I can be neither with you nor against you

I’m intrigued by this Ann Althouse post that discusses a move to prosecute a number of pretty horrible high school bullies whose harassment may have led the bullied teen to take her own life.  While Althouse raises some great questions that must be considered, I’m mostly caught up by the comments, which quickly descend into an argument on “who’s side do you want to take.”  One commenter in particular constantly insists that he is “siding” with the girl who was bullied, in insisting that the other students should be prosecuted, and several commenters deride Althouse for even asking questions about what actual crime has been committed and what the practical implications of prosecution may be on other cases. 
In other words, for many, it’s not about what happened or what should happen, it’s about who was more deserving of your sympathies. 
Which brings me to this Silent Majority post on the ongoing case involving a fallen marine’s family’s suit against the dreadful Phelps Group for picketing his funeral.  The case was appealed to the 4th Circuit, which determined that the Phelps group, as distasteful as their message may be, are still entitled to their free speech rights, and a suit against them cannot stand.  As is often the case when a party loses a motion or appeal, the court ruled that the unsuccessful party, in this case the family, must pay the court costs.  (Note: this is different than paying all of the legal fees associated with the litigation, such as attorneys’ fees.  This only encompasses the fees required to bring the suit before  the court.) 
Southern man writes:
 This is a miscarriage of justice. The man lost his son in defense of this country and his reward was a group of degenerate reprobates celebrating his son’s death at the funeral. Seeking justice he filed suit and was again rewarded by being ordered to pay the legal fees for this group of morons. Justice is supposed to be blind not stupid. I would implore anyone with the means to donate to this cause.
 Unfortunately, here, the writer is demanding that justice be the exact opposite of blind.  He is asking that the court dismiss this most fundamental American ideal of freedom of speech, and instead choose the side of the party that deserves sympathy, the fallen solider’s family. 
I have nothing but the deepest sympathies for this family, and the greatest of admiration for their heroic lost son.  I don’t blame them for filing this suit; I understand why they did so.  The Phelps group are horrible, horrible people who do horrible things, and I cannot blame them for letting their grief and outrage trump their respect for freedom.  But, ultimately, the court must respect the freedom of all people, including those with whom we strongly disagree. 
Perhaps it helps to imagine it in different terms.  Let us say that you wrote a blog post, or a letter to the editor if you’re more comfortable with that, which harshly criticized a dead political figure.  Let us say that the family of that figure, outraged that you would demean their dearly departed, filed suit for their emotional pain from your critiques.  Their suit is dismissed, of course, on the grounds that you had and have freedom to state what you wish, even if it is harsh or unpleasant.  Especially if it is harsh or unpleasant.  The court costs must be paid.  Who should pay them?  Unless you chose to represent yourself, you have already been required to pay for an attorney to protect your rights, and you have certainly expended considerable time, energy, and stress over this case.  Should you, who were brough to court against your will, for a charge that was bogus, be required to pay the court costs?  I think not. 
Here, perpetrator may be different, the case is not.  The Phelps group, as disgusting as their message is, has a right to speak their peace.  We have a right to criticize them harshly for it.  Conservatives are fond of responding to complaints based on over-zealous political correctness with the admonition that there is no right to not be offended.  This remains just as true when the offense is real, and the offendee is wholly deserving of our sympathies. 
I side with Freedom, whoever’s side she winds up on. 

“We don’t have a religion of free speech”

Americans don’t usually draw that much of a distinction between the U.S. and Canada.  After all, we both speak English, it’s easy to travel back and forth between the same countries, and we even share a lot of entertainers.  The differences seem minute: a few cold weather sports, a penchant for saying “eh”, the metric system.  But the Canadians have one difference from the United States that is a long way from tiny.  They don’t believe in freedom of speech. 

Last week, famed conservative columnist and firebrand Ann Coulter was set to visit the University of Ottawa.  However, before she even set forth on Canadian soil, she was met with a warning.  Not a request to be nice or to avoid offense, but a warning based on the power of the law.  

Respect and civility are not bad things, but should they be enforced by threat of criminal charges?  The Canadians clearly believe so.  Notice the provost’s quotes around “free speech,” as if it is a quant concept that they don’t much buy into. 

The limits on freedom of speech did not end there for Ms. Coulter and the people who wished to hear her speak.  The federation of students barred a volunteer from putting up posters advertising her appearance.  Her appearance was ultimately shut down by the police, who, instead of protecting her and her rights, chose to allow the protesters and rioters to control who is allowed to speak. 

Ann Coulter is not the first to find herself on the wrong side of Canada’s restrictive speech laws.  In 2006, Mark Steyn wrote an article in MacCleans magazine titled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”  In American law, defamation, which is not protected by the First Amendment, only occurs if the speech in question is false.  This is not the case in Canada, where Mr. Steyn was brought up on defamation charges before the Orwellian named Human Rights Commission.  The charge: publishing anything that “discriminates against a person or group, or exposes them to hatred or contempt.”  Although the charges were ultimately dropped, Mr. Steyn was forced to devote many months to defending himself against real criminal charges for doing nothing more than expressing his opinion.  In Canada, the right not to be offended trumps the basic human right to free expression. 

Now, I happen to enjoy Ms. Coulter’s wit, although I understand that many of her comments sound ugly to those with little sense of humor.  I think Mark Styne’s writing is often nothing short of brilliant.  But, even for those who don’t, the good, freedom-loving American can start off with “I don’t agree with what that person says. . .” but finish with a strong defense of that person’s right to speak. 

In Canada, they value civility over our most basic freedom.  Susan Cole, from newspaper Toronto Now, explained in an interview with Fox News:

“We don’t have that same political culture here in (Canada)….We don’t have a 1st Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech”….

 “Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.”

Given the choice between freedom and civility, I’ll take freedom every time.

Am I my brother’s keeper? No, I am not.

A commenter on an earlier post made an argument criticizing my individual choice in entertainment with the question “At what point do we become our brother’s keeper?”  Back during the presidential campaign, then candidate Obama used this familiar biblical phrase in his famous speach on race, and he’s also been using it to push his version of healthcare reform and all measure of social welfare ideology.  It’s a phrase that is well known to the president, and it is certainly familiar to us all.  But what does it really mean? 

Surely most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with the story of Cain and Abel, children of God’s first human creations, and surely most Americans identify that phrase as having originated with their story.  As per the story, Cain, a “tiller of the ground,” brought an offering of fruit to the Lord, but brother Abel, “a keeper of flocks,” outshined him by bringing firstlings from his flock.  Envious of the favor bestowed on Abel, Cain killed him.  Hold on, here comes the good part:

 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “(L)Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

 10He said, “What have you done? (M)The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.

 11“Now (N)you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

That’s it.  As far as I can tell and as far as I can remember from all my years of Christianity, that is the extent of the biblical basis for that phrase that is so often used to chide us for failing to march to the beat of the nanny-state.  A man killed his brother, and he made a smart-ass remark about it when caught. 

Did God curse Cain because he failed to watch over his brother?  No.  Did He curse Cain because Abel was hungry and Cain failed to feed him, or because Abel was sick and Cain failed to provide him with government-mandated health coverage?  No.  There is simply no possible interpretation of this story that supports an idea that God was upset at Cain for doing any more than failing to refrain from killing his brother (and possibly for being a smartass about it). 

Jesus never instructed us to be our brother’s keeper.  God never instructed us to “keep” anybody, and we are not a species that thrives on being kept.  Jesus may have had a lot of other things to say, and show us, about helping others, but He never told us to keep anyone. 

Collectivists, socialists, and nanny-staters:  please stop abusing this quote.

Shoplifting: It’s not Prostitution!

Anglican priest Rev. Tim Jones has advised his congregation to shoplift

The Rev Tim Jones said in his Sunday sermon that stealing from successful shops was preferable to burglary, robbery or prostitution.

He told parishioners it would not break the eighth commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ because it ‘is permissible for those who are in desperate situations to take food that they might not starve’.

But his advice was roundly condemned by police and the local Tory MP. Father Jones, 42, was discussing Mary and the birth of Jesus when he went on to the subject of how poor and vulnerable people cope in the run-up to Christmas.

‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift,’ he told his stunned congregation at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York.

‘I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

‘I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

‘I would ask them not to take anymore than they need. I offer the advice with a heavy heart. Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift.

First question: If they are advised not to take more than they need, what does this have to do with the run-up to Christmas (which, while I love it, is completely about wants, not needs)? 

Second question: Did he mention anything about non-criminal options, such as offering to work for the church in exchange for charity, seeking out jobs that might otherwise appear below one’s dignity, or wise spending habits to ensure that you don’t get in trouble in the first place?  Maybe he did, and it just didn’t make the article.  I hope. 

Third question: Did he say anything about seeking forgiveness, and making up for these wrongs when you are able?  I can agree that stealing food is an acceptable alternative to starvation, but I think that, even so, the stealer should be sorry for the transgression and consider it a debt to be repaid, before one purchases, say jewelry or an I-pod. 

Rev. Jones also had a bit to say about society (bear in mind this is liberal, social-net savvy Britain, not the cold, evil U.S.):

‘Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt.

‘When people are released from prison, or find themselves suddenly without work or family support, then to leave them for weeks with inadequate or clumsy social support is monumental, catastrophic folly.

‘We create a situation which leaves some people little option but crime.’

The father of two, whose parish has a wide mix of social conditions, said his advice to people in dire circumstances is that ‘they should not hurt anybody and cope as best they can’.

He added: ‘The strong temptation is to burgle or rob people – family, friends, neighbours, strangers.

‘Others are tempted towards prostitution, a nightmare world of degradation and abuse for all concerned. Others are tempted towards suicide. Instead, I would rather that they shoplift.

‘The life of the poor in modern Britain is a constant struggle, a minefield of competing opportunities, competing responsibilities, obligations and requirements, a constant effort to achieve the impossible.

‘For many at the bottom of our social ladder, lawful, honest life can sometimes seem to be an apparent impossibility.’

I’m intrigued about the What Would Jesus Do aspects of this.  As far as I recall, Jesus never condoned stealing or compulsory “charity.”  He never called for a social safety net, nor can I think of any scriptural suggestions that stealing is acceptable. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  In fact, I’m hoping to start studying the Bible some next year in an effort to answer some of these questions.  But, to my understanding, we have a moral requirement to help those in need, but I know of nothing that says that we have a moral requirement to force, under threat of violence or by the trick of shoplifting, others to do so.

If you’re trying to parody anti-Semitism, consider me not getting the joke

I’ve been looking for avenues for writing beyond being just another WordPress blog, so I did some binging the other day and made a list of sites that were advertising for political writers.  (By the way, are we using “Bing” as an adjective yet?  I’ve been so tired of Google.) 

I came across several, a few which looked promising.  I also came across a site called “The Political Elite.”  The advertisment-post read as follows:

These are unpaid, yet rewarding opportunities. Writers may regularly submit their work on a variety of subjects to gain exposure for themselves as experts in their fields or to refer employers to professionally published examples of their writing to obtain positions as full-time, freelance, or syndicated columnists. Writers can show off the best examples of their writing to employers, families, or friends. In addition, authors can write about almost anything about politics.

we are not associated with any political organisation nor do we favor any over another. our main purpose is exposing any political drama. 

So, I added it to my list and went back to prepare to send in my work.  I haven’t really been considering the political leanings of the organizations I soliciting; you know me, I’m happy to discuss with anyone who can have a rational discussion, so I figured I’ll be happy to break down and analyze the differences with any sites that will have me.  Anyway, this ad stated that they are not associated with any political organization and just want to expose, so what was I worried about? 

But then, I clicked over to the main site, more just to see how often it was running and what kind of operation it looked like.  First post I see: “Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman: Senate to investigate Ft. Hood shooting.”  The post refers to Sen. Lieberman as “A key U.S.[ISRAEL] senator.” 

There is nothing in this post about Sen. Lieberman’s Judaism, or anything about Israel.  It isn’t even critical of the senator’s statement that they should investigate the Ft. Hood shooting.  It just bizarrely and blithely makes sure that you know that this is Sen. Lieberman’s defining characteristic by which he should be judged. 

Other samples:

 “Jewish Senator Lieberman: Billions of dollars for Israel But not a Dime for American Health Care

J Street- Progressive Zionists and an Anti-Apartheid Movement?”

and so on.

Obviously, I’m including the links for the sake of honesty in blogging; I’m not happy about providing them.  Can you imagine if a writer were to say, for example “Black President Barack Obama” or “Female Representative Michelle Bachman”?  It wouldn’t even prove a point, it would sound like a caricature of a racist or sexist, making fun of one who only looks at them through that lens.  It sounds like something that would appear in The Onion

But, apparently, this is the way someone out there thinks.  Jew = Bad, and that is all.  It’s so strange a concept to me that it almost seems funny.  But then not.  At all. 

I feel like I need to give my laptop a shower now.

Fascinating interview in American Spector with Matthew Continetti, writer of The Persecution of Sarah Palin

I was particularly interested in the discussion of how the media managed to paint an ordinary and extremely common religious belief, shared by Obama, Biden, and McCain, into some bizarre form of “Christianism” and the reaction of so-called feminists.  But read the whole thing.

Blasphemous? Really?

I just received an email from the Tennessee Republican Party, lamenting Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)’s idiotic remarks on healthcare reform.  It said, in part:

As some of you may already be aware, Democrat U.S. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) last night made the following statement while giving a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:

“This is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly!” (click here to view video)

Along with his blasphemous speech, Grayson used a series of charts to illustrate his point:

Now, I’ll be the first to say that Grayson’s statement was stupid, dishonest, unbecoming of a Representative, and simply uncalled for, but blasphemous?  Is there some definition of that word that I am not familiar with?