Friday, December 17, 2004

Points to Ponder:

Definitions are the tools of thought. [Mike Mentzer]


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Some More Notes on Dignitatis Humanae:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

This is to some extent a continuation of the thread titled A Few Notes on Dignitatis Humanae posted to this weblog in July of 2003. While it is beneficial to read that thread before reading this one, it is strictly speaking not necessary to do so because my intentions for posting this material is a little bit different than they were in posting the previous thread. In this post, my sources will be in darkblue font.

What you will read here are key points of musing that occupied my mind during Tuesday and Wednesday of last week -particularly the latter where the different points were systemized into a coherent statement in a different context. Nonetheless, as (i) so much of what I write on pertains to the classical distinctions of Claude Frederic Bastiat's writings on the role of law in a just society and (ii) I introduce into the matrix the principle of "public order" which is not explicitly manifested in Mr. Bastiat's theory,{1} it seems appropriate to denote what the Catholic Church teaches on the concept of "public order."{2}

The foundation of religious liberty properly understood is that man has a natural right to religious liberty in the social and civil arenas. This right however (like all legitimate rights) has its limits. For example, religious liberty is constrained by just public order and the common good of society. In other words, religious liberty is not justly exercised when a person does so in ways that are destructive of society's collective good as regulated by what the government perceives as the "common good of society."

Furthermore, common good is also tied to what is called "just public order" as the criteria that must be followed for any legitimate exercise of religion or any other social behaviour in society. The Council made this very clear in its outlining of what the role of the civil authority was later on in the conciliar declaration when outlining what the "due limits" were in the government's rights to suppress any particular expressions which were illegitimate and yet were cloaked under the mantle of "religious liberty." This was done in the following often overlooked words of clarification:

The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary. [Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Declaration Dignitatis Humanae §7 (promulgated December 7, 1965)]

Now then, let us summarize these points before concluding the present posting.

--Religious liberty properly understood cannot be exercised in actions which are detrimental to that society's common good (understood in the context of "public order" as defined in DH §7).

--All legitimate rights have a corresponding responsibility attached to them. This was made clear in DH §7 where the "due limits" referred to in DH §2 were expounded upon in some detail. In explaining this principle, the Council taught that "[i]n the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed" (DH §7).

--The exercise of all rights are contingent upon the parties in question being bound to the moral law and respecting the rights of others and their own duties towards one another and the whole of society. This was noted in DH when it asserted that "[i]n the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all" (DH §7).

And because conscience is a natural right, it has corresponding natural regulations to it. This is a principle I have long expounded.{2} It presuppose the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae as a matter which (i) pertains to divine revelation for the faithful Catholic and as a matter which (ii) can be shown to have a foundation for persuading either non-religious people of good will or religious non-Catholics of good will.{3} For this reason, one can adjust their approach to the subject in accordance with the audience which they are trying to reach: and that it can be applied in different contexts makes it a particularly useful form of argument.


{1} However, I would argue that his outlook to some extent implies it.

{2} As governments in a just society can have legitimate recourse to this principle in regulating public behaviour.

{3} And I have sought to inculcate this principle as a necessary corollary to the political/law theories of Claude Frederic Bastiat which to some extent (as I note in footnote one) presupposes it. (Certainly in any modern applications of the theory to society and its problems, this additional criterion is necessary to insure the most fruitful application of his principles.)

{4} The Catholic of good will who accepts DH as pertaining to divine revelation will accept this on religious grounds. However, there is also a rationalist foundation to the argument which can be used to convince reasonable non-Catholics of good will.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Rock the Blogsbah" Dept.
(With apologies to The Clash)

The purpose of this entry is to point out another article on the blogosphere in the mainstream media (MSM) - this time from the Wall Street Journal. Here is the thread:

How Daschle Got Blogged

The subheading of the article is And how online journalism is transforming politics. I for one enjoy listening to MSM pundits and politicians whine and complain about bloggers: are a constant threat to them as two of the major election-shaping news stories handled in the blogosphere this year well illustrate.{1} In this case, it is not the writer of the article complaining but a paper in South Dakota (the Argus) which was partisan towards Sen. Daschle. When they refused to cover his blatant contradictions in what he voted for and what he told constituents he was in favour of, some state Republicans started weblogs to do the paper's job for them. This was in 2002 -the same year that we started this weblog- and two years later, Daschle was drummed from office. That is the summary of the subject, here is the article itself in darkred  font. Any comments I make will be interspersed in regular font.

Bloggers received a lot of attention for helping to expose the fake documents backing up Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" story on President Bush and the Texas Air National Guard. But that's only one of the interesting ways in which the Internet is empowering people and shaping political coverage.

Indeed, the real power of bloggers in politics is how they interact with their mainstream media counterparts. Online journalism gives critics of the media a way to talk back, a platform from which to point out bias, hypocrisy and factual errors. And if the criticisms are on target, old-media institutions can't help but take note. That's exactly what just happened in South Dakota's epic Senate race between Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his GOP challenger, John Thune.

What follows is precisely why I find this medium of communication so intriguing...

South Dakota Republicans decided that the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, which dominates the state's media since it's the only paper with a statewide circulation, was hopelessly biased in favor of Mr. Daschle. "The ability to use the Internet to circumvent concentrated media power became a 21st-century updating of 19th-century Dakota populism," says John Lauck, a history professor at the University of South Dakota who was allied with Mr. Thune. Mr. Lauck and several of his friends collaborated on blogs that constantly reminded voters of contradictions between Mr. Daschle's voting record and his statements in South Dakota, as well as the Argus Leader's refusal to acknowledge them.

Mr. Lauck's observation is a trenchent one: we indeed with the blogosphere are in a new form of populist communication free from the bias and the agenda-creating atmosphere of the MSM. Why should we allow them to decide what is news "fit to print" (cf. The New York Times) and what is not???

"South Dakotas have for the first time been hearing a few things about 'ole Tom' that have surprised," reported The Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel from South Dakota last October. "Mr. Daschle has assured voters he supports a state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Yet in July he voted against a similar constitutional amendment that two-thirds of South Dakotans support. He was a free trader, but now he's not. He's for legal change, but blocked every tort bill. He beats up on drug companies, though his wife, Linda Daschle, lobbies for them."

And if the Argus is too lazy to get off their journalistic keisters and give the public the whole story, what is wrong with alternative media doing it??? The answer of course is "nothing. However, just as many accountants do not want to see an overhaul of the tax code and many attorneys do not want to see tort reform (including a repeal of class action lawsuits), many journalists do not want to see the alternative media flourish because it means that their days are numbered.

There are a lot of Americans out there who are smarter and better informed on what is really important than the gamut of third rate quack pseudo-"scholastics" who populate the mainstream press and the journalism schools. For that reason, do not expect the MSM to be as a rule kind to alternative media. We are a danger to their very existence and are eroding their power base and abilities to propagandize through providing alternative points of view. And unlike the MSM who cannot argue persuasively on the issues without either resorting to improper ad hominem or taking the arguments of adversaries out of context, a number of bloggers are content to give their adversaries their say as unedited as it is feasible to do.

Patrick Lalley, the Argus Leader's assistant managing editor, acknowledges that the blogs had an impact on how his paper covered the Senate race. They certainly got under the skin of some of the paper's executives. Randell Beck, executive editor of the Argus Leader, called some of the bloggers work "crap" and said they represented an organized effort by conservatives to discredit his paper. In July, he explained to readers that "true believers of one stripe or another, no longer content to merely bore spouses and neighbors with their nutty opinions, can now spew forth on their own blogs, thereby playing a pivotal role in creating the polarized climate that dominates debate on nearly every national issue. If Hitler were alive today, he'd have his own blog."

Aaah yes, the reductio ad hitlerum argument. Frankly, Mr. Beck has it 180 degrees out of phase. Hitler would not have wasted time with blogging except (perhaps) as a very minor personal diversion. Instead, he would strive to control the mainstream press from where the most people get their news. He would through the mainstream media present his agenda in as glowing a terms as possible and demonize his opponents with propagandistic screeds tailored to influence the average non-critical reader.

In other words, he would act as the MSM's major outlets already act -and far more like the Sioux Falls Argus than any weblogger.

But then again, I do not expect journalists like Mr. Beck to have much competence in discussing these kinds of matters anyway. If they did, then they would be able to simply report the news as it and not have to (i) put an ideological spin on what they cover and/or (ii) invent stories to report on.{2}

The blogging of South Dakota began in late 2002, after Mr. Thune lost a Senate race to incumbent Tim Johnson, a Daschle protégé, by 524 votes. Republicans felt that both the campaign and subsequent allegations of voter fraud had been unfairly covered by the mainstream media. Jason Van Beek, a student at the University of South Dakota, launched a site called South Dakota Politics. Mr. Van Beek declared he would monitor the "biased coverage" he detected in the Argus Leader. Indeed, in the spring of 2004, Mr. Van Beek publicized memos he had discovered written in the 1970s that revealed the Democratic connections of David Kranz, the Argus Leader's chief political writer. In the memos, aides to Democratic former senator James Abourezk refer to Mr. Kranz as a "good Democrat" whom their office should use to push stories.

In the words of Mr. Spock: fascinating!!!

Supporters of the Argus Leader fired back a few weeks later with their own allegations of bias when the Thune campaign began paying Mr. Van Beek and Mr. Lauck to conduct research for the GOP campaign. Through October, Mr. Lauck received $27,000 and Mr. Van Beek received $8,000. Some of the work they did included analyzing a poll taken by the Thune campaign which found that 55% of the state's voters viewed the Argus Leader's coverage as biased. "The difference was that everyone was aware the bloggers were biased, while the Argus Leader pretended otherwise," says Paul Erickson, a Republican activist who helped publish and distribute an unfavorable paperback on Mr. Daschle that helped shape public opinion.

Precisely. Alternative media outlets (even those which are not conservative) generally do not have a problem admitting that they have a bias. Indeed everyone does. But the MSM likes to play this game of being "impartial" when they so obviously are not. In the days when they were all there was, it was something that was seen as a necessary pill to swallow but no longer. And now, the attempts to claim to be "impartial" and "unbiased" by the MSM are shredded and thrown back in their faces by those of us in the alternative media. No wonder we are so despised by the MSM!!!

The blogs and other alternative media outlets became the tail wagging the media dog. "Argus Leader reporters said the pressure from the blogs increased until a 'siege mentality' took over at the paper, according to one source. Complaints flooded the paper's office," National Journal's John Stanton reported.

Imagine that, the public becoming angry at realizing that the Argus was deceiving them!!! Why on earth this would be seen as a bad thing is a mystery to me. But then again, I do not endorse the mainstream media, its shoddy journalism, its blatant bias while denying it is partisan, and all of its works/pomps/display, etc.

The paper's readers also began to take notice of the range of coverage available on the blogs that mysteriously didn't show up in their local paper. "The Argus Leader often doesn't present the whole picture in its political coverage," Wendy Otheim, a teacher from Hartford, S.D., wrote the paper in October. "A multitude of blog sites make for interesting reading. Don't be held a captive audience to the Argus Leader." To its credit, the paper ran Ms. Otheim's letter.

It is indeed a credit to the Argus that they had that decency.

Blogs are likely to pop up in other races, especially in states where media coverage of politics tends to be dominated by only one or two major sources. "I know people in Minnesota noticed the Daschle-Thune blogs, " Steve Sviggum, Minnesota's Republican House speaker, told me. "I would hope bloggers will be all over the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006," he added, referring to the state's largest daily paper.

I hope so too. The MSM needs to be held accountable. And as we in the blogosphere have shown to an increasing degree the past couple of years, it can be done.

Indeed, a blog called Dayton v, Kennedy has already started up, anticipating a face-off between Sen. Mark Dayton, a Democratic freshman, and Rep. Mark Kennedy, a Republican. Much of its early coverage has focused on Mr. Dayton's bizarre decision to close his Senate office for a month in October, allegedly because of an unspecified threat of terrorism. No other member of Congress took a similar step.

As I have not been privy to the surrounding information on this subject, I cannot comment on it.

It's clear that political candidates will continue to cultivate bloggers and their readers. John Kerry sent the first word of his selection of John Edwards as his running mate to readers of his official campaign blog. President Bush's campaign responded with a campaign ad on its Web site featuring an endorsement by Sen. John McCain, whom Kerry had pitched to consider a spot on his ticket.

Technology is moving so fast that there are now a growing number of video bloggers, or "vloggers," who look toward the day when they can produce original programming, bypassing the usual broadcast networks and cable channels.

In the words of Mr. Burns: Excellent!!!

Dan Rather may have done more than legitimize the blogging community with his scandal. He may have helped accelerate a radical decentralization of media power that will turn bloggers into future anchors of their own mini-news programs.

And again, I have to ask what would be wrong with that??? If bloggers can cover news more competently and provide better analysis of events than journalists in the mainstream media can,{3} why should anyone object to them making their own programs. Either people will watch them or not after all. But at the very least an alternative would be present in that arena as there now is in the media arena. And we can expect that Hollywood will probably denigrate those efforts (when they occur) much as the MSM has with the blogosphere and other alternative media outlets.

After all, monopolists in any sphere do not as a rule willingly surrender their power. Ergo, we should not expect the television/movie monoliths to be any more accommodating to their upcoming paradigm shift than the mainsteam media has been with alternative media outlets.


{1} I refer here to the blogosphere emphasis on the Swift Vets issue which caused the MSM to reluctantly cover it as well as the blogosphere handling of Rathergate.

{2} The latter is so commonly done these days that it is not even funny but I digress.

{3} And frankly, there is no question that we can for those who take time to assess both sources as objectively as they can.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Miscellaneous Musings on Bill O'Reilly and the Liberal Media

this is an audio post - click to play

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