Archive for the ‘Free speech’ Category

Je Suis Charlie!

Charlie Hebdo was an equal opportunity satirical journal in that they attacked pretty much everybody.  In fact, they had more run ins with Christians than Muslims, but that has gotten lost because they were attacked by “mooslims”.  Some people are willing to distance themselves from Charlie Hebdo because of its outspokeness in its satire.
free-speech-meaningUnfortunately, I have to say that I can side with Charlie Hebdo for wanting to be deliberately offensive in order to try and make a point.

I know that some people would like to imply that I am racist for my Dred Scott post, but that misses the point. I would have liked to have it so that “Dixie” played badly on an out of tune banjo played when one landed on this post. It was meant to point out the attitude toward blacks when Dred Scott was posted. Alas, I didn’t know about Somersett’s case when I wrote originally wrote that post or it would have been a different post.  However, one has to point out that slavery was accepted in the US and some still defend that institution.

Then, there are also the posts on Meleanie Hain, who was the pro-gun pinup who managed to get herself killed by a gun, even though she had a gun for protection.  Alas, Meleanie is one of far too many people who have died from pro-gun bullshit.

In fact, there is a serious problem with trying to satirise the pro-gun (and many other of the reality challenged right’s positions) in that without some clue that it is satire, it’s hard to tell the satire from the real thing.  This is something called Poe’s Law.  Thus, someone who may be deadly serious in their blogging actually comes off as a sick parody of their positions.

It’s a scary world when it is hard to satirise the crazies around us.

And harder to have a serious debate on the issues.


More posts on astroturf!

This one comes from Planetsave: Unprecedented Attack on Progressive Blogs, Bloggers, Democracy, Journalists, and Their Families:

The takeaway message: be very conscious of this issue, and realize that the internet is not a model of free speech and democracy at this point — it is increasingly dominated by propaganda campaigns and fake users effortlessly spewing lies.

The Planet save links to an Article by George Monbiot, The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent, from 23 February 2011. George says:

After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.

Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.

It now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HBGary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.

I’ve been wanting to find something about these commercial astroturfing trolls after seeing a post about them about 6 years ago (and not noting it).

See also:
The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent
Denier-bots live! Why are online comments’ sections over-run by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd?
Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media
Massive Censorship Of Digg Uncovered
From promoting acid rain to climate denial — over 20 years of David Koch’s polluter front groups
The HB Gary Email That Should Concern Us All
HBGary’s high-volume astroturfing technology and the Feds who requested it
More HBGary Federal Fallout: The Government Wants To Buy Software To Fake Online Grassroots Social Media Campaigns

The Liberal Media are as Liberal as the large corporations that control them.

This rant was caused by a comment made elsewhere about my So much to be pissed at post as well as a shitload of other things.

” I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. ”
Alexis de Tocqueville, 1805 – 1859, French political thinker and author of Democracy in America

I am curious about why the founders put the First Amendment in the Constitution in light of the de Tocqueville quote above:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It pisses me off that the first time I came to Philadelphia in 1980 and went to Independence Hall to see the US version of “speaker’s Corner” that (a) no one was speaking, and even more disappointing, (b) a young lady made a comment that “if anyone said anything bad about the US she would punch them in the nose”.

Compare that to Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park which has a vibrant history of oratory, discussion, debate, humour and madness. Rarely do people make comments about punching others in the nose no matter how much they may disagree in London. Of course the remark about London’s Speakers’ Corner that “the older generation of Socialists who have battled for their ideas here many for more than half a century” might go a long way to explain why the US version of Speakers’ Corner is silent.

While looking up material on Media Control and Propaganda I came upon the Third World Traveler’s Media Control and Censorship page. THIRD WORLD TRAVELER

is an archive of articles and book excerpts that seek to tell the truth about American democracy, media, and foreign policy, and about the impact of the actions of the United States government, transnational corporations, global trade and financial institutions, and the corporate media, on democracy, social and economic justice, human rights, and war and peace, in the Third World, and in the developed world.

My interest is the point that the US media are controlled by a very small group of people. Five companies control 80% of what you see on TV, and 10 companies control two-thirds of what you hear on the radio in the United States! We can get into how this affect the accuracy of US Commercial media, but you can find that in very fine detail at this site.

“As long as people are marginalized and distracted [they] have no way to organize or articulate their sentiments, or even know that others have these sentiments. People assume that they are the only people with a crazy idea in their heads. They never hear it from anywhere else. Nobody’s supposed to think that. … Since there’s no way to get together with other people who share or reinforce that view and help you articulate it, you feel like an oddity, an oddball. So you just stay on the side and you don’t pay any attention to what’s going on. You look at something else, like the Superbowl.”
Noam Chomsky, American linguist and US media and foreign policy critic

The concept of freedom of speech is to get out ideas which normally wouldn’t be heard. Unfortunately, the US media tends to play up and dwell on stories that are sensational – murders, car crashes, kidnappings, sex scandals, and so on. This is why the idiot preacher in Florida was able to get a vastly disproportionate amount of attention. Likewise, the Media chooses who it wants to support. As I mentioned in my Feeling “Left” out post:

the Tea Party Convention this February received more coverage than the U.S. Social Forum convention held last June, five days of strategizing, organizing and activism inspired by the 2001 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The Social Forum, in Detroit, drew an estimated 15,000–20,000 progressive activists from around the country, while the Tea Party Convention in Nashville hosted a meager 600 attendees. Compare the two “activist” gatherings striving for political and social change, one at least 25 times larger than the other—but the smaller one received the larger share of the media coverage. Across 10 major national outlets in the two weeks surrounding each event, the Tea Party got 177 mentions to the Social Forum’s three. Per participant, the Tea Party got 1,500 times as many mentions!

The Internet, in some ways, is just as bad since googling “gun control” nets you more pro-gun sites than ones that address the issue of gun control. The amazing thing is that the “gun rights” message is heard vastly out of proportion to its level of support.

“You have presented to stations around the world a model for freedom of speech and the unhindered availability of information… You have shown that despite media monopolies and manipulations it is possible to preserve a spirit of tolerance, freedom and truth and to allow dissenting voices to be heard… Your struggle to preserve your autonomy… has revealed an unexpected similarity between the media in the US and Serbia today, the freedom of speech is being stifled in a similar manner, journalists are being .. intimidated and progressive radio stations are prevented from operating. The character of media repression is virtually the same under openly totalitarian dictatorships as it is under democratic systems which are increasingly influenced by conservative structures.”

A message of solidarity from banned independent radio station B92 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia to Pacifica Radio Stations in the US, expressing support in their struggle to preserve progressive community radio in the United States – July 1999

The problem is that with media control in the hands of a few and no outlet for opposing viewpoints, the First Amendment guarantees are basically shit blotter. It’s roughly like the Second and Third Amendment guarantees against a standing army being trampled by an out of control military machine. One wonders in retrospect why did the founders bother to write all this down if it would become meaningless in a few years?

There’s quite a lot to be angry about here, but I am not sure of where to direct all this anger.

I will add a couple of links here for non MSM news:

Gunsmiths: in defence of Michael Bellesiles’s " Arming America" — Part I

I am not impressed with the charges that Michael Bellesisles’s Arming America is “all lies”. The problem is that by dismissing something as “all lies” isn’t really valid without some serious evidence. And to paint something with whole cloth as being “all lies” makes the original statement a lie if there is actually a significant amount of truth.

That said:

As someone who grew up in the Birmingham, England vicinity and is familiar with expensive British game guns made by the likes of Boss, Holland & Holland,Purdy, E. J. Churchill, John Rigby, James Woodward & Sons, Charles Boswell, William Evans, Atkins Grant & Lang, John Wilkes, John Dickson, Westley Richards and William Powell, I know that a handmade gun is (1) expensive as heck (roughly £25,000) and (2) takes forever to make. So, it resonates with me when Bellesisles points out that guns were expensive and rare in Colonial, and pre-industrial, America.

Let’s say that a musket costs £1/3/- (1 pound and 3 shillings), but that the average annual income is £50. That would make the musket roughly a week’s wages. But remember that there were other expenses such as food and that income would also cover the needs of the entire family under working age. There weren’t too many two income families back then. Also, the average citizen didn’t have a lot of things (one of those post-industrial revolution changes comes in the amount of personal possessions). Probably a change of clothes, some dishes, and cookware. The houses weren’t very big then either, unless you were affluent. Even then, they were fairly tiny by today’s standards.

I have seen 18th century gentleman’s budgets and how they pretty much paid out for things such as servant’s wages, upkeep of property and so on. So, one has to figure out where a firearm would fit into the budget: is it a necessity or a luxury? Think of your current 21st Century budget: can you afford many luxuries?

And they didn’t have consumer loans in the 18th Century!

But, firearms weren’t the only thing that were expensive. Until the early 19th century, pretty much everything was hand made by a craftman, even clothing was handwoven. Every part was different even when serving the same function. You could not buy a new part. You had to go to a craftman and have it “tailor made” to replace the broken part. Needless to say such a process was time consuming and expensive, and sometimes impossible.

In the 18th century firearms (rifles, pistols, and muskets) were all hand made by gunsmiths. Gun making was a craft. Some pistols were so fancy as to be almost works of art. Pistols and muskets were all essentially one-of-a-kind craft objects. When something broke, repair was difficult because the replacement part needed to be handmade.

This takes me to a couple of neat and gratuitous videos about British Gunsmithing from Mark Williams’s Industrial Revelations. The first is about Birmingham Gunsmiths and the Second is about the proofing process, which is how firearms were, and still are, tested in the UK to show they were safe.

While Birmingham was the “foremost arms producer in the world”, what exactly was the status of colonial gunsmiths? How many were there really? I see quotes such as this one saying that:

“Firearms were rare in colonial America, with only a total of 18 gunsmiths serving Virginia from 1607 to 1770, and only two advertised in New York City from 1726 to 1776.”

On the other hand, Clayton Cramer, comes up with a number of “2400 Americans who worked as gunsmiths in the period 1607-1840”. OK, Cramer is extending his period to well beyond the period in question (1607-1794), which in my mind is the period up to The year that the new Federal government decided to manufacture its own muskets so that the United States would not be dependent on foreign arms. Maybe that explains why the large discrepancy between the figures. Not to mention, that number would make the American colonies the largest arms producer in the world, not Birmingham or London. Stack the deck with some later (post-1794) arrivals and others who might not properly be called gunsmiths to come up with an inflated figure.

To pursue the entirety of this trade, a gunsmith must possess skills as a mechanic, a metalworker, a woodworker, and an artisan

I know that some gunsmith shops had multiple workers specialising in various tasks. Harold B. Gill’s The gunsmith in colonial Virginia gives the following example: Adam Stephen and Anthony Noble set up a gunsmith shop in Martinsburg, VA during the revolution and employed 30 workers performing various functions in the process of making 18 stand per week during the war for independence.

This book is interesting as it shows the household inventories for several gunsmiths, which gives you an idea how few possessions they had.

Prior to 1794, There were no real large scale arms manufacturers in the United States. In 1794, the United States Congress passed a bill calling “for the erecting and repairing of Arsenals and Magazines”. President George Washington, given wide latitude in carrying out this order, selected Harpers Ferry, then a part of Virginia, for the location of the Harpers Ferry National Armory. Harper’s Ferry was the Second Arsenal in the United States, The first being the The Springfield Armory

The land in Springfield, MA had been used as a training field for militia since the 1600s. In 1777 “The Arsenal at Springfield” was established to manufacture cartridges and gun carriages for the American Revolution. During the Revolution the arsenal stored muskets, cannon, and other weapons. Barracks, shops, storehouses, and a magazine were built, but no arms were manufactured. After the war, the government kept the facility to store arms for future needs. By the 1780s the Arsenal was a major ammunition and weapons depot; however, production of weaponry at the Springfield Armory began in 1795 when 220 flintlock muskets were produced.

As an aside, in 1787 poor farmers from western Massachusetts, led by Daniel Shays, tried to seize the arms at Springfield. This was a key event leading to the Federal Constitution Convention. Those involved in the rebellion planned to use the weapons to force the closure of the State and county courts that were taking their lands for debt.

Now, wouldn’t these frontier farmers have had guns if they were so common? Why raid the Springfield Arsenal? Especially since they were mostly veterans of the revolutionary war: wouldn’t they have just taken their muskets from the mantle? Another point, these were the frontier farmers that the framers were concerned and there is more than enough documentary proof for this, Justice Kennedy.

Anyway, naturally interchangeable parts were closely tied to military history, as is the history of manufacturing in general. Doesn’t it make sense to have interchangable parts rather than have to handcraft a new part if you have hundreds of firearms?

In the U.S., Eli Whitney saw the potential benefit of developing “interchangeable parts” for the firearms of the United States military, and thus, around 1798, he built ten guns, all containing the same exact parts and mechanisms, and disassembled them before the United States Congress. He placed the parts in a large mixed pile and, with help, reassembled all of the weapons right in front of Congress, much like Blanc had done some years before.

The Congress was immensely impressed and ordered a standard for all United States equipment. With interchangeable parts, the problems that had plagued the era of unique weapons and equipment passed, and if one mechanism in a weapon failed, a new piece could be ordered and the weapon would not have to be discarded. The hitch was that the guns Whitney showed congress were made by hand at great cost by extremely skilled workmen. Whitney, however, was never able to design a manufacturing process capable of producing guns with interchangeable parts.

Springfield Armory was a center for invention and development. In 1819 Thomas Blanchard developed a special lathe for the consistent mass production of rifle stocks. The lathe enabled an unskilled workman to quickly and easily turn out identical irregular shapes. The large drum turned two wheels: a friction wheel that followed the contours of the metal rifle pattern, and the cutting wheel that imitated the movements of the friction wheel to make an exact replica of the pattern in wood.In the 1840s the old flintlock gave way to a percussion ignition system that increased the reliability and simplicity of longarms.

Not only do we have changes in the manufacture of firearms, but the manufacturing industry changed with the introduction of mass production in many industries. The crude nature of 18th Century manufacturing would have been a limitation on the production of firearms in the colonies.

There is a list of Federal arsenals at the time of the Civil War here.

Get my point?

Or to quote George M. Dennison

As every American historian knows (and knew), no guns were made in the colonies, and relatively few in the United States until well into the 19th century.

So, by the early 19th Century, we have mass produced, interchangable parts revolutionising the manufacturing sector: in particular the firearms industry. Such that The invention of the Colt revolver by Samuel Colt in 1836 revolutionized gunsmithing, and manufacturing of firearms moved from being handmade to precision machine-built manufacturing. Add in that 13 Federal arsenals had been built by 1840. One of these was the Frankford Arsenal, which opened in 1816, it was the center of U.S. military small-arms ammunition design and development until its closure in 1977. So, we have a thriving firearms industry in the US by around 1820.

My question is does Clayton Cramer stack the deck by adding nearly half the 19th century to the years of American firearms manufacturing? Has he just tacked on a bunch of gunsmiths to inflate the figure for the colonial period? Cramer points out that “There are no sources listed for the information about these early gunsmiths. I believe that Carey and Gluckman–and more recent compilers of these lists–are honest and careful, but if you cannot point to a particular source for the information that these books contain, scholars–and those who pretend to be scholars–will not take that information very seriously.”

Funny, but Cramer, in his typically hypocritical manner, trashed Belleisles for doing the same thing. How can Cramer use sources which aren’t verifiable?

Here is a lovely critique of Cramer:

We hate it when our friends become famous, goes the song. And one of the odder experiences that the internet offers to us old-timers is that of watching our former sporting companions in the increasingly nostalgic exercise known as “usenet flamewars” become transmuted through the magic of ceaseless self-promotion into Acknowledged Authorities on one of the subjects in which they were previously considered Tiresome Cranks. 

So it is with the strange case of Clayton Cramer. A decade ago, Cramer was such a notorious blowhard that he rated his own, not at all complimentary section in the (now long defunct) net.legends FAQ, on account of his nigh-pathological inability to refrain from endless debates about homosexuality, no matter how inappropriate the forum. His very name still prompts shudders of immense retrospective annoyance from the people who frequented Usenet at the time. He was a crank’s crank, and his arrival in a discussion group was like the sudden appearance of a bloody inscription on the mantelpiece — Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin — or a group of circling buzzards: a grim herald of another formerly useful and/or amusing forum about to enter its death throes.

I’m not in any position to cogently criticize Mr. Cramer’s second amendment scholarship, and the general consensus seems to be that he knows his stuff on that score: I’m happy to assume that that’s correct. But based on Mr. Cramer’s creative approach to the truth back when I had the inclination to personally joust with him (just to save you a bit of time: the money quote from the above-linked exegesis is where he manages to dig up an article from from Redbook Magazine in the 70s that claims that homosexuals perpetuate themselves via assaultive pederasty; this is presented as ipso facto proof the subseqent scholarship on the subject is a coverup), I would suggest that if Clayton Cramer claimed that the sky is blue, you’d probably want to rent a spectrometer and double-check to be sure.

From Cramer:

But along with the gunsmiths that I can identify–and in some cases, where I do not have quite enough information to include them–there are a lot of other gunsmiths that were certainly present, but who have left no records. In many cases, I know about gunsmiths because of a single reference to them–and sometimes, they are only a bystander to the situation or event described. An advertisement from 1737 South Carolina described where a sale of merchandise would be held as, “William Cathcart next door to Mr. Miller’s the Gun-smith in Church-street…” This is the only known reference to Mr. Miller “the Gun-smith.” How many other gunsmiths worked in South Carolina in the 1730s for whom we do not have such indirect evidence? Gunsmith Daniel Nash, who worked in Southfield, Massachusetts in 1699, left a trace only because a stolen gun was found in his shop, and this was mentioned in a criminal case 

In legal terms, this is called hearsay. It is also anecdotal. Perhaps this could be called faith, which is lovely in religion, but has no place in scholarship. Honestly, it looks a bit like the loose behaviour that Cramer accused Bellesisles of perpetrating. I have known that Cramer is rather hypocritical in his scholarly methodology. Not to mention, he tends to use facts which are totally irrelevant to the issue. He does have a reputation, which makes it a shame that Bellesisles was roasted on the basis of this modern day Titus Oates.

Next in this series, free speech in academics.