October 19, 2004 | 4:47 PM ET

WEB VIDEO AND THE ELECTIONS
Everybody's talking about the effect of the Internet on the elections, but what's really striking me lately is the role that Web video is playing.  My inbox has been cluttered with references to this video of John Edwards primping, courtesy of Slate, and while I don't think it's especially incriminating, it's certainly the sort of thing that the great unwashed didn't get to see in the old days.  (Things like this circulated on an insider videotape samizdat, but didn't make the air, meaning that only a few people got to see them.)  And hey, it's fair game for the " we've got better hair" team to have their grooming secrets exposed, I guess.

Meanwhile, this TV ad called "Ashley's Story" is all over the Web.  Some people are calling it the best ad of the season, but you can judge that for yourself.  And an outfit called p2p-politics.org has a setup to let people e-mail commercials for the candidate of their choice -- though at the moment, that only works if your choice is Kerry.

This kind of thing matters:  It turns out that far more people saw Jon Stewart's takedown of CNN's Crossfire on the Web than saw it on the original program.  I think that's a harbinger of things to come.

For some more troubling video, see this surveillance video from the Madrid bombings.  Those were staged to influence the Spanish elections -- and they did.  Let's hope that's not a harbinger of things to come, here.

Finally, I think that Web-based video will allow individuals and small groups to do a lot of interesting newsgathering themselves.  I've written more on that, and provided links to some examples of my own, here.  By the next Presidential election, I think that this sort of thing will be ubiquitous, with all sorts of consequences for politics and journalism.

October 18, 2004 | 12:54 AM ET

IN OTHER WORDS (MINE AND STRANGERS')
Readers sometimes write to ask me why I haven't written about one thing or another.  There are lots of reasons -- I can't write about everything, after all, and some subjects either don't particularly interest me, or call for knowledge I don't possess.  (I don't write about health care policy much, for example, because I don't have much to say besides, "National health insurance won't work, but the current system stinks.")

Then again, sometimes the reason is that I've written on the subject somewhere else.  For example, here's a column I wrote in the British newsaper The Guardian, on the Religious Right and the Religious Left in American politics.  And here's a column I wrote on election fraud and the superiority of paper ballots over voting machines.  I wrote that one back in 2002, just before those elections, and I kind of hoped it would make a difference.  Sadly, it didn't -- I guess there are no lucrative contracts to let when paper ballots are used.

On the role of bloggers, meanwhile, here's a piece I wrote on RatherGate for The Australian.  And here's an article I wrote in The National Interest:  on bloggers and the war.  And -- to pick the pundits' issue du jour, here's a lengthy blog post on Kerry's use of Mary Cheney's sexuality during the debate last week, from my other blog, InstaPundit.com.

Of course, I still may not have written about whatever it is you want me to.  But that's OK, because the blogosphere is a big, big place and my little corner of it is getting smaller in proportion all the time.  If you want to know what people think, try searching Google, or Technorati.com, or DayPop or Blogdex to find out.

There are a lot of smart people out there.

October 14, 2004 | 12:10 AM ET

MORE ON SPACE
Yeah, yeah, everybody's talking about the debates.  But I've already done two posts on elections this week, and meanwhile there's other important stuff going on.  Chief among those is the fate of commercial space legislation that could boost space-tourism efforts (and private spaceflight generally), just as the recent X-Prize flights of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne have generated real excitement and progress.

I've written a column on this over at TechCentralStation, but Alan Boyle has been all over the subject over at his MSNBC Weblog, Cosmic Log.  Start with this post, and then scroll up and down.

The key issue is whether the federal government should protect passengers on space-tourism flights.  The FAA's position has been that it should protect third parties (uninvolved folks on the ground, who don't want rockets crashing on their houses) but that for passengers the only real question is whether they knowingly assume the risks of being blasted into space atop a huge container of explosives.  The Senate wanted to change this and charge the FAA with ensuring very stringent safety standards for space tourism flights.

Given that we let people engage in all sorts of risky activities -- whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, sky diving, etc. -- without the federal government getting involved, I don't see why it's important to protect people from this kind of risk.  And I think that the Senate ought to recognize that government regulation could strangle this infant industry in the crib.  That would be a bad thing.

October 13, 2004 | 10:31 AM ET

DEMOCRACY'S MARCH
Monday I wrote about the elections in Afghanistan.  Tuesday, Jackson Diehl wrote in the Washington Post that the story is broader than that:

Drowned out by the bombings in Iraq, and the debate over whether the staging of elections there is an achievable goal or a mirage, the Bush administration's democracy initiative for the rest of the Middle East creeps quietly forward.  In neo-realist Washington, it is usually dismissed -- when it is remembered at all -- in much the same way that, say, national elections in Afghanistan were once laughed off.
...
And yet, the process started at the Sea Island summit of Group of Eight countries in June is gaining some traction -- sometimes to the surprise of the administration's own skeptics. A foreign ministers' meeting in New York two weeks ago produced agreement that the first "Forum for the Future" among Middle Eastern and G-8 governments to discuss political and economic liberalization will take place in December. Morocco volunteered to host it, and a handful of other Arab governments, including Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen, have embraced pieces of the process.

White House architects of BMENA are quietly pleased: This is exactly what they had hoped for.  No one really expects most Arab governments --  or even most Europeans -- to take the cause of Middle Eastern democracy seriously in the near future.  But just as the Cold War-era Helsinki process encouraged independent democracy and human rights groups to spring up under the cover of intergovernmental talks, the Forum for the Future has given Arab democrats a crucial opportunity.

One hopes that American Democrats will continue to support this policy even if John Kerry is elected President.  And they well may -- though Kerry's recent talk about the value of "stability" over democracy in the Mideast is more likely comforting Arab autocrats than Arab democrats.

What's sad is that the media don't seem to see the spread of democracy as much of a story either.  Perhaps it's just as well if progress of the sort Diehl describes doesn't get too much attention too early, the better to let it spread beneath the radar.  But even Afghanistan -- where, as Diehl notes, elections were seen as impossible until, well, they happened -- hasn't exactly inspired the press.  As Scott Norvell reports from Kabul:

It was a regrettably typical comment from an American reporter in this part of the world. "At least it's news," he said of the Afghan election scuffle over the weekend. "Otherwise, this is just a success story."

God forbid it be a success story.

But that's what it was here, no matter how hard the international media tried to spin it. There were no car bombs raining body parts all over the polling stations. There were no last-minute assassinations.

There were no drive-by shootings. The best they could come up with for "news" was grumbling from hopelessly trailing opposition candidates about washable ink and threats of a boycott. The media's disappointment was palpable.

Sigh.  A free press is supposed to be good for democracy, but its members sure don't seem to be excited by it.

On the upside, the Vatican -- which was vehemently opposed to the invasion of Iraq -- has now weighed in in favor of making sure the reconstruction works:

Cardinal Sodano has announced a newly hawkish line on Iraq from Rome. "The child has been born," he declared recently on behalf of the Vatican.  "It may be illegitimate, but it's here, and it must be reared and educated."

One wonders how the Iraqis feel about having their freedom likened to a bastard child, but at least the position is a constructive one.  For years we've been told that the way to deal with terrorism was to address "root causes" like autocratic Arab regimes.  Now that someone is doing that, you'd think more people would be excited about it.

October 11, 2004 | 6:20 PM ET

THE ELECTION MAY TURN ON THE ELECTIONS
In America, most pundits are still talking about Friday's debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush.  But the real events of the weekend are elsewhere.  In fact, they may be the elections that determine the election.

In Australia, pro-American and pro-Iraq war Prime Minister John Howard won a fourth term, and gained legislative seats, in an election that Australia's anti-war left did its best to turn into a referendum on the invasion of Iraq.  And it looks as if they succeeded in that, to their detriment.  As Australian journalist-blogger Tim Blair notes, candidates who tried to blame the terror-war for terrorism (in this case, the Bali bombing that killed so many Australians) didn't do especially well.

Howard's resounding victory hasn't gotten a lot of attention from the American press -- though you can bet that if he had lost we'd be hearing that it was a colossal defeat for Bush, evidence that standing alongside the United States is toxic worldwide, yada yada, yada.  But since good news for Bush is unwelcome, at least until November 3rd, the reverse isn't being emphasized.

John Tammes
The same is true for the Afghan elections, which represent a colossal triumph.  Three years ago, the Afghans lived under a medieval tyranny administered by the Taliban, who were themselves puppets of Osama bin Laden's organization.  Three months ago, and even three weeks ago, critics were predicting disaster, sure that a wave of violence and chaos would derail the process.  But the elections went off to the satisfaction of outside observers, and the greater satisfaction of Afghans.  The accompanying picture was taken by reader John Tammes, who visited some polling places in Afghanistan on Saturday.  He writes:  "These men are waiting to vote in Dasht-e Robat (Parwan Province). They were very good natured about waiting and they seemed to be proud of what they were doing."

Terrorism failed to accomplish in Australia what it did in Spain.  And it failed to accomplish in Afghanistan what it's trying to accomplish in Iraq.  You can bet that people throughout the Muslim world are watching this and drawing their own conclusions.  It's too bad that Americans aren't getting more coverage so that they can draw their conclusions, too.  But there's plenty of time for these lessons to sink in, and my guess is that they will.  These elections are likely to have a significant impact on our own.

October 8, 2004 | 10:53 PM ET

Video: Season of the blog

October 7, 2004 | 11:47 AM ET

KERRY'S CASE COLLAPSES
Although everybody's talking about weapons of mass destruction, the story that's not being reported --you'd almost think the press " wants Kerry to win"-- is the complete collapse of John Kerry's foreign policy case, and the reason for that collapse.

The weapons of mass destruction case is a bit more, um, nuanced than a lot of the press treatment makes it sound, of course.  No weapons have been found, but the Iraq Survey Group's report makes clear that Saddam wanted to outwait sanctions and then start making the weapons again:

The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.

Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."

But hey, Kerry voted for the war, so his arguments on that topic boil down to either (1) Bush lied, and I'm gullible: or (2) Bush and I both got fooled, but I'll do better next time.  Neither is very compelling.

The real centerpiece of Kerry's foreign policy stance, though, has been that he would be better than Bush at getting allies together, and at passing the "Global Test" before taking military action.  And that case is in total collapse this week.

Forget missteps like his dissing of our allies in Iraq, Australia, and Poland -- which drew a stinging response from the Polish President ("It's sad that a Senator with twenty years of experience does not appreciate Polish sacrifice.")  Now even Kerry is admitting that he's not going to be able to deliver on his promises:

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry conceded yesterday that he probably will not be able to convince France and Germany to contribute troops to Iraq if he is elected president.

The Massachusetts senator has made broadening the coalition trying to stabilize Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign, but at a town hall meeting yesterday, he said he knows other countries won't trade their soldiers' lives for those of U.S. troops.

"Does that mean allies are going to trade their young for our young in body bags?  I know they are not.  I know that," he said.

Body bags.  This sounds like the John Kerry of 1971.  I can't help but think that, for Kerry, every war is Vietnam.  And if he's President, I'm afraid that might turn out to be the case.

The "Global Test" bit looks kind of bad, in this light.  But it looks even worse when you consider the other revelations of the Iraq Survey Group -- namely, that most of the opposition to the war came from people who were being bribed by Saddam:

Saddam Hussein believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.

Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war.
...
To keep America at bay, he focusing [sic] on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council m bers with the power to veto war.  Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.

Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted.  Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.

Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" [sic] and spokesman for his re-election campaign.

It's hard to pass the "Global Test" when the people grading it are being bribed to administer a failing grade.  Perhaps Kerry should change his stance, and promise that a Kerry Administration would "outbid the bad guys."  That approach is more likely to succeed than the one he's been touting, which even he has admitted is doomed.

October 4, 2004 | 2:11 PM ET

IT WORKED
Alan Boyle has a report on the successful X-Prize launch today.  With video!

The launch -- coming, as Boyle notes, on the anniversary of the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik -- represented in many ways the final triumph of capitalism over communism.

It's not widely remembered today, but when Sputnik was launched Americans took it as a serious blow to their self-esteem.  Those backward Russians, beating us into space?  Did this mean that communism was (literally) ascendant, and capitalism in decline?  Many feared (or hoped) so.  Eisenhower tried to minimize the significance of the Soviet accomplishment, but the American public wasn't having any of it, and the sense that we were losing ground helped propel John F. Kennedy to the White House, where he made the conquest of space an essential premise of his "New Frontiers" approach.

To beat the Soviets, though, we essentially emulated them.  The National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics -- a small-scale R&D enterprise designed to help the commercial aviation industry -- turned into the National Air and Space Administraton, a huge government bureaucracy that brought command-and-control methods to a new perfection.  (For more on the historical background, I highly recommend Walter McDougall's book, The Heavens and the Earth:  A Political History of the Space Age.)

NASA got us to the moon in an amazingly short time.  But its subsequent history demonstrates that command-style economics is a little like steroids in athletics:  You get a burst of rapid growth when the drugs first take hold, but after a while you realize that your national testicles are shrinking.

That's what happened to NASA, which, after the good eight-to-ten years that most new bureaucracies get, became limp, flabby and fearful. 

It's time for something new, and we're lucky to have it, thanks to the efforts of Peter Diamandis and the X-Prize folks.

I heard someone on one of the cable channels (it might even have been MSNBC!) predicting that more people will travel into space in the next decade than in all of human history to date.  That's probably right -- and if it is, it will be because the forces of capitalism have done what they always do, making things cheaper, better, and more widely available.

October 3, 2004 | 9:32 PM ET

MORE ON SPACE
So why haven't I been blogging about politics here lately?  Well, I'll get back to it.  But I didn't start this thing to write about just politics all the time (just read the caption at the top) and there are a lot of good people covering politics.  But as I've said before, over the long run, what's going on in space is probably going to be more important.  (In fact, I agree with Stephen Hawking that it may be essential to humanity's survival.)

So it's good news that Monday morning we're supposed to see another launch of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne in pursuit of the X-Prize.  Rutan seems unconcerned by the rolls that caused last week's launch to be cut short (though fortunately not short enough to ruin the mission).  I certainly hope that he's right.

Meanwhile, on the military side, the Air Force is planning for military operations in space, and on the earth, designed to maintain space supremacy against all comers.  You can read the Air Force policy paper on the subject here, and a Congressional Research Service background paper on space military policy here.  There's nothing really new about this -- the U.S. has had a similar policy for decades, and the current National Space Policy dates back to 1996 and the Clinton Administration.  But the importance of space-based assets -- ranging from communications, to weather, to reconnaissance, to positioning -- in Iraq and Afghanistan has made the U.S. military, and potential U.S. adversaries, very mindful of how much U.S. capabilities would be harmed if the satellites and ground stations involved were shut down.

The best way to keep space from becoming a barren battlefield is to promote lots of peaceful activity there.  The X-Prize flights, thus, may turn out to be an important step toward limiting space militarization, even as they also serve as an important step toward promoting space commercialization.  That's yet another reason to hope tomorrow's flight goes well.

September 29, 2004 | 4:03 PM ET

SpaceShipOne—
It Worked!

Burt Rutan's X-Prize attempt was successful . The first privately manned rocket recovered from a wild corkscrew roll on its ascent to soar to space and back Wednesday in a bid to earn a $10 million prize.

SpaceShipOne, with astronaut Michael Melvill at the controls, climbed to an unofficial altitude of more than 330,000 feet, about 2,000 feet above its target altitude of 62 miles.

To win the prize, they'll have to do it again within two weeks.  I'm certainly hoping that they'll succeed.
I have to confess that I'm relieved that the flight went well.  I wrote elsewhere that prize competitions like the X-Prize have the advantage that they encourage learning from failure, and that's absolutely true.

It's also true, though, that people are a lot more willing to learn from failures when they see some successes. Rutan still might not win the prize -- the second flight might not come off within the deadline, and there are plenty of competitors hot on his heels -- but the fact that this flight went well — and did so on global television — is bound to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to get involved. That's a good thing.

Meanwhile, in Nature, Philip Ball worries that the X-Prize might lead to space colonization.
As they say at Microsoft: That's not a bug, it's a feature!  (Ball's column got this
sarcastic reply: "How about we campaign for a moratorium on political references to McDonalds except by ACTUAL sophomores?"
Sigh.  Nobody ever does anything worthwhile without somebody coming out of the woodwork to criticize them.

September 28, 2004 | 4:03 PM ET

STILL MORE ON THE X-PRIZE

Yesterday's post (scroll down) on the X-Prize came in just a bit too early.  I missed the biggest X-Prize story yet -- Richard Branson's announcement that he's setting up a new space-tourism company called Virgin Galactic.

Speaking at the launch, held at the Royal Aeronautical Society in central London, Sir Richard said: "Today is a historic day - it will bring the dream of space travel for many millions closer to reality.
"I hope, with the launch of Virgin Galactic and the building of our fleet of spacecraft, that one day children around the world will wonder why we ever thought that space travel was a dream we read about in books."

Flights are planned to leave from a launchpad in the U.S., and Virgin expects to create 3,000 "astronauts" over a five-year period. Paying passengers will be given three days training. At a cost of roughly $200,000 per flight, this is still a bit out of my price range, but it's a lot better than Dennis Tito's $20 million ticket price.  The BBC has more on this story.

Meanwhile, prizes are catching on. Alan Boyle notes that space millionaire Robert Bigelow is thinking of setting up a $50 million prize for a private orbiting space station. And in an unrelated area (er, except that I've been wondering whether I'd live long enough to visit the Moon, as I expected to when I was a kid....)  the longevity-research-related Methusaleh Mouse Prize has risen to $500,000 -- with more donations coming in.

With all this momentum, I certainly hope that the SpaceShipOne flights go perfectly. But the beauty of the prize system is that we're not betting everything on a single approach. It's worth thinking about other places where we can apply this sort of mechanism.

September 27, 2004 | 4:03 PM ET

X-Prize News

This week, Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOneis scheduled to launch, as part of its quest for the Ansari X- Prize:

"On June 21, Rutan's white and blue rocket creation climbed 62 miles above Mojave, Calif., and into the history books as the first privately financed human spacecraft. Now, Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the project's financier, plan launchings of SpaceShipOne on Wednesday and Oct. 4....
The X Prize competition was established eight years ago to encourage space passenger travel in the same way the $25,000 Orteig prize spurred Charles Lindbergh's solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927.
Lindbergh's flight fostered the birth of the air transport industry.
"The main reason we did this project was to show that a small company not working with government dollars can actually fly a manned space flight," Rutan said. "The flight we did on June 21 was indeed our program goal. We think that in itself will spark a lot of investment and a lot of other programs such that in a few years there will be a chance for people to buy ticket to fly these suborbital flights.
“I gave up on being an astronaut a long time ago, but I'd still like to go to space, and I'd pay a lot to do it.  (Not as much as Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million to fly in space — but only because I don't have $20 million to spare. Maybe if MSNBC gives me a big enough raise....)  So, I think would a lot of people.

I've heard experts in aviation economics say that today's system of air travel and air cargo wouldn't be economical if it weren't for earth tourism. I think we need space tourism to make space travel economical.  Plus, I just want to go.


My MSNBC blog-colleague Alan Boyle will be travelling out for the SpaceShipOne launch, and covering it on his Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online blog.
 
Check in there for his coverage. In the long term, this is probably more important than the election news that's taking up most of our time.

Blogging for Glenn Reynolds this week is blogger and UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

September 24, 2004 | 4:03 PM ET

Undermining 'Under God'

The House of Representatives just passed a bill that says: "No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance . . . or its recitation."

The theory, as I understand it, is to keep the federal courts from striking down the words "under God" in the Pledge. The Ninth Circuit federal court of appeals, of course, held in 2002 that the teacher-led recitation of those words in government-run schools violated the Establishment Clause, even when pupils were legally allowed to remain quiet if they preferred.  Earlier this year, the Supreme Court set aside that decision, but on procedural grounds, without confronting the legal question.

The trouble is that the proposed law might have the perverse effect of jeopardizing the "under God" rather than preserving it. It's true that Congress probably has the constitutional power to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts this way. Article III, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution lets Congress limit the Supreme Court's power to hear appeals: "In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.
"And Congress may also strip lower federal courts of jurisdiction because their jurisdiction and even their existence (see Article III, section 2, clause 1, "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish") are defined by Congress in most cases. There's some controversy about this -- see this from my brother Sasha -- but my sense is that Congress may indeed strip federal courts of jurisdiction over certain cases.

But does it make sense for Congress to use its power this way?  The Constitution is binding on all courts, state as well as federal (see Article VI, section 2).  If people are worried that federal courts may hold that "under God" is unconstitutional, they should be equally worried about some state supreme courts doing the same.  And even those state supreme courts that might not take this view on their own might feel moved by precedents from other states, since courts throughout the country tend to try to interpret the U.S. Constitution consistently with the decisions of other courts.

What's more, if a state supreme court does hold the "under God" unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, then there'll be no remedy (short of impeaching the state supreme court Justices). Amending the state constitution, which is a remedy for state supreme court decisions based on the state constitution -- such as the Goodridge same-sex marriage decision in the Massachusetts -- will do nothing to change the state court's interpretation of the U.S. constitution. And an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court won't be possible, because this proposed law would have stripped the Court of jurisdiction to hear the case.

True, the jurisdiction-stripping would at least confine the "under God" invalidations to those states where the supreme courts rendered such decisions.  But my sense is that supporters of "under God" won't be wild about this result, where "under God" is allowed in some states but not in others -- especially since the alternative might be the Supreme Court's upholding "under God" on a nationwide basis. In fact, most commentators assume, based on the opinions and oral arguments in the earlier Pledge case, that if the Supreme Court faced the issue again (without the procedural problem that caused the Justices to dismiss the earlier case), they would uphold the words, rather than striking them down.

Now of course it's hard to predict what the Supreme Court would do, especially if John Kerry is elected and appoints more liberal Justices.  (Liberal Justices are indeed more likely than conservative Justices to hold unconstitutional government references to religion.)  But still, it seems to me more likely that the Court would uphold the "under God" rather than holding it unconstitutional. And the proposed law would thus end up protecting state court decisions that strike down the "under God" (which would now no longer be reversible by the U.S. Supreme Court) more than the proposed law would protect the "under God" itself.

Of course, it may well be that the bill's purpose is more to make a political statement, by highlighting the way liberal judges have interpreted the Establishment Clause to prohibit many kinds of religious references by the government.  But voters who support such religious references should realize that, as a purely legal matter, the Bill may undermine "under God" instead of safeguarding it.

September 22, 2004 | 3:03 PM ET

Tongue Tied on FoxNews.com reports --presumably with disapproval, as an example of politically correct excess-- that

A Pennsylvania man is on a quest to rid a local Catholic high school of the "crusader" nickname because he says it represents an evil, violent chapter in the history of the Christian church, reports the Patriot News.

Carl Silverman is mounting a one-man campaign to force Bishop McDevitt High School to change its mascot.  He also wants the school to change wording on its Web site that refers to the school seal as "the shield of a Crusader, which serves to protect us from the secularism of the world."

Silverman thinks the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should ban the nickname altogether.

Crusaders, he said, refers to medieval military expeditions by Christians who "killed thousands and thousands of people with the encouragement of the Catholic Church."

"The pope apologized for the Crusades, yet these schools continue to use that term," he said. "It is time they realize what they represent."

Now I certainly think that the government shouldn’t be banning private entities from using certain team names.  There has unfortunately been some talk of that (see the examples in this article of mine, and the text near footnote reference 14 on this page):  The remarkably broad and vague "hostile environment harassment" doctrine threatens restricting a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, and it needs to be resisted.  I also don't think the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should be banning names.  These matters should be up to public opinion, and up to each school, though if the PIAA is a nongovernmental entity it does have the legal right to impose such a ban.

But it seems to me that Catholic schools should hold themselves to a higher standard.  Mascots, when they aren’t tied to the geography of the team’s current or past home (e.g., the New York Yankees or the former Minneapolis Lakers) or the team’s history or dress (e.g., the Chicago White Sox), are generally symbols representing something that fans and players should admire: the courage of a Lion or a Patriot, for example.  At best, the Crusades were a brutal event in a brutal age, not much different from the other blood-drenched attempts at conquest (whether by Christians of Muslims or vice versa), but certainly nothing to praise.  Crusaders didn’t use their "shield[s]" against "secularism" -- they were intended to use their swords to fight a holy war against a rival religion.

The Crusaders, even those who were personally well-intentioned, did not represent the Christian values that the Church today rightly cherishes.  Why should the Church use them as a symbol that deserves admiration?  It’s true that this is just a battle about symbols, but symbols are important, as religions have long recognized.  A Church that wants to teach its children the right values (as the Catholic Church does) should use symbols that fit those values, not those that undermine them.

I’m not wild about professional sports teams naming themselves after brutes, either: Pirates, Raiders, Buccaneers, even Vikings, who weren’t just Norsemen but those specific Norsemen who were chiefly famous for looting and pillage.  I don’t oppose American Indian team names -- and neither do most American Indians, according to the recent Sports Illustrated survey described here, which I looked at closely and which seems to me to be quite scientifically valid -- precisely because calling a team Indians or Seminoles is a sign of respect and praise, not condemnation.  (There’ll inevitably be some cartoonishness to the depiction of the mascot, but that’s the nature of mascots, whether Indians or Padres.  And while I’m more bothered by Redskins, that term isn’t a pejorative in the particular context of a sports team name, which may be why most American Indians apparently don’t mind that team name, either.)  But calling a team Pirates strikes me as no better than calling it the Murderers, Rapists, or Thieves, which pirates generally were.

Still, I can see why professional teams don’t change their mascots, since such a change may cost them millions of dollars in revenue (not a noble reason, but an understandable one).  What’s more, pro teams aren’t institutions for moral education.  But Catholic schools are such institutions, and they should take that special role seriously.

These calls for changing symbols and names have in recent years come mostly from the multiculturalist Left, and have been rejected, often rightly, as excesses of political correctness.  (See here for an example.)  But sometimes these arguments, wherever they come from, are correct -- even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  It’s not a loony Left-wing notion that schools should honor the honorable, not the brutal.  If anything, it’s something of a conservative notion, but it ought to appeal, if presented the right way, to people all over the political spectrum.

Likewise, there should be nothing particularly radical, liberal, or multiculturalist in arguing that our holidays should focus on the morally praiseworthy (such as President Washington, the Declaration of Independence, veterans, or Martin Luther King, Jr.) and not on those who were at best morally ambiguous.  Christopher Columbus was certainly an important historical figure, and was doubtless brave and visionary; but the discovery and conquest of America is at best a morally neutral event -- being a brutal and deadly part of a brutal and deadly age.

Our civic institutions should reserve their high honors, and a separate holiday is one of the highest of honors, for those who are morally deserving.  And this shouldn’t be simply thought of as a way of avoiding offense to this ethnic group or that -- though incidentally Columbus Day got big in large part due to ethnic identity politics, because it was embraced by the Italian-American community -- but as a way to better morally educate our children, whatever their ethnicity.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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