Astonishingly ignorant and un-American

I don’t normally get into examining candidates’ off-the-cuff remarks, but this one by Sarah Palin really pisses me off, mainly because I’m in the media and I’m a diehard First Amendment advocate:

“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

This comment demonstrates Palin’s utter ignorance when it comes to the First Amendment, which is really short and not that hard to understand. In fact, here it is:

“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.”

Nowhere does it come anywhere near the idea that a person should not be subject to criticism for his or her exercise of free speech, but it does state very clearly that the press is free, and indeed the reason for press freedom is specifically to protect the right of the people to criticize the government!

To use a phrase that her side has been throwing around lately, her misuse of the First Amendment is truly un-American.

Update: Glenn Greenwald says it much better than I did:

“Maureen Dowd recently made an equally stupid comment when she complained that her First Amendment rights were being violated by the McCain campaign’s refusal to allow her on their campaign plane.

The First Amendment is actually not that complicated. It can be read from start to finish in about 10 seconds. It bars the Government from abridging free speech rights. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re free to say things without being criticized, or whether you can comment on blogs without being edited, or whether people can bar you from their private planes because they don’t like what you’ve said.

If anything, Palin has this exactly backwards, since one thing that the First Amendment does actually guarantee is a free press. Thus, when the press criticizes a political candidate and a Governor such as Palin, that is a classic example of First Amendment rights being exercised, not abridged.

This isn’t only about profound ignorance regarding our basic liberties, though it is obviously that. Palin here is also giving voice to the standard right-wing grievance instinct: that it’s inherently unfair when they’re criticized. And now, apparently, it’s even unconstitutional.

According to Palin, what the Founders intended with the First Amendment was that political candidates for the most powerful offices in the country and Governors of states would be free to say whatever they want without being criticized in the newspapers. In the Palin worldview, the First Amendment was meant to ensure that powerful political officials such as herself would not be “attacked” in the papers. Is it even possible to imagine more breathtaking ignorance from someone holding high office and running for even higher office?”

Search underway for missing angler on Mille Lacs Lake

A search was being conducted on Mille Lacs Lake on Friday for an angler whose boat washed up on the north side of the lake on Thursday.

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said Crow Wing Search and Rescue’s dive team set out early on Friday to assist Mille Lacs County Search and Rescue, whose dive team was seen leaving the lake around 3 p.m. on Friday. The man’s body had not been found.

Sheriff Scott Turner of Aitkin County said the search was focused on the south end of the lake because they thought that was where the man had been fishing.

He left Cash’s landing on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, Turner said.

See for updates to this story

One more step from myth to reality

My 10/19 column in the Mille Lacs Messenger.

America has always been a place where the myth shines brighter than the reality. You could say our history has been a long, slow process of making outlandish claims believable, of fulfilling a crazy promise, of making an idealist’s dream come true.
No one disputes the beauty and brilliance of the words of our founding documents, but we’ve had to fight for over two centuries to make those words apply to everyone, regardless of gender, race and class, to convince ourselves and the rest of the world that all men and women really are created equal, with an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As we marched across the country manifesting our destiny, we decimated the people and cultures that got here first, while polluting the Gulf Stream waters, mining the purple mountains and replacing the native prairie with amber waves of grain. We made our home on the range after hunting the buffalo nearly to extinction.
One hundred years after the Gettysburg Address, we still didn’t have a government “of, by and for” the people. The Civil Rights movement shook us awake, yet we still make it too difficult for some of our citizens to vote, and our government still doesn’t look like our population.
Forty years after Martin Luther King told us about his dream, our Senate still has only one black member, and nearly 100 years after Susan B. Anthony won women the right to vote, our Congress is only 16 percent female.
If you’re born poor, your odds of achieving a good education and a decent living are still much slimmer than those of your wealthy countrymen. If you’re gay, you can’t get married.
We still have a long way to go to make Jefferson’s words come true, but this week we’re on the brink of taking one more step from myth to reality.
We just might elect a black man president.
Two or three years ago, I would’ve laughed if someone had told me I would write those words in 2008, in all seriousness. “Sure,” I’d say, “someday, we’ll elect a president who’s black, or female, or gay. But not for a long, long time.”
I shouldn’t have counted us out so soon. We’ve shocked ourselves and the world many times by believing so strongly in those idealistic words. Lincoln did it when he freed the slaves. FDR did it when he smiled through the Depression, and our soldiers did it on the beaches of Normandy. JFK did it when he became the first Catholic president. Johnson did it when he signed the Civil Rights Act. Mondale and Ferraro did it. Shirley Chisholm did it. Sarah Palin did it.
America’s ability to surprise extends well beyond the political arena. Henry Ford shocked the world, and so did Rachel Carson and the Wright Brothers, and three guys named Armstrong — Louis, Neil and Lance.
This is not an endorsement of Obama. I’m not saying to vote against your values or conscience merely for the symbolism or historic nature of this election.
In fact, if the first black candidate were a Republican, I’d probably vote against him. But if he won anyway, I would rejoice that our nation had once more proved the cynics wrong and put one more nail in the coffin of intolerance and prejudice.
If Obama wins, it’s something we can all celebrate — regardless of our political views. If John McCain loses, he can do so knowing that the country he fought for lived up to the myth once again.

Brett Larson ( is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger.


People have been asking me about my recent camera purchase, so here are some thoughts. My real photographer friends (Eric, Jen, Viv) are welcome to weigh in.

Professional photographers might not like to hear it, but here’s what I think about the digital revolution: The gap between the expert and the novice has been cut in half. In the old film days, pre-auto-exposure and auto-focus, taking good pictures was 90 percent photographer and 10 percent equipment. Once AE and AF came around, it was more like 75-25. Now it’s about 50-50.

Any schmoe with a digital point-and-shoot can take better pictures than a lot of pros could in the film days, and any schmoe with a digital SLR can take brilliant pictures with the thing set on auto. (I know, I know, there’s still an art to photography, and those who have a good eye and lots of knowledge are still far more likely to take good pictures than the schmoes are.)

In addition to the auto-everything ability of new cameras, there’s the simple fact that you can take thousands of pictures without paying for film and developing. The old blind squirrel adage applies.

So that means for most hobbyists, or people wanting to take pictures of the family for posterity, not for art or a living, a cheap camera is fine — about 100 times better than 10-20 years ago. Those Canon powershots with the attached lens take really nice pictures and have a killer zoom on them for shots of birds and the feeder and such.

If you want the ability to change lenses, or you just like hanging an SLR around your neck, a cheap Canon Rebel or Nikon D40 or D60 is great. It’ll have more features than you know what to do with, but if you’re interested in learning more about SLR photography, there’s plenty to play with and learn about. They’re cheap enough that you can grow out of it in a few years and upgrade. As they go up to 12-15 megapixels, the 10 mp cameras might be selling cheap.

I was really close to getting a D60 rather than the D80 just to save a couple hundred bucks. As someone who is a bit more than a novice, I knew the D60 had everything I needed.

What finally changed my mind was the lens that comes in the kit. The 18-135 that comes with the D80 is probably worth $100 more than the 18-55 that comes with the D60, making the $200 price difference insignificant.

Other things I liked about the D80: A bigger, pro-size body that balances better with long lenses (I plan on getting a 70-300 from Viv cheap — another reason to go Nikon). An LCD screen on the top, with lots of quick and easy ways to change shutter speed, aperture, ISO, flash, etc. I’ll be taking sports pictures, which makes those things nice, though not necessary. You can make all the same adjustments with a D60, but it’ll take you an extra five seconds.

Canon people and Nikon people are like Ford and Chevy people. The strength of their loyalty is not proportional to the differences in the products, if that makes sense.

I was a Canon guy in the film days, mainly because my dad was. He was more of a Ford guy, too, but I bought an old Chevy truck last year and love it.

I went with a Nikon mainly because that’s what Viv shoots at work, and Rob will soon be using, so we can swap lenses and information, tricks and tips, etc.

Some people will tell you Nikon-made lenses are better than Canon-made lenses, but I don’t know if that’s true.

The people who seem most trustworthy are the ones who say to go to the store and try them out. See what feels good, what’s more intuitive, what fits your hand, what’s easy to use. Both brands have great entry-level cameras that are rated high by people in the know.

Nikon is known as being the more intuitive, user friendly brand, but I’m not convinced that the differences are that great. There’s quite a learning curve for a person going from an old-fashioned film SLR to a digital SLR, or from a point-and-shoot digital to a digital SLR, so the differences in “interface” are not that significant, IMHO (don’t you hate those abbreviations?).

I did a lot of reading, first debating between Canon 30D and Nikon D80. 30D is on closeout, so it’s cheap right now. The 30D is more a low-end pro model (like a Nikon 200D) and the D80 more a high end hobbyist model for the semi-serious “buff” (like the fancy Rebel xsi or xti or something). Prices were similar, but the screen on the 30D was a little smaller, and the lens I wanted would’ve made it more expensive than the D80 kit. The 40 and 50D have nice big screens and live view and all the bells and whistles. And about a zillion megapixels (anything over 6 is plenty unless you want to make wallpaper of your photos).

I’m already a little bit remorseful for not buying the d90 for the video because I take a fair number of videos for work, but I can live with a little video camera. The extra 4-500 wasn’t possible anyway.

Someday we’ll probably all have a telephone that does everything the D90 does (plus a computer/ipod/television/transporter). Till then, I’ll be having fun with what I got.