Burning the Koran: Really Stupid

If you want to get media attention, saying you are going to burn the Koran does that just fine.  But it is wrong on so many levels.  Let’s count them, shall we?

1. It anger Muslims, as opposed to persuading them.  There are a lot of serious criticisms that can be made of the Koran and Islam, but burning the Koran isn’t a serious criticism.  It’s childish.  That pastor should have organized a daylong serious analysis of the Koran’s inconsistencies and the difficulties with reading its text that have been acknowledged by Muslim scholars since around 1000 AD.  Would it have converted many Muslims?  No.  But it would not have generated the…firestorm (yes, that’s the word) of passionate rage.  It makes America look stupid.

2. Book burning has become a symbol of fascism.  Even the Catholic Church, when it maintained its list of prohibited books, did not burn books.  Great: a Christian pastor uses a symbol of the Nazis.  What were you thinking?  Were you thinking?

3. It provides yet another example of an ignorant Christian pastor for the news media (which is constantly ignoring the many equivalent Islamic radical imams) to use to portray Christianity in a bad light.

4. It almost certainly increases the risk that some Muslim fanatic is going to kill some American somewhere–and there is nothing that we get in return for that increased risk.  If some action that we took actually increased the possibility of winning the war against Islamofascism in exchange for that risk, it might be worth considering.  But what does burning Korans buy us?  Nothing.

I hope this pastor enjoys his brief moment of fame.

An Astonishing Film: Surrogates

I saw the ads when it came out, but my wife and I seldom go to movies.  While grading papers today, I watched it on Netflix.

Yes, grading student essays is not so difficult that I can’t watch a movie at the same time.  (One quirk of both my daughter and myself that just drives my wife crazy is that we can and often do multitask–doing several things simultaneously.)

Anyway, the essence of the movie (explained in the very well done minute or two opening so I am not spoiling anything for you) is that in the very near future, humans live their entire lives through robotic surrogates that give you all the sensations and experiences–but without the risks.  Many people never actually leave their homes–they rely on their surrogates to go everywhere, including doing their jobs.  Of course, the robots don’t age, or get fat, or ugly.  And if the surrogate dies, you can’t get hurt.  Or can you?

To say that this is an astonishing commentary on our technologically deranged society is quite clear.  I would blog some more about this–but blogging is perilously close to a surrogate form of social behavior!

There are so many cliched sci-fi premises that have been done again and again and again (such as time travel stories) that to really make it interesting requires a really astonishing piece of writing.  And to get some thoughtful social commentary at the same time?  Excellent!

I Am Starting To Grade The First Weekly Question…And I Am Very Pleased

Some years back, Idaho imposed a senior project requirement on all the high schools in the state, at least partly to make sure that graduating seniors could actually write.  I think it works.  In 2003, I was utterly floored at how few of the upper division history majors in my Constitutional History class could actually write at college level.  I had a student turn in a paper where 1/3 of the sentences–were not.  I had students tell me that this was only the second research paper that they had ever written–and did it show.  I would say that only five of the twenty-five research papers that I received that semester were what I would expect of upper division college students.

By comparison, these essays from the freshmen in my U. S. History class at College of Western Idaho (a community college) are gratifying.  They aren’t perfect, of course.  But so far, of the ones that I have graded, many are good and several are actually quite good.  Most students at least know how to write competent sentences; some students are combining competent sentences into well-structured essays.  A few students have not achieved sentence structure competency (or competency in capitalization, or punctuation), but nonetheless, have well-structured essays.

There is room for improvement for all of them, so far.  Still, many of them are starting with what would have been considered high school level writing skills when I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1974.

A Reminder That Rapacious Lawyers Are Not a New Problem

I was reading through Hening’s Statutes at Large; BEING A COLLECTION OF ALL THE LAWS OF VIRGINIA FROM THE FIRST SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE IN THE YEAR 1619 in preparation for class yesterday, and I ran into this gem that reminds us that rapacious lawyers are not a new problem.

BE it also enacted, for the better regulating of attorneys and the great fees exacted by them, that it shall not be lawfull for any attorney to plead causes on behalfe of another without license or permission first had and obtained from the court where he pleadeth, Neither shall it be lawfull for any attorney to have license for mor courts then from the quarter court and one county court, and that they likewise be sworne in the said courts where they are so licensed, And it is further enacted that no attorneys plead in any county court shall demand or receive either for drawing petition, declaration or answer and for his ffee of pleading the cause of his client above the quantitie of 20 lb. of tobaccoe or the value thereof, nor that at any pleading in the quarter court shall demand and receive either for drawing petition, declaration or answer and for his ffee of pleading the cause of his cliant above the quantity or 50 lb. of tobaccoe or the value thereof, [Hening, Statutes at Large, 1:275, ch. 61, March 1642/3]

This doesn’t mean that everything that they did was fine back then.  The 1620s statutes are awash in mandatory church attendance laws, and the 1630s statutes are various laws limiting the amount of tobacco you could plant, as a way to keep prices up.  Still, it is a reminder that some problems are not new.

By the way, if you visit that collection–someone did a lot of work to transcribe (not just scan) Hening’s Statutes at Large, primarily for the benefit of genealogists.  It’s just an amazing resource for historians.

Dinosaurs That Don’t Evolve, Die

Part of the rationalization that the stinker in chief at the Las Vegas Review-Journal uses for the Righthaven lawsuits is that newspapers are being driven out of business by bloggers infringing copyrighted newspaper articles.  While I agree that infringement is wrong (although usually unintentional), it is not particularly plausible that this is the source of the problems that newspapers are having, for a number of reasons:

1. It is true that if you copy too much text from a newspaper, it may discourage some readers from clicking through to read the article.  On the other hand, how many readers click through to read the article, if it was copied in full, anyway?  I know that I often find myself clicking through, even when a blogger has copied a substantial amount of the article–to see if they have quoted the article out of context.

2. Traffic that bloggers get because of an alleged copyright infringement are a tiny fraction of the hits that a newspaper receives as a result of Google searches, links from Drudge Report, or even clickthroughs caused by bloggers linking to an article on the newspaper’s website.  The problem that newspapers are having isn’t because of bloggers, but the collapse of traditional dead trees publishing.  Bloggers linking to newspapers are almost certainly a net gain for newspapers–unless, of course, you decide to turn an innocent, one-time mistake (as my co-blogger on The Armed Citizen made) into a $75,000 suit.  At that point, the negative publicity and aggressive delinking from such newspapers is almost certainly going to turn such a lawsuit campaign into a net loss.

Yes, a newspaper deserves to get all the ad volume it would enjoy if everyone clicked through, instead of reading the article elsewhere–but there are polite, sensible ways to solve the problem, and there are impolite, irrational ways to do so.  My guess is that the editor of the Review-Journal wouldn’t trim his fingernails with a chainsaw, or stop his car by slamming it into brick wall.  There are less drastic solutions–which nearly all newspaper organizations use, such as an email or letter demanding that you take down an infringement.  (At least, I’ve read that this is the case; I’ve never had a news organization make such a request.)

In nearly all cases, bloggers have made an innocent mistake, through ignorance of the law (which is very easy, since fair use law is extraordinarily vague), or excess enthusiasm for a particularly well-written article.  A blogger who ignores a request, or who keeps infringing again and again–I can see that a lawsuit might make sense there.  But to go directly from one article infringing to a $75,000 lawsuit is just crazy.

Anyway, all that to point to this article at Nieman Journalism Lab, which points to an innovative solution to the dinosaur news media problem:

It is a head-turner, which seems to be, at first, an only-in-Utah story. The Deseret Morning News, KSL TV, and KSL Radio, all owned by one company, the Deseret Management Co., a for-profit arm of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, are combining operations.

Instead of each organization sending a reporter to the statehouse to cover an event, one reporter covers it.  The difference between radio, television, and newspaper is evaporating in the digital age.  The Review-Journal is trying to use the tyrannosaurus rex approach of ferocity to stave off the inevitable end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  (Unlike the movie Jurassic Park–where the T. rex at least has the good taste to eat the lawyer.)

Hello, All!

I’m helping to fill in on Snowflakes in Hell while someone insists on vacationing in Hawai’i.  For those of you who don’t know me: I am Clayton Cramer.  I normally blog over at my own blog, so you will likely see some overlap while I filling in.

It took a while for me to get started on guestblogging because I was:

1. Finishing a State & Local Government class in the summer term at one technical institute.

2. Starting first semester U.S. History class in the fall term at College of Western Idaho.

The overlap of a week was a bit much.