August 29, 2006



Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

...By now, most people have read or heard that DNA evidence has shown that John Mark Karr lied in his confession about killing JonBenet Ramsey. Since the media is more than happy to turn anyone and everyone into celebrities simply to hype worthless stories, I have a confession to make.
...I was the one who killed the famous Bocksten Man, who was found in Bocksten bog outside Varberg in 1936. Seven hundred years ago I inflicted three fatal blows on the poor chap’s head when he wouldn’t hand over his bowl of gruel. He also made reference to having dragged my wench back to his hut the previous weekend after a night of drinking.
...Anyway, I’ll be available for interviews, flights across the globe with caviar and champagne, photo shoots, signature series spears, etc. Just call my agents at Dewey, Cheatum & Howe. I’m going to be famous and the American media will be my trampoline.

August 25, 2006


Place Your Bets

...Annie Donnelly recently admitted that she stole more than $2.3 million from her employer to buy lottery tickets, ranging from lotto to scratch-off games. It should now be interesting to see how many politicians call for a ban on state-sponsored gambling games, considering that we saw an outcry from the House when the issue of online gaming was voted on several weeks ago.
...Representative Jim Leach (R-IA) appeared on C-Span’s Washington Journal when the issue was in the news and blamed online gambling for ex-Lehigh University student Greg Hogan’s bank robbery incident, since he reasoned that Hogan was robbing the bank to pay off online gambling debts. Aside from that being akin to saying that women who dress in a sexy manner can be blamed if they’re raped, I wonder if the anti-gambling politicians will be jumping at the chance to demand that state government-run games across the nation come to an end to prevent another Annie Donnelly incident from occurring.
...I think that we all know the answer to that one.
Sources: CNN, KYW CBS3

August 23, 2006



For some Pennsylvanians, this is breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

...Whenever I attempt to bring a little dignity back to the population of eastern Pennsylvania, I ultimately have my efforts thwarted by losers like Josh Beury. When I read the story on the Morning Call Website this morning, I thought, “Oh, well. Another alcoholic from Nesquehoning—this isn’t really shocking. Hell, considering how many drunks there are in that area, this isn’t even news.” Then I quickly discovered that Beury’s accomplishments went national: the Washington Post, ABC News, Fox News radio, a link on the Drudge Report to the Morning Call article. In all, roughly 150 other news outlets ran the article. Yay for Beury putting the commonwealth on the map for stupidity.
...For anyone who hasn’t heard about it yet, Beury appeared before a judge on Monday to be sentenced for a drunk driving case in which he crashed into another driver and was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 (0.08 is legally drunk in Pennsylvania). Unfortunately, Beury showed up drunk for his sentencing, too, and was discovered to have a BAC of 0.20.
...At first Beury tried to convince the judge that he had had only two beers Sunday night, but then confessed that he usually downs at least half a case of beer daily.
...Beury is also said to be bipolar and mentally ill. Perhaps those are more acceptable terms than calling him what he really is.

August 22, 2006


Share the Wealth

...Consider this the first foray into what will most likely become a new tradition. It’s not designed to be a weekly thing, bi-weekly thing, or monthly thing. Instead, I’ll simply hand one out whenever it seems as if it would come in handy.
...I introduce to you the first Faint Expectations Share the Wealth Award.
...I call it that because of the story which inspired the idea of much-needed surplus penises: A 24-year-old Indian businessman who is suffering from a rare condition called “penile duplication” or “diphallus.” The man—who might be unaware of the money that he could make in the porn industry—is about to have one of his two fully-functional penises removed because he wants to get married (obviously his future wife isn’t considering the potential here).
...Anyway, since this gentleman is willing to rid himself of an extra phallus, it would only be fair to identify men who are in dire need of this soon-to-be-discarded extra member.
...For this, the first awarding of the Share the Wealth Award, I’m going to name two specimens: Alfred Rava and Tim LaBouf.
...I’ve mentioned Rava in my previous post about his history of lawsuits against things like Mother’s Day tote-bag giveaways at baseball games and nightclubs offering Ladies’ Night discounts on drinks, but NBC 4 reports that Rava’s frivolous lawsuit count is actually as high at 30. Surely Rava is in dire need of some manliness to deal with things that those of us normal men consider acceptable.
...The second recipient for this initial offering is Tim LaBouf, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Watertown, New York. He and his cronies at the church fired 81-year-old Mary Lambert, who has been a congregation member for 60 years and a Sunday School teacher for 54 years, because she’s a woman.
...The letter that Lambert received from LaBouf and his henchmen pertaining to her dismissal cited the first epistle to Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
...LaBouf has a few male-female power issues which should be dealt with before taking the podium in a house of God. Might it be worth citing Psalm 7:14-16?
14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil, and is pregnant with mischief, and brings forth lies.
15 He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole which he has made.
16 His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own pate his violence descends.
Sources: IOL, NBC 4, ABC News

August 19, 2006


Blown Save

...Earlier this year—around Mother’s Day to be precise—we had to read about the pathetic story of Los Angeles psychologist Michael Cohn, who filed a lawsuit against the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels after he became offended when he didn’t receive a Mother’s Day tote bag at an Angels game. He wanted one, too, but the club didn’t give him one because they were reserved for women who were 18 years of age and older. Cohn didn’t understand the concept of Mother’s Day equating to women, and as such filed a lawsuit against the baseball team and the college that sponsored the tote promotion.
...After reading about it, I had figured that the suit would have been thrown out due to its sheer stupidity. I failed to keep a few things in mind, however: (1) This is America, and things don’t make much sense when it comes to the judicial system anymore (read this post for evidence of that); and (2) the lawsuit was filed in California, where laws seem to be invented by judges as opposed to the legislature.
...So, with that in mind, I wasn’t too shocked to read the following on ESPN’s site today:

SANTA ANA, Calif. – A judge refused Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the Angels discriminated against men by giving tote bags to women during a Mother’s Day baseball game.


The lawsuit, filed by Los Angeles psychologist Michael Cohn, claims thousands of men and fans under age 18 are each entitled to $4,000 in damages because they were treated unfairly during last May’s promotion. Women over 18 received the gifts.

...The only forms of compensation that should be given out in this case are pacifiers and clean diapers for both Michael Cohn and Orange County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Cannon.
...I’ll let you know if Cohn names me in a lawsuit in the upcoming weeks. I’ll just counter-sue for discrimination if he does, but doesn’t name the rest of the world’s population in the suit.
UPDATE: It turns out that shady lawsuits are nothing new for attorney Alfred Rava, who is representing Michael Cohn in this suit against the Angels.
...In 2003, Rava was part of a discrimination lawsuit aimed at San Diego-area nightclubs because the clubs offered “Ladies’ Night” discounts on drinks and didn’t offer the same for Rava and his friend (I’m guessing that Rava and his friend were going on Ladies’ Night to meet women but still got shot down—thus, they sued the clubs for their inability to garner attention from women).
...Rava’s discrimination suit squeezed $125,000 out of seven clubs ($20,000 each from six nightclubs, but a seventh could only shell out $5,000 because they ended up going out of business) and forced bars all across the San Diego region to end Ladies’ Night, which to that point had proved to be beneficial for business.
...I take back my previous comment about giving the judge and Michael Cohn pacifiers and clean diapers. It would probably be more worthwhile to give both Cohn and Rava something which both are in dire need of: a penis.
Source: ESPN

August 18, 2006


Antisocial Networking

...This afternoon I came to a conclusion. Our so-called representatives in Washington might be just as dangerous as predators that can be found on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Xanga. That’s not necessarily because they want to cause harm, but more because their clueless nature and naïveté can lead to harm.
...C-Span recently re-aired hearings that were originally held in late-June concerning protecting children from online predators, and it gave viewers a wonderful opportunity to see just how clueless our politicians really are when it comes to computer-savvy teens and technology in general.
...Congressman Bart Stupak had some of the most comical ideas: Create a special site that would be exclusively used for 14- and 15-year-olds. Yes, that’ll obviously work; teens always want to go places where adults tell them that they must go. Come on, Congressman. Teens go to sites that they perceive as being “cool”; a site “exclusively” for 14- and 15-year-olds will probably be have few teen users and be flooded with pedophiles more than anyone else.
...Since Stupak’s brilliant idea hinges upon the idea of users being honest about their age, that segues into another brilliant idea that was mentioned: Each of the representatives on the panel wanted some kind of perfect way for accurate identification verification. None of them had an idea of how to do it, but all were quick to demand it. A few of the Congressmen liked the idea of credit card numbers and charging users, but few seemed to understand that when you begin to charge people for something that might otherwise be free and off-set by advertisements, the number of users will drop dramatically. I’m guessing that most politicians don’t understand this concept because when it comes to finances, they’re accustomed to spending money that they didn’t earn.
...Not to single-out Stupak, but I was also amused by his “pornography expert” idea when it comes to who might decide what photographs are acceptable on social networking sites. A representative from Facebook explained that the Website has a group of people who determine what is allowed on their site and what isn’t. Stupak’s response was that the panel members are probably computer experts—not pornography experts. No offense, Mr. Stupak, but what the hell is a “pornography expert” and how does a person become one?
...The politicians also liked the idea of a national paid staff who can answer distress calls from instant messenger users 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A police officer who was testifying to the committee tried to explain that such a staff would have to be massive, considering how many people use the Internet at any given time, but again, he was saying this to a group of people who spend other peoples’ money, so fiscal reality meant little.
...The last idea that I thought was most impressive (for any politicians who might be reading this, I’m being sarcastic here) was to have the federal government establish standards for social networking sites. Yes, these standards would be established by men and women who have little, if any, understanding of anything that happens outside the beltway.
...Not to sound condescending, but here are a few tips for those of you who are “representing” (I use that term loosely, because I can’t name one person in Congress who represents me) us in Washington:
  • If you want to accurately identify any computer user, show up on their doorstep, interview them face-to-face, and demand a birth certificate. You can argue for using drivers’ license numbers, but keep in mind that companies will have to pay state governments since they’ll be using databases that are handled by departments of motor vehicles and/or state police agencies. They don’t work for free.
  • If you mandate the use of credit card numbers as identification, you’ll have to charge users for the sites. If you do, those sites will lose millions of users, and most of those users will probably be younger ones. Any pedophile users will more than likely be willing to shell out money to stay, so what you’ll then have is a social network with an unusually high percentage of nothing but pedophiles.
  • If you think that ordering 14- and 15-year-olds to use sites that are designed for only 14- and 15-years-old, you must be completely ignorant to how teenagers act. They don’t want to act their age; they want to be perceived as “adults”—even when they don’t act mature.
  • Similar to the first point, pedophiles can lie about their age, too. Even if you want to create a “special” site which is for 14- and 15-year-olds exclusively, keep in mind that pedophiles can very easily create fake profiles saying that they, too, are 14 or 15. What’s most dangerous here is that it’s easier to lie and make yourself younger than it is to lie and make yourself older.

...Unfortunately, I have a feeling that we’re on the cusp of seeing a “war on terror” approach to the Internet and pedophiles. By that I mean that we’re going to hear more politicians cry “safety” and label anyone who isn’t supportive of massive federal Internet regulation as being “against protecting our children” or “against safety.” This can be likened to those who currently say that dissenters of the “war on terror” and all aspects of “fighting” the war (such as the Patriot Act, for instance) as not being patriotic or even being in favor of the terrorists.

...After all, if we regulate all aspects of the Internet to the point where no one wants to use it anymore, we won’t have to worry about any of the dangers that come with it, will we?

...Internet safety has to come from educating parents and children on the dangers of predators and how to avoid them. It won’t do any good to sit around and wait for solutions from Washington. For one thing, we should be more hands-on with our personal security; for another thing, we probably won’t see any realistic solutions coming from Congress.

August 17, 2006


Thug Life

...Note: I’m out of town at present and must use an iBook G4 for all my online work. Any complaints regarding formatting abnormalities in this post should be directed at the folks at Apple. (Any complaints regarding viewpoints should continue to be directed at me.)
...I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to become a criminal. Most of my income would be tax-free, I’ll be popular with a lot of Americans who idolize criminals, and even if a law enforcement agency attempts to stop me, I’ll just have them arrested—and probably convicted—for doing their job. You don’t think that it’ll work? Tell that to Ignacio Ramos and José Compean.
...Ramos and Compean are Border Patrol agents who were found guilty in March of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and violating a person’s civil rights. What did they do? They stopped Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila from bringing over 800 pounds of pot into the United States from Mexico, and shot him in the buttocks when he pulled a gun on them. Ramos and Compean are due to be sentenced on Tuesday and could get up to 20 years behind bars. Aldrete-Davila, on the other hand, is suing the federal government for $5 million for the “civil rights violation.”
...I’m not sure which part of this story scares me more: knowing that criminals can have law enforcement officials arrested and convicted for stopping them, or knowing that part of the reason for the conviction might have been due to alleged corruption. You see, two of the jurors in this case have come forward and said that prosecutors pressured them into finding the agents guilty. (That’s aside from an investigator from the Office of Inspector General tracking down Aldrete-Davila in Mexico to offer him immunity for testifying after the drug trafficker declared that he was forming a posse to shoot Border Patrol agents in retaliation for Ramos and Compean stopping him from delivering his illicit cargo.)
...Oh, did I mention that some of the jurors were said to have come to a quick decision because they didn’t want the trial to run too long? Apparently they had plans for spring break and didn’t want a silly trial to interfere with partying.
...I can only hope that I’m never in a situation like Ramos and Compean.

August 14, 2006


Strike Two

Bud Selig, Major League Baseball Commissioner (USA Today Photo)

...There are a few things that puzzle me. Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets? Why do criminals on death row have their arms swabbed with an alcohol pad before having their lethal injection administered? How has Major League Baseball stayed afloat considering how much they despise their fans?
...Earlier this year a fantasy sports company found themselves in court, squaring-off with Major League Baseball over the right to use MLB player names and statistics in their fantasy leagues. CBC Distribution and Marketing argued that names and statistics can’t be “owned” by an organization, even though Major League Baseball brass determined that anything and everything related to the top-level of professional baseball should be considered Major League Baseball’s intellectual property and that unlicensed use of any statistic will “commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles” of its players.
...Last week, United States Magistrate Mary Ann Medler showed that there is still a semblance of common sense in the judicial system and ruled in favor of CBC saying that athletes are public figures, and that statistics cannot be copyrighted as they are nothing more than historical facts.
...That didn’t sit well with the Bud Selig Army, though, and Major League Baseball wasted no time in filing an appeal.
...I’m not really sure what is more disturbing in this: (1) the sheer stupidity of Major League Baseball and the players’ association by risking the loss of millions of fans, considering that it’s estimated that a minimum of 15 million people play fantasy baseball (Yahoo! has reported that they have 6.7 million registered players alone, so I suspect that the 15 million number is underestimating the popularity); or (2) the sheer arrogance of Major League Baseball and the players’ association in thinking that historical occurrences can somehow be “owned,” simply because the occurrences are related to their business.
...I ranted about this when the initial lawsuit story was reported in mid-January, but I feel the need to reiterate (I’m plagiarizing myself here.)
...Statistics are a numerical record of historical incidents. In this case, they show how many times a player came to the plate, how many hits that he had, how many RBI he drove in, etc. Similarly for pitchers, they act as a record of how many innings that he pitched, how many hits given up, how many runs that he allowed, etc. These numbers are not logos, they’re not photographs of the games, and they’re not audio/visual accounts of the games such as video that might find their way onto television or the Internet for viewing. Logos, photographs, and video segments fall into a different category, as ownership of those is more concrete than “ownership” of numbers, and subsequent profits made from their use is more readily apparent.
...While statistics are, indeed, a recorded account of what transpired in a game that is sanctioned by particular organizations—in this case Major League Baseball and the players’ association—a push to “own” such numbers might make us wonder how far Major League Baseball and the union will go in the future to control anything and everything related to it.
...Will it become so controlled that even the use of team names on blogs will be subject to licensure? Will bloggers who wish to discuss their favorite teams or players be required to pay royalties to the league and MLBPA? It might happen if those same blogs happen to have advertisements on them, as many do. It could be argued that they were “commercially exploiting” the statistics and players’ names, and even the team names.
...I’m not a public relations specialist, but you don’t have to be one to see that it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a baseball fan. I don’t mean that it’s difficult to be a fan of the sport, per se; I mean that it’s becoming more difficult to follow and enjoy the sport due to limitations that are being imposed by the very league that is supposed to promote it and encourage its popularity.
...Some things in life might be more attractive the more that they’re inaccessible, but baseball isn’t one of those forbidden fruits. Those of us who are fans enjoy it because we have access to it.
...People often wondered if sky-rocketing salaries and player strikes would be professional baseball’s undoing. Who would have thought that it might be due to Major League Baseball and the players’ association biting the hand that feeds them?

August 10, 2006


Maybe the Lock Box is Green

...A few months ago I apparently outed myself as a kook when it comes to the issue of global warming. While I’m in full agreement with the idea that pollution needs to be reduced (I don’t like breathing that shit, either) and that oil companies’ hold on the country is frightening, I stand by the possibility that the study by Harvard scientists in 2003 was correct and much of our warming trend might be natural.
...Perhaps it doesn’t really matter, though, because I can simply call myself an Al Gore-type of environmentalist. By that I mean one who talks a good talk, but when we get down to the substance of the issue, it’s apparently okay to do little more than talk.
...While scanning the USA Today Website, I found an interesting column by Peter Schweizer that offered a few telling points. For the record, yes, I’m quite aware that a column is an opinion piece, but since I had to defend myself once before for using opinion pieces as sources, I’ll make it known that segments of this column are based on fact (similar to my other blog post, too). The opinions are written by the author around those facts.
...It turns out that Mr. Gore preaches the virtues of saving the planet by adopting the “reduce, reuse, recycle” approach, but—according to public records—he and Tipper own three houses—one of which is 10,000-square-feet with 20 rooms and eight bathrooms. Oddly enough, it turns out that Mr. Gore has yet to sign up for green energy at any of his homes, even though wind power is available. Hell, even Bushie has a few of the federal buildings on green energy.
...Even more troubling is that Howard Dean and the DNC have apparently been taking notes from both Gore and the RNC and also have yet to sign up to go green. Maybe those extra two cents per kilowatt hour are too much. Either way, Dr. Dean still says that global warming “threatens our very existence.” Umm…yeah. It looks to be as threatening to the “environmentally aware” politicians as it does to those who have a reputation for not caring too much about it.
...This isn’t anything new, I suppose. All the way back in 2000 it was known—as reported by Bill Mesler at CorpWatch (and yes, that’s the same Bill Mesler who has written for such liberal publications as The Nation, Mother Jones, and The Progressive)—that Gore not only makes money off Occidental Petroleum, but helped design the sale of drilling rights in the Elk Hills of central California—even though drilling there threatened a rare species of fox, lizard, and the kangaroo rat as well as tribal land of the Kitanemuk natives.
...In that case, the sale of the Elk Hills was approved after one of the most quickly prepared environmental assessments ever seen by Peter Eisner of the Center for Public Integrity. The drilling destroyed native Kitanemuk sites and burial grounds and when asked about the people involved in the issue, tribal member Dee Dominguez called Occidental executives “cold” and “insensitive.”
...With regard to Al Gore and cohort Bill Clinton, Dominguez said, “They sold us down the river.”
...I can’t help but think that there’s something a bit more threatened in this country than the fox, lizard, and kangaroo rat: integrity.

Satan Saves

...It’s usually said that Jesus saves. Apparently when it comes to murder, you’re better off with Lucifer. Consider these cases:
...On July 26, Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She murdered her five children, she said, because Satan was inside her and killing the tots was the only way to save them from the fiery depths of hell.
...Yesterday Magdalena Lopez of Indiana was sentenced to 110 years in prison after killing her two little boys with a 10-pound weight because she wanted them to “be safe in heaven.” Lopez tried the mental illness route, too, but it didn’t work.
...Remember, those of you who are planning on murdering your children: Don’t mention Jesus or heaven if you want therapy over prison sentences—mention Satan and hell.
Sources: CBS News, Court TV

August 05, 2006


Brain Freezes Before Road

(WJAC Photo)
...A few days ago my friend John (not his real name, but I’m protecting his reputation which might be sullied if anyone ever discovered that he associates with someone like me) and I were discussing what might have happened to several of the “slow” classmates that we had in high school following graduation.
...When I use the term “slow,” I’m not referring to mentally handicapped, mind you; I’m referring to those who were considered “mainstream” kids but had absolutely no common sense and were—for a lack of a better term—clueless.
...Yesterday morning, while doing my routine perusing of news headlines, I suddenly discovered where all our slow classmates went. They moved to Ohio en masse and were hired by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
...An excerpt from a WJAC report:
A Central Ohio woman said she has had the same license plate on her car for more than a decade, but now the state is calling her personalized plate obscene.
Pat Niple turned 74 years old on Tuesday. She normally ordered her license plates and renewal stickers by mail. But this year, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles returned her check, accompanied by a letter.
Niple’s personalized plates are NWTF, an abbreviation of Northwood Tree Farm—a business she owned with her late husband. It also means something else, officials said.
“Apparently, the young people use it on the computer,” she said.
Niple went to a BMV office to get some answers. A clerk had to whisper what the acronym means to some people.
BMV officials said they have a set of standards that includes no profanity or obscene language. So, Niple has to use a temporary tag until her new, acceptable plates arrive.
...Rumor has it that the Ohio BMV is now mounting a campaign to force Ms. Niple to change her surname because it’s too close to the word “nipple.”
Source: WJAC

August 04, 2006


Academic Freedom, Part II

...My previous post highlighted the case of conspiracy theorist and folklore professor Kevin Barrett, who has drawn criticism for airing his views on government-planted explosives in the Twin Towers and detonating them on September 11, 2001. I’m not sure how that plays a role in folklore curriculum, but that’s not necessarily the point of this particular column.
...For this post, the primary focus is the idea of how far the term “academic freedom” can be taken, especially when the information being presented goes beyond the realm of being thought-provoking and enters the realm of factual inaccuracy.
...This was one of Ward Churchill’s downfalls, whereby he cried “academic freedom” to defend anything and everything that came out of his mouth (or pen), including his fictional account of the United States Army distributing smallpox-infected blankets to Mandan Indians during the 1800s in his book Indians Are Us?. Oddly enough, he cited Russell Thornton’s American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, which offered a completely different scenario, in which the smallpox were actually spread by traders on the steamboat St. Peter’s.
...Similarly, the term “academic freedom” is being utilized once again in an effort to defend factually-questionable remarks regarding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Thus, the question arises: What constitutes academic freedom? More specifically, where do we draw the line when and if an educator—on any level, from elementary school to university professor—crosses the line that separates reality from fantasy? Better yet, can we do anything, since First Amendment rights are routinely invoked in defense of the occurrences?
...Perhaps it would be more appropriate to suggest that the lines between free speech, propagandizing, and job descriptions have become blurred. A national backlash at school boards in both Kansas and Pennsylvania showed us that creationist theories would not be tolerated if they’re presented in a factual manner within a science classroom setting, but if a science teacher cried “academic freedom,” should they be allowed to espouse any viewpoint for the sake of provoking critical thinking? Similarly, if a teacher taught a conspiracy theory as fact, would he/she be allowed to defend the material under the guise of academic freedom?
...There’s no doubt that professors and public school teachers have different levels of what they’re allowed to present in terms of curriculum, but each has—or should have—the ability to present fact as fact and opinion as opinion. Moreover, the opinion should be backed by facts in an effort to defend the viewpoint.
...An educator, no matter the level, should foster critical thinking. Critical thinking, however, happens when multiple viewpoints are presented and the student has the opportunity to come to a conclusion of their own (the “Taking Sides” approach, if you will). This was one of my biggest complaints with respect to the Jay Bennish incident a few months ago—it wasn’t really a pro-and-con approach so much as it was a soapbox approach.
...We shouldn’t be referred to as “teachers” or “educators” if our primary reason for entering the field of education is to offer a heaping serving of propaganda to students. It would be more appropriate to call us indoctrinators. If propaganda is, indeed, the primary focus of someone, they should sooner become an author or columnist in their pursuit of advancing a particular agenda.
...Education will continue to come under fire if it’s used as an outlet for propaganda, no matter if it’s from the right or from the left, and the term “academic freedom” will become not only clichéd but also cheapened if it continues to find its place as a defense for presenting viewpoints that might otherwise be brushed aside were it not for captive audiences.

August 02, 2006


Academic Freedom, Part I

...It’s not identical to the Ward Churchill case (Churchill was the Colorado professor who gained notoriety by verbally abusing 9/11 victims and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, but was ultimately brought down by two cases of plagiarism, falsifying historical incidents, lying about having Native American heritage in order to receive preferential hiring treatment, and two cases of copyright infringement), but it is shaping into another battle in the world of academia as the term “academic freedom” is once again being bandied about.
...Kevin Barrett, a folklore and Islamic studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has come under fire recently for his views on—similar to Churchill—the 9/11 attacks. Barrett, however, is receiving criticism for saying that “[t]he 9/11 lie was designed to sow hatred between the faiths” and that if 9/11 discussions don’t cover the “compelling evidence” that the attacks were “an inside job,” there isn’t much else to discuss.
...Barrett insists that the Twin Towers collapsed due to controlled demolition blasts under the watch of the U.S. government in an effort to generate popular support for increased growth of the military industrial complex. He also claims that Osama bin Laden is dead and has been replaced by a look-alike, but his group, The 9/11 Truth Movement, isn’t fooled.
...Similar to the Churchill incident, critics are calling for Barrett’s dismissal, while supporters are saying that this is another case of a college professor coming under fire for personal beliefs who nonetheless has a right to academic freedom. Barrett has said that his views on the September 11 attacks are discussed in his classes.
...In an effort to cut to the chase, I’ll say that it’s my firm belief that this is a situation which must be officially determined by the administration of the University of Wisconsin and no one else. They hired Barrett; they have to decide if he stays or if he goes.
...With that said, do those of us outside the school have a say on the issue in general? Of course we do. We have the right to free expression the same as Barrett. That’s what allows us to question a few of the things that he and his group are saying.
...The first question pertains to Professor Barrett’s basis and background for the idea that strategically-placed explosives were used to bring down the Twin Towers. Milwaukee news channel TMJ4 interviewed Barrett and he claimed that the buildings collapsing is the proof that crashing planes didn’t bring the World Trade Center down. Barrett’s group insists that there was molten steel at Ground Zero, and since jet fuel and office paper would never generate enough heat to melt steel, it must have been a government-sponsored explosion. This, fellow 9/11 Truth Movement member Tom Spellman says, is evidence that “probably six or eight people—with backpacks on their backs—carrying the material in 40-pound packs and maybe making 10 to 12 trips” helped to destroy the landmarks.
...There are two problems with this theory. First, news footage from Ground Zero doesn’t show any molten metal. Second, in March 2005, Popular Mechanics published a special series entitled “9/11: Debunking the Myths,” in which they point out that while it’s true that jet fuel, which burns at 800° to 1500° Fahrenheit, isn’t hot enough to melt steel, the steel frames of the Twin Towers wouldn’t have been required to melt for the towers to collapse—they would have simply needed to lose their structural integrity.
...In the report, Farid Alfawak-hiri, senior engineer of the American Institute of Steel Construction, stated that “[s]teel loses about 50 percent of its strength at 1100° Fahrenheit.” That temperature falls within the 800° to 1500° range, and doesn’t even take into consideration that the towers contained burning rugs, curtains, and furniture in addition to the jet fuel and paper.
...Popular Mechanics also reported that Vincent Dunn, a retired New York deputy fire chief and author of The Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fireground Safety, has never seen melted steel in a building fire—only twisted, warped, bent, and sagging steel.
...No offense to Professor Barrett, but his background is in folklore and Islamic studies. I think that I’m going to trust Popular Mechanics, a retired FDNY deputy chief, and a steel engineer on this one.
...A second concern in this issue is Barrett’s interpretations of incidents (which goes hand-in-hand with his conspiracy theories). Like him or hate him, Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly was accused by Barrett of having called for the professor’s murder on O’Reilly’s television program. In a letter to Rupert Murdoch, Barrett said that O’Reilly “stated on national television that he would like to see [Barrett] murdered and thrown into Boston Harbor.”
...Aaron Nathans of The Capital Times obtained a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor episode in which the host was said to have made the threat, but the quote doesn’t seem to back up Barrett’s claim. According to the transcript, O’Reilly stated:
“But here’s the problem that I see at Wisconsin. There’s no leadership there. There’s no leadership in the Board of Regents at the university. This guy would have been gone at Boston University, my alma mater, in a heartbeat. The chancellor there, John Silber, this guy would be in the Charles River floating down, you know, toward the harbor. It wouldn’t happen. But here at the University of Wisconsin, there are no standards. This guy can go in and say anything, not back it up, and get paid by the taxpayers. And I’m just stunned.”
...I’m not a regular Bill O’Reilly viewer, but that doesn’t sound as if he’s calling for Barrett’s murder. If anything, it’s making John Silber sound like a tyrant.
...In the end, the big-wigs at the University of Wisconsin will have to determine whether or not Barrett’s ideas are what they want taught in a classroom on their campus. This will no doubt come down to a debate over the concept of “academic freedom,” but how far does academic freedom go?
To be continued.

August 01, 2006


Gross Domestic Product

...America exports various things: motor vehicles; aircraft; food; iron and steel products; electronic equipment; industrial machinery; and chemicals. We’ve also delved into exporting democracy to a few countries, but that’s a column for another time. Earlier this year, Toronto’s mayor, David Miller, claimed that we were exporting guns and a culture of violence to our northern neighbors, thus aiding in the murders of Toronto residents. (That must have made them feel better, considering that their strict gun control laws were made to look as useless as they really are.)
...Now we’re exporting ignorance and our ability to be easily offended.
...American diplomats in Belgrade have forced a café, located across the street from the U.S. embassy, to change its name. It had been known as “Osama,” which means “secluded” in Serbo-Croat, but the café’s owner insists that he named it after a local homeless shelter. He explained, “I had no intention of offending Americans. It is just a word in Serbian.”
...This is reminiscent of the sad story of Stephanie Bell, a teacher at Williams Elementary School in Wilmington, North Carolina. She used the word “niggardly” during a discussion on literary characters a few years ago, but a student became offended, and subsequently the child’s mother was offended, too. Even though “niggardly” is a synonym for “stingy,” the school’s principal, Susan Hahn, reprimanded Bell for using “poor judgment” for her choice of vocabulary. Would that be similar to the poor judgment by that school board in the hiring of Hahn? One wonders.
...In the end, Bell had a black mark on her permanent record and had to attend sensitivity training, simply because she was more intelligent than the principal and a parent. That’s not to mention the Belgrade café owner, who now realizes that the United States’ chief export is our ability to be offended by everything.