Deja Vu ads under irrational attack

By Elisabeth Carnell

“As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible
to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends.”
– Jeremy Bentham

Who should decide what the
Western Herald prints? If the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society had
its way, it would be the sole arbiter of what is and is not politically
correct for the Herald to print.

This week the BCRS will hold
a protest against the Herald’s continued publication of ads for
Deja Vu, and will meet with the Herald board in an attempt to
convince the board to stop publishing these ads. Anyone who believes Western
Michigan University needs an independent newspaper must oppose these efforts
to censor.

The Herald is more than just
a newspaper – it is the only news source and public forum most students
have for information on WMU. No other newspaper or television news program
covers events at WMU with the depth and consistency that the Herald
does.

As such, the Herald
is a prime target for those who would like the paper to reflect their
narrow beliefs rather than the wide range of opinion represented on a
campus as large as WMU.

If they succeed in eliminating
a viewpoint from the Herald, they succeed in virtually eliminating
it for the entire student body.

This has dangerous implications
which the BCRS has not fully considered. They believe the way Deja Vu
depicts women is offensive. Many students on this campus, however, believe
positive images of gays and lesbians are offensive, and several of them
wrote in recently to voice their displeasure at the Herald’s coverage
of gay and lesbian student activities.

What is to stop these students
from demanding the Herald stop covering gay and lesbian events?

If the Herald board is willing
to get rid of Deja Vu ads because they offend the BCRS, how would it defend
itself if other student groups demanded that stories and ads featuring
gays and lesbians be removed because they are offensive?

Speech that people find offensive
is exactly the kind of speech that needs special protection.

Non-controversial speech and
non-offensive speech need no protection – no one will show up at Herald
board meetings to ask that ads for financial aid stop running.

It is only when speech is
potentially offensive that one person or another will stand up to ask
that it be censored.

If a newspaper acquiesces
to demands, however, it will soon find itself in a precarious position,
because almost all speech is potentially offensive to someone.
Imagine trying to produce a
newspaper that would never offend any of the thousands of WMU students,
each with their own interests and political and religious beliefs. It
would be impossible.

This should be readily apparent
to a group such as the BCRS, which claims to be acting on behalf of women’s
interests. Historically, women have been victimized by policies that kept
issues important to women outside of traditional forums.

Feminists fought to get their
viewpoints included in traditional media, while the BCRS’ efforts represent
the failed ideas that kept women silent for centuries.

At this point some members
of BCRS offer what they think is a way out – Deja Vu engages in “pornographic”
speech, and this causes violence against women.

Deja Vu ads, then, constitute
a special category that causes harm to women. Unfortunately there isn’t
a shred of evidence to back up the claim that “pornographic”
speech causes any harm to women.

No researcher has been able
to find this mythical causal link between “pornography” and
violence, because it simply doesn’t exist.

In her book, Sex and Sensibility:
Reflections on Forbidden Mirrors and the Will to Censor
, Marcia Pally
concludes her exhaustive look at studies into the relationship between
“pornography” and violence by noting there is no credible evidence
linking the two.

It’s not surprising most of
the “feminists” advocating censorship of sexually suggestive
speech usually draw on resources such as the Meese Pornography Commission’s
report.

It’s the height of irony that
purportedly progressive advocates find themselves in bed with the most
reactionary element of the Reagan administration.

Of course two female members
of the Meese Commission, Judith Becker and Ellen Levine, became its sharpest
critics and strongly dissented from the commission’s conclusion that “pornography”
contributed to violence.

Without a link between “pornography”
and violence, all the BCRS has left is to ask the Herald to enshrine
its particular interpretation of Deja Vu and its ads into Herald
editorial policy.

Reasonable people, however,
can and do disagree about this interpretation. If the Herald
allows specific ideological judgments about events to govern its editorial
policy, it will be in serious trouble indeed.

Controlling female sexuality wrong

By Elisabeth Carnell

Opponents of Deja Vu ads in
the Western Herald repeatedly claim they act in the best interest of “our
community.” But instead, they attempt to transform Western Michigan
University into a place hostile to those who disagree with their agenda.

Like all patriarchal movements,
the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society seeks to institutionalize limits on
women’s activities and speech, and then ostracize those who refuse to
conform to its image of “womanly” behavior.

Although the BCRS is allegedly
a “progressive” group, its agenda is every bit as paternalistic
and smothering as anything proposed by the Christian Coalition of the
American Family Association.

Despite the BCRS’ assertions
to the contrary, there is a paucity of credible evidence connecting sexually
explicit materials to violence against women. Not only are there few or
no demonstrated links between pornography and sexual violence against
women, as stated in a 1993 report by The National Research Council’s Panel
on Understanding and Preventing Violence, but researchers Larry Baron
and Murray Straus have found a negative correlation between pornography
and rape in some areas. Countries that have banned pornography, such as
Iran and Saudi Arabia, often have some of the highest rates of violence
against women. Countries where pornography is easily acquired, such as
Denmark and Germany, have extremely low rates of violence against women.

The BCRS seeks to solve the
social problem of sexual violence by controlling female sexuality. Like
the Victorians before them, the BCRS claims depictions and expressions
of female sexuality are responsible for rape, violence and a while host
of other social ills. It asserts that if all sexually suggestive images
of women can be expunged from the media, all will be well.

This ideological position
is extremely discomforting.

First, this makes me uncomfortable
as a woman because the BCRS furthers the “objectification” of
women’s bodies with its claim that sexually suggestive pictures of women
by definition objectify women. This is nothing more than a new way to
say men are incapable of seeing women as anything but sexual objects.
Rather than try to change the way men think, the BCRS wishes to change
the way women look, shifting the blame for rape and violence to women.

Just as men centuries ago
dismissed the woman who celebrated her sexually as a whore, negating any
other aspect of her personality, so does the BCRS deny the notion that
someone can view a sexually attractive woman and see her as a whole person.
This amounts to little more than a contemporary, politically correct version
of misogyny.

Second, this makes me uncomfortable
as a rape survivor because the BCRS perpetuates the myth that women want
to be raped by placing the blame for rape on the sexually explicit material
men read instead of on the men themselves. If this is true, however, why
would women consent to pose for these sexually explicit images? Why would
women allow this material to exist? The implied answer is that women who
pose for or defend these images must secretly want to be raped.

If it is these sexually explicit
images of women that are responsible for the sexual violence against women,
it must be women’s sexuality that is causing these helpless men to scour
the countryside raping indiscriminately. Need women be protected from
their own sexuality? Need men be protected from women’s sexuality?

The continuing problem of
rape is one of the biggest reasons to oppose the BCRS’ agenda. If the
BCRS convinces people that it is pornography, not men, that causes rape,
the issue of how responsible men are for rape becomes a real issue.

If viewing pornography causes
men to view women as mere objects to rape, it becomes difficult to hold
individual men responsible for their actions. Already, feminist scholars
such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon have moved to theories
of crime that deny that men are responsible for such acts.

I am outraged by this attempt
to shift the responsibility from the perpetrator of the crime to a non-proven
causal agent. It is not the women in magazines or on stages that raped
me. It is not a newspaper that ran a Deja Vu ad or a videotape that raped
me.

It is those individual men
who are responsible for their actions, it is those men who raped me.

Punish crime, not speech.

Punish rapists, not women.

Alexander Cockburn, Left Wingers, Right Wingers and Libertarianism

As a former leftist who now considers himself a libertarian, I was fascinated to read Alexander Cockburn’s musings on whether the whole Left/Right dichotomy makes any sense any more. Cockburn’s article, “Life and Libertarians: Beyond Left and Right,” was occasioned by an invitation to speak at Antiwar.com’s recent national conference. Antiwar.com is, as the name suggests, an anti-war organization that is decidedly libertarian in orientation.

Cockburn reports that he got some angry e-mails from some Leftists folks who didn’t approve of Cockburn speaking at an event that Pat Buchanan (who opposed both the Kosovo intervention and the Persian Gulf War) was speaking at. Cockburn’s reply to one of these critics is a succinct, “I don’t mind sharing a conference schedule with someone who opposes war on Serbs and on Iraqi kids.”

Cockburn’s article is interesting because he is the exception to the rule that currently plagues much left (and right) politics – he is an independent thinker who doesn’t blindly insist on separating everything into these silly categories. Even I was surprised, for example, to see Cockburn lending support to the Fully Informed Jury Association, which believes juries have the right to judge the law as well as the facts of a case. As Cockburn notes, most people on the Left tend to see jury nullification as a tool of white racists, although it has a long history supporting freedom and liberty going back to before the existence of the United States and played an important role allowing northern juries to set fugitive slaves free (the juries rightly deciding that regardless of the merits of the case, fugitive slave laws were simply wrong).

Cockburn could have just as easily added that most conservatives also aren’t very fond of FIJA because they see jury nullification as the tool of liberal extremists who want to avoid sending young men and women to jail for years for possession of an outlawed chemical substance.

An anecdote Cockburn tells of wanting to go see a weekend event called “Gunstock” a few hours away from me in Detroit reminds me of what originally alienated me from much of the Left. A friend of Cockburn’s described Gunstock as people who hate the United Nations and are in favor of guns, and was horrified that Cockburn still wanted to visit the show. When he wrote a column for The Nation suggesting Leftists take to gun shows with their copies of The Nation and talk to these folks, the idea wasn’t very well received to say the least.

One of things I most vividly remember about protesting the Persian Gulf War was the rather general arrogance of my (then) fellow Leftists students and others who basically believed they had the Solution and could not understand why others disagreed with them. I remember distinctly a fellow protester explaining to me that he believed our protests were all futile – nothing would change until some sort of apocalyptic act brought down the entire capitalist structure. No wonder nobody was listening to us.

But the issue I really want to address what Cockburn says toward the end of his article – just how far can libertarians and leftists unite on the anti-war platform.

So, my libertarian friends, at what point do you get off the train? You say, ‘we like corporations, the right for people to associate and form a corporation and issue publicly held stock and maximize profits. This is part and parcel of the economic package we favor.’ Then you have to do battle with leftists, those who say corporate greed will lead to war and waste.

Libertarians will leave the Left precisely where they leave the Right – when the conversation turns to using the power of the state to interfere with free association. The Right insists on using the power of the state to enhance some corporations at the expense of the rest of us. This is wrong. The Left, on the other hand, wants to the use the power of the state to render corporations largely impossible. This is wrong, also. Despite what many Leftists seem to think, most libertarians don’t want to become faceless drones working in enormous corporations. We believe that the current system of corporate/government control is due precisely to the failure of the government to remain a neutral party in associations, and many of us suspect that in large measure the corporate system wouldn’t survive a return to true neutrality, but would be replaced by something better that none of us can foresee. But we’re not prepared to use the power of the state to force that vision down the throats of Americans.

Take Pentagon spending. Is the economy basically underpinned by Pentagon spending, defense spending, and has been ever since 1938-roughly when the New Deal failed, which it did, effectively.

On Pentagon spending, your friends on the Left tend to be bald hypocrites. On the one hand Pentagon spending is supposed to be an unmitigated horror. On the other hand, people like Barbara Ehrenreich throw out the creation of the Internet, motivated in large measure by military needs, as conclusive proof of the need for government programs. Which is it? Is massive government spending a panacea or is it an unmitigated disaster”? It would be nice if the Left could make up its collective mind. For libertarians, the answer is relatively straightforward. Pentagon spending should be chopped to the bare minimum needed for defense of the country. We shouldn’t be financing a globe trotting army and wasting billions to starve children in Iraq.

On this and a wide range of issues, in fact I think there is possibility for a lot of cooperative working together , but it will require overcoming a lot of misconceptions and, occasionally, animosity. A couple years ago, I was part of a group at the university I work at that held a hugely successful daylong protest in favor of marijuana legalization. To pull the event off required a coalition of libertarians, environmentalists and leftists. There was certainly no love lost between myself and the environmentalists groups as we had clashed repeatedly over various issues for several years. Yet we were able to put those animosities and disagreements aside for this cause. (On the other hand the Free Tibet student group, run by leftists, wanted nothing to do with us libertarians.

Before I end, let me suggests another area where Leftists and libertarians should have a lot of agreement – speech issues. Unfortunately, the idea of free speech is under constant assault by both the right and the left. A few years ago I saw a protest on campus that confirmed my worst fears. There was the most prominent lefty professor and many of his students walking hand in hand with conservative right wingers to protest ads for a local strip club that appear in the student newspaper. They were chanting, “You say free speech, I say free woman.” More and more I see leftists turning away from the free speech absolutism that attracted me to left wing politics in the first place, and instead justifying restrictions on speech provided they harm only corporations. I keep reading ridiculous claims even in magazines like The Nation that associations of individuals, such as corporations, simply don’t have free speech rights (one wonders how these folks will react when conservatives propose restricting the speech of Planned Parenthood on precisely these grounds).

So why not more alliances between libertarians and independent-minded leftists? After we’ve made the world safe from Pentagon spending, corporate welfare, censorship, capital punishment and a whole host of other issues, then we can happily move on to fighting amongst each whatever issues are left over.

Does Anybody Believe In Free Speech Anymore?

       Once in awhile somebody sends
me an e-mail asking something like “what made you become a libertarian?”
My answer is simple – libertarians are the only group I know who actually
take the idea of free speech seriously. For the traditional left and the
right, supporting free speech often seems to be largely a political act
– to be against freedom of speech is like being against Mom or apple pie,
but in the end neither group has much of a problem compromising free speech
for their own ends.

       On the right, a prime example
of this is the regular efforts to abridge the First Amendment by making
it illegal to deface the American flag. At the moment I have two flags
squirreled away in a closet – one I received at the death of my grandfather,
who served in World War II, and the other I received at the death of my
father, who won a Silver Star in Vietnam. They fought for freedom, not
to treat those whom they might vehemently disagree with as criminals.
To ban the burning or other defacing of the American flag is so absurd,
it is something that reads like a scene out of Alice In Wonderland.

       Not that the left tends to
be any better. Having finished college not too many years ago and working
at university at the moment, IÂ’ve been always been a bit shocked at left
wingers who like to pretend that “political correctness” is a right wing
myth that doesn‘t exist outside of the minds of paranoid conservatives.
The recent McCarthy-like treatment of an University of Oklahoma professor
amply illustrates the Cold War-like persecution of any sort of dissenting
views from the right on AmericaÂ’s campus.

       This controversy started after
a female student wrote an opinion column in the student newspaper saying
that, “Easy access to a handgun allows everyone in this country . . .
to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want.” In response
to this, David Deming, associate professor of Geology and Geophysics,
replied in a letter to the editor that “[The female writer’s] easy access
to a vagina enables her to quickly and easily have sex with as many random
people as she wants . . . and spread venereal diseases.”

       For his reductio ad absurdum,
students filed more than twenty sexual harassment complaints against Deming
and the Dean of the College of Geosciences, John T. Snow, blasted Deming
in a letter that accused him of, among other things, lowering morale in
the department and upsetting the university president. In typical politically
correct form, that very letter urged Deming to “show due respect for the
opinions of others.” Apparently Snow, like some of the students at Oklahoma,
is unable to actually consider the arguments he uses but rather just repeats
them as simple platitudes.

       The Supreme Court recently
made both left and right wing activists happy ruling that a ban on nude
dancing does not violate the First Amendment. According to the Supreme
Court, a law requiring erotic dancers to wear pasties and a g-string doesnÂ’t
interfere with the conveyances of their message and so is not inconsistent
with the First Amendment when such a ban also serves an important public
interest (in this case reducing crime and other problem associated with
such establishments).

       The error is the same whether
the limitation on speech is made in the name of the left, the right or
a vague “public interest.” Free speech is a fundamental human right,
not some building block to be tinkered with and limited and expanded as
the state may see fit. The only time speech should ever be limited by
government is when it is necessary to do so to prevent direct, immediate
physical harm to people (such as ordering a trained guard dog to “kill.”)
If it canÂ’t meet that test (which bans on flag burning, reductio ad absurdum
arguments, and completely nude dancing all fail), no interference with
speech should go forward.

The FDA Should Bring More Choice to the Prescription Drug Market

Should it be illegal to sell
cars because some drivers will inevitably choose to drive while intoxicated?
Should the government force glue manufacturers to withdraw their products
becomes some people will hurt themselves sniffing glue to get high? If
the Food and Drug Administration had jurisdiction over cars and glue,
these scenarios just might happen — so far this year, the FDA already
removed two popular, effective drugs because too many doctors and patients
were not using the drugs according to the instructions provided by manufacturers.

Rezulin, a drug produced by
Warner-Lambert, helped patients regulated their diabetes. Patients who
before were injecting themselves with insulin several times a day could
reduce their injection schedules to nice a day. Unfortunately, Rezulin
has a well-documented serious drawback — it can cause liver damage. To
prevent this, the materials Warner Lambert ships with Rezulin and which
it and the FDA have sent to doctors repeatedly, recommends all patients
get a baseline liver screen and then monthly liver monitoring at least
through the first six months of taking the drug.

The result — by and large
the instructions have been ignored. An FDA study found that fewer than
10 percent of patients taking Rezulin were given the full regimen of liver
monitoring. As a result the FDA concluded that the drugs risks more than
outweighed its benefits and forced Warner-Lambert to remove the drug from
the U.S. market.

Much the same thing happened
with Johnson and Johnson’s heartburn medication, Propulsid. LIke many
medications, Propulsid’s label lists a variety of side effects and warns
about potential risks when the drug is taken by people with various medical
conditions. Again, though, these warnings were largely ignored. An FDA
study of 270 adverse events involving Propulsid, including 70 deaths,
found 85 percent of the adverse events occurred in patients with medical
conditions mentioned as risky in the label. As with Rezulin, the FDA decided
to take Propulsid off the market.

The FDA did something similar
last year with a powerful analgesic designed for use in operating rooms
after surgery. The drug in that case was extremely effective, but if taken
for any long period of time could cause kidney failure. The instructions
with the drug clearly stated the drug was to be prescribed only for short
one to two week intervals. Instead doctors ignored the warnings and wrote
6 month and even year long prescriptions. After several people died from
prolonged use of the drug, the FDA pulled it off the market.

Is this a sensible way to manage
the regulation of prescription drugs? In effect, the FDA is setting the
risk threshold at the lowest common denominator of patient behavior. The
satisfied, responsible users of Rezulin, Propulsid and other drugs are
largely ignored while those who choose to ignore FDA and drug manufacturers’
warnings are allowed to drive the drug approval process. What sort of
screwy system denies some patients important medications due entirely
to the recklessness of other patients and doctors?

       The optimal solution — get
rid of the FDA and rely on private agencies to certify medications —
is politically untenable at the moment, but there is another option to
increase patient choice while relying on government to protect folks from
themselves. Although the situation varied widely decades ago, today all
the major Western industrial nations rely on very similar methods to certify
drugs as safe and efficacious. Today the main factor that keeps a drug
approved from being approved in all countries is not differing safety
and efficacy data, but rather different ways of interpreting that data
and judging risks and benefits.

Americans should have the best
of both worlds — the FDA should allow the import and sale of any prescription drug approved for sale in modern, industrialized nations.
There’s no reason an American citizen should have to travel to Europe
to buy a drug that’s approved for sale there but not here. To appease
the public health folks, the government could require that all patients
prescribed such medication be informed by both a doctor and a label on
the prescription bottle that the medication has been approved by a foreign
drug agency but not by the FDA.

Thankfully, in the United States
people have relatively more choice over health care than anyplace in the
world. Don’t want to be revived by extraordinary measures if you’re on
the verge? Just fill out a do not resuscitate order. Want to donate a
kidney to the next door neighbor kid who needs a transplant? Not a problem.
Surely if healthy people can decide for themselves to give an organ or
decide not to receive life saving treatment, those some people can decide
for themselves whether the risks of taking Rezulin or Propulsid outweigh
the benefits.

If the FDA really wanted to
improve American’s health, it could start by giving them more choice over
the prescription drugs they can take.

Why all the furor over "Got…Beer?!"

    People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals suffered one of its worst public relations disasters after
running up against another popular non-profit – Mothers Against Drunk
Driving. PETA decided to run ads aimed at college students claiming that
beer is healthier than milk. A press release announcing the campaign even
noted “PETA is giving away bottle openers that say, “Drinking Responsibly
Means Not Drinking Milk – Save a Cow’s Life.”

    This quickly brought the wrath
of MADD and other anti-drunk driving activists. According to MADD, the
advertisements would likely encourage underage drinking. “We’re very concerned
and appalled with it for the simple fact that underage drinking is the
number one drug problem among American youths,” said Teresa Hardt, spokeswoman
for MADD. Bruce Friederich and others tried to do some damage control.
“College students are savvy,” Friederich said. “Nobody’s going to put
beer on their Cheerios or get drunk and drive as a result of our campaign.”

    For once I found myself on
Friedierich’s side of the aisle, but it was hard to find too much sympathy
for his position. After all, MADD was successful by turning PETA’s brand
of sanctimonious rhetoric back on that group. Were PETA’s ads really likely
to increase drinking by college students? That is such a nonsensical claim
I can’t believe MADD actually made it with a straight face (is MADD going
to rewrite history and ignore the fact that the precursor to beer first
came into widespread use precisely as an efficient store of calories?)
But MADD’s anti-alcohol hysteria is no more bizarre than Friedrich trying
to convince us that Jesus was a vegetarian or Ingrid Newkirk likening
the killing of chickens for food to the Holocaust.

    Moreover there is a more serious
problem – why beer? The upshot of this controversy seems to be that serious
media attention and moral sanction from other public groups will occur
only when PETA makes the mistake of crossing some oddly placed line and
comes into conflict with another politically correct cause. Say beer is
better than milk and Newkirk and Friedrich incur the wrath of numerous
newspapers and television shows. Say that researchers sent razor blades
and death threats get what they deserve, and the silence is deafening.

    The fact that PETA was handing
out beer bottle-shaped bottle openers that said “Drink responsibly. Don’t
drink milk.” was featured in a story on the controversy placed prominently
in my local paper. The March 13 torching of Kickapoo Fur Foods in Wisconsin
(just across the lake from here) by the Animal Liberation Front didn’t
rate even a single sentence.

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