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If Dan Quayle, a presidential candidate, a former United States congressman, a former United States senator, a former vice president of the United States, is in favor of prohibiting the desecration of a piece of fabric, then it seems to me he is also willing to permit the erosion, however slight, of our American right -- our first special right -- to speak freely.
According to an AP article, on March 30, 2000, another politician, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said in response to the U.S. Senate's vote to reject a flag-burning amendment:
"Burning the flag is not free speech. It's conduct of the most offensive kind."
Hey, Trent, lemme ask you something. If burning a flag is conduct of the most offensive kind, how much less offensive is the conduct of, say, an arsonist or a rapist or a murderer? Accused arsonists and rapists and murderers never claim as a defense that they were only trying to get their fellow citizens' attention, to speak freely.
As between how offended I would be by being arsonized or raped or murdered versus how offended I would be by a flag-burning every once in a while by someone somewhere, I can tell you that the flag-burning would offend me less. A lot less. But apparently you feel differently.
Dear reader, I don't want to get any closer than I am now to being liable for a beating and a prison sentence or even death for saying what I want about bad government and bad people. And you shouldn't either, no matter who you are.
And I don't want you to feel restricted in what you can say either, because if you're keeping mum then maybe I'm missing something.
And I especially don't want our sources of news -- mainly the local newspaper and NPR in my case -- to feel restricted, to feel "chilled," in what they can ferret out on my behalf about bad government and bad people in power. Indeed, I want them to get rewarded for that ferreting.
There's a reason whenever there's a hostile government takeover, the first thing they commandeer is the radio and television stations and the print press. I would too.
And one of the benefits of the Internet is that millions of individuals everywhere -- with nothing more than a computer and a modem -- can report what they know to the world. (Drop down now to see one example on this page.)
One of the reasons America is such a great country is our inherent right -- as set forth so plainly in the Constitution that is our government -- to free speech and a free press. Free speech and a free press, in concert with the rest of Constitution, are what keep the bad guys at bay.
If you can't complain about the government in power, if you have literally no legal right to elect or unseat a government official, if you are treated less well than other humans because of an accident of birth such as being black or female, then you might suffer for that reason alone at the hands of those who lead you. In the absence of a popular resistance, which can be snuffed out by suppressing free speech, eventually the most corrupt and tyrannical will crush the most egalitarian. And the corrupt and tyrannical, it turns out, sometimes tend to be fanatics about it.
Don't Believe It
You've heard the phrase, "Don't believe everything you read," and that's good advice. In fact, I myself take it further, because I know that the sources of the news I get (almost exclusively from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada) are just as capable of delivering propaganda as any other country's.
The advice I follow is this: "Don't believe anything you read." Now, I know that seems extreme, and there are exceptions. For example, I believe that Dan Quayle was vice president of the United States, even though my only source of information for this fact is the press.
But except for obvious, non-controversial facts such as that, I really don't believe anything I read in the newspaper or hear over the airwaves. I read my local paper every day, and I listen to NPR stations whenever the radio's on, but I pretty much don't believe any of it.
For one thing, there's always at least one side to the story that's missing, or some alleged facts that are missing. This is called selective reporting, and it's inevitable.
For another, reporters are all the time making flat-out mistakes, which is why there's a "Corrections" column almost every day in big papers. I know from personal experience, too. I've been interviewed a few times for publication, and not once was I quoted correctly. In fact, one time I gave some advice to the publication's readers about how to comply with a certain federal law, and I was quoted in print as saying the exact opposite of what I'd said.
For yet another, often enough the sources reporters use actually lie. Imagine that. A good example in a free country is the multitude of lies Americans were told by a submissive American press regarding the Viet Nam War.
A short list of examples of the loss of freedom of expression to the people in power appears below. But my point in this sidebar is that as you're reading through these articles, keep in mind that they too are incomplete, that they might contain mistakes, and that they might contain reports of lies.
|According to an AP article in The Kansas City Star dated
April 18, 1999:
KABUL, Afghanistan--The Taliban religious
militia warned President Clinton on Saturday that his criticism of Afghanistan's human
rights record was damaging relations. Clinton has been a strong critic of the
Taliban's treatment of women.
|This article appeared in The Kansas City Star dated June 21, 1999.
Just so you'll know, Qatar is its own country.
KUWAIT -- Qatar's Al-Jazeera television has been banned from
reporting from Kuwait because a viewer of a live call-in show was allowed to insult the
emir and the station did not apologize, the information minister said.
|This is a story from the June 23, 1999, edition of The Kansas City Star.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban religious rulers
on Tuesday made the publication of anti-Taliban material a crime carrying a five-year jail
The group in power in Afghanistan is the Taliban, an ultra-strict batch of rulers and their adherents who govern based on what the say their religion calls for. According to this article, they will enjail anyone who publishes material that criticizes them. This is as nearly the exact opposite of the First Amendment as can be imagined.
|From an AP article dated July 10, 1999, in The
Kansas City Star.
Iranian students accuse police of retaliating for protest
Demonstrators say they were attacked at dorm
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iranian police stormed a Tehran
university dormitory hours after student leaders staged a demonstration, provoking clashes
Friday that injured at least 20 persons, witnesses and officials said.
|According to an article dated September 17, 1999, in the Kansas
YANGON, Myanmar -- British activist Rachel Goldwyn, 28, was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for protesting Myanmar's military regime by chaining herself to a lamppost and shouting pro-democracy slogans.
|From the "World Watch" section of The Kansas City
Star of September 27, 1999, which reads as follows:
"It is unpardonable to disrespect sacred values.
Secondly, it is also illegal. That's that."
an AP article in the December 1, 1999, edition of The Kansas City Star:
Court convicts editor of insulting cleric
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's press court has convicted one hard-line
editor for insulting a senior cleric and acquitted another, the official Islamic Republic
News Agency reported Tuesday.
Hassan al-Azimi said
another AP article in that same December 1, 1999, edition:
Kuwaiti women denied right to vote, run for office
KUWAIT -- Kuwaiti women lost the chance to become part of the
political scene in their oil-rich state Tuesday as Parliament rejected a bill to give them
the right to vote and run for office.
the December 5, 1999, edition of The Kansas City Star:
Mayor's suit dismissed
MIAMI -- A judge has thrown out a former mayor's suit against The
Miami Herald, saying it is a columnist's right to call a politician
Now this is how it should work. Not only does a newspaper with all its investigative might root out bad governors (yay for Miami), its actions get approved by a U.S. court.
Plus which it gets a Pulitzer Prize.
Yay for the U.S. and, more generally, for a free press.
|From an AP article dated December 8, 1999:
China to close
BEIJING -- Chinese authorities will close about 200 small
newspapers in the first half of next year in an attempt to strengthen the Communist
Party's control over public opinion, a human rights organization says.
|From an AP article dated December 19, 1999, edition of The Kansas City
Yugoslav publisher raided again
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Authorities raided the premises of a
leading independent publisher again Saturday, seizing equipment worth about $400,000 to
collect fines levied after it printed leaflets for President Slobodan Milosevic's
|From an AP article dated January 13, 2000:
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- In an intimidating move, Malaysian police on Wednesday arrested some of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad's [shown in photo] most vocal critics, including a leading editor, an opposition leader and an attorney for the ousted deputy prime minister.
There's more to this story, and I'm sure there's more than one side, but still.
|From a Kansas City Star article dated January 23, 2000:
KUWAIT -- A court handed down suspended sentences to two
Kuwaiti writers Saturday after convicting one of blasphemy and the other of indecency.
|From a Washington Post article dated
January 27, 2000:
China seeks Internet limits
Beijing -- China on Wednesday banned discussions of
"state secrets" on the Internet, the latest in a series of attempts to control
an information industry that is spinning out of the Communist Party's control.
|From an article in The Kansas City Star dated February 5, 2000:
Cartoon draws fire
QOM, Iran -- Iranian clerics lashed out Friday at President
Mohammad Khatami's moderate policies and demanded that the culture minister be executed in
a scathing response to a political cartoon.
If I'm understanding this correctly, the clerics want a man killed because of a political cartoon. What kind of religion do they believe in?
A follow-up from February 13th:
Paper that caused furor
TEHRAN, Iran -- A newspaper returned to newsstands Saturday
after a self-imposed weeklong suspension meant to calm anger generated by its political
cartoons satirizing a cleric.
|A March 12, 2000, article from the Associated Press:
BELGRADE, Yugoslavi -- Several hundred opposition supporters
gathered Saturday outside an opposition-run radio and television station in western Serbia
to prevent police from shutting it down.
|From a March 16, 2000, story in The Kansas City Star:
Beijing -- A Chinese court has sentenced a well-known Muslim
businesswoman to eight years in prison for mailing newspapers to her husband overseas, an
official newspaper reported.
|A prominent quote in The Kansas City Star of March 18,
"He wants to 'cleanse' all who think differently or all
|From a story in the April 20, 2000, Kansas City Star:
Cleric blasts reformists
TEHRAN, Iran -- A hard-line cleric urged his followers to kill
pro-reform writers and activists who he says are undermining Iran's revolutionary
principles, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
|From a story one day later in The Kansas City Star:
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's supreme leader attacked the country's
reformist newspapers on Thursday, accusing them of undercutting the Islamic revolution.
|From a story two days after that in The Kansas City Star:
TEHRAN, Iran -- A journalist investigating the 1998 killings
of five dissidents by intelligence agents was arrested Saturday, the latest attempt by
Islamic hard-liners to curb Iran's liberal press.
|This item ran in The Kansas City Star of May 24, 2000.
Iranian newspaper banned
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian hard-liners, stung by the confirmed
victory of reformist candidates, shut down a newly launched newspaper Tuesday, the 19th
paper closed in a crackdown that began last month.
|From a Kansas City Star story dated June 19, 2000:
JERUSALEM -- Palestinian police have released a journalist
held for 12 days for speaking out against the Palestinian Authority's violation of press
He was treated well except for the fact he was in jail for 12 days.
|From an article in The Kansas City Star dated July 26, 2000:
Stopping the presses
TEHRAN, Iran -- Authorities in Iran on Tuesday ordered a
reformist newspaper closed, four weeks after the weekly began publishing.
|From an article in the August 9, 2000, Kansas City Star:
TEHRAN, Iran -- Hard-liners protesting outside parliament
called Tuesday for the death and expulsion of reformists who challenged an order from
Iran's supreme leader that squelched debate on the country's restrictive press law.
|From a piece in the August 18, 2000, Kansas City Star:
BEIJING -- Chinese police seized hundreds of copies of an
independent literary journal and detained its editor, Boston-based poet Bei Ling, friends
|From an AP story in the August 16, 2000, Kansas City Star:
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Police forced 35 Turkish and Kurdish women
activists onto buses Satruday, kicking and punching them, to stop them from telling
reporters about a message they had sent to the U.N. secretary-general denouncing violence
|From an Associated Press story in the August 29, 2000, edition of The
Kansas City Star:
BEIJING -- Chinese customs agents have seized 16,000 copies of
a book of photographs of President Clinton because one picture showed him holding hands
with the Dalai Lama, a company involved in the publishing said Monday.
|From a Washington Post article in the December 12, 2000, edition of The
Kansas City Star:
The Washington Post
BEIJING -- Defying pressure from the U.S. State Department and
Congress, China has reportedly rejected the appeal of a prominent businesswoman who was
sentenced to eight years in prison for mailing Chinese newspaper clippings to her husband
in the United States.
|From a January 14, 2001, AP story in The Kansas
Investigative journalist in Iran sentenced
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's leading investigative journalist has
been sentenced to 10 years in jail and five years in internal exile for attending a
conference in Germany that authorities said harmed Iran's image, his lawyer said Saturday.
|From an AP piece in the August 29, 2000, edition of The Kansas City Star:
Taliban fault DiCaprio haircuts
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have jailed
22 barbers for giving men Leonardo DiCaprio-style haircuts deemed offensive to Islam
because the long bangs interfere with the ability to bow and say prayers.
Imagine you're fresh meat in jail, never been there before, heard horror stories, scared. You're looking to break the ice, so you say, "What're you in for?"
"Murder and rape. Muhammad over there's in for armed robbery, and Mohamud next to him is in for arson and aggravated assault. How about you?"
"Bad hair day."
Anyway, here's what I think. I think these Taliban leaders aren't really Earthlings at all. They're aliens who've been sent here to test just how much crap almost a whole country's worth of humans will abide. Apparently a lot.
|The Kansas City Star ran this Associated Press article on March 2,
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Using everything from tanks to rocket
launchers, Taliban troops fanned out across the country Thursday to destroy all statues,
including two 5th-century statues of Buddha carved into a mountainside.
So, for those of you budding artists looking to peddle your paintings of Satan and Santa and Jesus and Zeus door-to-door, you should probably skip Omar's house. If someone with only one eye answers the bell, that's him.
Before you leave, though, get his e-mail addy for me, please, because I've got a few questions for him, just as I had a question above for Trent Lott. Neither of them seems to understand that the symbol is not the thing.
Here's a follow-up article from March 6, 2001.
Taliban chief defends order
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Dismissing the international outcry over
his edict to demolish pre-Islamic relics, the ruling Taliban's reclusive leader Monday
called destruction of the relics a tribute to Islam and Afghanistan.
I'd like to know how the average subject of Omar's reign really feels about all this. How can I find out?
While I'm at it, if you happen to be Omar then I hereby challenge you: I hereby declare publicly that if what I've shown above about you is true, you are a world-class asshole. Have someone translate that word, asshole, then come get me, fatwah me.
|The Kansas City Star ran this article on
February 20, 2001.
NKC center says 'no' to bare midriffs
If you work out at North Kansas City's new state-of-the-art
community center, don't show off those finely toned abdominals.
If I were Dave Barry I'd have you in stitches about this. Since I'm not, you're on your own.
Also, I think the reporter overstated the case a bit with regard to how strict the dress code is. Where it says, "any outfit that shows skin above the waist," I'm pretty sure that includes only the torso, unless everyone else is wearing burquas.
Also, where it says, "her sweat suit top rose a few inches above her waist," I think what is meant is the bottom of her sweat suit top, unless she has a very unusual way of wearing it.
article ran in The Kansas City Star of February 1, 2001.
JONESBORO, Ark. -- An 8-year-old boy was suspended from school
for three days after pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher and saying, "Pow,
I admit this isn't exactly an example of bad people taking away citizens' rights to free speech, but it's still interesting.
Jonesboro, of course, was the scene of a "school shooting" on March 24, 1998. Two high school boys killed four of their classmates and a teacher with guns.
Also, why don't you ever hear about females going on shooting rampages?
|The Kansas City Star ran this article on February 10, 2001.
Protests in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran -- Police and members of a hard-line paramilitary
squad arrested dozens of anti-government protesters Friday and used tear gas to disperse
hundreds more from a Tehran park, witnesses said.
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