Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Criticism? Less Please.

I shouldn't even be blogging at the moment. I've practically squandered my evening as is. However, as long as I'm being unproductive, I thought I'd take a moment to vent about a decidedly bad turn of events.

As you know if you've been reading, I've found more than a few bones to pick with the Daily Northwestern. They were gracious enough to print my first editorial letter, but the second was rejected. The reason, they claimed, was that they only printed one per student per quarter. Whether intentional or not, there is no way of finding out about this until they send in one too many letters. I have my suspicions about a desire to avoid criticism, but we'll hold off on that for a lack of evidence. I can always post my thoughts as comments on their editorial articles online.

Last week, however, the Daily added a new policy for online feedback. Since they are having trouble managing such "high volumes of posts," they are now instituting a "one-week limit" for postings to articles.

What does that even mean? You can only post on an article for one week? You can only post on an article after one week?

Since they moderate comments before allowing them to appear on the website, I can only assume that they must receive hundreds that don't make it to the web. I mean, I generally see fewer than ten comments per day (and most days less than five), so that would be the only explanation to make sense.

That is, unless, they are actually quite disinterested in receiving critical feedback from their readers, so they're limiting the amount of feedback they'll actually receive.

This is, in my opinion, part of the larger problem of the media insulating itself from the people it purports to be informing. Why should we be so interested in hearing what they have to say when they have no interest in hearing what we have to say?

Hmph. Thank God for the internet, the last bastion of unadulterated free speech left in this world. Well, that is unless the UN and so many of its member states get their grubby hands on it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Persecution Watch

Don't forget those in far-away places who experience persecution for their faith.

Gaza's Tiny Christian Community Threatened With Violence
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
February 22, 2006

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Extremists are threatening to blow up the Palestinian Bible Society in the Gaza Strip if the people who work there do not close up shop and abandon their ministry by the end of February, a Christian source told Cybercast News Service.

The threat appears to be the work of Islamic extremists who are determined to drive Christians out of the area. Arab Christians are taking the threat very seriously, said a Palestinian Bible Society information officer who asked not to be named.

There are only about 1,500 Christians living among an estimated 1.2 million Palestinian Muslims in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Bible society has been in operation there since 1999. Eleven local Palestinians staff the center, which includes a Christian bookstore that sells Bibles. Scriptures are displayed on large billboards, and at the front of the store is a sign that says: "God's Word is Life for All." Above the shop are computer rooms, multi-purpose halls and a library that is open to the entire community.

The trouble started three weeks ago, the source said, when a pipe bomb exploded around 11:00 one night outside the Bible Society, which is located in Gaza's city center. There were no injuries.

Two weeks later, an unknown group left threatening pamphlets at the front door of the Bible Society warning that the building would be blown up if the premises were not vacated by February 28.

The pamphlets threatened the landlord for dealing with "infidels."

According to the request of Palestinian Authority security officials, when the situation worsened several days ago, forcing the Bible Society staff locked the doors while they continued working inside.

But then came a threatening phone call, warning them that locking the doors wasn't enough - that they should take the threat seriously or risk harm to themselves and their children.

"We are waiting for a miracle," said the Palestinian Bible Society information officer. "The Bible Society is committed to the continuation of its ministry and service to the Palestinian people, and God will see us through this crisis."

The situation is so sensitive that the staff at the Palestinian Bible Society was not allowed to be interviewed, the officer said.

Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip previously have denied any hostility between them. Privately, though, some Christians admit that they have been persecuted or discriminated against.

The Bible Society was threatened last July alongside the public library of the local Baptist Church, said the information officer.

The current threat against the Bible Society (there was one last July) comes amid growing chaos in the Gaza Strip and the controversy involving published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

European aid organizations and diplomats were pulled out of the Gaza Strip when violence relating to the cartoons first erupted there.

"It's purely a case of Christian persecution. I think the cartoons played a big role in this," said the Bible Society's information officer. "Last week a Molotov cocktail was thrown at [a] church in Ramallah," he said.

According to the source, Hamas has offered to protect the Christians in Gaza; but with the current government not yet established, the situation is very chaotic, he said.

The Palestinian Bible Society is part of the world fellowship of the United Bible Societies, whose mission is to make the Bible available, in different languages and in different formats, to as many people as possible.

The Palestinian Bible Society program in Gaza includes extensive involvement in various community services. Several non-Christian groups in Gaza have expressed dismay over the threats and expressed their solidarity with the Christians.

The neighbors, too, have tried to convince the Bible Society not to close down, said the officer.

"It really breaks our heart that some groups are against the whole idea. We ask Christians worldwide to pray, not only for us, but also for those who are trying to hurt us, as Christ commands us to do."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Atheist Civil Rights?

Gathered around the plastic red-and-white tablecloths in the back room of a San Francisco hofbrau, 30 of the Bay Area's "out" atheists were recasting themselves as the protagonists of America's newest civil rights struggle.

As they described the strain of being openly atheistic in an increasingly religious culture, many wished their godless crusade would emulate one social movement in particular -- the fight for gay rights.

"You can be elected as an openly gay politician in this country, but you can't be elected as an openly atheistic one," said Lori Lipman Brown, who was hired last fall to be the Washington, D.C., lobbyist for an organization devoted to atheist causes, the Secular Coalition for America. She's believed to be the first paid lobbyist for the unbelievers in the nation's capital, the front lines of the culture wars.

Civil rights struggle? What a bunch of whiners. In what way are your rights abridged at all in this freaking society? Hmm? Oh, that's right, in no way whatsoever.

Oh, you don't like having to see your fellow Americans be religious? That hurts your poor widdle atheist sensitivities? Deal with it! We have a right to expression of religious sentiments just as much as you have the right to express none at all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An Homage

Dr. Silverman, for you:
Oh, I can't blame him for my troubles. This, then, may be more accurate:

A Grand Idea

An interesting repost of an essay over at Powerline. An excerpt:
Those who care about the U.N. and want it to survive might compare the records of President Bush and Mr. Annan. After 9/11, President Bush sought U.N. authorization for the war in Afghanistan and then made a major effort to get the Security Council to act on its own resolutions on Iraq. With Saddam overthrown, U.S. policy has focused on helping Iraq regain its sovereign legitimacy as a member of the U.N. and has gained Security Council resolutions supporting that effort.

Now President Bush has made a commitment to repair multilateral institutions and enable them to act effectively. In contrast, Mr. Annan has continued to declare that only the U.N. can authorize action even as it refuses to act. Under his stewardship, the Oil-for-Food program became the most grandiose scandal in U.N. history. And even as the Security Council sought to shore up U.N. credibility, after the strains of the Iraq war, Mr. Annan declared the war "illegal."

The panel report stresses the U.N.'s central role in collective security, a concept that came to the fore after World War I as a replacement for the "balance of power" concept. But as practiced by the U.N., which does not mention "democracy" in its Charter, and which has posed no obstacle to the presence of rogues and despots in its membership, collective security has been a flop. The U.N. is not dead yet. A final opportunity to save it exists. But perhaps it would be wise to start thinking about a new world organization, one with a membership that is committed to democracy.

After reading this, I can reach only one conclusion: In 2009, George W. Bush for Secretary-General of the UN.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tennis As An Indicator

Over at Big Lizards, Dafyyd ab Hugh has an interesting post about an incident in India. Apparently, a rising tennis star has incited some controversy. First, she was threatened with death when she wore a sleeveless top and mini-skirt to play in. Next, she backed down from playing doubles with an Israeli tennis-star due to threatened riots. Additionally, she was accused of corrupting the women because of talk of the importance of safe sex.

Hugh discusses some of the sociological implications of this better than I can handle, so you should read it from him. Suffice it to say, he finds it very interesting that some of this is coming from Muslims in India. India has never had any conflict with Israel, so the problem must be with the tennis-star being Jewish, not Israeli.

All thoughts of deeply-rooted anti-semitism aside, I find the whole "mini-skirt" thing more indicative. Do these people believe that wearing a mini-skirt warrants death? Or just that murder is a lesser crime than skimpy clothing? This, to me, is a sign of a culture with a severe sickness. Especially in light of the "protests" over cartoons we've been seeing, it seems more and more that most of the Muslim world has a culture that is just absolutely insane when compared against western values and standards. Is this because the media, both ours and theirs, showcase the insanity too much? Or is it because the moderate, reasonable people are intimidated into silence? It's hard to say, but this worries me.

Jim Gerraghty over at TKS has written before about this fear: That the west, after experiencing another (hypothetical) major terrorist attack and seeing so many of these antics play out in the news, will simply write off the Muslim nations, and Islam as a whole, as irredeemable.

Theology aside, I'm beginning to feel sympathy (not support) for such a position. This cultural sickness is deeply rooted in the radicalism; how does Western culture reach out to people who think that showing bare arms and legs is worse than death?

In a "beaten to the punch" kind of moment, I just noticed that Jim wrote two very similar posts to this one over at his blog.


To occupy you this day, I offer you these fantastically scientific links:

1) What is science, really? (Warning: Not for the epileptic)

2) Three good reasons not to cheat in science class.

And now, back to studying!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Afrocentric Redux

I thought the discussion involving the potential "Afrocentric Curriculum" merited a new post because I need to make some clarifications.

I can't pretend to be an expert on K-12 education. I don't know how certain topics of history and social studies are introduced, and at what pace. So I really shouldn't say that "culture lessons" (whatever, that means) would be inappropriate.

My arguments seem to have come off as indicating that subjects that aren't reading, math, and science are superfluous. This was not my intent.

The summary of my thoughts at this point:

  1. The point of this entire program is to help close the gap of achievement between black and white students. How are these achievement gaps measured? Typically by scores in subjects such as reading, science, and math. What I don't understand, then, is how history and "culture" lessons will affect this, regardless of the cultural focus.

  2. As far as history goes, I'm certainly not against offering students lessons in African history (in high school they ought to be optional). But I have a problem with any world history course. Considering how poorly some people understand American history, why is there such a fuss to add in other histories? Can we agree that people should understand their own history before worrying about international histories?

  3. By setting different standards for black and white students, what kind of message are we sending?
Just some thoughts. More will coalesce as time goes on.

A Necessary Interview

If you hadn't heard, the Daily Illini has suspended those involved with the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in their newspaper. Hugh Hewitt interviewed the person mainly responsible, Acton Gordon.

The interview is worth reading in full, but here's a portion I consider interesting:
HH: Okay. Now I want to go back again to the reason behind upset. And it's not because you offended Muslims. It's because your staff is afraid that they will suffer reprisal violence as a result?

AG: Well, that's what they're saying. They're saying that I didn't take everybody into consideration. But I mean, that's just one argument. I think the other thing is they felt like they were kept out of the loop on this whole thing, but my editorial board fully knew what was happening in the newsroom that night. Everybody had an opportunity to look at it, everybody had an opportunity to object to me doing it, or raising red flags, or telling me their concerns. And nobody did that.

Their main concern was violent reprisal? I see the 1st Amendment is well guarded these days.

Y'know, maybe if they were in, I dunno, the Middle East, this might be a problem. But Central Illinois? I'd give the chances of violent reprisal at about 1%, and if it were to happen, it would be either from a singular nutjob or people who were brought in from another community. But such instances are rare in America. A small but growing number of publications have reprinted the cartoons, and I'm not aware of anybody dying yet.

If you hold speech such as this in check for fear of violent reprisal, then those who would silence freedom of speech have already won.

Falling in Love Again

I think I just crapped my pants with joy.

Nintendo unveils TV, Web features for DS
TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Japanese fans of Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s dual-screen DS portable game machine may soon be able to surf the Web and watch high-definition television programs on their devices in addition to playing games.

Oh baby, I'm sorry for all those times I doubted you. Yes, there were times the relationship seemed to be getting stale, as if we were in a rut, like bigger and better things were passing us by. But you've always been good to us, baby, and now I know you're truly committed to making this relationship last, and reminding me all the time why we fell in love in the first place.

/pant crapping


Seems like as good a reason as any.

Deep Thoughts

Dick Cheney must be the only guy in America who can shoot a lawyer and not be more popular for the experience.

Inspirational tip to Scott Adams.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Obesity up in Japan?

Hmm . . .
Obesity Alarms Traditionally Slim Japan

Men in all age groups have grown heavier in the past two decades in Japan. The highest rate of obesity is among men in their 40s: 34 percent in 2003, up from 23 percent in 1980, according to the National Health and Nutrition Survey. While older women are also growing fatter, younger fashion-conscious women tend to be underweight.

Among children, 8 percent were obese or at risk of obesity in 2004, compared with fewer than 6 percent in 1980. In the United States, experts believe about 30 percent of kids are overweight.

Diabetes is a leading concern. While the number of deaths from the disease has fallen in the past decade, more than 2 million people are being treated for it in Japan -- an increase of about 53 percent from 15 years ago. The number treated for high blood pressure has also grown about 9 percent in the past 10 years, the Health Ministry says.

This is news to me. I only spent four weeks in one part of the country, but I saw nothing but skinny, skinny people there. Even the largest of the people I saw would be laughed at here if they said they were fat.


The Daily Strikes Back

By doing absolutely nothing.

In response to their ridiculous reasoning for not printing the Muhammad cartoons, I wrote them a letter calling them out on it. The response I received from their forum editor?
Thank you for taking the time to write us. However, we only run one letter per person each quarter. But please do submit something next quarter.

Bah! Would've been fantastic for them to let their readers know that was policy. I'm suspicious enough to look through the archives and see if they're true to their word, but I don't I'll find anything.

In any case, in the name of freedom of speech, I'm publishing my letter here with the hope in mind that somebody, from either Northwestern University or the Daily Northwestern, will read it.
The Daily has chosen not to publish the Muhammad cartoons. I do not begrudge them this. Freedom of speech requires I don’t. The Daily, however, needs to be perfectly clear with its readers about why it chooses not to do so.

The Daily claims that they are not exempt from respecting readers’ sensitivities, that publishing the cartoons would only be for shock value and would not add to the debate. I’ve been at Northwestern only six months, but this would be the first time The Daily has ever taken such a stance.

Such a stance is in direct contradiction to cartoons previously published. Some cartoons feature creationists as wild-eyed, drooling morons, campus Christians as sword-bearing zealots ready to slay heathens, and a depiction of President Bush defecating on the American flag. Exactly what do those add to “the debate” beside shock value? How are those acceptable images, but a picture of bearded man in a turban standing next to a donkey, with “Muhammad” written beneath him, is unacceptable?

Where has this newfound sense of responsibility come from? Has The Daily developed amnesia about the work of its own artists? Or is this rank hypocrisy based on which groups are okay to offend and enrage?

Is it worth noting that several people have been suspended from The Daily Illini for publishing the cartoons?

Again, I don’t begrudge The Daily their decision not to print the cartoons, but don’t take us for fools. Be honest with your audience and tell us why you really choose not to print the cartoons, because the reasons you gave us make you either hypocrites or liars.

If Euro-centric is racist . . .

From the Chicago Tribune:
Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum:
Evanston-Skokie district's proposal targets achievement gap between blacks and whites
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance writer Brian Cox contributed to this report
Published February 15, 2006

Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.The curriculum would keep state-required core subjects such as reading, language arts and math but include the history and culture of Africans and African-Americans in daily school lessons.

Two points:

1) Why do we need programs that focus exclusively on students from one race? That strikes me as being racist in itself. What good will "building self-esteem" do? I thought the purpose of schools was to teach, not to make them feel good about themselves. Do white students get "European culture" lessons? What would be the point? Shouldn't we teach our students to become citizens in an American culture?

2) They hope this program will help bridge the gap between whites and blacks. In what way? Aren't the biggest shortfalls in our schools in areas such as math, science, and reading? How will wasting time with culture lessons solve that at all?

Honestly, sometimes I just don't get people in this town at all.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Never Mind

Apparently I am going to write about the "Muhammad Cartoons" thing.

The Daily Northwestern wrote an article about the controversy last Thursday. My critical letter to the editor was published on Friday (and I might add, as an indicator of their journalistic integrity, that they changed it without my permission).

Today, they published a column as to why they would not reprint the "offensive" cartoons.
With the freedom an opinion page has, responsibilities follow. Opinion pages are not exempt from respecting readers’ sensitivities. With this, The Daily has to ask if by publishing these cartoons anything will be added. The answer is no.

By running these cartoons the only thing that will be achieved is shock value, angry letters to the editor and no furthering of any form of debate. This means the Forum Page will have failed. The page will have offended for the sake of offending.

Oh, really? I'd say showing them will much further the debate, as it would 1) show the cartoons just aren't offensive in the least, 2) give fuel for discussing the line between freedom of speech and censorship, and 3) allow for education and debate on the various doctrinal positions within Islam regarding images and why they exist.

However, those reasons I accept. But "respecting readers' sensitivities?" "Offending for the sake of offending?" I don't buy it. No, not one bit.

An Odd Standard

I know I said I wouldn't write about the "Muhammad Cartoons" thing (as ridiculous as it is), but I thought I might offer up this little tidbit for comparison:

On the one hand, we have a small group of radical muslims rioting and burning down embassies in reaction to mere depictions of the prophet Muhammad. Most of the riots have been staged by governments of the countries they took place in. Western media and governments have rushed to apologize profusely for thinking that freedom of speech might result in someone being offended somewhere by something.

On the other hand, we have an Italian lawsuit where an atheist is suing a Catholic priest for saying that Jesus Christ existed, and apparently the court must decide whether or not he did.

An interesting comparison? Discuss.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Crazy Professors (Among Other Things)

Apparently, you should never ask me to housesit for you, because I'll just go on vacation right after you hand me the keys. (Cross-posted at Slublog)

I've thought about writing something about the "Muhammad Cartoons" thing, but since that's the only thing some people blog about lately, I decided against it. I would recommend Dafyyd ab Hugh of Big Lizards on the matter. He's offered a few unique thoughts on the entire thing that I've seen.

In more local news, it seems that some ire was stirred up here at Northwestern University by Dr. Arthur Butz. He's been known as a Holocaust denier for some time, but the recent controversy began when he made statements applauding Iran's President for also denying the Holocaust, which were then published by the Iranian press. The story can be found here.

I never heard anything about this until the University President sent us this message via email, denouncing Dr. Butz but saying there was nothing they could do about it.

And frankly, I'm glad. Dr. Butz works in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His interest in the Holocaust is not work related. For the sake of free speech, I'm glad the University isn't telling him what he can or cannot say outside of his job. He does use a Northwestern webpage to promote his book and his statements, but Northwestern provides that space for personal use.

My Conclusion: Free speech at Northwestern survives (for now), but that doesn't excuse his idiocy. He joins the legion of academics out there who give intellectual credibility to horrible ideas and murderous regimes. Lord, hasten the day when their irrelevancy is complete.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What Media Bias?

So, once again, the Daily Northwestern has shown that media bias really does begin back in journalism school.

Consider the following: The cover story for today's issue was on student groups, Democrats and Republicans, who assembled last night to watch the President's SOTU address. Want to know what the front page picture was?

If you can't tell, this is one of the members of the College Democrats, tallying the number of times President Bush used specific words during the speech. Apparently, the Daily Northwestern couldn't bring itself to also add in the photo caption that they were keeping track of various body languages, such as "pompous chuckle."
I ask again: "Media bias? What media bias?"

I'm Blog-tastic, baby!

Apparently the reward for studying hard is to have all your blog-dreams come true.

Slublog has very graciously asked me to guest-blog for him while he's busy with work over the next few weeks.

Don't worry, I won't neglect my own site. Just expect to see content that is cross-posted between the two.


Thanks for the MEMRIs

Do you read MEMRI? If you don't, you should. The Middle East Media Research Institute translates the media from other countries so that we can know what it is they're saying.

I bring this up because their most recent dispatch contains Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's response to President Bush's SOTU address.

Here are a few of the interesting things he says:

"I tell them here and now: Oh imaginary superpowers, made of straw know that the Iranian people has been independent for the last 27 years, and for 27 years it has been making decisions on the basis of its own will and efforts. On the issue of nuclear energy, our people, Allah willing, will continue in its path until its rights are completely achieved, and the opportunity to progress completely realized. We consider nuclear energy to be the Iranian people's right, and as servants of the people, we will be steadfast until the complete fulfillment of this right.
Does anyone truly think that negotiations will prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons? Is there anyone left who really thinks that this guy should have his finger on the nuclear button? You can hear the timer counting down . . . let's hope the world gets around to stopping this before its too late.

Read the entire thing. His lecturing America on human rights is hilarious.