Sunday, July 04, 2010
Prominent Canadian Leftist's strange conception of free speech
Last March, when controversial American conservative pundit Ann Coulter first proposed to speak on the University of Ottawa campus, the school’s vice-president academic and provost, François Houle, sent an infamously smug, patronizing letter to Ms. Coulter, warning her to “educate” herself about what kinds of speech are and are not acceptable in Canada “before your planned visit here.”
He added a thinly veiled threat that “promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.” To avoid arrest or a lawsuit, he cautioned ominously, “weigh your words with respect and civility in mind.”
Now, thanks to an access to information request by The Canadian Press (CP), we have learned that U of O president Allan Rock, the former federal Liberal Justice minister — not Mr. Houle — was the force behind the intimidating email to Ms. Coulter.
The CP reports that the day before Mr. Houle’s message was sent to Ms. Coulter, Mr. Rock sent his own message to Mr. Houle instructing him to warn her of the potential for legal action should she go ahead with her planned address. In a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black, Mr. Rock wrote that “Ann Coulter is a mean-spirited, small-minded, foul-mouthed poltroon … ‘the loud mouth that bespeaks the vacant mind.’ She is an ill-informed and deeply offensive shill for a profoundly shallow and ignorant view of the world. She is a malignancy on the body politic. She is a disgrace to the broadcasting industry and a leading example of the dramatic decline in the quality of public discourse in recent times.”
A firestorm followed the release of Mr. Houle’s sneering email. He received hundreds of angry, often vicious emails. Dozens of newspapers, this one included, wondered about his fitness for the job a leading a university, which is supposed to be a sanctuary for free inquiry, not a shrine for the worship of political correctness.
Not once during the maelstrom heaped upon Mr. Houle did Mr. Rock step up and admit he was actually the person behind his vice-president’s correspondence. Indeed, the emails obtained by CP indicate that after criticism of the provost’s letter heated up, Mr. Rock — who as Justice minister for Jean Chrétien was responsible for such controversial legislation as the gun registry and divorce laws that force men to pay tax on the child support they send their ex-wives — considered making a public offer to Ms. Coulter to return to the university and speak. Such a move would have been self-serving, making Mr. Rock look like the defender of free speech, even though it was him all along who wanted to “chill” Ms. Coulter’s remarks.
Mr. Rock was not the only one hoping to intimidate the controversial writer into moving her speech off campus. Mr. Rock seems to have been acting on the request of Seamus Wolfe, Ottawa’s student federation president, who had posters for the Coulter event removed from student union property and who wrote to Mr. Rock urging that “you notify Ms. Coulter that she is not welcome on our campus, and that her event will not occur on uOttawa property.”
Of course, Messrs. Rock, Houle and Wolfe all would see themselves as champions of free expression, which highlights the danger posed by of hate-speech laws: They give intellectual cover to censorship by permitting politically correct persons simply to define any speech with which they happen to disagree as “hate speech.”
In this regards, perhaps most troubling was Mr. Rock’s instruction to Mr. Houle that the latter urge Ms. Coulter “to respect that Canadian tradition” of free speech “as she enjoys the privilege of her visit.”
Free speech is a right, not a privilege. The right to speak one’s mind did not descend from government or a university official. The world “privilege” implies a freedom that can be taken away at the pleasure of those in power or on the bench. By their nature, privileges cannot be bulwarks against the abuse of power.
For a former head of the Law Society of Upper Canada to have such a false concept of fundamental political rights is appalling. Indeed, it casts doubt on his ability to lead a university.
Britain's travesty of a justice system
The Tories are just as bad as Labour
What unites Michael Howard and Ken Clarke (and the Labour Party, and the Liberals) is that they wilfully don’t have a clue about crime or disorder. They wilfully know nothing about policing. They wilfully don’t understand what happens in prisons. They know that the truth is very Right-wing indeed, so they hide from it.
Deliberate ignorance is the essential qualification for all politicians, academics and ‘home affairs correspondents’, and civil servants in the Ministry of Injustice which Mr Clarke now heads. All the information is readily available to anyone who wants it. But it leads to conclusions which our elite can’t bear, mainly the need to rough up, punish and frighten the wicked. So they pretend it doesn’t exist.
You can tell how ill-informed politicians and media types are by a series of easy tests. Here are some.
Do they refer to ‘bobbies on the beat’? This is a clear sign of a dunce on the subject. The modern generation of uniformed social workers, loaded down with stab-vests, retractable batons, handcuffs, frying pans, helmet videos, SatNavs, pepper sprays, homophobia detection devices and sociology books, cannot possibly be called ‘bobbies’ by anyone who understands the English language.
As for ‘the beat’, don’t these people know that there has been no such thing for 40 years? The regular foot patrolling of the streets of this country by uniformed constables was ordered to cease by the Home Office Police Advisory Board on December 7, 1966.
Since then, foot patrols have only been sent out as an occasional special concession, or in some lucky city centres – when the police are not too busy driving their cars or filling in forms.
The next sign of criminological ineptitude is the wearisome claim that prison doesn’t work. The idea is spread that because so many ex-prisoners reoffend, this means jail isn’t a deterrent.
But this leaves out the truth, which is that it is far harder to get into prison in modern Britain than it is to get into university. You have to try and try, and will be fobbed off for years with meaningless ‘cautions’, fines you don’t have to pay and ‘community service’ you can laugh at.
Only hardened criminals (plus middle-class council tax rebels and people who defend their homes) ever actually get locked up. No wonder they reoffend.
If a second offence got law-breakers confined in austere gaols with exhausting hard labour, hard beds and sparse, tasteless food, without in-cell TVs or pool tables or phones (or drugs), and run by grim-jawed warders who took no nonsense, the reoffending rate would drop to near-zero in a week.
What’s more, thousands of potential criminals would be scared into behaving themselves. That’s all the ‘rehabilitation’ this country needs, and the only kind that works.
But I’m sorry to say that this sort of unfashionable approach, while it hugely improved the lives of millions, would be deeply unpopular at the BBC, which is the only unpopularity Mr Clarke and his boss David Cameron really care about.
A Leftist British journalist shows what a worm in the brain Leftism can be
In December 2001, the Independent’s Robert Fisk earned international infamy when he filed a dispatch from Afghanistan about a group of young Afghan men and boys who nearly beat him to death. “In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk,” he wrote. “Or any other Westerner I could find.”
A more fitting example of the Western foreign correspondent “gone native” — recognizable by ample amounts of self-loathing and patronization toward dark-skinned people — could not be found. The article, “My Beating by Refugees is a Symbol of the Hatred and Fury of this Filthy War,” inspired the Internet phenomenon of “Fisking,” the painstaking deconstruction of a news article or column, sentence by sentence, with biting and caustic commentary.
I’ve largely ignored Robert Fisk since then, so predictable and overwrought is his work. Last month, however, a fellow journalist who covers Afghanistan and Pakistan placed into my hands a copy of a speech he had delivered just days earlier to the fifth Al Jazeera Annual Forum. Titled “Journalism and ‘the words of power,’” it’s a typically rambling, occasionally conspiratorial discourse on the venality and corruption of the Western news media — in other words, a hallmark of the Fisk oeuvre, with some sprinkles of Foucault thrown in for good measure (the Independent reprinted the speech, in modified form, here).
The gist of Fisk’s speech is that journalists, in collusion with Western governments, use language in a corrupt and dishonest way to further the interests of imperialism. “More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power,” he told his audience. Yet Fisk is no less a victim of the supposed ills he diagnoses.
He deems the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet Middle East peace envoy to be “an obscenity of history,” right up there, one assumes, with Halabja and all the other massacres Fisk has witnessed in his decades-long career. There is the requisite attack on “Israeli colonization of Arab land” (can one imagine Robert Fisk or anyone of his ilk ever referring to “Jewish land” or “Christian land”?). He compares the blockade of Gaza to the Soviet army’s blockade of Berlin.
The speech is a cavalcade of hyperbole. He considers the shorthand, diplo-military term “AfPak” “as racist as it is politically dishonest.” He’s angered by use of the term “foreign fighters” to describe Arab Islamists fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan. After all, are not those men and women “in American or other NATO uniforms” also foreign fighters?. Technically they may be, but they are in Afghanistan at the behest of the internationally recognized Afghan government, and they serve there on a United Nations mandate. Only a man as dishonest and possessive of the corrupt politics of Robert Fisk would not be able to tell the difference between the two.
To account for the West’s moral failing, Fisk delivers the following non sequitur: “Maybe one problem is that we no longer think for ourselves because we no longer read books. The Arabs read books — I’m not talking here about Arab illiteracy rates — but I’m not sure that we in the West still read books.”
Well, if he’s not talking about literacy rates, what the hell is he talking about? The United Nations Arab Human Development Report, surveying 22 countries, presents stunning and incontrovertible evidence of the failures of Arab regimes to educate their people. Last year’s report found the adult literacy rate in these nations to average out at 70.3 percent over the period from 1995 to 2005. Of the first such report in 2002, which produced similarly dreary findings, a Jordanian journalist wrote that it “hangs out the Arabs’ dirty washing before the world and offers a wealth of information that mars the image of the Arabs in the world, but unfortunately the information is correct.”
That same report contained the infamous statistic that tiny and bankrupt Greece translates five times as many books into English as do all the Arab states combined. And what books “the Arabs” are reading seem to be dog-eared copies of Gamal Abdel Nasser speeches and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
But somehow, according to this vaunted interpreter of world events, it is Westerners who don’t understand. This is certainly the view of “the Arab street,” of whose dim prejudices Fisk is not so much a reporter but a fierce advocate.
This penchant for attributing the region’s problems on outside forces, a habit bred by anti-Semitism and a conspiracist worldview, is recognized by a courageous and honest band of Arab intellectuals, like the Jordanian writer I quoted above. But it is of little interest to Robert Fisk, who, by indulging the worst instincts of the people he covers, isolates the region’s liberals and sides with its reactionaries by ritually blaming the problems confronted by Muslims on everyone but themselves.
Want Your Own TV Show? Get Caught With a Hooker!
Just what does it take to get your own prime-time TV show on a purportedly reputable cable news network? Years of toiling in small markets, mastering the craft, breaking stories, building reputation? Nah.
Just be a disgraced governor, who, after making your reputation as the toughest of sheriffs – including busting prostitutes and prostitution rings – spent large sums while traveling on government business to employ prostitutes and dominatrixes furnished by a major pimping operation. While you were married too, by the way.
Former Gov. Spitzer, hypocrite of hypocrites, should be a reality TV star, maybe on Celebrity Rehab or some show like Blago’s wife did. He should be dumped in a jungle somewhere, or in Big Brother house, or even on the Playboy Channel. Isn’t that where Gov. Freak-Show Spitzer should be?
But in its wisdom, the bastion of journalistic integrity, CNN, has seen fit to ensconce him as a teller of truth and wisdom, host of a news discussion program. CNN’s president, appearing on the network’s own “Reliable Sources” program on June 27, defended the choice with arrogant, condescension, as if anyone objecting to it were one of Obama’s gun- and religion-clinging rubes. His actual defense was slight; Spitzer apologized, and he still has many good ideas to offer. One hopes none mirror his past good ideas, or CNN may be presenting prime-time orgies.
I’m usually for second chances. So, I guess, if CNN wants him, the public can stomach his pompous arrogance and he can muster the cajones to present himself as a serious thought-leader, well, more power to him. And, perhaps, CNN is the appropriate place for him. Sarcasm aside, lots of us step deep into muck of our own making at one time or another, and have to resurrect ourselves and rehab ourselves with some audience, so who am I to say Spitz shouldn’t have his turn. Martha Stewart went to prison and we didn’t ban her from selling towels and curtains, now did we?
But the Spitzer hiring shines the spotlight on a serious problem: We are becoming a reality-TV instant star society. People don’t need or want to take the time and trouble to earn anything. Or to bother preparing for and being qualified for the jobs they seek. (Look inside the Oval Office.) Snookie is the equivalent of Meryl Streep. Sleazebag Spitzer is the equal of Larry King. Or, for that matter, Anderson Cooper.
Sure, Fox gave Huckabee a show and made Palin a commentator, but as far as we know they are at least governors who served honorably, not driven from office and narrowly avoiding prison time over hooker escapades.
To be clear, though, the culprits here aren’t Spitzer or CNN. As Pogo famously said: we have met the enemy and They is Us. As a society, with consensus, we seem to be valuing instant stardom by any means, notably including sleaze over talent, ability, initiative, effort, investment. We now value unearned fame above earned credibility. Much of the public no longer makes this distinction, may not be intellectually able to, or don’t care.
Ironically, the mainstream media that has been a major contributing factor in fostering this new equivalency of gossip with news, trash and trivia with substance may wind up eaten by the very monster they helped grow.
But we are the even bigger losers, adrift in sea of sewage made of false moral equivalency. We are losing our entire culture, losing our sense of reality. If we view Lindsey Lohan’s latest drunken adventure as news worthy of running side by side in the CNN bottom-of-screen crawl with Obama’s latest thievery or the reports from the war fronts, we volunteer for our own debasement. What we are willing to reward with our attention and sanction by our absence of protest, we get more of.
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 INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.