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March 25, 2005

Terri Schiavo: A case of emotion driving policy

I've been aware of Terri Schiavo and her tragic situation for a long time, although mostly on the periphery of my mind. It wasn't something that caught my attention beyond thinking that her husband is a bad person. This time around, I've read blog posts about it and few articles, but have stayed away, again, because I found myself disagreeing with a lot of people I admire and respect. But today I decided to join the fray, albeit without effort to change anyone's mind. I want to give my viewpoint, as one of the most conservative people you'll meet, politically and religiously, and tell you why I disagree with a lot of people you'd assume would be my ideological soulmates.

There are several questions that the Schiavo case raises. How do you determine if someone truly is incapable of returning to functioning, or is incapable of meaningful interaction with the world around her? What are the moral implications of letting someone slip away when you could save her physical life, at the least? Does this have some bearing on the issues of right to life, right to death, abortion, and capital punishment? What are the long term implications of involving the federal courts in a local case? What precedents are being set? Is it appropriate to contravene a philosophical political position for the purpose of responding to an emotional situation?

First, I must say I don't agree with keeping someone alive in a vegetative state for years. I don't have a moral or religious principle I'm following here, in the sense that I would declare anyone who disagrees with me to be lacking in some way. I realize that while there is breath, there is hope. I also realize that, in the Schiavo case, "experts" on both sides have testified that whatever their clients want to believe is true is in actual fact true, no matter that the two sides are diametrically opposite. It's relevant to me whether the person is truly in a PVS or "semi-conscious". I'm saying this to point out my own bias, so you understand where I start from.*

Understanding that neither I nor most of you are doctors, we are at the mercy of battling medical experts. From what I've read, I'm more inclined to believe the ones who say that the parts of Terri's brain that make her uniquely Terri are gone. This has been battled in the courts for years, and I find it hard to believe that dozens of medical personnel are complicit in trying to do away with Terri before her time. So then the question becomes, how long do you try to keep someone physically alive when their intellect and personality are irretrievably gone? That is a personal question, and one that the family should rightly make. I think, in this case, that Schiavo should have given over the care of Terri to her parents long ago. That is, in my judgment, the moral choice.

Somehow this issue has become a huge rallying call amongst religious people, and quite frankly I don't understand why. I don't think it advances the anti-abortion cause to fight for every flicker of life in every human shell no matter what kind of life remains for that person. For me, ultimately, there are three issues at hand in dealing with life and death from a moral standpoint. First, I believe everyone who is conceived has a right to the life they didn't seek, and those who conceived should not interfere with the growth of that child. Second, I believe that no matter how handicapped or damaged or old or sick someone is, as long as there is a chance to enjoy life, to recognize their family, to be human, then that life should be preserved. Third, any life where the intellect and will remains to come to God should be preserved. Obviously that last has a rider - capital punishment. I won't go there today, but I think it is a valid exception to the third rule.

In Terri Schiavo's case, allowing her to die does not remove from her the ability to come to God - she is no longer capable of making a rational decision to do so (and I am not by that statement indicating whether or not she was a Christian prior to her heart attack - I have no idea. I'm saying, as she is now she cannot make rational decisions of any sort). She is not a babe in the womb. And she is damaged beyond recall. I'm sympathetic with people who see this as a form of euthanasia, but I think they are overblown in their assessment and are making a case in an instance where the facts don't support their contentions.

And now we come to the part that is most troubling to me - the involvement of Congress and the federal courts in this case. I think it is, very simply stated, wrong. I am a firm advocate of state's rights. As a conservative, I am for strict interpretation of the Constitution, and for holding to the states as much autonomy as we can. By that I mean, I think the states Constitutionally hold all rights to make decisions about their jurisdictions, with limited exceptions as stated in the Constitution. Over time that has eroded horribly, and in our time where we are so closely tied by common communication and culture, it's easy to be cavalier about whether something is a state or federal issue. We let that go at our peril. I agree with those who say that conservatives - although in this case I would call them Republicans, not conservatives, as they are operating as a party, not according to a preset philosophy, their actions being in direct contradiction to conservatism - are going the way of liberals, more concerned with the case at hand than the larger implication. So, you say, let a woman die just so we can preserve a philosophical ideal? People have died for less, and are dying for precisely that in Iraq. But that aside, I say again that the issue comes down to the medical determination, and while I think some of the courts in Florida have behaved arrogantly, I can't say they have behaved illegally. Terri's case is not an easy or clearcut one. Emotionalism, in my judgment, will always lead to bad law. And now that we have broken the bounds of reason to fan emotionalism, we will find that Terri will die anyway. We will be left with the precedents that could well, in the long run, harm far more people.

I may seem heartless to many people who read this, and for that I'm sorry. I'm not heartless at all. But I also see no reason why this case should create a religious, moral, or politically philosophical problem for me. It just doesn't.

Finally, I want to say just a bit about Michael Schiavo. The man is repellent, and a thoroughly disgusting human being. His behavior has trumpeted that clearly for nearly two decades. He made money by hauling the image of the comatous body of his wife into court, then abandoned all effort to improve her lot. It appears to me that the time to save Terri was in the early 1990s, when rehabilitation of various sorts may have helped her body regenerate to a degree. He promised to do that, then did not. Her parents have asked him to release her into their care; while I disagree with their decision to keep her alive in this state, I think he should have released Terri to them, divorced her, and gone on to live his life. He would have been thought heartless, and in my judgment would not be released from her in God's eyes, but certainly his behavior now has made him more vilified than he would have been for divorcing her. And his behavior also does not recommend him to God now anyway: living in adultery, siring two innocent children into illegitimacy, defrauding his wife financially and behaving cruelly toward her and her family. I think one of the main reasons this situation has reached the impasse that it has is because Michael Schiavo is thoroughly morally reprehensible.

But even that is not sufficient reason to make this situation into what it has become.

UPDATE: My brother informs me that his concern is that Terri doesn't need life support, she just needs food. Therefore, it's not a question of taking her off life support and extraordinary measures, it's just a matter of feeding her. He thinks it's a bad thing to stop feeding someone - that it's tantamount to killing them.

I can see what he's saying. But I don't agree. I think of the people who are deathly ill who stop eating before their bodies shut down, and that is more what this reminds me of. She can't eat on her own or even eat with help. She needs the feeding tube. She is gone. And no disrespect to her family, but I find it ghoulish and disrespectful to who she was in life to preserve her in this living death. And I say that completely separate from Michael Schiavo. I would feel the same way if he were not a part of the picture.

UPDATE 2: I highly recommend that you read this articleby Eric Cohen at the Weekly Standard. He gives an excellent summary of the situation, and hits on some of the issues I address above, only with erudition. He doesn't always agree with me, but it's one of the clearest discussions I've seen. He believes that the Florida courts have behaved with incompetence, made poor decisions, based their rulings more on emotional response to the sentient living rather than on law and a respect for all life (sounds like the US Supreme Court recently, doesn't it?). If that's true, then sending the case on up the ladder into the federal judiciary is appropriate. But that doesn't excuse Congress.

It's a very very difficult situation, and one we need to talk about as a country. As people live longer, and medicine becomes ever more adept at preserving physical life, we're going to have more and more instances of people in the state that Terri is in. We need to address it compassionately, with respect for life, but not, I think, with a determination to fight for every last possible breath we can eek from a body whose brain - whose person - is gone.

Here is a post from Powerline blog, which points to an article by neurologist Kenneth Graham. Essentially he points out that modern medicine really cannot measure consciousness, cannot really even truly define it in the way we can "tall" or "fat" or "diabetic" or "cancerous". Since we cannot define it properly, we can't accurately identify its absence either. He suggests we work to develop therapies, drugs and protheses that can be used to improve the functioning of neurologically damaged people. I agree 100%.

* So there will never be a question in my own case, with all of you as my witnesses, I affirm that should I ever suffer such physical trauma that my brain is dead or very close, that I cannot recover to interact consciously with my environment in a purposeful way, then I want to be allowed to die. And that means even if it is what they are calling here "starving to death". I don't want a life for myself that means lying in bed with my personality and intellect gone. I don't want a life for my family that involves caring for me day after day in that state with no genuine hope for recovery. In fact, don't resuscitate me to begin with; let me die and take as many organs as are useful to give others a chance at a better life. And do it knowing that my death moved my soul to be with God, so I am happier in death than I could ever fathom in life.

OTOH, don't be hasty either! If my personality and intellect are intact, but my body is very damaged, I can live with that. I love life. I don't want to leave before my time. I just don't want my time extended past the point that I know I'm living.

Posted by susanna at 11:42 AM | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Newsweek opines on Christ

I was braced to be annoyed at the newest Newsweek cover article on Christianity, I'm sure timed to coincide with Easter week. The tag heading on the MSN page wasn't promising: "Christianity: The world's largest faith arose from mystery & confusion". But on reading the article, I can't find much to complain about, given that it's written from a secular perspective. In fact, it's a fairly decent "short-version" summary of some of the secular proofs for Scriptural accuracy. I encourage you to read it.

There were, of course, things that made me itch to sit the writer down for a nice long conversation, but most of those had to do with the fact that he did not reach into the Bible to explain some of the behaviors of Jesus and His disciples that in absence of that information do seem mysterious and confusing. For example, a prominent feature in Acts is the intervention of the Holy Spirit in helping eyewitnesses to Jesus's life recall their experiences. The Holy Spirit guided them in other ways too, yet the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this article. I think that's a fairly glaring error. Even if he needed to couch it in the distant manner of a scholar, it would have been better to do so, like this: "The Holy Spirit, according to Christians, aided the disciples in their recall of Jesus's words on earth, words that made subsequent events much clearer in retrospect. This would have enabled the message of Christ to be spread over wide areas and into different languages, in a time where few were educated or had access to written materials, with little alteration in either message or intent." And that is, in fact, what happened.

There are other points, but I'll leave them to you. I'm just glad to find a piece like this in a major publication that doesn't take the opportunity to throw every dart it can get its hands on. A good job in an unexpected place.

Posted by susanna at 02:38 PM | TrackBack

March 19, 2005

I'm so good!

I just want to note that as of right now, I'm No. 1 in the standings of the group I joined to select winners for the NCAA. One of about 14 people. And I'm No. 1. Lots of guys on it too.


I'm sure I'll drop further, but I'm basking, right now. Oh, I picked Utah to beat Oklahoma. That's what pulled me to the top.

Posted by susanna at 05:03 PM | TrackBack

Sometimes a kiss is the kiss of death

Some people photograph so well that it seems the camera kisses them everywhere they turn. But sometimes, it's the kiss of death.

[Link via Tim Blair]

Posted by susanna at 10:34 AM | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

In defense of Canada

One of my favorite writers is Matt Labash; he's one of those writers that people try to emulate, and usually wind up writing pathetic little paeans to their hero that would probably make him blanch. And yes, I'm raising my hand here. To see a fine example of his craft (made even more palatable by comparison to mine), go read his take on Canada. Then come back here.

A lot's been said about Canada, and a lot of it I agree with. But just like this post makes it clear that a lot of Vermonters are not nutty granolas, there are a lot of Canadians who are more like my friend Rick than like the latest market entry from Quaker Oats. Let me tell you about my friend.

I met Rick online in a chat channel for writers. We hit it off and became friends. Shortly after, he became very ill and life was rocky for a while. We fell out of touch. A year later we reconnected and I visited him and his mom for a week in Canada, in a little town called Simcoe. His health continued to be difficult, and they moved to another part of Canada. Eventually we fell out of touch again, and the last time I called his phone number it was disconnected. I'd moved myself in that time, because the one thing that is always true of life is that it moves on, so if he'd tried to track me down it would have been difficult. But he's never very far from my mind, especially when talk turns to Canada and politics, because it's through Rick that I learned to respect and admire the more hawkish of our northern cousins.

First and foremost, Rick was an excellent writer, although unschooled. When we met he worked as a manager at a Tim Horton's (for us south of the border, that's somewhat like a Dunkin' Donuts). In his spare time he wrote. He had finished a novel in the manner of Tom Clancy, and a very good one too. He was starting a new one with a fantastic premise, reminescent of what Dan Brown later made famous with the Da Vinci Code. It wasn't the same plot, no plagiarism there, but with a similar subject. And the last time I read any of it, it was riveting.

Rick loved the military, although he wasn't able to join. He has forgotten more than I ever knew about it, all the history, the weapons, the battles fought and won, or fought and lost. And he adored America, adored Ronald Reagan, was engrossed in American politics. He could argue them as well or better than I could. It was a pleasure to hone my thoughts on the sharp blade of his logic.

And Rick loved Canada, the Canada with a proud military history, the Canada with a might that couldn't match the US in total, but could stand man to man without giving any quarter. He told me about the battles won decisively by Canadian fighting men, the value other fighting forces placed on Canada-trained soldiers. His first book involved a battle between the US and Canada, and by the end I was pulling for the Canadians. That is talent.

Rick was very passionate and intense, and very much a hawk. He didn't buy into a lot of the things about Canada that give me hives - in fact, those things gave him hives too. It was an education, because like most Americans I do tend to think of Canada as... well, okay, I generally don't think of Canada. But when I do, Rick Dupuis stands out as one of the finest, and reason enough not to toss the country out with the bilgewater that usually flows from its political sphere.

There's reason to hope, for Vermont and for Canada. But Vancouver... well, I think Matt Labash tells you all you need to know.

UPDATE: Incorrect spelling corrected thanks to the fine offices of Jim Bowen. May he be able to get the red ink off his monitor screen.

NOTE: In one of those quirky Internet things, I decided to Google Rick again, since I was thinking about him while writing this post. I've Googled him before, and maybe even found him without realizing it. But today, I came across a bio page on a Nascar site that sounds just like him. And the photo fits too, although it's been quite a few years since I've seen him and he's gotten older (me too). So this, folks, is (I think) Rick Dupuis, the finest Canadian I've ever met.

Posted by susanna at 05:23 PM | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

The Case of the Missing Logic

I'm willing to accept criticism of bloggers and blogging - like anything else, there are good and bad aspects, talented and untalented practitioners, overweening egos and odd humility. And like anything else, everyone sees it through their own prism. But, at the same time, there is an underlying logic and order to both the existence of blogs and the trajectory they have collectively taken. That's why I'm surprised at the bizarre ramblings of professional columnist John Dvorak, a self-proclaimed blogger, who takes on both bloggers and MAC users in this piece clearly written while he was on some type of medication.

I don't read Dvorak unless he's linked somewhere on a real blog (not a commercially derived pseudo-blog), so I can't say whether he's the Maureen Dowd of PC journalism or just having a Dowdy moment. But you really need to read the column before I discuss it. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now, you tell me - did he, somewhere, actually make an interwoven argument involving both bloggers and MAC users? Or did he just jump back and forth like a befuddled frog on a hot sidewalk without making any logical connection? I'm thinking the latter. And his extended argument about numbers of bloggers, and their influence, and IBM, and the huge conformity problem, and the inferiority complex bloggers try to assuage with cries of millions of Korean bloggers... it just made no sense at all. Let me deconstruct a little here.

Dvorak says:

If IBM cannot sustain a blogging community of even 1 percent of its employee base, with active bloggers representing less than 0.1 percent, how big can the community actually get? My guess is that the entire scene cannot go beyond 0.1 percent of the entire population of computer users, or no more than one blogger per 1,000 computer users.

That still implies a lot of bloggers, but the penetration is pathetic when compared to just about anything sold into the market. And blogging is free, mind you.

First, there are different types of blogging, just as there are different types of print media. You have to get your mind around the fact that blogging is merely a vehicle of expression, adaptable to many different contexts, styles and purposes. Kind of like word processing. Dvorak tries to use IBM's failure as a corporation to spark the blogging bug in its employees as an example of why blogging isn't all that and a slice of cheese like its fans say. But comparing corporate activity with personal hobby activity is ridiculous. I don't know what IBM's purpose for encouraging blogging is, but I doubt it's the same as my purpose for doing it. Apples and oranges. No relation. Blogging is a tool, not a flavor or a style.

Dvorak concludes from his already logic-lite argument that only a very small fraction of computer users will ever actively blog. And that undermines blogging because.....? Only a fraction of readers will ever be journalists, and an even smaller fraction will be columnists. Should we thus dismiss columnists as useless flashes in the pan with no value? (Don't tempt me.) To the extent that blogging has power beyond the individual voice, it's through not just how many do it, or even how many read them. It's because of who reads them. A lot of opinion- and decision-makers on the local, state, national and international level either use blogs to influence opinion or read blogs to gauge opinion in various sectors, including that knowledge in their information gathering and decision making. And it's also important that the bloggers are providing information that isn't available as soon, or as completely, in the MSM. Besides, Thomas Paine was just one man, right? Harriet Beecher Stowe, just one woman. Who's to say sheer numbers make the argument?

The last bit of the argument above is about market penetration, which is odd because it's not a marketing column (or maybe it is, somewhere in there, who knows?). The penetration is "pathetic", he says. Well, it depends on your definition of "penetration", and the market that you're looking at. Yes, the penetration is poor if you're looking at every computer user in the world, as Dvorak apparently is so he can make his argument. But, again, look at the purpose of blogs. While of course any blogger would like everyone to read their work, what's most important is penetration of a target audience. The real-world impact that blogs have had in the last year clearly indicates that they're reaching an influential audience in politics and public life. Are blogs going to change the face of the world? They'll do their part. And probably will have as much (or more) influence as, say, columnists, as a collective. So what's your market penetration, Dvorak?

After panning the numbers, Dvorak then accuses bloggers of group neurosis, insecurity on a mass scale. Because we're a small and falsely proud bunch, we have to prove our importance by yelling about how important we are and telling everyone else they need a blog. You just aren't in if you don't have a blog! At least, that's Dvorak's take on the bloggers. The funny thing is, I've met literally dozens of bloggers in person, and not one of them fit in any way the image Dvorak paints. They're not in the least insecure about their blogging or its role in the greater world. Sure, a few get cocky and self-important, but it's apparently a problem in every field, eh, Dvorak? I've also never heard a single blogger tell anyone else that they should have a blog, at least, not unless the person has first expressed an interest and longing to do so. In my circles, I know one person - my brother - who consistently blogs (and does a really good job, I must say). Of the people I talk to regularly, including family, perhaps 10 read my blog on any consistent basis - and I include those who read it once a month. I suggest sometimes that others read it, but not often, and not at all to most people. I quilt, too, but I don't go around thrusting fabric and needles into everyone's arms.

It appears to me that Dvorak just needed a column, didn't have much time before lunch, and pulled disparate thoughts into a disconnected rant. There's no logic, no theme, no argumentation, no sense, just a lot of venomous spittle. A Dowdy column indeed.

[Link via Instapundit. And yes, I do appear to be back among the living although not quite 100%. Thanks for asking.]

Posted by susanna at 11:18 PM | TrackBack

March 13, 2005


I really didn't mean to go this long without posting. But sometime last week I apparently popped a rib out of alignment again, as a result of some spasming in my mid back. It's happened before, and isn't as bad as it sounds, but it hurts quite a bit while it's spasming. I kept hoping it was just a muscle pain until I realized that I had pain in both the front and back, on a roughly horizontal plane, which corresponds to what my therapist told me was indicative of displacement. According to him, a muscle contracts in back from the spasms, which after a while kinks the rib the muscle is attached to, causing it to shift ever so slightly from its trajectory and thus pulling on the connective tissue in front where it attaches to the diaphram. He has to pop it back into place. Last time, one quick push on my back in the appropriate place, and all the pain was completely gone. But to get that little pop! I have to go to my GP tomorrow for a referral, then get an appointment with said therapist, also - one hopes - tomorrow. And in answer to the "but why did you wait so long?" question, the answer is, I didn't realize it was the pop! thing until about Friday.

I stayed lying down a lot last week with the back issue, which may or may not have influenced my coming down with a nasty cold. I'm generally not very susceptible to colds, but I hate 'em. Friday I was irritable, yesterday I laid about staring out of a fevered fog, and today I've coughed and sneezed and dripped and... you get the picture. I thought I'd avoided the runny eyes until this evening. I didn't. I'm heavily dosed with ibuprofen and Sudafed non-drowsy, which gives my mouth that bitter-tasting cottony feel. An additionally charming circumstance.

Now, put together the back spasms (albeit somewhat better) and the bouts of heavy coughing. Yes, things get amplified. I have to be careful what position I hold my body in when I cough or it gets ugly. I am not good company for anyone. So I am not going to inflict myself on anyone but assorted medical personnel until I'm back to sanity - or what passes for it in my life.

Excuse me, I hear some chicken noodle soup calling my name. I think I'll eat it while writing an ode to Puffs Plus with Lotion. Ah, the bliss of modern technology.

Posted by susanna at 06:05 PM | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Dave interviews Dan: Rather interesting

Right after the Rathergate report came out, the blogosphere ranted about how the independent commission had failed badly in their task by refusing to find political bias or to find that the documents were actually frauds. In the first instance, they determined there was no political bias - which is patently and provably false. In the second instance, they essentially refused to address it definitively, allowing it to go undetermined with the practical result that CBS could claim that the commission had not found the documents to be untrue or fraudulent.

Tonight, Dan Rather appeared on Letterman and proved that CBS is taking advantage of precisely those points. He stated that the two most important points to come out of the independent commission was that no political bias was found, and the documents were not proven either real or frauds. In both instances, that is a subjective reading of the report, presenting the information in the light most favorable to himself and CBS and essentially...

.... well....

Lying. Yes, in my judgment, his presentation of the information was a lie. He knows they're fraudulent, there's no way any reasonable person whose read the evidence couldn't know that. And he knows there was political bias - he worked with Mary Mapes, he had to know she had been gunning for Bush and that specific story for years. But that wasn't even hinted at.

He also made a strong point to emphasize that Richard Thornburg, who led the commission, was a Nixon crony and a friend of both Bush I and Bush II. He didn't even give the name of the other person on the commission, just made the additional point that the commission spent around $5 million on their investigation. What was that about? Is that supposed to be proof of comprehensiveness?

It was a sad performance, but not unexpected. CBS and Dave gave Rather a chance to vindicate himself. And he took it. Rather sad, actually.

Oh, and the blogosphere was not mentioned at all. Funny.

Posted by susanna at 11:26 PM | TrackBack

Saving Private Speech: Links for contacting your Senators etc

Earlier I asked people to send me links to their sites if they posted the contact information for their state. I'll post them here as I get them, linking by name of the blog where the info is:


Right As Usual

Posted by susanna at 05:31 PM | TrackBack

Will blogging be restricted by the government?

There is a real concern that blogging will be restricted in its political speech because of a ruling last fall that the Internet falls under communication restrictions in the McCain-Feingold Act. Glenn Reynolds mentions it here; here is a link to the case in question, and an earlier article on it.

I called my US Senators as soon as I learned of this, and I'll be calling my representative soon. I encourage all of you to do the same. In fact, I encourage each of you to contact your Senators, find out who on their staff handles these issues, and talk to them immediately. Follow it up with an email or letter with more details. If you do track them down, and you have a blog, list the name of the contact on your blog and let me know (biasblog -at- - I'll link you here so we have a central resource to find out who to contact.

For Alabama:

Senator Jeff Sessions' Washington Office:
Main website:
Office number: 202-224-4124
Stephen Boyd (telecommunications)
Ryan Robichaux (FEC)

Senator Richard Shelby's Washington Office:
Office number: 202-224-5744
Goodloe Sutton
The general email form for Sen. Shelby:
Sen. Shelby's contact page:
Sen. Shelby's email:

I spoke to Goodloe Sutton this evening, and he sounded encouraging, pointing out that Senator Shelby voted against McCain-Feingold.

UPDATE: Here are the US Representatives for Alabama, with a link to their websites. I've listed the specific counties they cover; some include partial counties, so you'll have to go to their website to make sure where you fall in that instance. This information is primarily from The Orator website, which lists all US Representatives and contact information by state.


Rep. Jo Bonner (R-1st)
315 Cannon House Office Building
(202) 225-4931; 225-0562
Mobile: (334) 690-2811
Counties: Mobile, Washington, Monroe, Baldwin, Escambia and part of Clarke
Web Site
Email form (works only for people in his district)

Rep. Terry Everett (R-2nd)
2312 Rayburn House Office Building
(202) 225- 2901: 225-8913
Dothan: (334) 794-9680
Counties: Autauga, Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Elmore, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes, Montgomery (northwest part), Pike
Web Site
Email form

Rep. Michael Rogers (R-3rd)
514 Cannon House Office Building
(202) 225-3261; 226-8485
Anniston: (256) 236-5655
Counties: Cherokee, Clebourne, Calhoun, Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Chambers, Coosa, Lee, Macon, Russell and part of Montgomery
Web Site
Email form (available only to his constituents)

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-4th)
1443 Longworth House Office Building
(202) 225-4876; 225-5587
Jasper: (205) 221-2310
Counties: Franklin, Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Pickens, Winston, Walker, Cullman, Morgan, Marshall, Blount, Etowah, DeKalb, part of St. Clair
Web Site
Email form

Rep. Robert Cramer (D-5th)
2368 Rayburn House Office Building
(202) 225-4801; 225-4392
Huntsville: (205) 551-0190
Counties: Morgan, Limestone, Lawrence, Madison, Jackson, Colbert, Lauderdale
Web Site
Email (no form):
Rep. Cramer lists his staff and their areas; it appears Jenny DiJames would be lead, with Dr. Thomas Koshut second.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-6th)
442 Cannon House Office Building
(202) 225-4921; 225-2082
Birmingham: (205) 969-2296
Counties: Bibb, Chilton, Coosa, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa
Web Site
Email form (he doesn't have a personal one; routes you through the mail US Rep one)

Rep. Artur Davis (D-7th)
208 Cannon House Office Building
(202) 225-2665; 226-9567
Birmingham: (205) 254-1960
Counties: Pickens, Greene, Hale, Perry, Sumter, Dalls, Choctaw, Marango, Wilcox, and parts of Jefferson, Tuscaloosa and Clark.
Web Site
Email contact - must give zip to get there, I don't know what form it is

Posted by susanna at 10:23 AM | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Free speech at Alabama

I just sent this email to the local NBC affiliate station in Birmingham; it's the best local news, in terms of both quality and professionalism. We'll see if it gets a response.

Fran and Mike -

I haven't seen every newscast lately, so forgive me if you've covered this and I missed it. Apparently the University of Alabama Faculty Senate passed a resolution last fall that would limit free speech on UA's campus, under the guise of promoting "tolerance". It's something that's happened in several universities, and students are pushing back. At UA, the Student Senate has repudiated the Faculty Senate's resolution, and passed a resolution of its own on Feb. 24 seeking to protect free speech at the university, even speech that some people don't like (the link includes the names of the students responsible for the resolution):

The student newspaper wrote about the Faculty Resolution and objections to it back in November:

The decision on an actual campus policy would of course be made by the administration.

Two UA professors. Charles W. Nuckolls and David T. Beito, provide some context in an article about the similarities between the Faculty Senate's resolution and segregation supporters in the 1950s:

Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University, has written about it on the Volokh blog, with several links with more information including incidences at other universities:

Randy Barnett, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Law at the Boston University School of Law and another contributor to the Volokh blog, also wrote about it:

The organization FIRE - - which has been involved in free speech tussles on other campuses, has a press release and other information on it:

As journalists, I know you understand how crucial free speech is to our democracy - it is absolutely fundamental. While good people never like to see innocent people harmed, at the same time we must protect *all* speech in principle or we become subject to the whims of those who would limit speech to what they approve of. That may seem okay when those in power agree with your own views, but it becomes untenable quickly when they disagree with you. And whose definition of "hate" do you use? For example, the UA Faculty Senate resolution arose from a comedian making remarks about homosexuality during his performance on campus. The FS want to prevent that kind of thing in the future. But there are many people in Alabama who believe that homosexuality is unscriptural - people who would never ever seek to harm someone because of their sexual preference, who believe the violence is just as wrong as they believe the homosexual behavior to be. The Faculty Senate want "hate" speech prohibited at all university functions. Would a religious club meeting on campus be thus prevented from discussing Biblical views on homosexuality because some people would consider it hate speech? It's not a far-fetched possibility - a Swedish minister was sentenced to jail for preaching from the pulpit against homosexuality. The sentence was later reversed:

Would discussions of the gay marriage amendments that are under consideration in various states across the country also be restricted because of the Faculty Senate resolution, especially if a group on campus supported it? It's a real question. And I think parents across Alabama would be interested to learn about this from your news station, because it's about their children and their children's education. Are their children being taught to hear *all* sides and evaluate their reasonableness based on some rational criteria? Or are they being taught to "Listen to us, we won't allow you to be bothered by dissenting ideas" by the Faculty, rather than encouraged to think on their own?

You can't limit speech because someone's views make someone else feel uncomfortable or even intimidated. The answer to "hate speech" is not politically correct resolutions, but more speech denouncing it from all sides. Less is *not* more when it comes to speech. Less is dangerous.

As a former journalist and aspiring academic myself, I find the concept of a *university faculty* officially seeking to limit speech on a college campus almost incomprehensible. What happened to the importance of debating competing ideas? And what kind of deadening effect would this have on journalism, if opposing viewpoints on controversial subjects were suppressed by law or resolution?

I encourage you to look into this and report on it at NBC 13. And just so you know, I am not connected to FIRE or anyone I've linked above. I've just been following this situation from personal interest, and wanted to encourage you to think on it.

And thank you for the fine work you do at NBC 13. It's the only television news I watch on a regular basis. The rest of my news I get online.

Have a great day,
Susanna Cornett

I also included my phone number, but I don't think I'll post that!

Posted by susanna at 08:40 AM | TrackBack

Tasteless and a tiny bit bizarre

The husband and mother of a US District Judge in Chicago were murdered in her home on Monday, and she found their bodies when she returned home from work. The article speculates that the murders are connected to a case of a white supremacist that the judge, Joan Humphrey Lefkow, ruled on last year; authorities aren't speculating on anything officially yet.

It is a horrible and radically life-altering event for Judge Lefkow, that her husband and mother were killed, especially if the deaths are connected to her job. And the fact that they are her husband and mother seems pertinent. But here is the headline from Fox News:

Federal Judge Finds Bodies in Her Home

And here is the lead paragraph:

CHICAGO — A federal judge, who was once the target of a failed murder plot by a white supremacist, returned home from work to find two bodies inside her home.

It isn't until the second paragraph that you learn that the bodies are her husband and mother. To me, that's just bad journalism - tasteless and a tiny bit bizarre. I recognize that headline space is limited, but it could have been written differently. When I read it initially, I thought, "whose bodies did she find?" I wondered if it was someone unrelated to her, because surely if it were relatives the headline would have said so. I found differently when I read the story. They should have done better; here's an example of how:

US judge finds husband, mother killed

The actual headline is 38 characters; my rewrite is 37. I think the relationship of the victims to the judge is more important than the fact they were at her house, don't you? And I think the majority of people would assume that she found them in her home unless told otherwise. That is something that could be clarified in the opening graph without harm to the story. In my judgment, putting the relationship in the second graph is just... well... weird. And, I think, insulting to Judge Lefkow.

Yes, in the scope of things it's a small thing. But news judgment is news judgment, and it makes you wonder where else they miss it.

My prayers go out for Judge Lefkow. And I hope whoever did this is caught soon and is sent to his Maker not long after.

Posted by susanna at 07:29 AM | TrackBack