Wednesday, June 22, 2005

If you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in

Rep. Bob "Freedom Fries" Ney and I don't agree on a lot of things. Even past our political differences, it looks like he's got some ethical issues coming from some inappropriate lobbyist donations.

But he stood up to the overreach of the "Patriot" Act, and for that, I'll thank him publicly. On behalf of all of us who thought conservativism means less Big Government snooping into our private lives, thanks, Bob.

And as far as this "libraries are havens for terrorists" crap goes, let's remember that the FBI has already proven that they won't manage this power appropriately. The days of Hoover and COINTELPRO are not all that far gone. (Remember, Lemming, there were two sides to the '60s.)

This is another issue on which the library community probably blackened our own eye. We didn't really explain our whole position very well. Librarians have a core value that we protect the personal privacy of every one of our constituents. We start with the assumption that their interests are legitimate, and none of anyone else's business. Now, if you've got a specific suspect, and a specific reason to get at the records of what they're reading, get a warranty, and most librarians will cooperate. (I'm not crazy about your warrant coming from a secret court, or imposing a gag order on the library, both of which are parts of the "Patriot" Act, but those are separate issues.)

Unfortunately, we know that Big Government just can't stop there. They fall into a standard logical fallacy. If every terrorist reads the same biography of Osama bin Laden, then anyone who reads that book must be a terrorist.

Guys, this is basic bad math. They teach people that this is false in 6th grade. (Or earlier. Or they ought to.)

Of course, we don't let 6th graders run domestic intelligence services. And I guess we have to write laws to control people whose 6th grade teachers let them down. Even when they run the FBI.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sometimes, everybody cries

Dammit, Frank DeFord and Morning Edition, no making me cry before my second cup of coffee.

Seriously. This is a sad piece. It starts with Alex Scott and her Lemonade Stand and the famous tie to Afleet Alex, and gets sadder from there. You may need a tissue. If harm to children or animals affects you deeply, you may need many. I'm talking to everyone, but I'm looking at you, Mom.

Frank DeFord does let one particular whopper go in this segment, though. He makes a comment that "sports writers aren't supposed to be sappy." Oh phooey they're not. I love good sportswriting because it's idealistic, emotional, subtly symbolic, a mix of the crystal individual moment and the sweep of history... in short, it's sappy. And don't ever change.

(I'll spare you my hero-worshiping tribute to the stable of artists in the Washington Post sports section, and just concentrate on the granddaddy of them all, Shirley Povich, who has a posthumous collection of columns out in book form. If you speak English and have half a soul, read it.)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

They tried out your plan, it brought misery instead

It was about a week ago that Matt pointed out the list of most harmful books from Human Events Online. I let this pass without comment, because (cough) I haven't read any of them.

Then Patricia Storms asks the next question... can a book be harmful? (Click the link and make sure you see the illustration of her answer... I'll wait.)

I'm prepared to stipulate that some books are, in fact, harmful, and not just because of their potential energy. (Some ideas are harmful, books contain ideas, Q.E.D.) I'll even agree that 2 of Human Events' top 10 are quite obviously among these books. And I'll further assume that, somewhere out there, there's a group of liberal scholars working on the equally and oppositely biased list from the liberal perspective, so I'll not bother weighing in on the titles.

So if there are such things as harmful books out there... what do we do about it?

As a First Amendment absolutist, my knee-jerk reaction is that the state should stay the hell out of it. I take a very conservative reading of the words "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," and it's not an area where I brook much dissent. After conspiracy, incitement to riot, and fraud, I really don't want to hear anything out of the State about it.

(As a sidebar, there are court challenges going on right now addressing what constitutes "harmful" and who gets to decide. Get informed, make an opinion, get involved.)

Where does that leave things like libraries and museums and publicly funded theaters? I don't know. We've done a lot of thinking about government restriction of speech, but I need to read up on the pros and cons of government promotion of diverse ideas. That's another post.

Of course, things don't start and end with the state. The First Amendment guarantees our right to assemble freely, and we do need social and personal responses to ideas we consider dangerous. Generating lists of the bad books is one way to do this... in a Thomistic fashion, we need to interact with all the available ideas in order to test the strength of our own. I tend to think that this is a more productive choice than just turning our backs and refusing to grant a bad idea the legitimacy of our dissent.

But there's only so many hours in the day, and you can't fight the good fight against every last threat, and sometimes you just have to put on your best condescending face, say "that's not how we do things here", and turn away. As a librarian, I watched my profession really get a black eye in the early '90s, arguing that anyone should be able to get to any website from anywhere. It seemed like a core value at the time, but in retrospect, it smacks of a shockingly rank relativism. There's a major difference between "inappropriate in part" and "censored for all," and I think we can discuss the first without undermining the second.

I guess I've got more questions than answers today, but I did want to throw out another idea. This one might be more informed by the Second Amendment than the First. Some ideas are harmful to people who need to be harmed. Some books are dangerous to people who ought to be in danger. (Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.)

It might be interesting to think about total "harm" as if it could be objectively measured by loss of power or property or wealth or life. We'd still see some pretty vile stuff on the list, but I wonder if we wouldn't see some things worth fighting for too.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

If you've ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me

As a rule, I don't blog about my workplace, but this morning threw me a bit. We're doing some rather significant redesign at Small Liberal Arts College Library this summer, and they're putting up a new wall not far from my office. They're hanging the metal studs for the drywall now, and I have to walk through them to get to my desk.

The funny thing is, there's a semi-natural inclination to walk through the "doorway" (even though there's no door there) rather than walk through the spaces in the stud wall. These spaces will admit just about any size human being, so it's not about efficiency. It's just about some things are "walls" and some things are "doors". (Even though, right now, they're just outlines.)

It's very Les Nessman.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Things just keep getting better

Before I moved to Ohio, I did not know the difference between "butternut" and "dried hydrangea." I didn't even know they were Martha Stewart brand paint colors. I didn't know the difference between poppies and peonies. I did not use "product" in my hair. Dress shirts mostly came in white and light blue, and pants came in navy or khaki, and shoes were black. And I certainly didn't think about my "coloring" when I picked them.

OK, OK, I have a soft spot in my heart for the American musical theater. But I did not have a favorite Madonna song.

None of these things is any longer true.

There can only be one conclusion. Ohio is turning me into a Red Sox.

(To everyone who knew me in the late '80s through mid '90s... Johnny Damon's hair was what I was shooting for. Yes, I know I didn't hit it. Yes, I know I wasn't close.)