Criticism, Censorship, Context

Criticism, Censorship, Context:

There does seem to be a lot of confusion about the difference between the American cartoon case, and the Danish one. I suppose that's natural; both cases involve cartoons that offended people, and both have resulted in protests. That is where the similarity stops, however.

The key difference between criticism and censorship is whether the effect of the speech is to exchange ideas, or to silence opponents. In deciding which you are looking at, you have to look first and primarily at the context of the remarks.

Sovay mentions a similar case in Russia, to draw attention to what she views as the chilling effect of the JCS letter in protest to the Toles cartoon. The context for a letter from the Russian military expressing its displeasure is this: you might vanish in the night if you don't heed their friendly advice. No matter how gently worded, such a note is effectively censorship.

Similarly, the Muslim protests have involved threats of violence, and actual violence: bomb threats, rock attacks on the Danish embassy in Jakarta, threats of beheadings, flag burnings. The context for these remarks is the French riots, the Van Gogh murder, and a worldwide terrorist movement that cites Islam in justifying extraordinary violence in the name of Muhammed. All of this is censorship: an attempt to silence through threats.

The effect is real: a French editor who republished the cartoons was fired; the Danish newspaper remarks that no Dane (and indeed, no European in all likelihood) will draw Muhammed for a generation. The US State Department has even ruled that speech is unacceptable if it mocks Muhammed. Silence is enforced.

The context in the American case is completely dissimilar. Any observer should be able to tell the difference, which is this:

The effect of the JCS letter to Toles will be to increase Toles' wealth and importance as a speaker. Far from silencing him, it will raise his stature: he is now the only editorial cartoonist ever to receive a letter of protest from all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The book he publishes with this cartoon in it will almost certainly outsell any other he has ever produced. That is the way America works.

Cassandra had a post about this recently. She was remarking about the recent flame-war attacks on the Washington Post ombudsman. The attempt, here, was to silence the Post -- it did not work. The Post was able to simply pull its comments section and carry on printing. If anything, it won the Post some sympathy and support from bloggers normally not on their side.

In the comments to Cassandra's post, however, I noted this about the flame-war organizer:

I looked at the Fire Dog site too. (By the way, it's almost the Chinese New Year; and this will be the year of the Fire Dog).

What I noticed about it was the post where her site has suddenly rocketed to the very top of the Left blogosphere -- she's in company, according to that ranking, with Daily KOS, TPMCafe, and Atrios.

KOS himself, by far the most popular blog in the world, arrived at his fame as a result of the "Screw Them" comments. The thing that drove him to the top was, in other words, precisely his assault on the character of US veterans who had died attempting to aid their government in a time of war.

The market is what it is. As long as this is the way to rocket from nobody to THE BIGGEST THING EVER in a single day, we'll see more of it.
And that is true. The Muslim protestors and Fire Dog Lake are similar in that their anger and violent rhetoric have caused their status to rise. They are taken more seriously than their ideas merit be because they are able to channel and direct anger.

The criticism of the JCS, like the criticism directed at KOS and Fire Dog Lake, is actually a boon to the criticized. It raises their status, because serious people -- the Joint Chiefs! -- are willing to respond to them directly.

This is a result of the old truism that a gentleman duels only with equals. By replying to Toles, the JCS suggested that he was worthy of their notice and reply. They raised him to a status he did not previously have. Similarly, by being sternly critical of KOS' despicable statements and character, the entire right wing of the blogosphere declared that he was worthy of a response.

When exchanging ideas, it pays to be careful with whom you exchange them. This is why Grim's Hall never links to KOS or his ilk; I use them as examples, but I will not talk to them. They are unworthy of it.

It is also why I actually do practice a kind of criticism approaching censorship in my comments section, as (now) does the Washington Post. If you obey the rules, any idea you have to put forward is welcome. You won't be shouted down, because attempts to shout you down will be deleted. But you will have to argue your point based on reason, experience or evidence, so be prepared for that.

Your freedom of speech is not thereby compromised, however: you can go and publish your own blog, for free. As a result, even the deletion of comments is not censorship, because the context of it is that you are just as free as I am to express ideas. I'm simply refusing to allow my forum to be hijacked.

The American system results in raising some unworthy characters to the top of the pile on occasion, but it is still the better system. We will not be silenced, even the worst of us.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

Some days I wonder if Bush is everything (well, not everything) Sovay says he is. What genius decided on this?

The United States backed Muslims on Friday against European newspapers that printed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a move that could help America's battered image in the Islamic world.

Inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States sided with Muslims outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion.

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.

"We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
That is not an acceptable position. We'll say what we like, print what we like, and the diplomats of the world can be damned.


A Study in Contrast:

For the benefit of the readers, I would like to explore the difference between a courtly note of protest, and a communication designed to have a chilling effect on speech. Contrast, then, this excerpt from the JCS letter with Russ Vaughn's newest poem, "WaPo Weasels."

The JCS letter:

Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues -- and your paper is obviously free to discuss any topic, including the state of readiness of today's Armed Forces. However, we believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.
Russ Vaughn, veteran of the 101st Airborne:
Wanna draw a soldier, Toles? Here I am,
Back with all four limbs from Vietnam.
You wanna draw pictures of fighting men?
Just tell me where and tell me when.
I’ll give you a pose to impress any viewer,
Your punk arty ass comatose in the sewer.
Like all of your kind you don’t have a clue
Who fightin’ men are and what fightin’ men do.

That you, your kind, you effete panty waists,
With Hollywood morals, metrosexual tastes,
Would taunt a brave warrior’s fight for life,
Mock his loss, his pain, deride his strife;
And use his sorrow to support your screed,
With no concern for the warrior’s need,
Tells me you are clueless of the facts of war,
You’re a cut ‘n run, spineless, media whore.

Go to Walter Reed hospital, smug Mr. Toles,
To see those you’ve mocked, grave injured souls
View wounded warriors with bodies so broken
And think again of the message you’ve spoken,
So abysmally ignorant, so smug condescending
That even most liberals won’t waste time defending.
So Toles it’s a fact that your most famous work
Will proclaim you forever as a pitiless jerk.

And Washington Post you’re as bad as this weasel
You gave him the forum, provided his easel.
I print this purely for educational purposes, you understand. My devotion to free speech and the free press compels me to reject the beating of journalists out of hand, although I happened to find that series of couplets rather clever.

Well, a poet has free speech too -- right?

24 Star

The Joint Chiefs Blast the Washington Post:

I've seen a PDF version of this letter. This is roughly a slap across the face of certain whiny journalists, from the top-level of the military that is run by the military, rather than by Presidential appointees. Peter Pace is not happy.

Buy Danish

Buy Danish:

Although a bit late as often is the case, I'd like to join in supporting the "Defend Denmark" campaign. Gaijin Biker has his page here, Michelle Malkin has hers here. Ms. Malkin's has some useful links for places where you can actually, easily buy Danish goods.

I'd just like to remind everyone that one of Denmark's principle exports is lager beer. Carlsberg is fairly all right -- oddly enough, it's a beer that is readily available in parts of China, where I first encountered it. You can probably find it at beer specialists -- maybe not at your local grocery, although some places may have it even there. If you live somewhere where it's easy to get unusual imports, here is an article on other good Danish beers.

Of course, I doubt Carlsberg is suffering much from the Muslim boycott. The point, though, is to express support for the concept of freedom of speech, alliance with fellow Men of the West. I noted Lilek's war cry of yesterday: "Men of the West! We Stand Today for Glory and Freedom and Mead!"

Sounds good to me. Also beer.

Chili Cookies

Good Gracious:

I think I haven't linked to the Cotillion since their last Independence Day celebration. I did glance at it this week, however, following Casserole's link.

I must say, Chili Chocolate Chip Cookies? That sounds good... I don't think it ever would have occurred to me otherwise, but cayenne pepper and chocolate do seem made for each other, now that I think about it.

Catholic Blog Awards

Catholic Blog Awards:

"Feddie" Dillard of Southern Appeal writes to ask for support in the Catholic Blog Awards. Although not a Catholic myself, I'm happy to oblige his request that I send interested parties his way. SA is a very useful blog (or blawg, in this case), and I'm glad to see it prosper.

State of the Union

State of the Union:
(also posted here)

Last night, the President gave a speech to Congress, in accordance with a Constitutional requirement that "[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."

I was not able to see much of the speech. However, according to various summations I've seen, the President said that the State of Union is rather good.

Usually, I can depend on Cap'n Ed to give a clear, concise statement of a big event like this. He came through again, with a live-blog of the President's speech. Ed's summation is nice:
This speech seemed to emphasize a particular theme, of moving forward to engage the world rather than waiting for the world to engage us. That theme ran across all of his subjects, from terrorism to the economy to energy reform.
Sounds like a man who wants to lead--and a man I'd be willing to follow. We may have disagreements, or differences of emphasis. (For one, I'd love to have heard the comments about budgets full of pork in his first State of the Union address...or the second, or the third...) But he's a leader, and he is doing his job.

We, the citizens of the United States, should do our part. Among those things, our part includes activities occasionally promoted by the Geek: love his wife, work hard, raise his kids, save the Republic.

(Yes, parts of that list only applies to men who have wives/ I can't quite take part in that. But it is still a good idea.)



I'm with JHD, who sends -- this is flat-out cool. Good job, American Road Line.

Alito confirmed

Alito Confirmed:

So ends Borking as a politically-useful phenomenon. "You're well qualified, but we have decided to believe that you're an evil, evil man" is apparently no longer quite enough to derail a justice's career.

This has been a good confirmation for the country. I don't mean that Alito is a great pick, although he appears to be. I mean that it's been highly educational. The war powers question is interesting, and it was useful to have it brought up. And although they were entirely misplaced in a discussion of the judiciary, Senator Durbin's comments on the little guy pointed to a real problem in the American system -- one that we are watching develop in the Abramoff hearings, and the race for a new House Majority Leader.

The real education, however, was in the advise-consent relationship. We have learned that the process is badly deformed -- but not quite so badly as a lot of us believed.

To understand how it is bent out of shape, consider this search on the terms "any nominee" in Google News. It shows that both sides are drawing categorical lessons: that Democrats will oppose any Bush nominee with all available tools, up to and including a failed filibuster attempt; that 'any nominee' will be subject to a beating designed to ferret out any aspect of his character that can be used to defame him. Or this complaint, from the Concord Monitor:

An impeccable résumé is not reason enough to elevate a citizen to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor is a good mind or a genial personality. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has all three, but he should not sit on the nation's highest court.... The likelihood that any nominee, unless clearly unqualified, will be approved gives a president license to be more ideological and less moderate in his choice.
Yet, in spite of the rampant partisanship and general unhappiness from all sides, Alito was confirmed. The process is not, quite, broken. It is still possible to propose a candidate who is not a "stealth nominee" -- someone whose ideas and temperement are on the record, and whom we can examine fairly -- and have him confirmed.

That is a good lesson for the Republic. However dangerous you think Alito may be, surely the nomination of "stealth candidates" to a lifetime office with the power of the Supreme Court was more dangerous. Better that we know what we're getting, up front.

Sal Culosi

A Good Man Killed:

I knew Sal Culosi. He was shot dead, "by accident," by Fairfax County Police last Tuesday. They had him under investigation for gambling. I don't know if he was guilty or not -- I have no information about it.

I did know him in his professional context, though, as an optometrist. He designed my most recent pair of glasses. While he worked at that, he had to deal with my rather energetic three-year-old son. No one could have been a kinder gentleman under the circumstances. He had young kids of his own.

The cops "said they were about to arrest Culosi outside his home Tuesday night when one of the officer’s guns accidentally went off, striking the doctor in his chest."

I am not sure why they felt it necessary to draw guns on a man who was a professional doctor, rather than a gangster. We'll leave that be, though -- Doc Holliday was a dentist, after all.

What I want to know is this: why was the officer's finger on the trigger? No one alleges Dr. Culosi carried or went for a weapon. There is no excuse I can see for this "accidental discharge." The NRA itself recognizes that "accidental discharge" is shorthand for "negligence." Why were these cops so poorly trained that they had their fingers on the trigger, with no hostile weapons in sight?

I think they killed a good man for no reason. I'm sympathetic to the police as a rule, and "veteran county police officers" in particular.

I see no excuse here. None at all. Dr. Culosi was thirty-seven.


The Washington Post article says it was the SWAT team that shot Dr. Culosi. We recently pointed to competing articles about the "SWAT mentality" that seems to have become popular with police departments. The argument for the pro-side, however, was always that the SWAT team's ability to bring intimidating force to bear was coupled with, and governed by, its excellent training.

If you've had only one firearms-safety class, you know to keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. In fact, the Post found an officer to state this point:

"In my opinion, there are no accidental discharges," said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. Gnagey was not familiar with the Fairfax case but said that in general, "Most of what we see in law enforcement are negligent discharges, fingers being on the trigger when they shouldn't be."

Gnagey was in the camp that thought "SWAT teams shouldn't be doing all warrants." But once there, "the weapons are not pointed at anybody."
It's one thing to argue that the SWAT team is useful because it prevents violence by being especially well trained and capable of suppressing trouble. Maybe so; but that argument hinges on it being "well trained."