Friday, June 30, 2006

The Anti-Librarian

The head librarian at San Antonio's University of the Incarnate Word has canceled the college's subscription to the New York Times "to protest articles exposing a secret government program that monitors international financial transactions in the hunt for terrorists."

"Since no one elected the New York Times to determine national security policy, the only action I know to register protest for their irresponsible action (treason?) is to withdraw support of their operations by canceling our subscription as many others are doing," said Mendell D. Morgan, Jr., UIW's dean of library services. "If enough do perhaps they will get the point."

Now, I can imagine some huffy dean of political science or a fat-cat benefactor demanding such a thing, but a librarian? Canceling a subscription might be a fairly civil form of protest, and it's certainly within any librarian's rights to do it, but isn't it only about a step-and-a-half from book-burning? When did librarians begin to morph into reactionary censors? To me, that's what makes this little protest a bigger deal.

And nobody elected the New York Times or The Beaumont Enterprise to determine whether Americans should be able to make their own decisions based upon good, complete information either, but that's central to any newspaper's mission. The librarian's lame logic disregards that he is able to speak so freely largely because newspapers have vigilantly defended -- at great cost -- his right to do it. I assure you, the government would have curbed your right to speak long ago without a vigorous press.

Also today, the U.S. House has passed a resolution condemning the media. (Don't you wonder how bribery suspect Rep. William Jefferson voted on that one?) Isn't there something a little hypocritical about Republicans condemning secret information being revealed by a newspaper ... even as high-ranking White House figures face indictment for purposely leaking secret information? Another reason why putting your absolute faith in government might be unwise.

Newspapers have done more to protect libraries (and their readers) than Congress or the White House ever did. When the same government lustily sought freedom to fish around in library and bookstore patrons' records, newspapers rose to defend readers' rights.

The revelation of the government's surveillance of international banking is really just a tempest in a teapot, and I'd imagine it delights terrorists everywhere. Do you really think they didn't ASSUME their money transactions were being watched? Smaller cells and odd-shot brigands might not have been so smart, but our government hasn't yet proven the program actually has paid off. They say "Trust us" and too many people do.

The Bush Administration has been marked by extraordinary secrecy. That's not a bad thing in war-time, but common Americans have too often been their target. Is government essentially evil? No, but it has proven over and over that it will act first for its own enrichment, and only later for yours. In the halls of government, common people are too often considered the barbarians at the gate, not the noble soul of democracy.

The librarian's personal feelings are just that, personal. But when he takes steps -- like the freakish Ward Churchill on the other side -- to limit a student's access to information to make decisions for himself, he's no longer an educator, but a common brown-shirt.

15 comments:

Chancelucky said...

Well said Ron. More than a few people have pointed out that the administration announced some time ago that it was monitoring financial transactions. It's also striking that so many government sources came forward to talk to the papers about thsi matter after the Supreme Court Whistleblower decision of a few weeks ago (Garcetti).

In other words, an awful lot of people didn't consider it a breach of security.

SingingSkies said...

Amen! And, to my mind, if Morgan really wanted to make a statement, he would have also cancelled the library's subscriptions to all of the other papers publishing the same article. Why single out The Times?

I also wonder where he got his information that 'many others' were cancelling their subscriptions to The Times.

I'm glad his colleagues responded in amazement that a librarian would do such a thing. With online access to newspapers, it probably won't have much of an actual impact; however, the symbolic effect is somewhat chilling.

Do you think Morgan's action would have gotten such a bland response from UIW's students if this had occurred in the 70's?

likwidshoe said...

So canceling a newspaper subscription is 1. close to book burning and 2. "common brown-shirt" behavior. Also, our freedom of speech can largely be thanked to those valiant newspapers.

Hahaha. That's ridiculous.

Oh,..and everybody knew about the program. That's the reason the NYT to ran a 2,000 plus word front story article. Because everybody already knew and it was no big deal. Right...

Ron Franscell said...

Wow, it's amazing how somebody can read that commentary and misrepresent it so utterly!

Canceling a newspaper subscription is a common act, practiced about, oh, 100,000 times a day, I'd guess. But when a college librarian unilaterally does it on behalf of the administration and student body, and openly admits it's a political protest designed to PREVENT people from reading a newspaper, then yes, it's censorship. Look it up, if you've got a dictionary.

I'm uncomfortable with other people deciding what I can know. Maybe you aren't and that's OK if you already know everything.

And the SWIFT program -- or at least the broad outlines of it -- were revealed before congressional committees after Sept. 11, when intelligence officials said in public sessions they were monitoring financial transactions. I don't know if "everybody knew" because frankly a lot of people are comfortable NOT reading newspapers that don't fit their biases, but the information was generally revealed 5 years ago ... the New York Times story (and other major papers, including the right-leaning Wall Street Journal) might not have been as shocking as the ranting radical Right would argue.

And yeah, I think if you were an international terrorist, you probably assumed your banking would be watched, so you'd take steps to avoid the usual processes ... as it has also been reported that al Qaeda already does.

Capt. Fogg said...

Likwidshoe doesn't seem to be aware that investigating wire transfers and bank records was announced on the White House web site shortly after 9/11.

Nothing more pathetic than a cynic with his facts wrong.

It's the government's assault on the media and in fact with any critic that reminds one of the brown shirts and no amount of pouting, whining or posturing will spoil the image of George and his cohorts stomping over everything America holds as sacred.

If it goosesteps like a nazi and rants like a nazi; tortures like a nazi, imprisons without charges like a nazi and equates questions with treason like a nazi - why not call it a nazi?

Eli Blake said...

You'd think that a librarian, of all people, would respect the right to write even when the topic is controversial.

And who will suffer? Not Mr. Morgan, who can exercise his right not to read this newspaper, as he always has had the right to do in the past. It will be the students, who will now be denied the ability to go to the library and read the original source next time the Times breaks a story first (which is not an infrequent event.)

That said, there is nothing which prevents an individual who already has a subscription to the Times (and in a city the size of San Antonio there are likely many) from dropping by the university library when done reading and leaving it out on a table somewhere. Or for that matter, buy a gift subscription (which will hardly break the bank) and have it delivered to a more cooperative professor or staff member to put in a student lounge somewhere on campus.

All of which points out the problem with censorship. The higher you build the wall, the more inventive people will be at finding ways to get around it. Put another way, if you believe it's worth your time and energy to prevent me from looking at something, then suddenly it becomes worth my time and energy to find out what it is that you are so sure I shouldn't be looking at, and why I shouldn't be looking at it.

Chuck said...

"If it goosesteps like a nazi and rants like a nazi; tortures like a nazi, imprisons without charges like a nazi and equates questions with treason like a nazi - why not call it a nazi?"

Now that's what I'm talkin' about! WELL SAID!

Ron Franscell said...

Damn, Eli, those are some great suggestions!

likwidshoe said...

ron franscell says, Wow, it's amazing how somebody can read that commentary and misrepresent it so utterly!

Wow, and how was this done?!

But when a college librarian unilaterally does it on behalf of the administration and student body, and openly admits it's a political protest designed to PREVENT people from reading a newspaper, then yes, it's censorship. Look it up, if you've got a dictionary.

Do you always argue like an angry six year old? I'm just wondering why you brought up a non-sequitur. Seems little more than an "oh yeah? well you too!" type of comment. Simply unnecessary ron.

I'm uncomfortable with other people deciding what I can know. Maybe you aren't and that's OK if you already know everything.

There you go again. Just like a six year old.

Capt. Fogg said, Likwidshoe doesn't seem to be aware that investigating wire transfers and bank records was announced on the White House web site shortly after 9/11.

Don't be an assuming self-congratulatory twit (opps! too late). Of course, this now makes the New York Times a big bunch of liars for saying that this program was secret.

Nothing more pathetic than a cynic with his facts wrong.

Speaking of yourself here? You self-congratulating assuming cynic with his facts wrong, you.

It's the government's assault on the media...

"Assault on the media"? Who has gone to jail? Who has been assaulted? When did the NYT get kicked out of the Washington press room?

Oh? Nobody, nobody, and they haven't? Wow! Some "assault" going on there! Hope nobody gets hurt!

...and no amount of pouting, whining or posturing will spoil the image of George and his cohorts stomping over everything America holds as sacred.

Wow. Way to lay it on thick there. (This is a great way for people to take you seriously.)

If it goosesteps like a nazi and rants like a nazi; tortures like a nazi, imprisons without charges like a nazi and equates questions with treason like a nazi - why not call it a nazi?

Because it's not accurate? Because you're delusional?

Ron Franscell said...

So anyone who disagrees with LikwidShoe is either 6 years old or delusional? Have opinions at your own risk, all ye who enter here.

Make arguments passionately -- even aggressively -- but without ad hominem attacks. At this blog, your right to swing your digital fist will end at the tip of somebody else's digital nose. Your disagreement can be made evident without name-calling.

likwidshoe said...

So anyone who disagrees with LikwidShoe is either 6 years old or delusional?

No. Would you like me to explain what was actually said?

Have opinions at your own risk, all ye who enter here.

Yeah, no kidding! Some guy named Ron Franscell will come along and misrepresent your argument! Other people will call anybody who disagrees with them a "Nazi". Ron Franscell doesn't seem to notice these comments though and only takes exception to those who counter such rhetoric. Wonder why?

Ron Franscell said...

LikwidShoe, it's all about you, is it? My suggestion to posters to avoid ad hominem attacks was meant for ALL, not just you.

And you're free to re-explain yourself here if you feel you didn't make yourself clear the first time.

likwidshoe said...

LikwidShoe, it's all about you, is it?

No, it's not Ron. Just noticing that you're quite silent until someone who doesn't agree with you speaks up.

My suggestion to posters to avoid ad hominem attacks was meant for ALL, not just you.

Oh! I'll remember that as you label the actions of a librarian "common brown-shirt behavior". Now I'm sure you'll respond by pointing out similarities, but one shouldn't forget that you're essentially calling people Nazis.

Now if you take exception to me pointing out this behavior of yours,..well that's common brown-shirt behavior Ron. See? I can play that game too. It gets us nowhere and polarizes the debate, but this is where you seem to be wanting to take us.

And you're free to re-explain yourself here if you feel you didn't make yourself clear the first time.

You mean if you didn't understand me the first time.

Now misrepresent my positions once again and act like it's my fault that you can't understand a simple back and forth. I just love that kind of projection.

Ron Franscell said...

At last you've said something that wasn't twisted unidentifiably out of shape and with which I can agree: We disagree.


See? There's hope for The Arabs and Israelis.

likwidshoe said...

At last you've said something that wasn't twisted unidentifiably out of shape...

You say this, yet you never did explain how and where I twisted anything.