our countries back from those thieves who sneaked them away from us while were lulled into somnolence by our wealth and our pleasant diversions.

This will not be an easy task. Our path will be strewn with obstacles and great dangers. But we must travel it nonetheless, because if we do not, European civilization — the heart of Western Civilization — will be destroyed.

What were formerly our nations will become regions with indistinct boundaries, populated mainly by people of foreign cultures and administered by corrupt totalitarian bureaucrats. The natives — the original inhabitants, our children, the descendants of those who created the greatest civilization the world has ever known — will be reduced to curators and costumed actors in a quaint theme park.

Call it “Euro World”. Authentic cuisine, ethnic dancers, and fireworks at ten o’clock.

This is what we will face if we give up our cherished freedoms. If lose our freedom of speech, then we are lost forever.

I am not a victim. I intend to stand up for what is right. I will defend what needs to be defended. Above everything else, I will exercise my God-given right to speak freely about what is happening. Freedom of speech is the single most important freedom we possess.

I am doing this for my daughter, and for her children, for those who will have to live in the world we are now preparing for them. I am doing what our grandparents should perhaps have done during the 1930s, when their own freedoms were under threat.

This is our time. This cup will not pass from us.

I am reminded of a passage in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

It is an exchange between Frodo the hobbit and Gandalf the wizard, and it concerns the perilous quest on which Frodo and his friends have been sent.

Frodo says: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

Gandalf responds: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

It is time for us to decide what to do with the time that is given us.

If I were to speak these same words tomorrow morning, I might be subject to arrest. I could be charged under the provisions of the Framework Decision, and extradited to the country that charged me using a European Arrest Warrant, escorted by the European Gendarmerie.

This is not an imaginary scenario; it is a very real possibility.

It is true that only a few people are likely to undergo such an ordeal. But it only takes a few people.

How many people have to endure what Mr. Wilders and I are enduring before everyone else gets the message?

How many examples have to be set before the rest of the European population understands the new rules, and is cowed into submission?

And we must remember to whom they will be submitting in the end. They will be submitting to our successors in Europe. They will be submitting to our replacements.

We must remember that the word for submission in Arabic is Islam.

When there are enough Muslims living in Europe — and it doesn’t have to be a majority of the population, just somewhere around fifteen or twenty percent — we will be living under Islamic law, and not the laws that presently govern us.

We will no longer enjoy what constitutional rights remain to us now. Our rights will be completely prescribed and delimited by sharia. Women will become the virtual chattel of men. Christians and Jews will be driven out or forced to convert to Islam. Atheists and homosexuals will be killed.

The European Union would consider these words to be “hate speech”. Under the Framework Decision, they would be classified as “racism and xenophobia”, and I could be prosecuted for saying them.

But they are in fact the simple truth.

Anyone can verify them by studying history. Anyone who chooses can read the Koran and the hadith and the Sunna of the Prophet.

Widely available official treatises on Islamic law confirm that my description is not “hate speech”, but a plain and accurate reading of the tenets of Islamic law.

It has become obvious that to tell the truth about Islam is now considered “incitement to religious hatred”.

It is now clear that non-Muslims who reveal the tenets of sharia law to the public are “denigrating religious teachings”.

If we meekly accept these rules, then we are acquiescing in the imposition of sharia law in our own nations. And I, for one, will not sit silently while this happens.

I don’t want my daughter to live under sharia.

Our time is short. If you and I do not envision an Islamic future for ourselves, then we must speak out now.

If we wish to preserve the right to speak and publish freely, then we must exercise it now.

I wish this need not have happened in my time. But it has.

We must make full use of the time that remains to us.

Thank you.

Previous posts about the hate speech case against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff:

2009 Dec 5 Fighting a Hate Speech Charge in Austria
11 Heckling the Counterjihad
14 Whose Law?
17 Defaming the Muslims of Pinkafeld
2010 Mar 11 A Mother and an Activist
20 An Austrian “Hate School”
22 Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff at the Freedom Defense Initiative
29 Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and the Wiener Akademikerbund
Sep 9 “Islam is a Political Ideology Disguised as a Religion”
16 “Justice Must Not Be Made the Handmaiden of Sharia”
17 The Truth Does Not Matter
Oct 11 Interview With Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
16 Is the Truth Illegal in Austria?
20 A Court Date for Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
21 BPE Press Release on Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
22 Elisabeth’s Voice: An Appeal
23 Elisabeth’s Voice: A Follow-Up
24 Raising Our Voices
25 Elisabeth’s Voice is Growing
27 Elisabeth’s Voice: More Information
27 A Bit More Media Attention?
28 We Are Elisabeth’s Voice
30 Elisabeth’s Voice in Amsterdam
31 Mark Steyn Joins Elisabeth’s Voice
Nov 2 Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff: Target of Western Shariah
6 Anatomy of a Discussion with a Leftist Journalist
8 ESW in the WSJ
10 “The Left is Very Much the New Far Right”
11 Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff Versus the State of Denial
17 Elisabeth’s Voice: An Update
15 The New English Review Interviews Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
20 Live-Blogging the Trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
20 The ESW Defense File
23 The Trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Day 1

Big Peace

“[Volokh’s] Attack on Decent Speech and the Attacks His Spiritual Cousins Would Have Brought on Morals”

November 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(Eugene Volokh)

The Recency Illusion thread produced this comment:

First, Volokh would have us believe that against all usage, usage is all that matters.

Now, we hear that it is improper to lament the contemporary decline in the order of the language because, in times before that order was fully established, the order did not exist. Imagine if he praised modern errors in spelling by pointing to ages with unorganized systems of orthography. Volokh’s citations to Shakespeare et al. here are no more interesting for understanding the significance of contemporary changes in langauge than they would be in justifying a spelling error that happened to conform to Shakespeare’s usage.

What Volokh really despises is an order that sustains civilization and limts the ability of technocrats to demonstrate their cleverness with statistics. The parallels between his attack on decent speech and the attacks his spiritual cousins would have brought on morals is most interesting. We have long heard from those who loath the good that it is impossible to lament declines in public morals because such laments were also lodged long ago in ancient Rome as if there has been only one moral community in history. The lesson of past decline is not to repeat it. But men like Volokh would turn the lessons of history into excuses for irresponsibility. The fact, of course, is that morals and languages are broken down and restored again and again … broken by men like Volokh, restored painfully by others with a knowledge and respect for order and authority.

The commenter’s position on this seems rather extreme, but I’ve seen milder versions of it before, in which people have generally tried to draw an analogy between descriptivism-as-linguistic-relativism and “moral relativism.” This set of “parallels” strikes me as fundamentally flawed, and I thought I’d briefly explain why.

1. To begin with, note how all of us are linguistic relativists at least across languages. The extreme form of moral relativism is to say that there’s no sound external basis for judging a culture’s morals. If some culture wants to kill Jews, or stone women who commit adultery, or execute heretics or apostates, who are we to judge? I certainly don’t subscribe to any such view, and I suspect most of our readers don’t. We think that many basic moral principles must, as a moral matter, remain constant among cultures.

But I suspect that virtually no-one seeks to demand compliance with universal standards across languages. Americans say “dog”; Russians call the same animal “sobaka.” Neither is wrong — they’re just different. In English, the double negative in “there’s no nothing here” makes the phrase non-standard; in Russian, the literal translation (“tut n’et nichevo”) is fully standard, because double negatives are quite proper (in fact, often required) in Russian. Neither approach is wrong in the abstract; they’re just different rules for different languages. In Russian, nouns have many different cases (“dog,” for instance, takes different endings depending on whether you’re saying “to the dog,” “near the dog,” “with the dog,” and so on); in English, they do not (unless you count the possessive as a separate case, in which case they have only two cases). In Russian, nouns have genders, and the adjectives corresponding to the nouns have different endings depending on the gender — a big female dog is “bol’shaya sobaka” but a big male dog is “bol’shoy p’os.” Not so in English. None of these approaches is wrong; they’re just different.

To be sure, there are some regularities even across languages, especially within the Indo-European family but even across families. But those are interesting facts studied by linguists; they do not have moral significance. And though there are very many differences, people who would be rightly outraged by substantially different approaches to murder, rape, and the like in Russia and in America don’t see any problem with substantially different linguistic structures in Russian and English.

2. The critics of supposed relativism in usage generally speak of supposed decline within a language. But once we recognize that today’s English need not be judged by the standards of today’s Russian (and vice versa), and that today’s English need not be judged by the standards of Middle English, why should today’s English be judged by the standards of the English of 1700 or 1800 or 1900? Again, changed usages need not be wrong — they can just be different. At some point there might be practical costs to changed usage, for instance if people have a hard time understanding documents written in the 1700s because the words have changed too much; but very few controversial language changes actually relate to this practical concern.

Of course, there’s a separate problem (one of factual inaccuracy) when people claim that there’s a “contemporary decline in the order of the language” if there is no decline. Sometimes supposed innovations in the language are not new at all, but have been around for centuries. That, for instance, is why my Recency Illusion post gave examples from Shakespeare, Swift, Defoe, and Austen. I don’t understand what the commenter means by saying “Volokh’s citations to Shakespeare et al. here are no more interesting for understanding the significance of contemporary changes in langauge than they would be in justifying a spelling error that happened to conform to Shakespeare’s usage.” Is the claim, for instance, that though “since” in the sense of “because” was common from 1600 to the early 1800s, it somehow became improper at some point after, and we have since “decline[d]” from that hypothetical point? If so, then (1) it’s hard to see why we should conclude that the proper baseline is this hypothetical 1900 consensus rather than the 1600-to-early-1800s consensus, and (2) I could equally find other examples from great writers using the same locution around 1900; I just didn’t because I was responding to a claim that somehow the “since”-as-“because” usage was a modern innovation.

But even if there has been a change in the language — as sometimes there is — why should we see it as a “decline” rather than as a change? “Thou” has become archaic; is that a “decline” that we should condemn as tantamount to a “br[eak]down” in morals? “Doth” is now written “does”; is that a “decline”? “Pleaded” is now often written “pled” in legal English; why should we conclude that this is a “decline”?

3. To be sure, there are sometimes functional arguments to support the claim that some changed usage is a “decline” — claims that the usage is ambiguous, or even more likely to enable moral errors. But the commenter makes no such specific arguments, and often such arguments just can’t work with regard to a usage at all. Whatever one’s objection to the use of “pled guilty” instead of “pleaded guilty,” for instance, it can’t be that “pled” is ambiguous.

And beyond this, the claim that some term is potentially ambiguous simply means that it is one of the thousands of well-established English terms that are potentially ambiguous. That is a reason to be careful in using the term; it may be even a reason to avoid the term altogether; but it is not a reason for labeling the term non-standard or otherwise incorrect, any more than the term “sanction” (just to give one example) is incorrect simply because it is potentially ambiguous.

4. Finally, the language that sustains our corner of our civilization is indeed an order, but it is a grown order, the result of a constant process of evolution through the actions of millions of speakers and writers. Its evolution continues, and ought not be faulted or labeled “decline” simply because it is change. And its evolution progresses in ways quite different from the evolution (for better or worse) of our society’s moral practices.

The Volokh Conspiracy

Obama Thanksgiving Speech

November 26, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Since the Manchurian Moonbat was probably busy playing golf or bowing to foreign dictators, Sarah Palin thoughtfully wrote a Thanksgiving speech on his behalf, stitched together out of a few of his gaffes:

My fellow Americans in all 57 states, the time has changed for come. With our country founded more than 20 centuries ago, we have much to celebrate – from the FBI’s 100 days to the reforms that bring greater inefficiencies to our health care system. We know that countries like Europe are willing to stand with us in our fight to halt the rise of privacy, and Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s. And let’s face it, everybody knows that it makes no sense that you send a kid to the emergency room for a treatable illness like asthma and they end up taking up a hospital bed. It costs, when, if you, they just gave, you gave them treatment early, and they got some treatment, and ah, a breathalyzer, or an inhalator. I mean, not a breathalyzer, ah, I don’t know what the term is in Austrian for that…

Just think of the fun the media could have with these stumbles if a Republican made them.


On a tip from Mats.


University Speech Codes, Reborn As “Anti-Bullying” Rules?

November 23, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

By Walter Olson

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is out with this timely warning about the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” a bill introduced in Congress by Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt, both New Jersey Democrats:

…the bill redefines [campus-based] harassment in a manner that is at odds with the Supreme Court’s exacting definition of student-on-student harassment, which successfully balances the need to respond to extreme behavior with the importance of free speech on campus. In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999), the Court defined student-on-student harassment as conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” This definition has been relied upon by courts for more than a decade and has been adopted by many institutions across the country, including the entire University of California system.

Flouting the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted balance, the bill removes the requirement that the behavior in question be objectively offensive. The loss of this crucial “reasonable person” standard means that those most interested in silencing viewpoints they don’t like will effectively determine what speech should be banned from campus. Unconstitutional definitions of “harassment” have already provided the most commonly abused rationale justifying censorship, having been applied to a student magazine at Tufts University that published true if unflattering facts about Islam, a Brandeis professor who used an epithet in order to explain its origins and condemn its use as a slur, and even a student at an Indiana college simply for publicly reading a book.

Because this bill has the potential to be a powerful tool for censorship, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional were it to become law. Indeed, since 1989 there have been at least sixteen successful challenges to campus codes that included similarly broad and vague harassment provisions. Every one of those lawsuits has resulted in the challenged policy either being declared unconstitutional or revised as part of an out-of-court settlement. If passed, the bill is likely to violate students’ rights while leading colleges into expensive, embarrassing, and unsuccessful litigation.

As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff points out, existing law gives universities (and civil authorities) ample authority to punish the serious breach of student privacy alleged in the Clementi case. Daniel Luzer of the Washington Monthly notes that Rutgers already had in place an anti-bullying policy of the sort envisioned by the bill.

Also of concern is the Lautenberg-Holt bill’s requirement that administrators move against off-campus or online student behavior. This provision, says FIRE, in practice “is likely to compel universities to monitor student behavior in unprecedented ways — including close and comprehensive monitoring of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter — in order to ward off potential lawsuits.”

University Speech Codes, Reborn As “Anti-Bullying” Rules? is a post from Cato @ Liberty – Cato Institute Blog

Cato @ Liberty

Video: The final speech by FARC’s #2 guy

November 22, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Theirs is not to reason why…

Colombian authorities have released a video of the military commander and No. 2 man of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Mono Jojoy (h/t Shane). He was responsible for kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking, and forcibly recruiting children for the FARC. Here is the video, in Spanish. Notice the age of the FARC members: I […]

View the video »

Hot Air » Top Picks

Huckabee to tout family values in major Iowa speech

November 20, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(CNN) – As he mulls another bid for the White House, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee brings a message of strong family values to Iowa this weekend as he headlines a major gathering of social conservatives.

Huckabee, who ran for 2008 Republican presidential nomination and won that year’s Iowa caucuses, will point to what he considers the current assault on marriage and families as a factor in the rise of poverty.

“Statistics show poverty is largely the result of the traditional family’s decline. When children grow up in homes where the mother and father don’t work, don’t have an education and are solely on government assistance – then everyone involved becomes trapped in a devastating cycle of poverty,” Huckabee will say Sunday when he keynotes the Iowa Family Policy Center’s “Celebrate the Family” event, according to excerpts released to CNN.

“The traditional family’s decline directly affects poverty levels and this nation’s economic recovery. Conservatives know that our government can spend billions on social programs and can throw all the money it wants to at poverty – but we can never truly address poverty until we first heal broken families,” adds Huckabee.

Huckabee’s speech comes just days after he told WHO Radio in Des Moines that when it comes to another presidential candidacy, “I’m not ruling it out. And that’s not a yes, but it’s definitely not a no.”

“The honest answer is: I’m keeping it open as an option, I’m looking at whether or not there’s a pathway to victory,” Huckabee told WHO’s Steve Deace. “As I’ve told several people, I’m not jumping into a pool when there’s no water in it.”

Recent national polls of Republican voters, including a survey from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, indicate that Huckabee remains at or near the top of the pack among possible contenders in any hypothetical race for the GOP presidential nomination.

The Iowa Family Policy Center, where Huckabee speaks Sunday, is a nonprofit research and educational organization that says its mission is to “restore and defend traditional moral principles in the culture by advocating for sound public policy.”

Also speaking at the event will be former Republican candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats, who Monday told the Des Moines Register that he will become president and chief executive officer of an umbrella group that includes the IFPC, Marriage Matters, and their political action committee. Vander Plaats, who’s new position is expected to be formally announced at the event, aims to give the group an influential role in Iowa’s caucuses, which kick off the presidential primary calendar.

“We are going to be very engaged in the 2012 cycle. We believe it is our responsibility and our duty to be actively involved in taking a look at the candidates, vetting the candidates and then either recommending a candidate or candidates for consideration by the people who support us,” Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register.

Vander Plaats won 41 percent of the vote in his loss to former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Huckabee endorsed Vander Plaats bid for governor, and in his speech will highlight his friendship with Vander Plaats

“On a personal note, Iowa may not be as warm as the south this time of year – but you won’t find a warmer, friendlier group of people anywhere in the United States. I really do love Iowa, and spending time with the dear friends I’ve made there over the years, like Bob Vander Plaats, make this trip special,” Huckabee will say, according to excerpts.

Vander Plaats, who just led a successful campaign to oust in this month’s elections three state supreme court justices who ruled in favor of allowing same sex marriages in Iowa, endorsed Huckabee in 2008, but says he’ll remain neutral this time around until his group makes an endorsement.

Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PsteinhauserCNN


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