Sunday, May 06, 2007

After Imus: No more witch burnings for PC offenses

Don Imus, Bernard McGuirk, Trent Lott, Larry Summers, the Duke lacrosse team, Jimmy the Greek, the kid who yelled "water buffalo" at Penn, Howard Cosell, Jon Stewart, Chief Illiniwek, Jackie Mason and "South Park" all have in common only one thing: They have not been Politically Correct. Some were brought down by it, and some have made a living from it. Today, there are people who even say that the satire on shows such as "South Park" or the "Daily Show" have made political correctness a harmless amusement. We have become so cool that we can simultaneously abide PC's merciless strictures against saying the wrong things about the right people even as we laugh at our subjugation to PC.

Despite the ironic mockery, political correctness still packs a punch. Say the wrong thing today and you can be gone tomorrow, your status as a top broadcaster, university president or politician obliterated. It happens in the small space of a sentence--defrocked, banished, gonzo. Outside a courtroom, I'm not aware of many other forces in American life that can do that.

Don Imus thought he had banked enough social capital to call black women "hos" for a laugh. Weirdly unplugged from the two-second tape delay in the back of his brain ("Don't do it"), he blurted something only black hip-hop singers get to say about black women.

In what for our time is the equivalent of burning witches, the broadcasting careers of Mr. Imus and of his producer Bernard McGuirk were then put to the torch. It took them about a week to die, but with Al Sharpton stoking the flames and the parsons of the press pouring on gasoline, they finally expired, allowing most of us to disperse back to jobs and careers whose abrupt termination generally requires a statutory felony rather than merely hurting someone's feelings.

Then last week the Imus incineration took an abrupt and unexpected turn: Russell Simmons, a famous hip-hop music promoter whose stature in recent years has swelled to cultural wise man, announced to the hip-hop "community" that it was time to retire the "h", "b" and "n" words. For the eight or nine Journal readers who don't listen to the rhymes of hip-hop, "b" rhymes with witch, and "n" rhymes with bigger.

Few would disagree that it would be a good thing if Don Imus became the last man in public to call a black woman a "ho." Few in the civilized world would miss hearing rappers rhyme women with "witch" and "bigger." And as a result, some would say, see, political correctness really does have its uses. It bans what nearly anyone would consider hateful, tasteless, insulting, abusive, disgusting language.

Right. That used to be known as good taste before the left delivered PC into the world. Over the years, political correctness has seemed to wax and wane, without ever disappearing. It was a relief when it offered a few laughs. What has never gone away, though, is the fact that ultimately political correctness is toxic.

Exhibit A is the Duke lacrosse team. Exhibit B is the annihilation of Harvard President Larry Summers. All the other exhibits are the forgotten professors, DJs and commentators whose jobs ended with a wrong phrase.

Duke was a particularly virulent strain of PC. It was breathtaking how fast the Duke incident broke into a politically correct scenario: privileged, women-baiting white males humiliate and assault a disadvantaged black female. Once rooted in the press, this "narrative" crushed the lives of the accused students, ruined the career of the team's coach and almost trumped the criminal justice system. For a falsity, that's pretty potent.

At a scholarly meeting two years ago, then-Harvard President Larry Summers suggested that women are underrepresented at the top of science and engineering because of what he described as the evidently more men than women who are "three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean." I recall back then reading the transcript of Mr. Summer's remarks, which is filled with caveats, obeisances, impenetrable prose and tangled logic. From this morass, it was possible to extract a big PC faux pas. But to think Mr. Summers was led from this turgid speech to the pyre, where his entire career as president of Harvard was immolated is, well, striking.

This is the way we live now: The only place where speech can occur without fear of job loss is on a cartoon show or in stand-up comedy. This means only the self-identified nuts can say what they want. Welcome to the asylum.

The left doesn't mind if comedians savage PC. So what? You get to laugh at the cartoon version but they use the real stuff to fire and eliminate whomever they wish. Thus do we all become their sheep.

Most people subscribe to the soft form of PC, which holds that the world will be a better place when we all have a little more equitable love in our hearts. Fine. But the hard form, played out at Duke and Harvard, is not about evening the odds; it's about exercising power, about reversing the odds. Thus, when a Larry Summers or Trent Lott trips up, the velvet glove of niceness comes off and the enemy is annihilated, abetted by a First Amendment media OK with executions for wrongful speech.

The result is that people sympathetic to PC's nominal goals are taken aback at its virulent results. Kind of like hip-hop. So in the spirit of Russell Simmons's overdue H-B-N ban, a proposed PC truce: Short of prosecutable acts, violations of PC should not lead to loss of livelihood. No more summary executions. No more firings. No more allowing the Al Sharptons to decide who makes a living and who doesn't. Don Imus is financially set, but not so the average college prof or schmo sports commentator. With this no-job-loss rule in place, Mr. Summers's enemies would have had to overthrow him on the merits of his presidency, not PC.

This won't solve all the depredations of political correctness, or its penchant for imposing lifelong stigma on offenders. But it would stop the zombies who serve as administrators, executives and advertisers from being instruments of career destruction. Sanctions or suspensions can be meted on a case-specific basis. "Nappy-headed hos" deserved at least a pistol-whipping.

Imus is hardly a casualty to mourn, but Duke was a PC travesty, which we shouldn't allow to slip down the memory hole. So was the Summers case. It's long past time to make political correctness politically correct.


TSA and Tyranny: Connecting the Dots

As with most bureaucracies, what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) claims to accomplish and what it actually does accomplish are entirely different things. The excuse it offers for patting us down and rifling our belongings at airport checkpoints is that these shenanigans protect us -- from terrorists, if not from sexual predators and thieves. In reality, the TSA exists to control us. Theory tells us that, and so do the facts when we connect several recent but isolated events.

First, the TSA's screeners have once again failed to stop undercover agents from smuggling fake weapons through their checkpoints. This is becoming so habitual that we should add it to death and taxes as life's only certainties. The TSA routinely flunks tests of its ability to intercept weapons. Flamingly. We're talking failure of 90 percent on those rare occasions when it isn't a full 100 percent.

The latest example comes from Denver International Airport. In February, federal investigators packed simulated explosives in their carry-on bags and taped fake improvised explosive devices (IED) to their bodies. Then they sashayed past the checkpoints: "In one test, sources told [Denver's TV] 9NEWS an agent taped an IED to her leg and told the screener it was a bandage from surgery. Even though alarms sounded on the walk-through metal detector, the agent was able to bluff her way past the screener." Overall, Denver International's warrantless searching failed to discover the counterfeit contraband an astounding 90 percent of the time.

Results at Newark International Airport were similar. Last October the team that stumped Denver's screeners pulled the same stunt in New Jersey. Newark especially resonates with Homeland Security types because one of the doomed flights departed from there on 9/11. Nevertheless, its screeners failed 20 of 22 tests, about the same rate as their cohorts further west.

But both Denver and Newark can preen in comparison to the 21 unnamed airports tested in March 2006. When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tried smuggling IEDs past their checkpoints, no screener anywhere detected even one.

Since 2002, when the TSA began operations, the GAO, the Department of Homeland Security, and even the TSA itself have tested airport screening hundreds of times. And the TSA has flopped hundreds of times. Its abysmal inability to do what it claims -- "We look for bombs at checkpoints in airports... [Yep, and that's all they do: they certainly don't find them]" -- is consistent. The TSA cannot and does not protect us.

What It's Really Up To

So why isn't it disbanded? Because the agency controls us far more effectively than it finds bombs. To wit: On March 29 Shane James Deighan "fled" the Lanai Airport in Hawaii when baggage screeners found 43 Hawaiian driver's licenses sporting "35 different names, addresses, and Social Security numbers" in his bag. Cops "tracked" him down the next morning. They "seized 19 credit cards, of which 11 matched one of the Hawaii driver's licenses, three other Hawaii driver's licenses, two Texas driver's licenses, three Social Security cards, two blank checks, one military identification and a Canadian birth certificate." He was arraigned on charges of forgery April 10.

Deighan isn't the only TSA victim facing imprisonment because of a warrantless search. Some will probably say, "Great! Looks like screeners caught an identity thief who's guilty as heck!" But should we also eviscerate the Fourth Amendment when passengers are carrying drugs the government doesn't like? Screeners groping Michael James Cade at San Jose International Airport claimed to find three pounds of methamphetamine on him. (Since the search took place in a "private screening area," away from witnesses, we -- and the judge hearing his case -- are taking the TSA's word on this.) Never mind the extremely thorny constitutional problem of rummaging for evidence without provocation or a warrant: Cade was charged in U.S. District Court.

Police must rejoice at airport screening. Hanging around checkpoints, waiting for "criminals" to come to them rather than chasing down alleys and streets, searching citizens without the bother and paperwork that warrants require certainly makes policing easier. And far less dangerous, too. But it's lethal to liberty. The list of items the state doesn't want us to have extends well beyond phony IDs and drugs to such innocuous things as bookmarks and money. That list will keep growing as the government does.

But the TSA has even more chilling uses. On March 1 Walter F. Murphy, the McCormick professor of jurisprudence emeritus at Princeton University and a Marine veteran, "tried to use the curb-side check in" when boarding a flight to Newark. He "was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. ...I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to ... American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked ... offered a frightening comment: `Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.' I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. `That'll do it,' the man said."

When confronted with these allegations, the TSA pooh-poohed the idea that it targets dissenters. Spokeswoman Ann Davis dismissed Murphy's trials as a case of mistaken identity due to his common last name. She added, "There has been a lot of speculation as to how individuals are placed on the No Fly list, but the only criteria [sic] is posing a risk to civil aviation or national security. Having certain political views is not going to result in placement on the No Fly list."

Really? Tell that to the other political dissidents the TSA has harassed. Indeed, intimidating troublemakers may be its most valuable service to the state, one that guarantees the TSA will be oppressing us for a long time to come. The TSA's dotty rules reassure some Americans. But connecting those dots reveals the outline of tyranny.


Is "Blame whitey" one of the world's greatest speeches?

We read some words of wisdom from Australian Leftist pundit and wealthy art collector Phillip Adams:

"Radio National [Part of Australia's Left-leaning public broadcaster, the ABC] invites listeners to name the greatest speech. Six thousand respond, their hundreds of nominations including Ronald Reagan, Yitzhak Rabin, William Pitt the Younger, Vaclav Havel, Bill Clinton, Salvador Allende, Mahatma Gandhi, Arundhati Roy and Thomas More.....

Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen discusses the impact of acoustics on a great speech, covering the range from the windblown Sermon On The Mount to sermons from amplified pulpits. Interestingly, his favourite speech is secular rather than sacred - Queen Elizabeth I's effort to her last Parliament in 1601: "Though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will love you better." And Jensen is deeply affected when re-reading Keating's address at Redfern: "I was amazed by its high moral purpose, ripping into our conscience and our hearts."

Judith Brett, professor of politics at La Trobe University, feels as strongly for the Redfern speech, while Carr's greatest enthusiasm is for Lincoln's second inaugural address.

The hall is hushed as I tear open the envelope announcing the top 10.

Tenth: Queen Elizabeth I's rallying of the troops at Tilbury on August 8, 1588, as the Spanish Armada approached. "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king."

Ninth: Gough Whitlam's dismissal speech, Parliament House steps, November 11, 1975.

Eighth: Henry V's St Crispin Day speech before the Battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare's Henry V. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Seventh: Earl Spencer's funeral oration for his sister, Princess Diana, September 6, 1997.

Sixth: John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, January 20, 1961. "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Fifth: Lincoln's Gettysburg address during the American Civil War, November 19, 1863. "Four score and seven years ago."

Fourth: Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches", June 4, 1940, to the House of Commons.

At Number Three: Paul Keating's Redfern address, December 10, 1992.

Number Two: Jesus's Sermon On The Mount, circa 27.

And the Oscar goes to. Martin Luther King for "I have a dream", August 28, 1963, in Washington DC.

I will not argue with nos. 1 and 2 -- though I myself would have put the wonderful Ronald Reagan's "Challenger" speech as no. 1 (it always moves me to tears when I read it) -- but I am quite disgusted by no. 3, a speech by that foul-mouthed past-master of Leftist abuse, Paul Keating. You can read the speech concerned here. It is just standard Leftist "blame whitey" crap. If it is a classic anything, it is a classic of talk being cheap.

Despite the fact that indigenous black Australians (Aborigines) are substance-abusers on an epic scale and often seem to be grossly lacking in any ability to think ahead about the consequences of their own actions, it is the fault of white Australians -- most of whom would never have even met an Aborigine -- that blacks find themselves in an undoubtedly bad state?

I grew up with Aborigines around and have repeatedly had them as tenants (what a "racist" thing to do!) so I do know the realities involved.

The logic of the Keating speech crumbles upon encounter with the most basic history. If the "dispossession" of their ancestors is the cause of the degraded state of Aborigines, how come:

1). The Anglo-Saxons did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Normans 1000 years ago? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually absorbed the Normans.

2). How come the Chinese did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Mongols nearly 1000 years ago? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually absorbed the Mongols.

3). How come the Germans did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Allied powers in 1945? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually emerged as German and as prosperous as they ever had been. Many of them even survived the gross oppression of Communism and emerged in a reasonably intact state.

And if "discrimination" is responsible for the degraded state of the Aborigines, how come the undoubtedly heavy discrimination that the Chinese and Jews endured in Australia up until relatively recently did not cause the Chinese and Jews to sink into hopeless and self-destructive apathy? Both groups are in fact extremely successful components of Australian society by almost any criterion you choose to name.

All my questions above have only one answer of course. Aborigines are DIFFERENT. All men are NOT equal. Whether the differences are due to culture or genetics need not concern us here. The point is that it is Aborigines who are responsible for the state Aborigines are in. It is not the fault of whites. If other ethnic groups have emerged from dispossession and discrimination in a flourishing state, it is not disposession and discrimination that is responsible for Aborigines being in a disastrous state. It is the Aboriginal difference that is responsible for the state that they are in, nothing else.

And perhaps most particularly to the point, decades of Left-inspired attempts to "help" Aborigines have clearly done more harm than good. Aborigines once had some dignity. Many of them have very little of that today. Is more of such deluded "help" needed?


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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