Every time I see someone online talking about the accuracy of traditional media vs. weblogs — and usually extolling the virtue of the latter — I think of Slashdot. A few errors could be forgiven, but often it seems like they actively try to avoid reading the actual articles that they post about and link to.
For example, Slashdot has a story on its front page that is headlined,
Circuit Court Okays Vote Swapping Site
The text of the post and the headline lead many of Slashdot’s readers to think that the 9th Circuit Court has ruled that it was legal for a web site to facilitate the trading of votes for Al Gore and Ralph Nader (the idea was that a Nader voter in Alabama would vote for Gore, and in exchange a voter in California — where Gore was going to win by a large margin anyway — would vote for Nader).
But the court said absolutely nothing in its ruling about whether or not what the web site did was legal. All it did was reinstate a lawsuit that the web site owner and the ACLU had filed against California’s Secretary of State, Bill Jones.
Jones threatened the web site with prosecution if it didn’t bring a halt to the vote trading. The web site and the ACLU in turn sued saying their First Amendment rights were violated. A lower court dismissed part of the lawsuit and found against the web site on another part.
All the 9th District Court did was reverse those decisions and told another lower court to take a fresh look at the lawsuit.
Yes, the details are buried at the bottom of the CNET story that Slashdot links to, but would it really kill Slashdot editors to read the whole story before posting?
It’s the sort of story the nuttier Christian fundamentalists are going to have a field day with — the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening a federal lawsuit against a Florida town that has posted signs forbidding Satan to enter.
The signs read,
Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis. Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens.
I just want to know how the ACLU plans to establish standing. Are they going to go into court and complain that Satan is feeling unfairly discriminated against? If Satan is in the United States, is he even here legally? Will the INS try to pick up Satan before he can testify in his defense?
The other thing I’ve been curious about is whether or not this ban applies to Satan’s minions. Maybe she’s got a point about Satan, but if she’s stopping all Satanic forces isn’t that supernatural profiling? (BTW, how come webloggers never have minions? I need to get me some minions!)
I love the ACLU — heck I’d even donate to them if they were willing to defend my right to own fully automatic weapons without a license — but sometimes you have to just let some nutbags be nutbags.
(BTW, I hereby declare that all claims that the tooth fairy may have over my dentition are hereby null and void. If I hear any flapping of wings near my pillow, I’m a comin’ out blastin!)
The Salt Lake Tribune ran a profile recently of a Utah group that calls itself Women for Decency. Formed earlier this year, the group campaigns against pornography, which its director, Janalyn Holt, seriously compared to the 9/11 terrorist attack. According to Holt,
The parallels between [smut and terror] are uncanny. Pornography destroys families. It’s not a one-time shot like an airplane flying into the World Trade Center. But little by little, blow by blow, it can be just as destructive. We are getting bombarded on all sides.
High on the list of pornographic publications that are terrorizing the United States are Better Homes & Gardens, which ran a Spiegel ad showing a woman leaning against a naked man, and, of course, women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan and In Style which are typically displayed at supermarket checkout counters. Women for Decency is participating in a nationwide campaign to persuade supermarkets to put covers in front of Cosmopolitan, Glamour and other magazines.
Women for Decency recently met with Utah’s porn czar, Paula Houston, who herself has been on the job for eight months now. What’s she been up to while drawing her $80,000 salary?
Aside from viewing a lot of pornography, Houston told the Associated Press that she’s fielded about 1,500 complaints about pornography. Most of the complaints, however, stem from advertisements and magazine covers. As an example, over 1,000 Utah residents signed an Internet petition against a Victoria’s Secret ad which featured a nude women strategically covering her breasts with her hands.
Legally, of course, Houston can’t do much about such vile filth, but like Women for Decency, she thinks that pornography kills families by spreading the idea that sex might occur outside of marriage,
It portrays a mindset that people buy into — of objectification, of not having a primary relationship. Pornography promotes free sex and that’s not good for marriages or families. I absolutely believe the only way to stem the tide is through grass roots efforts and understanding the law.
Meanwhile, Andrew McCullough, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, made the astute observation that, “She’s harmless enough, but it’s a terrible waste of taxpayer’s money. She is not doing anything important for society. She is making people feel good.”
Or, at least, trying to prevent people from feeling good.
Today I was laughing out loud at the media coverage of the 9/11 attack after CNN reported that Iranian hard liners were blaming the attack on Israel and chanting “Death to Israel.”
But comments by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on the terrorist attack are even more distressing to my mind than even the Palestinians and Lebanese celebrating the attacks.
Appearing on the 700 Club, Falwell said of the attack, “God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
To which Robertson replied, “Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven’t even begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Then Falwell really goes off the deep end (which is saying a lot given his previous statements over the years),
The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’
Sickening. Fortunately, Falwell/Robertson no more represent most Christian Americans than Osama Bin Laden represents mosts Muslims.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that Columbia University is apparently refusing to publicly defend its controversial sexual misconduct policy. The new policy completely strips persons accused of sexual misconduct of any meaningful rights and has garnered a lot of unfavorable publicity for the university.
On February 23, the Columbia University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union organized an event to discuss the policy. Along with opponents of the policy, such as Columbia Law professor Vivian Berger, the ACLU invited Charlene Allen, the administrator in charge of Columbia’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education, as well as representatives from the campus group that pushed for the new policy, Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER). SAFER declined the invitation, but Allen agreed to participate. Shortly before the event, however, Columbia issued a statement that Allen would not participate after all. Fox News recently aired a story about the policy, and again Columbia refused to comment on the policy.
FIRE’s Harvey Silvergate said,
Columbia cannot bear the public scrutiny. They didn’t show up at the ACLU event, nor for the television program, because there is no principled defense for their policy. How can they justify the stripping away of the due process protection deemed necessary for hundreds of years. HOw can they justify the stripping away of the due process protections deemed necessary for hundreds of years in a free and decent society? The policy is worthy of the kangaroo courts of the former Soviet Union, the current People’s Republic of China, or Spain under Franco. It is not worthy of a world-class class university in a free country.
A good insight into the sort of thinking that went into this policy was given last year by SAFER co-chair Sarah Richardson. Asked by a reporter about the rights of individuals accused of a crime, Richardson asked, “Why are we so concerned about the rapist?” Guilty until proven innocent is at the core of SAFER’s claims and the “justice” meted out by the Sexual Misconduct Policy.
If it weren’t for the feminist war on pornography, this web site probably wouldn’t
exist. Several years ago, feminists at the university my wife and I attended
at the time decided to target the student newspaper demanding that it stop carrying
advertisements for local strip clubs. The feminists were joined by several local
leftist activists and an odd mix of Christian conservatives from the community
who had long been trying to pass laws to ban pornography in the area.
Perhaps the most surreal scene I ever witnessed in college was watching these
feminist students marching arm in arm with extreme conservatives chanting, “You
see free speech, I say free women.”
Fortunately the feminists were routed, in no small part due to our efforts
and a hilarious conflict among the anti-pornography crowd. I had previously
made a presentation to the paper’s board of directors pointing out that the
paper ran numerous controversial ads and articles and if it caved in to pressure
from the anti-pornography groups it would soon find itself besieged from all
The anti-porn group proved this point when they finally addressed the board.
With about 20 or 30 people showing up to support the anti-porn position, the
chairman of the paper’s board pointed out an ongoing controversy in the paper
over abortion and said he didn’t want to be besieged by “pro-abortion” activists
demanding an end to pro-life articles or ads or vice versa. One of the feminists
in the crowd immediately objected to the term “pro-abortion” saying she preferred
to be called “pro-life”. Before the chair could finish his apology, the feminist’s
erstwhile conservative allies corrected the feminist, saying it was “pro-abortion” and while they were supposed to be making their case for getting rid of the
ads, they sat and fought amongst themselves about proper nomenclature for those
on opposite sides of the abortion issue. Needless to say with that example fresh
in their minds, the board voted down the proposal to get rid of the ads.
At the time my wife and I were mystified as to how feminists ended up taking
an anti-pornography position. Weren’t they aware of the history of the state
using censorship against women? Didn’t they see how limits on men and women’s
free expression undercut the dignity of the individual, which surely was at
the heart of any feminist view of politics? Had either of us read Nadine Strossen’s
excellent book on the anti-porn wars, Defending Pornography: Free Speech,
Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights, we would have better understood the
tragic and wrongheaded course that feminism, driven by its most radical elements,
has recently embarked on.
Solidly at the steering wheel are author Andrea Dworkin and University of
Michigan Law professor Catharine MacKinnon. As Strossen recognizes it is not
so much sexual speech that Dworkin and MacKinnon ultimately seek to banish,
though that is indeed one of their goals, but at a more basic level what Dworkin
and MacKinnon want to eradicate is heterosexuality itself.
This would seem absurd if they both hadn’t put themselves on record to this
effect on numbers occasions. As Dworkin puts it in one of her milder moments,
“It’s very hard to look at a picture of a woman’s body and not see it with the
perception that her body is being exploited.” Why? Because heterosexual sex
dehumanizes women and makes it all but impossible for anyone, man or woman,
to look at women as whole beings. As Dworkin sums up this view, “Physically
the woman in intercourse is a space invaded, a literal territory occupied literally;
occupied even if there has been no resistance; even if the occupied person said,
‘Yes, please, yes, hurry, yes, more.'”
Dworkin reels from the claims made by her opponents that she equates all heterosexual
sex with rape, but in doing so she is merely playing semantic games. Her work
is infused with the view that women are harmed by heterosexual sex, that they
can’t really consent to such sex and that heterosexual sex should be (must be)
transcended to move beyond the war against women — after all this is the same
Dworkin who once wrote that “unambiguous conventional heterosexual behavior
is the worst betrayal or our common humanity.”
MacKinnon has made similar statements, likening women who dare to disagree
with her to “house niggers who side with masters.”
Strossen thoroughly documents this anti-sex presumption throughout Defending
Pornography, though her presentation lacks a systematic look at Dworkin
and MacKinnon’s philosophy, which is one of the biggest general problems with
her book — she tends toward quick, scattershot effects with fact after fact
and quote after quote often without much to unify her efforts. Defending
Pornography could have benefited from another rewrite or two.
But Strossen does se through the current anti-porn effort. As she sums it
up, “We are in the midst of a full-fledged ‘sex panic’ in which seemingly all
descriptions and depictions of human sexuality are becoming embattled.”
The anti-liberal basis of radical feminism
Although she never delves very deep into it, Strossen also lays out the
case that radical feminism is fundamentally anti-liberal. By liberalism here
I mean a basic respect for the dignity and autonomy of the individual. To MacKinnon
and Dworkin liberalism is anathema — it is sleeping with the enemy.
This explains why the anti-porn feminists arrive at what seems to Strossen
and other observers a bald contradiction. On the one hand, radical feminists
maintain that American institutions are extremely patriarchal. On the other
hand, MacKinnon and Dworkin would grant that patriarchal state even more power
to censor women. Can these two views be reconciled? Strossen doesn’t seem to
think so, but in fact her own analysis reveals these two ideas are perfectly
First, it must be kept in mind that Dworkin and MacKinnon both reject liberalism
as itself patriarchal. Women who disagree with them are nothing more than brainwashed
collaborators who are acting against their own best interests. As Strossen documents,
MacKinnon has no problem arguing the legal system should treat women in the
same way that it treats children. Strossen thinks this view “presuppose[s] an
infantilized woman incapable of knowing what is in her own best interests, and
needing the protection of the state…,” which is a pretty good summation.
In fact co-opting the state is the only way Dworkin and MacKinnon will ever
be able to get very far in their war on heterosexuality. As they both recognize
there are too many female collaborators who claim they enjoy being heterosexual
for heterosexuality to simply disappear by itself. To really get anywhere will
require harnessing the state (most radical feminists nominally oppose “power” as a patriarchal male concept except when it can be used to further their
own political goals.)
Sometimes Strossen seems to get it and other times she seems to ignore this
possibility. She wonders, for example, why pro-censorship feminists focus on
pornography when there are plenty of examples of extremely sexist speech that
is not pornographic. But of course this is how radicals always get their ideas
accepted by the greater society — first they conceptualize some extreme version
of what they seek to abolish. Once they get wide agreement on that, they gradually
expand their definition of the social ill as far as they possibly can. Strossen
is incorrect to think that MacKinnon and Dworkin exempt non-pornographic sexist
speech — they simply are smart enough to know that the most likely way to get
their views embedded in laws is through an attack on pornography. Once erotic
images that show women in a “subordinate” position (which is how the duo define
pornography) are banned, the effort to go after non-erotic images that “subordinate” women would be the logical next step.
Strossen devotes a chapter to the area where, to date, the pro-censorship
feminists have been most successful — sexual harassment law. MacKinnon pioneered
sexual harassment law, of course, so it’s not surprising that it has begun to
incorporate her particular view of heterosexuality and sexual expression. As
Strossen writes, sexual harassment now includes a “misguided emphasis on sexually
oriented expression [that] has diverted the attention of policy makers from
sexist conduct to sexual speech, and has shifted their focus from gender-based
discrimination to sexual expression.”
Many sexual harassment policies, especially those used in academic institutions,
are quite clear that as Strossen puts it, “the mere presence of sexual words
or pictures in the workplace or on campus is somehow inherently incompatible
with women’s’ full and equal participation in those areas.”
Strossen includes an excellent chapter surveying the lack of evidence for
the claim that pornography causes or contributes to violence against women.
Of course as she also points out, most of the procensorship feminists aren’t
really concerned with empirical niceties. MacKinnon, for example, has retreated
to the position that no one has proven that pornography doesn’t cause
harm and so one can assume it is dangerous until proven otherwise, which is
a standard that could be used to ban just about anything.
Defending Pornography is an excellent, comprehensive look at the many
facets of the debate over pornography. Anyone who wants to find out how radical
feminists are trying to undermine the principle of free speech and inquiry through
their attack on pornography will find Strossen’s book a great place to start.