Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hocus Focus

In his now-famous attempt to link liberal bloggers and fascists, Lee Siegel also wrote

The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.

Today, reading Richard Hack's Clash of the Titans, a book about Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, I came across a quote from Turner that, well, puts Siegel right in his place:
Wait a minute!  Wait a goddam minute!  You think it lacks focus?  What is focus anyway?  If you're live all the time, how can you have focus?  Focus means that you know where you're going.  You can't focus on something unless you know what you're focusing on!  Focus is something a newspaper has, because there's a day to think about it.  Or with a magazine there's a month.  Whoever said that is a yo-yo."

Turner, of course, was not talking about blogs, but about CNN.  The point's the same, however: like CNN, the blogs are "on" all the time.  There's no "issue," as with a newspaper or magazine, and no time or desire to create a focus.

This is one of the things that frightens old-fashioned "journalists" like Siegel: there's an anarchy on the web!

Thing is, it does a better job of reflecting the real world than do his newspapers and magazines....  And guess why?  There's an anarchy in the world, too!

Life doesn't make neat little stories with foci and themes.  It's messy and shifts direction just when you least expect it.

Siegel wants a neat little fantasy, and is unhappy when he can't have it, so starts throwing out accusations of "fascism" or "blogofascism" when the anarchy of a real reflection of human existence is thrown at him.

Turner may be a nut and something of a clown (and I do believe he is), but I'll take him any day.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where Do They Get These Guys?

Someone at The New Republic named Lee Siegel, writing a column called "Lee Siegel on Culture" for the magazine's online manifestation, seems to know nothing about the blogosphere (his subject in his most recent post), American culture (according to his title, his general topic), or American history.  Strangely enough, TNR touts him as a "senior editor."

Where do they get these guys?

Perhaps Siegel was asleep during his American history classes in college--at least on the days when Alexander Hamilton and debates in the press in the early years of the republic were discussed.  When he writes of the blogosphere that it "radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction," he seems to be completely unaware that it was just this sort of dichotomy that led to The Federalist Papers.  Hamilton was a master of attack in the press.  A fast writer with no brakes, he went after anyone he disagreed with--and in nasty fashion.  He even did so in the years after The Federalist Papers, when he had become the most important person in the United States government, except for George Washington.  Yet he, with James Madison (later, the two would become bitter enemies, demolishing each other in the press), created the bulk of the most important unofficial work of American political history.

Don't dismiss the blogs, Lee.  There are Hamiltons out there honing their skills but also thinking and learning.  Sure, bloggers may often produce a thread that "meanders into trivial subjects that have nothing to do with the subject that briefly provoked it."  But so what?  Are all of your conversations over dinner with your sparkling companions always on point?  It's often the meandering that allows new ideas to gestate.

"The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus."  Oh, really?  I guess you were never a college student involved in bull sessions until three in the morning, focusless conversations that, for many of our best thinkers, were the genesis of more innovation than any particular classes.

People learn by talking, by discussion.  Perhaps, Lee, you only see media as product, not process.  That's probably because you no longer understand what has been happening in the media and in American culture.  No longer are the news media the purview of an elite, trained cadre of professionals.  No longer are the news media places where finished products are presented only.  Today, because of the Internet and, in particular, because of the blogs, the media are becoming what they once were, tools for the people in their process of political discovery (which, by the way, is the reason that "freedom of the press" was included in the First Amendment to the Constitution).

What is happening is that we, the people are reclaiming what Jürgen Habermas calls "the public sphere" from the commercial and professional elements you represent.

Scares you, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

We Are Not the "We" They Think We Are

I posted the following today on The Daily Kos. It really has to do with how that community (of which I am a part) is being viewed, now that it has hit the "big time," partly as a result of the phenomenal success of the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. But I thought it would be of interest here, too:

Each of us must evaluate the world through our own personalities, using what we have learned about ourselves to judge others.  Thus it is that, when we talk about others, we end up shedding more light on ourselves than we do on those "others."

However, the perceptions others have of us do teach us about ourselves, even as they tell us about those other "others."

Here, I want to look quickly at what two "others" (in terms of this community) are saying about us Kossacks, examining what their comments say about them as well as what they are saying (really without knowing it) about us.

Those two, of course, are David Brooks of The New York Times and Martin Peretz of The New Republic.

Both Peretz and Brooks seem to mistake the members of the dKos community as "true believers" in the Eric Hoffer sense.  It's a great book, and certainly worth a read, but it doesn't apply to us.  On The Eric Hoffer Resource Joel Schmidt says the book:
is concerned with the main ingredient of such movements [as the Nazis], the frustrated individual. The book probes into the psychology of the frustrated and dissatisfied, those who would eagerly sacrifice themselves for any cause that might give their meaningless lives some sense of significance. The alienated seek to lose themselves in these movements by adopting those fanatical attitudes that are, according to Hoffer, fundamentally "a flight from the self."

That, most certainly, is how Brooks views us Kossacks.  We are marginalized people with few resources, inner or otherwise.  He insinuateds that we are Lilliputians "who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom" (talk about mixing metaphors!) under direct Markos Moulitsas (who Brooks imagines as the charismatic leader--the "Kingpin," as Brooks calls him) command.  That's in his column for today, June 25, 2006 (I won't give the link--the Times has become subscription only).

Coming out of a right-wing milieu, Brooks doesn't understand at all how the left operates.  This has been a problem for the right for generations.  It is sparked by two things, by their own affinity for top-down leadership and by the mistaken belief that the Soviet Union was a leftist institution (it was not, it was fundamentally totalitarian--and that goes against all leftist ideals).  In this way, Brooks' article says more about his limitations as both a thinker and a researcher than it does about Kos or the Kossacks.  He doesn't understand the nature of a grassroots movement and he did not spend the time examining The Daily Kos to find out what really goes on here.

Peretz has never really looked at The Daily Kos either, or so he says (claiming a first visit only recently).  On a The New Republic Blog "The Plank," Peretz also tries to attack The Daily Kos through pokes at its leader.  In a way, his shorter comment is more instructive than Brooks' longer article, teaching us much more about Peretz than Brooks does about himself, and about the limitations of right-wing thought.

Peretz may claim that he's no right-winger, but a couple of things shine through that post making it clear he's no liberal or leftist.  As in Brooks' piece, a real elitism  shines through, an elitism and condescension that is much more at home on the right.  He starts out by calling Markos "illiterate," a ridiculous claim to make about someone who has achieved success through use of the written word.  I wonder if Peretz really understands what "illiterate" means.  Here he's simply saying that Markos doesn't live up to the stylistic standard that Peretz finds important--an extremely elitist stance.  One of his examples of Markos' "illiteracy" is his use of capitalized words, which made me think that it is Peretz himself who is, at least, unlearned, if not also unaware.  The right-wing writer David Horowitz uses capitals (say what you will about him, he's a good writer, much more skillful and versatile than Peretz or anyone on his TNR staff).  Tom Paine used capitals, as did Mark Twain.

Like Brooks, Peretz can't imagine a movement that is not top-driven, so takes what are, to Markos and us Kossacks, Kos opinions (but nothing more, certainly not orders) as "an ideological censorship bureau."

Brooks likes to demean Markos, calling him `small.'  What he doesn't understand is that the Kos purpose is not to be `big,' a leader, but to be a facilitator.  He is trying to facilitate the establishment of a real grassroots movement (something neither Brooks nor Peretz understand), and knows he can only do that by never becoming the `big' man himself.  The insult Brooks tries to make, then, turns into a compliment towards Markos.

What I've learned from these two is that The Daily Kos is a lot more effective as a grassroots "coffeehouse" than I had imagined.  And that the right is so convinced that even its opponents think the way it does that its writers can't get their minds around the possibility that thought, elsewhere, is quite different--and not just on political issues, but on fundamental questions of leadership.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Real Un-Americans

OK, OK, you've heard this before, but it all bears repeating as the onslaughts against the very basic assumptions of our nation continue, and from the highest offices in our government.

Today, all I want to do is give a few examples of the deliberate perverting of our nation that this rightwing clique ruining our country is involved in.

First of all, our very Constitution is being twisted into something it never was nor was meant to be--and I don't simply mean the Bill of Rights, whose emasculation has been in the news so much recently.

These people (including members of the Supreme Court) deliberately hide behind something they call "original intent," the idea that the Constitution is strictly what the "founders" meant it to be, only this and nothing more.


And the Constitution says so itself.  Just look at the preamble:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The "founders" weren't speaking for themselves, but for what they hoped would become one nation--for the people of that nation.  For that reason, they purposefully and explicitly began the Constitution with "We the people."  They wanted to make it clear that this wasn't meant to be a document expressing the views of one small group of men, but of a nation.  Add to that the fact that the states had to ratify the Constitution, providing a means for "the people" to examine it and decide if it really did reflect their will, and any argument for the validity of "original intent" falls apart.  The Constitution is meant to represent the will of the people--then and now.  It never was intended that dead hands, so to speak, keep control of the steering wheel.

Again, the Constitution was meant to express the will of the people, not the will of a small group.  Anyone who argues otherwise flies in the face of the document itself--and does so from a desire to undercut the will of the people.

Anyone arguing for "original intent" is trying to pervert the underlying intent of a democratic--not elitist--document.  There is no other possible explanation.        

Anyone arguing for "original intent" is un-American on a very basic level.  They don't believe in the will of the people and are trying to find rationalizations for ignoring it.

There are plenty of other perversions of America being foisted upon us by this clique, one of which is the turning of loyalty to the country into loyalty to the government--a sick, sick act for an American.  A fundamentally un-American act.  Donald Stewart, in his 1969 book The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period writes:
Men who babbled about "loyalty" while trying to stifle popular liberties were indeed the nation's worst enemies.  Unreasoning support of governmental measures was no substitute for national freedom and welfare.  Any clique that strove to block the popular will must itself be foiled by all patriotic citizens irrespective of party.[...]  Since government officials were public servants, they were entitled to respect, but should not be treated as nobility. (425)

"Loyalty" to our "servants"?  That's what the clique in power wants now.  They have taken what should be the case in America and turned it on its head for their own enrichment and power.  They don't care about "the people" and, indeed, are "our" worst enemies--though they cloak themselves in patriotism.  Even worse, they try to make it so that fewer and fewer people vote--or vote so that it will be counted.

That's un-American.

So is George Bush's attitude that he has the right to subvert the Constitution in order to protect the people.  That's like the old line from Vietnam, "We had to destroy the village to save it."

There's a rightwing hack named Dan Flynn who writes books with titles almost as outrageous and un-American as Ann Coulter's, one being Why the Left Hates America.  As if we do.  As if he understands anything at all about us.

What Flynn and Coulter and O'Reilly and Cheney and all the others know but won't admit is that they are the ones who hate America.  They are tearing it down.

It's up to us real Americans to stop them.

We can only do it by refusing to flinch at their criticism.

Not only do we have to start yelling, as Peter Finch's character Howard Beale tells us in Network (the line by Paddy Chayefsky) "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more," but we have to starting shouting out why.

Why?  Because this clique is perverting America, making it into an elite-driven state that has forgotten that the state is for the people, not the other way around.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What "Everyone Knows"

If you say something often enough, it becomes what “everyone knows.” That, at least, is part of David Horowitz’s strategy in attacking the American left.

On his blog he now claims:
everyone knows that there is an academic blacklist that has practically elminated [sic] conservatives from university faculties; since everyone who has been on a campus knows that professors regularly interject their political prejudices into the classroom even when the issue is entirely irrelevant to the subject matter, the defense of the indefensible is really only possible through denial of the obvious.
For the past couple of years, Horowitz has been trying to prove his first “everyone knows,” and has failed. Go to Free Exchange on Campus, read anything Michael Bérubé has written, or even look at my own blogging on the subject. There is no liberal hegemony on campus that keeps conservatives out, and there never has been. Horowitz has not been able to come up with one shred of proof for this assertion, not one. His second “everyone knows” is just as vapid. Go to Free Exchange and click on its report, “Facts Count: An Analysis of David Horowitz’s The Professors” and you will quickly find that this claim is based on public statements by the professors (not on what they have said in the classroom) and on a few anecdotes. If anyone is denying the obvious, it is Horowitz himself.

But that’s his modus operandi, to attack his opponents for using exactly the tactics that Horowitz is using (and that his enemies, generally, are not).

Horowitz calls his new blog attack on his opponents “The Politics of Personal Destruction”—exactly what he does in his book The Professors. The book is an attack on the credibility of 100 professors (who Horowitz claims, on no evidence, are representative), yet Horowitz is now claiming to be a victim of just such attacks.


Horowitz writes:
I published a 450 page 112,000 word text documenting the rabid politics of a hundred professors, the first line of attack was on my credibility.
Well, I have read the book, and have attacked it—on a variety of grounds. On its methodology (it has none, though it claims “prosopography”), on its research design (again, it has none), and on the research itself (it is sloppy and from a distance). I have also attacked Horowitz’s own credibility, it is true, asking why his statements about academia should be taken seriously. He has made no attempt to study what actually does go on in university classrooms and says he doesn’t need to (I have invited him to visit my classrooms as often as he likes). There’s more (see my earlier posts for details).

Any way you look at it, Horowitz is in no way a credible commenter on what goes on in American colleges and universities.

As close as he is willing to get to real analysis is to claim “everybody knows.”

If he weren’t so dangerous, I would only call him pathetic.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Rime of the Liberal Weblogger (An Excerpt)

It is a liberal Weblogger,
And he stoppeth one of three.
`By thy pajamas and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me ?

The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin ;
The guests are met, the feast is set :
May'st hear the merry din.'

He holds him with his skinny hand,
`The issue's Bush,' quoth he.
`Hold off ! unhand me, pajamma'd loon !'
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye--
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child :
The Weblogger hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone :
He cannot choose but hear ;
And thus spake on that liberal man,
The bright-eyed Weblogger.

`The war was cheered, old Baghdad cleared,
Merrily did we drop
The statue that was in the square,
Below Saddam's old palace top.

The Sun went down upon the left,
Out of favor went we !
And he shone bright, and on the right
All seemed a calming sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Went George, though still a buffoon--'
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she ;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear ;
And thus spake on that liberal man,
The bright-eyed Weblogger.

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns :
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I blog, each night, every site at hand ;
I have strange power of speech ;
That moment an issue comes to me,
I know the man that must hear me :
To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door !
The wedding-guests are there :
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are :
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer !

O Wedding-Guest ! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide blog sea :
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seeméd there to be.

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
'Tis sweeter far to me,
To blog together to the net
With a goodly company !--

To blog together to the net,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay !

Farewell, farewell ! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest !
He blogeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He blogeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The Weblogger, whose eye is bright,
Whose fingers promised more,
Is gone : and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn :
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

Professionals and the Public Sphere

Last month, I attended (for the first time) the annual Computers & Writing conference that was held, this year, at Texas Technical University in Lubbock. The conference was extremely useful to me (not to mention, it was a lot of fun). The high points were too many to mention. Every panel I went to offered me something; I left with a churning head and enthusiasm for my involvement in the future of the intersection between computers and writing. The low point (and I wasn’t going to write about this, but it stays with me so I changed my mind) was an after-dinner speech by an associate editor of Salon named Mark Follman.

Follman seems like a good guy. He volunteers with a literacy program and seems genuinely interested in more than just his own advancement. However, he didn’t seem to understand where he was or what is going on in the world of the blogs—which is rather peculiar, since he blogs himself.

He tried to warm the room by saying he was happy to be where, if he had any technical problems with any of his devices, someone could fix them. We all looked at him a little skeptically, for we aren’t techies, we computers-and-writing people (all right, some of us are, but very few). We’re not interested in hardware, but in what people can do with it and in what the impact might be.

Follman, who clearly did not know his audience, continued to, if not alienate them, at least turn them off to him. He said, for example, that he hates the word “blogosphere” (which didn’t gain sympathy from me: the title of my forthcoming book is The Rise of the Blogosphere: American Backgrounds to a Twenty-First Century Media Phenomenon) and continued the stereotype of the blogger as someone in their pajamas who simply comments on the world (me, I don’t even own pajamas, and I rarely blog from home), not exactly a good thing to have said in a room filled with bloggers.

When he followed by saying that bloggers are not real reporters you could almost feel the audience pulling away from him. He did admit that, occasionally, there’s reporting from bloggers, but he gave the impression that he believed the task should be left to the professionals. He spent a good deal of time talking about Salon’s new system of presenting letters to the editor—which is where, one sensed, he feels bloggers belong.

Even though he works for a web-based publication, Follman still has not managed to move beyond the sense of specialness, of difference, that the journalism profession sees as its own. There’s a real proprietary feeling among reporters towards their craft, and they don’t like it when outsiders, in their view, try to horn in.

And that’s exactly what bloggers are doing, horning in. Remember, it wasn’t the White House Press Corps who looked seriously at the ringer in their midst, Jeff Gannon (oh, a few raised questions—but the subject wasn’t really pursued). It took a DailyKos blogger named SusanG to issue a call for research into him. Information was found by bloggers that the news media then had to address—but the work wasn’t theirs. The organization that SusanG and others soon founded, ePluribus Media (of which I am a proud member), is dedicated to research and fact-checking online. It is a blogger organization that pays more attention to the down-and-dirty work of reporting than many of the established news media do.

Another thing that Follman doesn’t seem to understand about bloggers is that we aren’t simply casual observers and commentators. The people of ePluribus Media, for example (and we aren’t that different from other online groups), have a great deal of journalistic experience. Many of us have been professional writers in one capacity or another (a number have written books), and some are (or have been) teachers of writing. We are not amateurs.

Perhaps this is the problem: many in the news media view themselves as professionals and bloggers as amateurs—some of them talented amateurs, but amateurs, nonetheless. Until that changes, until they start to recognize that amateur/professional status is irrelevant in the new media age, people like Follman will fall further and further behind, no matter if they work for Salon or any other organization with a high-tech profile.

What we are seeing is an attempt by a part of the populace to reclaim what Jürgen Habermas calls “the public sphere.” We want the debate to be ours—and not as a spectator sport. Furthermore, we want the issues under debate to be those we have brought to the table ourselves. “Citizen journalism” is our mantra, and we hope, we hope we’re the wave of the future.

Certainly, attitude’s like Follman’s are things of the past.

I hope he wakes up to what’s happening. As I said, he seems like a nice fellow with a heart in the right place.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"You Can Look It Up"

Thanks, James Thurber. You sure can. And, given the Internet, it’s a lot easier now than it was sixty-five years ago, when your story was published.

Fact checking is easy now. Well, easier than it was when you had to go all the way to the library. But people still don’t do it, even people who, by virtue of their position, should know better.

Can you say, “Bill O’Reilly”?

Twice in the past year, O’Reilly has referred to the Malmédy massacre as a war crime committed by US troops. After the first time, which took place during a 2005 interview with Wesley Clark, O’Reilly later said:
In the heat of the debate with General Clark, my statement wasn't clear enough…. After Malmédy, some [of the SS troops involved in killing unarmed Americans] were executed by American troops.
Well, not quite. Though there were accusations that this did happen, at least.

However, O’Reilly regressed. Again while interviewing Clark (this time six months later), he claimed:
In Malmédy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air and they were unarmed, and they shot them down. You know that. That's on the record. Been documented.
Well, no.

What’s odd about O’Reilly’s belief is its connection with Joe McCarthy. In his first year in the Senate (1949), McCarthy got himself involved in claims that there had been abuse of SS prisoners (arrested for participation in the Malmedy massacre) by American guards. In his new book Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy, Tom Wicker writes:
In 1946 seventy-three former Nazi troopers had been found guilty of an atrocity, near Malmedy, Belgium, against U.S. troops and Belgian civilians; forty-three of the troopers were sentenced to death. General Lucius D. Clay, the post-war military governor of Germany, commuted thirty-one of the death sentences. But in Devember 1948 an American Quaker group, the National Council for the Prevention of War, charged that the accused Nazis had been subjected to torture and mistreatment. (56-57).
McCarthy seized on this as an issue of his own. True to fashion, McCarthy refused to accept a report on the "incident" generated by a subcommittee of the Armed Services committee, chaired by Senator Raymond Baldwin:
Even after the Baldwin panel issued a convincing final report citing evidence that refuted the German charges, McCarthy continued to call the panel's work a whitewash. (60)

The details of the Malmeday massacre are well-known and easily established. Joe McCarthy’s role relating to the Senate hearings into the conduct of American guards isn’t quite so remembered—but it is also easy to verify.

Why couldn’t O’Reilly, who must have had some hazy knowledge of McCarthy’s screams about “whitewash,” have at least checked his recollections?

You say that’s not what he’s about?

Oh, right.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Copyright: Only for the Corporations?

Are we headed towards a two-tier copyright system? One that provides protection for corporations and high-profile artists, but leaves everyone else out in the cold?

Could be. The Congress is considering copyright changes to deal with the “problem” of orphan works (those whose owner cannot be located), allowing use of them if good faith efforts to find the copyright holder have not succeeded.

Paradoxically, the perceived need to weaken copyright protection in this area comes from strengthening it in another. When copyright first came into being, just over three hundred years ago, in England, the length of protection was 14 years, renewable for another 14. After that, all works entered the public domain. Today, copyright can last as long as 95 years (for a corporation).

The real solution to the orphan works problem would be to reduce copyright to (say) 75 years for a corporation and lifetime plus (say) 25 for an individual or 75 years (whichever comes first). That would give plenty of time for sufficient return yet would keep most orphan-works problems from arising.

But that’s not what’s going to happen.

The Orphan Works Amendment is meant to allow museums, libraries, and individuals working with artifacts of the past to use items whose copyright holder cannot be established. Sounds good? Sure. But, as I have said, the best way to do that is to limit the time copyright holds.

But corporations don’t want that. What they don’t mind is infringement on copyright held by individuals—by the “little people”—and so this legislation was born. In effect, it will legalize copyright infringement when the holder cannot be found.

Suppose you found a photograph on the web and wanted to use it—but the provenance wasn’t provided (maybe the usage you found was itself outside of copyright). This amendment would mean that, after a search, you could use the photograph in your work, even if it were copyright protected.

On Monday, May 22, 2006, The Orphan Works Act of 2006 (HR 5439) was introduced in subcommittee. Both parties seem fine with it, and it is expected to move to the full House quickly. In the Senate, the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, chaired by Orrin Hatch, is considering the same legislation. The House bill says, in part:
`(1) CONDITIONS- Notwithstanding sections 502 through 505, in an action brought under this title for infringement of copyright in a work, the remedies for infringement shall be limited under subsection (b) if the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that--
`(A) before the infringing use of the work began, the infringer, a person acting on behalf of the infringer, or any person jointly and severally liable with the infringer for the infringement of the work--
`(i) performed and documented a reasonably diligent search in good faith to locate the owner of the infringed copyright; but
`(ii) was unable to locate the owner; and
`(B) the infringing use of the work provided attribution, in a manner reasonable under the circumstances, to the author and owner of the copyright, if known with a reasonable degree of certainty based on information obtained in performing the reasonably diligent search.
It goes on:
`(B) REQUIREMENTS FOR REASONABLY DILIGENT SEARCH- (i) For purposes of paragraph (1), a search to locate the owner of an infringed copyright in a work--
`(I) is `reasonably diligent' only if it includes steps that are reasonable under the circumstances to locate that owner in order to obtain permission for the use of the work; and
`(II) is not `reasonably diligent' solely by reference to the lack of identifying information with respect to the copyright on the copy or phonorecord of the work.

Of course, “reasonably diligent” is going to come to mean “I couldn’t find it on the Internet through Google.”

Here is a bit of the April 6 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Brad Holland of the Illustrators’ Partnership of America:
[The law] would apply wherever an artist’s work is unmarked, or a mark or signature is obscure. It would be retroactive. It would interfere with commercial markets. It would legalize the infringement of any work of art, regardless of age, country of origin, published or unpublished, where the rights holder cannot be identified or located. It would affect illustrations and photographs disproportionately because images are commonly published without identifying information, signatures may be illegible and information can be removed by others. It would expose to infringement any work that cannot be sourced by “reasonable effort,” and it risks orphaning millions of valuable copyrights that cannot otherwise be distinguished from true orphaned works. For these reasons and many more, we do not believe the statutory language proposed by the Copyright Office is a solution to the orphan works problem. It is a proposal for a radically new copyright law.

The inability to distinguish between abandoned copyrights and those whose owners are simply hard to find is the Catch 22 of the Orphan Works project. Put simply, if a picture is unmarked, it’s impossible to source or date it. Therefore, this proposal would orphan millions of valuable copyrights that cannot otherwise be distinguished from true orphaned works. And this would open the door to cultural theft on an unprecedented scale.

Many users who responded to the Orphan Works Study have asserted that the art under consideration has little or no commercial value. While this may be true of real orphaned work, it is not true of the numberless managed copyrights that would be caught in an orphan works net.
And commercial value isn’t the point, rights to the work is.
Let me give just one little example of what can happen under this bill. Recently, a professor named Joel Beinin saw his photograph on the cover of a David Horowitz pamphlet about terrorism. Beinin objected to the implied link between himself and terrorists. Finding the copyright holder, he determined that permission to use the picture had not been granted. So, he purchased the rights and is now suing Horowitz. If this bill passes, he will no longer be able to do such a thing. He would no longer have any means at all of protecting himself.
Even if you aren’t involved in the arts yourself, write your Representative and your Senators on this.

If this bill passes, we will have copyright for the corporations, and no protection for anyone else. This is extremely important today, when so many of us put our words up on the web, many using pseudonyms that make it difficult for them to be traced.

Do you want you words used by someone else without your permission? It may happen legally if this bill is passed.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Oh, Those Awful Professors!

Thanks to Penn State Professor Aldon Lynn Nielsen’s blog HeatStrings, I learned about The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and its new “study” entitled “How Many Ward Churchills?” that appeared last month.

The Foreword, over the name Ann D. Neal, President, says:

Is there really only one Ward Churchill? Or are there many? Do professors in their classrooms ensure a robust exchange of ideas designed to help students to think for themselves? Or do they use their classrooms as platforms for propaganda, sites of sensitivity training, and launching pads for political activism? Do our college and university professors foster intellectual diversity or must students toe the party line?
To answer these questions, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni went to publicly available resources—college and university websites, electronic syllabi, and faculty web pages.

And what we found is profoundly troubling. Ward Churchill is not only not alone—he is quite common. (ii)

The title of the first chapter is “Ward Churchill is Everywhere” (according to the table of Contents. The actual chapter is headed “How Many Ward Churchills?”—so much for copyediting). Yet this is a study of a limited number of institutions, all of the top rank. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are over 4000 accredited institutions of higher education in the United States. This “study” glances at 48 of them, a little over 1%--and it completely ignores all 2-year institutions. In fact, it ignores all but the top 12 private universities (as rated by US News and World Reports), the top 13 liberal arts colleges, the Big Ten schools (there are eleven, these days), and the Big Twelve schools. The types of places where I teach (public institutions, but not at all showcases), probably the mainstays of contemporary American higher education, are also ignored completely. To draw any conclusion about “everywhere,” one would certainly have to conduct a study covering a much wider range.

Not only is the “study” not comprehensive, but its title whipping boy is really something of an anomaly in higher education. The study, which pays inordinate attention to Churchill’s specific case, even admits that he is not a standard-issue college professor—before backtracking:
Recruited into a tenured position with only a master’s degree in communication, Churchill has followed an exceptional path to academic prominence; even so, he is not at all unusual, and as an example of academe’s increasingly unapologetic ideological tilt, he is far from alone. (1)
But they never can show that “he is not at all unusual.” Or, at least, they don’t in this study. All they do is go on to cite one of their own studies which, if as sloppy as this one, deserves as little respect as a source.

The “study” itself is rather poorly structured. According to the report itself:

we examined publicly available department websites, on-line course descriptions, electronic course syllabi, and faculty home pages in a wide range of liberal arts disciplines. (2)
In a day when a great deal more information is readily available, none was used. This is a sign of quick and sloppy “research” aimed to prove a belief rather than of real research. There is no real methodology here, either, just nebulous “examination.”
In course after course, department after department, and institution after institution, indoctrination is replacing education. Encouraging students to think independently has been too often supplanted by the impulse to tell them what to think about some of the most pressing issues of our day. (2)
Yet how many courses did they look at? 4, a Penn State, out of the thousands offered.

What follows is nothing more than a listing of classes and institutional procedures that the study’s authors object to. There is no quantitative analysis backing up any of the claims made. In other words, there is no “study” here at all, simply selected courses that, for one reason or another, aren’t in keeping with the authors’ idea of what should be offered.

Though the study never establishes that there is a problem of indoctrination in American universities—merely that there’s an extremely wide range of courses offered (especially if one remembers that this is a look at a wee percentage, at best), it includes a section “What Is To Be Done?”—as though a broken system had been proven. Ah, but wait! Do they even have suggestions?
All Americans—whether on the left, right, or in the center—should be outraged by the onesided, doctrinaire perspective that, too often, today defines the college experience. While the work of correcting the current situation rests first of all with faculty and administrators, governing boards have the ultimate responsibility for maintaining an intellectually vibrant atmosphere on campus. Trustees—many of them public officials who have a legal obligation to ensure that their institutions of higher learning are dedicated to valid educational ends—must take steps to guarantee a proper balance between students’ academic freedom to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach, research, and publish. Post-tenure review—with appropriate rewards and sanctions—is one means by which institutions should make sure that professors are doing their jobs with integrity. (22)
Guess not. Well, they do come up with a few generalities:
Colleges and universities should also consider conducting a self-study to assess the atmosphere in their classrooms. They should review hiring and promotion practices to ensure that scholarship and teaching—not ideological litmus tests—are the foundation for lifelong job security. They should insist that faculty members be hired only after their scholarship is reviewed for accuracy, impartiality, and probity. They should use visiting professors to enhance intellectual diversity. They should reward departments for improving disciplinary and viewpoint diversity. (22)
But guess what? That’s pretty much what goes on now.

The Foreword says that, as:
we contend in the following pages, the solution is not to fire professors who express extreme views, but to expose them, to compel them to defend their positions, invite them to debate ideas, and, above all, to insist that they do their job of teaching students well and empowering them to make up their own minds. (ii)
As everything the “study” talks about is already publicly exposed (remember, this is a study showing precious little research), even that can’t really be seen as a “solution”—even if there were a problem.

What, then, is the point of this “study”?

I can think of one only: intimidation. This “study” is part of a movement by the American right to whip up mindless fear over what is going on in American institutions of higher learning so that they can be forced to toe a conservative line rather than, as they do today, encouraging a wider range of thought and exploration than can be found anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hugh Thompson and the Heroes (?) of Haditha

As we learn more about what happened in Haditha (and probably about events elsewhere, even as soldiers at Ishaqi are cleared, even as we consider Abu Ghraib), we need to remember that only a very few American soldiers are deserving of our contempt (the chain of command? Well, that’s another thing). Many more act heroically and compassionately—and we should never forget them.

I don’t know where Time got its initial information about Haditha, from an American or an Iraqi, but I am sure there were those within the military who were as horrified by the incident as the public is now—and who were disgusted by the attempt to cover it up.

Much is being made of the memory of that greater massacre at My Lai in March of 1968 in the discussions of Haditha. Little mention is being made, unfortunately, of the heroic actions of Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson who, with his crew, tried to stop the massacre and even threatened to shoot American soldiers if they didn’t cease the slaughter. He had previously reported back to brigade headquarters telling what was going on but, seeing the destruction just continue, decided (with his crew) to take matters into his own hands:
Thompson, by now almost frantic, saw bodies in the ditch, including a few people who were still alive. He landed his helicopter and told Calley to hold his men there while he evacuated the civilians. Thompson told his helicopter crew chief to "open up on the Americans" if they fired at the civilians. He put himself between Calley's men and the Vietnamese. When a rescue helicopter landed, Thompson had the nine civilians, including five children, flown to the nearest army hospital. Later, Thompson was to land again and rescue a baby still clinging to her dead mother.
Here are some of Thompson’s own words:
We came across a ditch that had, I don't know, a lot of bodies in it, a lot of movement in it. I landed, asked a sergeant there if he could help them out, these wounded people down there. He said he'd help them out, help them out of their misery, I believe. I was . . . shocked, I guess, I don't know. I thought he was joking; I took it as a joke, I guess. We took off and broke away from them and my gunner, I guess it was, said, "My God, he's firing into the ditch." We'd asked for help twice, both times--- well actually, three times by then, I guess--- every time that people had been killed. We'd "help these people out" by asking for help.

Sometime later, we saw some people huddle in a bunker and the only thing I could see at that particular time was a woman, an old man, and a couple of kids standing next to it. We look over here and see them and look over there and see the friendly forces, so I landed the helicopter again. I didn't want there to be any confusion or something; I really don't know what was going on in my mind then.

I walked over to the ground units and said, "Hey, there's some civilians over here in this bunker. Can you get them out?" They said, "Well, we're gonna get them out with a hand grenade." I said, "Just hold your people right here please, I think I can do better." So I went over to the bunker and motioned for them to come out, everything was OK. At that time I didn't know what I was going to do, because there was more than three or four there, more like nine or ten or something like that. So I walked back over to the aircraft and kind of kept them around me and called the pilot that was flying the low gunship and said, "Hey, I got these people here down on the ground, and you all land and get them out of here." So he agreed to do that, which I think was the first time a gunship's ever been used for that. There's enough of them there that he had to make two trips and he picked them up and took them about ten miles or so behind the lines and dropped them off.

A short while later we went back to the ditch. There was still some movement in there. We got out of the aircraft and Androtta, my crew chief, walked down into the ditch. A few minutes later he came back up carrying a little kid. We didn't know what we were gonna do with this one either, but we all get back in the aircraft and figure we'd get him back to the orphanage or hospital back over at Quang Ngai. In examining him in the aircraft that day, the kid wasn't even wounded, or we didn't see any wounds, I'll put it that way. He was covered with blood, and the thought was going through my mind and my crew's mind, "How did these people get in that ditch?"…

It was probably one of the saddest days of my life. I just could not believe that people could totally lose control and I've heard people say this happened all the time. I don't believe it. I'm not naive to understand that innocent civilians did get killed in Vietnam. I truly pray to God that My Lai was not an everyday occurrence. I don't know if anybody could keep their sanity if something like that happens all the time. I can see where four or five people get killed, something like that. But that was nothing like that, it was no accident whatsoever. Pure premeditated murder. And we're trained better than that and it's just not something you'd like to do.
As Seth Lipsky wrote about Thompson in a review of a 1999 book about him, he “saved the honor of his country.”

Thompson died in January of this year, fortunately leaving us before revelation of this smaller, though certainly tragic, event at Haditha. In its obituary of Thompson, The New York Times pointed out some what happened to Thompson after the fact:
Mr. Thompson remained in combat, then returned to the United States to train helicopter pilots. When the revelations about My Lai surfaced, he testified before Congress, a military inquiry and the court-martial of Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the platoon leader at My Lai, who was the only soldier to be convicted in the massacre.

When Mr. Thompson returned home, it seemed to him that he was viewed as the guilty party.

"I'd received death threats over the phone," he told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" in 2004. "Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up. So I was not a good guy."
The hero of My Lai was treated as a villain.

Which is probably one of the reasons we will never know who had the guts to tell this new story—though we should.

And we should honor them, just as much as we should revile any soldier who deliberately kills a civilian.