Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Digitial libraries

Google's plan to put online works from libraries at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, University of Michigan and New York is quite remarkable. We are getting closer to making the Macintosh "1984" commercial a reality. (You know the one where the woman in orange jogging shorts throws the hammer, smashing the totalitarian society.)
Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg puts it this way:
The Google announcement signals that the virtual library has become a reality, even if it will be a while in the making. It will take a decade to digitize 15 million books and documents from the Stanford and University of Michigan libraries, and more time than that before most other research collections are online. And although readers will have full access to books in the public domain, they won't be able to view more than a few pages of books that are still under copyright.

Michael Gorman, dean of library services at California State University, Fresno and president-elect of the American Library Association, isn't so sure this is a good idea:
The books in great libraries are much more than the sum of their parts. They are designed to be read sequentially and cumulatively, so that the reader gains knowledge in the reading. A good scholarly book on, say, prisons in 19th-century France goes well beyond simply supplying facts.

We suggest reading Dan Gillmor's book, "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People," to get a sense of where this is all heading. The book is online.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Democracy in Ukraine

Catching up with more on Ukraine and its Orange Revolution.
The Freedom House's Adrian Karatnycky
Now people power again is showing its influence in a democratic age that has seen free elections spread to 45 countries in the last 30 years. This infectious trend is why authoritarian rulers in neighboring states, like Russia's Putin and Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko, are clearly worried. Ukraine is now awash with thousands of civic activists from Russia, Belarus and other neighboring countries, and they are eager to learn the lessons of nonviolent mass action.

Michael McFaul, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor of political science at Stanford University,
wrote this before Sunday's Ukrainian election:
There was a time when championing state sovereignty was a progressive idea, since the advance of statehood helped destroy empires. But today those who revere the sovereignty of the state above all else often do so to preserve autocracy, while those who champion the sovereignty of the people are the new progressives. In Ukraine, external actors who helped the people be heard were not violating the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people; they were defending it.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Rents and wages

This report the National Low Income Housing Coalition shines light on the serious problem of housing low-income folks. It finds,
Today, the national Housing Wage for a two bedroom unit is $15.37. The median hourly wage in the United States is only about $14.00 and more than a quarter of the population earns less than $10.00 an hour.
There is ample evidence that rents are rising and wages have not kept pace with rising housing costs. Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggest that rents continued to rise faster than incomes in 2004. From October 2003 to October 2004, the Consumer Price Index shows an increase of 2.9% for the rental of primary residences. Hourly wages, however, were up only 2.6% over the past year. Data compiled by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University show that both contract rents and gross rents, which include the cost of utilities, have risen steadily from the mid-1990s, despite a decline in renter incomes after 2001.6 Since 1997, the federal minimum wage has remained at $5.15.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Taking what out of what

We're told that "Christ" is being taken out of Christmas.
It must be the season.
Already this month, we've learned that:
1. "Security" is being taken out of Social Security.
2. And "Armor" has been taken out of the Armed Forces.
3. Then again, there's not a real "championship" to take out of the Bowl Championship Series.

What not to wear

Per our editorial on Tuesday morning, here is some more reading on Andalusia’s Judge Ashley McKathan and the Ten Commandments he had embroidered on his robes:
FindLaw's Marci Hamilton writes:
Are the judge's constitutional rights violated by the requirement that he wear an unadorned robe? Of course not. He can express his message - and worship as he chooses - on his own time, wearing his off-duty clothing. Neither his Free Exercise rights, nor his Free Speech rights are infringed by that distinction. All that is asked is that he refrain from using his public position to foster his personal views. As in the case of the porn-selling police officer, the point is that public office and personal speech and religion should not mix.

Meanwhile, the Andalusia Star-News found general support for Judge McKathan's new wardrobe.
Elizabeth Shine, also of Andalusia, has no problem with the Pleasant Home native's judicial robe, and the fact that it is emblazoned with Old Testament scriptural verses.
"It's his robe," Shine commented. "So, if it's the way he feels, he should have every right to put it on his robe."

Of course, he represents much more than himself when he dons that robe.

Conserving what?

A new column by FindLaw's John Dean (yes, that John Dean) highlights a new study of American conservatism. Dean writes:
In their recent book The Right Nation: Conservative Power In America, John Micklethwait (the U.S. editor of the right-of-center Economist) and Adrian Wooldridge (the Washington correspondent for the Economist) seek to explain conservatism to Europeans (if not Americans). But they conclude that "[c]onservativism has become one of those words that are now as imprecise as they are emotionally charged" -- especially since conservatives insist "their deeply pragmatic creed cannot be ideologically pigeonholed."

We recently posed a similarly-themed question:
As quality of life rankings continue to put Alabama at the end of the line, what exactly are our politicians and other public policy advocates who claim the mantle of “proud Alabama conservative,” actually conserving?

Christmas crisis?

The central theme of Thomas Frank's book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" is the use of stories of conservatives being persecuted to stir up the Republican base. Keep 'em angry about PC trivialities, the theory goes, and they'll never notice how their leaders are working against the economic interests of the little guy. It appears to be working this season.
Instead of focusing on the president's plan to radically alter Social Security, what are the culture warriors fretting about this month? Why Christ being taken out of Christmas, of course.
Anniston Star columnist Jack Brymer did a fine job writing about the topic this Sunday.
The New York Times' Frank Rich joinedthe fun as well on Sunday.
What is this about? How can those in this country's overwhelming religious majority maintain that they are victims in a fiery battle with forces of darkness? It is certainly not about actual victimization. Christmas is as pervasive as it has ever been in America, where it wasn't even declared a federal holiday until after the Civil War. What's really going on here is yet another example of a post-Election-Day winner-takes-all power grab by the "moral values" brigade. As Mr. Gibson shrewdly contrived his own crucifixion all the way to the bank, trumping up nonexistent threats to his movie to hype it, so the creation of imagined enemies and exaggerated threats to Christianity by "moral values" mongers of the right has its own secular purpose. The idea is to intimidate and marginalize anyone who objects to their efforts to impose the most conservative of Christian dogma on public policy. If you're against their views, you don't have a differing opinion — you're anti-Christian (even if you are a Christian).

Two points:
1. All this religious fervor would be more authentic if there were a corresponding outrage against the rampant commercialism of Christmas.
2. We'd be better off if some of this partisan energy were expended to dig deeply into President Bush's risky schemes for Social Security.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Social Security clearance

Catching up -- belatedly -- to this morning's promise to provide more background on this morning's editorial. (I'm out of town and posting from a bookstore deep in the heart of suburban sprawl Texas.)

The Century Foundation's Greg Anrig Jr. writes that Chile is hardly the model of Social Security privatization it's made out to be.

The NyTimes' Paul Krugman comes out of his book-writing exile to write
this and this.

On the other side of the coin is this wealth of information compiled by the Cato Institute.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Unsung heroes update

Our call for local heroes has stirred up some responses as people have sent in suggestions. There's still time for others to respond. Once more, here's our pitch:
Scores of citizens regularly do good deeds in our community. They quietly volunteer their time, money and other resources, and good cheer to worthwhile causes.
We’d like to know about these unsung heroes, and share some of their stories during this holiday season.
If you would like to nominate someone who deserves recognition as local unsung hero, please let us know. Send in a short note telling us why your nominee should be honored. Be sure to include your name and contact information. The deadline for entries is Dec. 14. Send your nominations to:

Prisons overcrowded

The Star's editorial on prison overcrowding in Alabama was written in response to a report from the Southern Legislative Conference found here and here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Old St. Stephens revisited

Hardy Jackson's excellent column made us want to know more about Old St. Stephens.

The curious-minded can look here, here and here for more information

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Indian casino lobbyist scandal

Re Wednesday's Star editorial on allegations that Mississippi Indian casinos have donated money to keep gambling out of neighboring Alabama: here are a few links of interest

Lou Dubose of The Texas Observer has some background on the matter currently being probed by the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee.

The Washington Post recently editorialized on the scandal:
WHEN HIS NAME surfaced in connection with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation of lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) presented himself as another victim of the rapacious duo, who collected $66 million from casino-operating Indian tribes that sought their help to stay in business. Like the tribes, Mr. Ney said, he was duped by Mr. Abramoff when the lobbyist sought his help in getting a tribal casino reopened.

Maybe so. But Mr. Ney also pocketed large campaign contributions from the Tigua tribe of El Paso -- contributions steered his way by Mr. Abramoff -- and then pushed the tribe's cause in Congress. And he continued to embrace that cause well beyond the time he claims to have lost interest.

Another piece in the Washington Post, written by Thomas B. Edsall, finds that:
Shortly after Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, tribal leaders of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians approached lobbyist Jack Abramoff with a problem. The tribe's Silver Star Hotel & Casino had barely opened and already legislation was moving forward in Congress calling for Indian casinos to be taxed in the same manner as Las Vegas gambling facilities.
Abramoff knew how to take care of the Choctaws. He convinced the House Republican leadership that it had violated a core principle of the new conservative majority: It had raised taxes. The legislation was scuttled.
With Indian gambling revenue now exceeding $16 billion annually, Abramoff's success saved the tribes hundreds of millions of dollars. Soon, he was representing half a dozen other Indian tribes, some paying his firm $2 million or more a year.

The Montgomery Advertiser nicely covers the Alabama angle, including comments from Ralph Reed.
In response to that story and others, the Christian Coalition offered this denial.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Faith-based sex ed

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has released a
report on federally funded abstinence-only education programs.

The Heritage Foundation counters that "Waxman’s report, released this week, is riddled with errors and inaccuracies about the effectiveness of abstinence education and the risks associated with early sexual activity."

Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood
offers a different viewpoint.

This 2002 Washington Monthly article offers some background on the whole topic.
"For 30 years, sex education has been at the center of the culture wars, with liberals struggling to safeguard services that teach teens about contraception against conservatives' efforts to eliminate federal support for them. But since 1996, conservatives have adopted a new strategy: Instead of simply attacking initiatives they oppose (which, incidentally, are often administered by liberals), they have begun winning federal funding for their own alternative programs. With the administration's blessing, conservatives are breeding a new kind of federal pork geared entirely to their kindred spirits. Though it flies in the face of small-government ideology, nourishing the nascent abstinence movement with federal funds marks an important shift in GOP strategy to court its restless social-conservative base."

Wanted: Unsung heroes

We’re looking for local heroes. Scores of citizens regularly do good deeds in our community. They quietly volunteer their time, money and other resources, and good cheer to worthwhile causes.
We’d like to know about these unsung heroes, and share some of their stories during this holiday season.
If you would like to nominate someone who deserves recognition as local unsung hero, please let us know. Send in a short note telling us why your nominee should be honored. Be sure to include your name and contact information. The deadline for entries is Dec. 14. Send your nominations to:

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Turning Texan

Ronnie Dugger is the founder of The Texas Observer. In the magazine's 50th anniversary edition, Dugger writes that instead of Texas continuing on a course of progressivism, it has dragged the rest of the nation down to its level. Tragically, it's a level on par with most of the South. Here's how Dugger puts it:
"Could it be, I thought, that instead of what we’re working for — Texas growing into a more just, less racist place—the opposite will happen? The United States will become just like greedy, reactionary, racist, poverty-blighted, religion-ridden Texas? It was one of the clich├ęs among us on the Observer that we were dragging our state, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. But lo and behold, as of November 2nd this year, Texas has dragged the United States back into the 19th."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

More on network news

Continuing on from this morning's editorial, here are a few links for further reading on Dan Rather's retirement from the anchor's desk --he's staying on at "60 Minutes" -- and on the general state of broadcast media.

Liberal media critic Eric Alterman isn't
sad to see Rather exit. "Forgive me, but I’ve got no sympathy for Dan Rather, and I don’t think it’s only because I've met the guy maybe ten times and he’s never once remembered. As a rule, I make it a practice to dole out my sympathy only to people who make less than say, ten million bucks a year."

The Chicago Tribune's Steve Johnson
"The median age of the newscast viewers is 60, about 10 years older than for network programming and 25 years beyond the age of the average American. But network newscasts have held their audience better than networks as a whole, losing just 23 percent of their audience share between 1993 and 2001, while network prime-time programming over that time has dropped 42 percent, according to a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"The same report notes that 'the 'Today' show and 'Good Morning America' bring in nearly three times the revenue of their evening news counterparts," although they are on-air four times as long, 2 hours versus 30 minutes."

Newsday's Verne Gay
quotes a former NBC News exec in summing up the state of the evening news on the Big 3 networks. "The anchor 'used to be almost biblical, but that's no longer possible,' says Reuven Frank, the former NBC News president who anointed Brokaw as the 'Nightly News' solo anchor. 'We're in the second stage of very fast-moving, hardworking anchors who can go anywhere and report from anywhere. I'm not sure what the third stage is.'

Of course, there's always the cranky watchdogs on the right and the left.