Watch the Libraries

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Vital surveillance of dangerous subversives:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Update: Several people have pointed out that this story is poorly sourced, which of course is correct. If you need a disclaimer, here you go: I don't know if this report is true.

There have been efforts to make more detailed criticisms, most of which miss the mark. One commenter asserts as established fact that "the kid was giving this as an excuse as why they couldn't finish their research paper," but while that could be true, the article—the only source we have—says nothing of the kind. Some people find it unlikely that the student would need to use an interlibrary loan to get a copy of Mao's Little Red Book. But the article says he wanted a specific official edition from the Chinese government. (Are there any substantial differences between that and the versions he'd find at home? Maybe not, but that's what research is for. Also, I notice that while the university library includes several books by Mao, it does not seem to carry a copy of Quotations. Sure, you can buy it at any decent bookstore, but college kids tend to be cheap.) Over at bOING bOING, Michael Benveniste points out that "UMass Dartmouth does not use SSN's for student ID's." And, sure enough, the interlibrary loan request form asks for a university-issued ID, not a Social Security number. But that seems to be exactly the sort of detail that would get garbled in a third-hand account, so I don't think it casts much doubt on the larger allegation.

There is one part of the story that sounds fishy, though:

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

I know the Department of Homeland Security has a lot of duties, but I don't think they include the delivery of library books.

So is that a sign that the student's tale is untrue, or just another example of the inaccuracies introduced when a journalist plays telephone-tag? Beats me. Ya'll are welcome to contact the reporter and the professors to ask more questions. As for me, until the student himself talks on the record, I'm going to judge this not proven, but not disproven either.

Update #2: Whether or not the Dartmouth story began as an urban legend, it seems to have become one: There's at least one more version circulating. That one changes the setting to UC-Santa Cruz and adds the name of a professor who, contacted subsequently, has denied the account. We'll know the story has hit the big time when it gets attributed to George Carlin.

Update #3: Professor Williams weighs in, along with the local librarians.

NEXT: Five Brides for Five Strangers

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  1. Well, I feel safer!

    Seriously, though, I eagerly wait for some government apologists to explain why this is No Big Deal.

  2. thoreau,

    The fact that this came out in the free press just shows that The System is Working.

    But hey, at least the tax on Divident Income is lower.

  3. Yeah, but joe, the kid lives in Mass. So his gun rights are heavily restricted. He should move north, to Vermont, if he wants to experience the only freedom that matters.

  4. Stop whining! Christ, to hear you guys talk, you’d think the student was facing a tax increase or something. Focus, people! Focus!

  5. This must be a good sign – clearly Homeland Security has such a handle on that pesky terrorism thing that they now have enough free time to go after the communists.

  6. Does anyone remember the claims made during the recent Patriot Act hearings that the government had absolutely not used the library-watching provisions?

  7. Look, Jennifer, you can say that taxes don’t matter, but consider this: You should have the right to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Now, imagine that the kid is in a concentration camp for subversives, and he puts his energy into producing improvised knives and trading them for other contraband items on the black market. Wouldn’t it suck if the guards took 30% of his profits, plus some more for Medicare and Social Security?

    We might turn into a police state, but let’s at least make sure that it isn’t a high-tax police state!

  8. That is some solidly sourced journalism.

  9. You know, none of this would’ve happened if they’d have just elected me to student government back at Oregon. (Please ignore the terrible photo).

  10. Now, imagine that the kid is in a concentration camp for subversives, and he puts his energy into producing improvised knives and trading them for other contraband items on the black market.

    Black marketers don’t pay taxes, Thoreau, which is good, because it gives the government more time to hunt down college students who are doing their homework assignments.

  11. Any undergraduate who’s doing his homework isn’t to be trusted.

  12. The kid should just be thankful that he didn’t request a book on nuclear physics.

  13. Let’s see…professors make reference to an example of domestic spying at the moment the issue is big news. Traditional media outlet reports story based on professor hearsay, but does not actually talk to anyone directly involved.

    Why there you have it…the recipe for a credible blog story…I’m sure it will get circulated globally. Anyone else have a problem with this?

  14. Good point, Gaijin. I mean, you’d have to be some kind of paranoid freak to think the government would be spying on people. That’s not what America’s all about.

  15. Well, gaijin and Mapes do have a good point about sourcing. Looking at the article, I’m struck by another possibility:

    “See, professor, I was trying to write my term paper, and I had almost all of my references, but then the men in black came to my house….”

    I’m not saying that’s what happened, but re-examining things, perhaps a little more skepticism is in order.

    But I’m pleasantly surprised that nobody has yet shown up to explain how, if it’s true, it’s still No Big Deal.

  16. In other news, even the assholes are bigger in Texas. Yeah, because the freedom sapping BS in the PATRIOT ACT doesn’t endager the US at all, of course not.

  17. Give it time, Dr. T. Not everyone’s awake yet.

  18. Thoreau, it’s quite possible that Gaijin is right and the story is bullshit. But I am just astonished that after the zillion or so lies and unconstitutional stunts this administration has pulled, there are STILL people whose default setting is, “Give the government the benefit of the doubt.”

  19. It isn’t a big deal at all thoreau. I mean, civil liberties are nice and all, but this is the containment of Maoist communism we’re talking about here. That’s the sensation that’s just been sweeping the globe ever since its invention! If we don’t keep track of every single person who displays some level of intellectual curiosity in it, how will we ever prevent its spread?

  20. Jennifer-

    I don’t want to give the gov’t the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m just not so sure that an undergrad with a crazy story about his term paper should get any benefit of the doubt either…

  21. I was going to post something lucid and pertinent but gave up halfway through.

  22. Dr. T-Unless I missed it (and I did RTFA), there was no reference to the student’s not completing a term paper or anything else. It is a single source, and the paper acknowledged that it didn’t talk to the student, so there are some questions about the story. Still, I wouldn’t presume the student was lying to explain his failure to complete an assignment.

  23. Wow, the little red book is a subversive tract. What century an I living in again?

  24. I don’t want to give the gov’t the benefit of the doubt. I’m just not so sure that an undergrad with a crazy story about his term paper should get any benefit of the doubt either…

    Between the government and the undergrad, which one do we know for a FACT has been pushing all sorts of lies these past few years?

    The government no longer has the right to expect trust from anybody; it must EARN it in each specific instance.

  25. The government no longer has the right to expect trust from anybody; it must EARN it in each specific instance.

    And they say you aren’t a real libertarian…

    Anyway, my stance on this is, for now at least, skeptical and curious.

  26. Anyway, my stance on this is, for now at least, skeptical and curious.

    Mine too; I’m just more skeptical of the government than the student.

  27. Well, between the government and media hit pieces with weak sourcing, its hard to pick a loser in the credibility sweepstakes.

    This has the smell of an urban legend to me.

  28. As a student, this really fucking freaks me out.

  29. I gotta agree with Jennifer. The fakeness does not speak to the accuracy of the story.

  30. Man, this kid should get some serious extra credit for his gonzo approach. I mean he didn’t just read about “fascism and totalitarianism”, he lived it!

  31. As a Maoist, this really fucking freaks me out.

  32. We’ve monitored this conversation and have decided to award everyone here tropical vacations at an undisclosed location on a tropical island about 90 miles south of Florida. Merry Christmas, err…Happy Holidays.

  33. From the article:

    Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless.

    Yeah, now that he’s worm food.

  34. What I find amazing is that anyone ever believes anything the government says straight up.

    Pretty much every administration has lied about something, some more than others. Maybe it’s an inherent part of being “in charge”. And certainly, individual citizens have been known to lie every now and then, too.

    But really, those folks who immediately jump to the conclusion that the government *must* be telling the truth because, well, because they say so…what’s that humorous definition of “insanity” again?

  35. I think we’re jumping to conclusions here. Has anybody considered the possibility that Homeland Security is not trying to protect us from Communism, but rather realizes (rightly, in my view) the destructive and treasonous nature of all smallish books, especially those with red (or reddish) covers?

  36. “I shudder to think of all the students I’ve had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that.”

    So the DHS visits the alleged travellin’ commie but not the regular visitors from his class to al-Qaeda.net?

    And this kid’s afraid to come out about this because he’s afraid of “repercussions”? Seems like anybody who’s any real threat already knows his name, address, SSN, travel schedule, and reading list. If he was planning on getting a job in National Security and Motherland Defense, it seems like he’s going to have an uphill battle already with the security clearances and such.

    Couldn’t some credible newspaper(s) hear his story, verify the facts, and publish while guaranteeing him anonymity? It’s not exactly like he’s Scooter Libby.

  37. If the kid had asked for Mein Kampf, he’d probably have gotten a Congressional Medal of Freedom from the pResident.

  38. According to boingboing, this might be a hoax

    DHS agents visit student over “Little Red Book” loan — hoax?
    A Massachussetts paper is reporting that a college student was visited by Department of Homeland Security agents in October after requesting a copy of Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung — better known as “The Little Red Book” — from a university library:
    Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.
    The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

    The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a “watch list,” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

    Link to news report.
    Attention, comrades! Subversive cesspool Amazon.com sells copies of this watchlisted terrorist manual. Here’s the link where you can buy a copy before you invite the DHS over for eggnog. (Thanks, Nat, and the approximately ten gajillion other fellow travelers who suggested this item.)

    Reader comment: Glenn Fleishman says,

    Not that this excuses the government’s action, but, in fact may chill us further: the student requested “the official Peking version.” So it’s not JUST he asked for Mao’s book, but rather he asked for original source material (an authorized, unabridged translation into English).
    Reader comment: Michael Benveniste says,

    1. UMass Dartmouth does not use SSN’s for student ID’s. An interlibrary loan request by SSN would seem to violate the University’s own privacy policies (Link).
    2. The reporter has not talked to the student. He has talked to the professors, who told him what the student claimed happened. The professors have no first hand knowledge of the incident.

    3. It seems a little unlikely that UMass Dartmouth wouldn’t have the Little Red Book on Campus.

    4. The professors only “went public” with the story in response to a query about domestic wiretapping.

    I think it’s at least equally likely that the student made up an excuse for not doing some work, and that the professors bought into it enough to advance their own agenda.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2005/12/18/dhs_agents_visit_stu.html

  39. “I think it’s at least equally likely that the student made up an excuse for not doing some work, ….”

    gasp! you stumbled upon the primary reason for “alternative approaches” to common subjects!!! 🙂

  40. Come on, hasn’t this story been debunked yet?

    Aside from the fact that little red books are so utterly common as to not mean anything (I got my little red book in beijing printed by the Communist party, declared it with customs, who couldn’t possibly care less about it). I have seen little red books at coffee houses, people passing them out for free on college campuses, and you can get several versions for free, online. They print a bunch of these in the United States… by the same company that prints little New Testament bibles! The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t give a crap about Mao’s little red book.

    But, let us pretend for a minute they did, THEY WOULD NOT IMMEDIATLY CONFRONT THE PERSON AND TAKE THEIR BOOK FROM THEM!!! This is not how the law enforcement process works. They would put them on a watch list to determine what other books the student is reading… they might tap his phones, or spy on his email, or snoop around to see if he is posting anything strange on blogs. If they were to contact anybody, they might contact the University and ask them some questions about the student. But they would NEVER, EVER go to someones house, and say “I am from the Department of Homeland Security, now give me your copy of the little red book”.

    Then you add to the story the fact that the kid was giving this as an excuse as why they couldn’t finish their research paper (I guess the online version of the book isn’t good enough?)… and it was a class on “facism totalitarianism”… and that it just happened to be at the same time that G. W. Bush admitted to authorizing spying on Americans… and that the story comes from a single anonymous source, that cannot in any way be confirmed.

    I don’t like the Department of Homeland Security any more than you, and I am certainly paranoid of my government. But that doesn’t mean that we should accept every crap story hook, line, and sinker. I expected a little more critical thought from the people at Reason.

  41. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there is no official “Peking” version of Maos quotations.

  42. This smells like a hoax, though I’m perfectly fine with distrusting the government on principle. I do like the “But the Feds ate my homework” excuse, though.

    Is there anywhere I can go to confess to reading The Communist Manifesto? Yeah, I’m a libertarian and everything, but I did read it (suspiciously, that was in college, too. Hmmmm). In fact–dear Adam Smith–I think I may even own it. Will I ever be washed clean of this taint?

  43. Having lived in the neighborhood, I’ll tell you there is a reason the paper is known as the ‘sub-standard times’ and I’m not fully buying the story that he couldn’t get what he needed on site since there are 19 books authored by Mao in stock. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get him.

    Sometimes I feel bad for thinking the worst about my government, but then they always manage to prove me right.

  44. Are we back to “fake but accurate” yet again?

  45. If the government doesn’t want people to get suspicious at times like this, it needs to stop insisting it is above the law, and should be allowed to keep anything it wants a secret.

    And if they could stop spying on Americans without a warrant that would also be nice, but Bish has already said that he intends to let the NSA continue its warrantless spying.

    For Our Safety.

  46. zigpoop: There are different versions of Mao’s quotations. I don’t think it is unreasonable for a scholar to look at the history of their source material and try to determnine they have the best version.
    http://www.bibsocamer.org/BibSite/Han/

  47. The last I was there, they spelled the the capital of China “Beijing”.

    Oops-I better put on my tin-foil hat.

  48. Are we back to “fake but accurate” yet again?

    RC, do you think it’s unreasonable for Americans here at the end of 2005 to be distrustful of the government? Just two days after Bush gave a radio address saying “Yeah, we were caught spying on Americans but we will continue to do so anyway?”

  49. I have to (mostly) agree with Jennifer here. This particular case is probably nonsense, but the government has done plenty (both before, during, and surely after the current administration’s tenure) to make us suspicious. In fact, the Constitution and our political structure is based on suspicion about all government actions. There is nothing wrong and certainly nothing anti-American about a little judicious dose of paranoia.

    I do agree that there’s a problem with taking any specific instance and believing it when the facts don’t support it. Sometimes, the facts aren’t there to begin with, and all we have is supposition. But in this case, something like this should be falsifiable. As was the issue with Bush’s National Guard service. That scandal has proven to be (again, mostly) without merit; if there had been anything to it, the facts would’ve come out long ago.

  50. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there is no official “Peking” version of Maos quotations.

    Actually, there is. I used to own it. The bottom of the title page indicates its provenance as “Foreign Languages Press/Peking”.

    The last I was there, they spelled the the capital of China “Beijing”.

    I’m guessing that the last time you were there was considerably after 1966, when the official English translation of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (note: not “Mao Zedong”) was published. Back in those days, they were spelling it “Peking.”

    (BTW, I’m still kicking myself for having gotten rid of that book some time in the 1970s. It was a pre-1971 version, which means it still had the preface from Comrade Lin Piao (note: not “Lin Biao”). After 1971, Lin became a non-person, and his preface was eliminated from all subsequent printings of Quotations, making copies of the earlier edition relatively rare collector’s items.)

  51. I’ve sent emails to the two professors trying to get a report for my newspaper. So far no response but I’ll keep you posted.

  52. As for the social security number discrepancy, when I was an undergrad (’98-’02) at another public university in New England, our student ID number was the same as our SSN.

  53. This story is bogus, and reprinting it here only gives the rumor legs. This ranks up with politicians taking cheaps shots by saying, “I’m not sure if this is true, but some people say that my opponent’s mother is a Vietnamese whore.”

  54. RC, “Are we back to “fake but accurate” yet again?”

    I don’t know. Are there multiple sources corroborating the college student’s story, as there were multiple independent sources corroborating the fake memo’s assertions about Bush?

  55. what a great thread! this is so illuminating! all those who believe Homeland Security is investigating people for looking at mao’s little red book, raise your hands.

  56. To echo Adam, I know at NYU and other large-ish schools, the SSN tends to be a student’s ID number, so it’s not out of the question that DHS could have culled it from the request. This story does sound a little ridiculous, though. Makes me think of Farenheit 451.

  57. all those who believe Homeland Security is investigating people for looking at mao’s little red book, raise your hands.

    That isn’t what the article asserts, of course. But I find it perfectly plausible that the government that confiscates a G.I. Joe doll’s tiny toy gun in an airport would have a similar trouble distinguishing a student researching Chairman Mao from a terrorist plotting an attack.

  58. But really, those folks who immediately jump to the conclusion that the government *must* be telling the truth because, well, because they say so…what’s that humorous definition of “insanity” again?

    I’m sorry, I missed the claim by the government that people are leaping to believe.

    do you think it’s unreasonable for Americans here at the end of 2005 to be distrustful of the government?

    No. But it’s very unreasonable to accept at face value every story about the government doing a Especially Silly Bad Thing. It kills your credibility when you talk about X, Y, and Z abuses of government and someone laughs and points out that the first two have been thoroughly debunked, so why should anyone even care what you ramble about the third?

  59. But I find it perfectly plausible that the government that confiscates a G.I. Joe doll’s tiny toy gun in an airport would have a similar trouble distinguishing a student researching Chairman Mao from a terrorist plotting an attack.

    This is also the same government that cannot distinguish between turbaned Sikh tourists and Talibaned Muslim terrorists. This is also the same government who thinks that a no-fly list which prevents people with common names like “Peter Johnson” from flying will prevent the next terrorist attack. This is also the same government who believes voluntary bag searches of subway passengers will stop terrorism.

    Serious question: why do so many people, let alone supposed libertarians, insist on believing in this illusion of government competency?

  60. OK, Jesse & Jennifer YES. Randolph & Eric NO

  61. Some observations:

    1) It would be nice to live in a country where such a story would seem so ridiculous that nobody would give it even a moment’s consideration.

    2) I don’t know if the student used this story as an excuse or not. Maybe he submitted a complete term paper nonetheless. I just know that weird and poorly documented stories regarding term paper foibles should be met with some skepticism. I’d like to hope that the professors didn’t buy the story as an excuse. Even a short stint of teaching should be enough to make one jaded to excuses. But I also know that there are some faculty who will fall for anything. (God only knows why.)

    3) I don’t know how many editions or translations there are of Mao, but it makes sense to me that somebody would want to get a translation prepared by the Chinese government. If your goal is to study propaganda used by despotic regimes, it’s best to get the version put out by the despotic regime in question, so you can see exactly how they present themselves.

    4) It would be interesting to hear from the student, but I don’t know if his first hand account would be enough. If he’s lying, his story might have some obvious holes. But if he’s telling the truth, it would still just be one person’s story.

    More interesting would be to hear from some library officials. I realize that under the Patriot Act they can’t come out and say that they responded to a request for info, but there are different types of denials. If they just flat out, unambiguously deny it, that’s one thing. If, OTOH, they say something like “Under the Patriot Act we cannot comment on any information that we may have provided to authorities, except to say that we comply with the law” that’s more interesting. Of course, it still wouldn’t prove anything.

  62. aah, read through the thread and realized the error of my ways. This story is too good to be true (for those who want to prove the gov’t oversteps its bounds, that is).

  63. But it’s very unreasonable to accept at face value every story about the government doing a Especially Silly Bad Thing. It kills your credibility when you talk about X, Y, and Z abuses of government and someone laughs and points out that the first two have been thoroughly debunked, so why should anyone even care what you ramble about the third?

    Credibility is important, Eric, but seriously: there are people who STILL insist that Bush has never lied about anything. Not about Saddam, nor WMDs, nor torture, nor black prison sites, nor civil liberties, NOTHING.

    Do you really think that ANYTHING will convince such people? Anything at all? If not, then why keep THEM first and foremost in mind? It’s like if I tried to create an Atheist Outreach program to befriend Christians–and my main goal was to get on the good side of Falwell and Robertson. Not gonna happen.

  64. Many large universities have historically used the SSN as a student identification number.

    However, this trend has been reversed at several schools over the past few years, in response to identity theft concerns. And also in response to hacking incidents at George Mason, Berkeley, and UCSD, among others, in 2003-2004.

    Google “umass dartmouth student identification number.” The first hit brings up a page at the university, and it has this information:

    The identification number you will use to access COIN will be the same identification number you may have used to check your admission application status online. This number will also be printed on your bill and on any new student ID cards that are issued. In order to access COIN Student Self-Service, you will use this number prefaced with the letters ?UMS? as a logon ID.

    Example: UMS12345678

    Since that is an 8-digit number, it can’t possibly be the student’s SSN. However, it does specifically say tat this ID number will be printed on any new student ID cards. So perhaps older ID cards still have the SSN.

    If UMass Darmouth is typical, they will have only undergone this change in the last year or so.

  65. Credibility is important, Eric, but seriously: there are people who STILL insist that Bush has never lied about anything. Not about Saddam, nor WMDs, nor torture, nor black prison sites, nor civil liberties, NOTHING.

    Do you really think that ANYTHING will convince such people?

    Do you really think the population only breaks down into 1) fervent Bushies and 2) people as outraged as most of us here?

  66. Having posted that boring detour about student identification numbers, I’ll offer a personal opinion, too.

    I’m with Jennifer. As suspicious as some elements of this story sound under scrutiny, my instinct was to believe it.

    If it’s false, great. But skepticism towards government activity is a healthy thing, and I’m willing to err on the side of assuming the worst.

  67. Do you really think the population only breaks down into 1) fervent Bushies and 2) people as outraged as most of us here?

    Of course not, but do you really think it’s unfair of me to say “Anyone who, as of December 19, 2005, still insists that Bush has never, ever lied to the country is probably not worth trying to convince”?

  68. Of course not, but do you really think it’s unfair of me to say “Anyone who, as of December 19, 2005, still insists that Bush has never, ever lied to the country is probably not worth trying to convince”?

    I also think anyone who says that Afghanistan was really invaded in order to build a pipeline is probably not worth trying to convince, either. What do either of these extremely narrow issues have to do with something that ultimately matters and that people are arguing about, like torture or what DHS investigates?

  69. I also think anyone who says that Afghanistan was really invaded in order to build a pipeline is probably not worth trying to convince, either.

    Who here is saying that? I haven’t seen anyone of that nature on Hit and Run lately, but I’ve seen a LOT of people who, for libertarians, are suspiciously trustful of the government (at least, those members thereof with an (R) after their name).

    What do either of these extremely narrow issues have to do with something that ultimately matters and that people are arguing about, like torture or what DHS investigates?

    Because the people who still insist Bush is a paragon of honesty are usually the first ones to dismiss out-of-hand any stories of torture, or dishonesty, on behalf of our government.

  70. Thanks for the updates Jesse.

  71. And in case I was unclear, the question can also be stated, “What does the unconvincability of hard-core Bushies have to do with conveying your ideas and concerns in a credible manner so people who don’t already completely agree with you might come to do so?”

  72. Who here is saying that?

    I didn’t say they had. It’s an example of something as irrelevant as your question.

  73. By the way, Eric, my attitude here has not been “I am absolutely convinced this is the truth,” but “This government has given me no hard reason to disbelieve it.” As I posted earlier: it’s quite possible that Gaijin is right and the story is bullshit. But I am just astonished that after the zillion or so lies and unconstitutional stunts this administration has pulled, there are STILL people whose default setting is, “Give the government the benefit of the doubt.”

  74. Whatever, Jennifer.

    I’m not at all surprised that there are people whose default setting is “readily believe any story – no matter how weird or unsubstantiated – that claims something bad about someone/something they don’t like”.

    It’s not like anyone besides the Bushies are spreading lies, after all.

  75. OK – instead of debating this endlessly, surely one of us can obtain this professor’s office number, and you know, call him and ask if the story is true?

  76. Surely. I’m at work right now and posting (mostly) when I’m committing changes, but we’ve got at least one person here paid to do that sort of thing. 😉

  77. This may be an urban legend, but the American Library Association has survyed American libraries in regard to Patriot Act subpoenas under Section 215. The ALA reported 175 libraries being contacted by federal agents who inquired about books people had requested.

    Quotations from Chairman Mao is not widely available anymore. The Chinese government stopped printing them after Mao died in 1976, and the Little Red Book is no longer approved literature in China. Thanks to market liberalization, you can buy copies from second hand book dealers in China.

    In the US, China Books has reprinted a facsimile edition of the Quotations of Chairman Mao, mainly because the bio of the founder of China Books mentions the Little Red Book prominently. But to get an official Chinese government edition requires going to a university library, or searching the second-hand book market.

  78. Boing Boing’s tracking of this story is getting interesting. I rather expected something like this when I saw the story on Boing Boing, but it’s even messier than I expected.

  79. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but I know for a fact that a couple of DHS agents confiscated a bunch of fake Rubik’s Cubes from a toy store near Portland a couple years ago. It seems the toys were infringing on a patent.

    Since I can’t imagine what legitimate concern it is of the DHS to monitor toy patents, it doesn’t seem a stretch to think this story may be based in fact.

    Maybe I’ll order one from amazon.com, and see what happens.

  80. kmw-

    I don’t really care if government agents enforce patents. (Let’s leave aside, for now, the arguments that H&R posters sometimes have over the proper scope of intellectual property law, and just say that the basic notion of protecting intellectual property is sound in at least some circumstances, and if enforced sensibly there’s nothing wrong with government agents taking action.)

    But I would say that the people with the longest leashes (Homeland Security) should be used in the fewest cases. The guys going to the toy store may have acted properly, for all I know. But if the people with the longest leashes get let outside on a regular basis, eventually we’re going to have a tragic mistake that could have been avoided simply by using a different law enforcement agency.

  81. Thoreau, I’m not at all opposed to patent protection either, I’m just not sure it’s the job of DHS to enforce such things.

    Making matters worse with my toy anecdote was the infringement was claimed by the former patent holder, but the company knew the patent had expired. I guess I think the courts should first decide who has infringed and whatnot, instead of the secret police acting on information that was one-sided. I think the take-away from that story is that there’s no vetting process in the DHS, they act first and find legitimacy later.

    But I would say that the people with the longest leashes (Homeland Security) should be used in the fewest cases.

    I completely agree. At least, if I understand you correctly I do. I think patent law should be enforced, but perhaps not by DHS.

    I’m inclined to not believe this book story, but I’m not sure there’s proof yet either way.

  82. kmw,

    US Customs is responsible for investigating patent infringement of goods that are imported (as the cubes were). Immigration & Customs Enforcement is one of the bureaucracies that got reorganized into the DHS upon its creation, so all Customs agents are now DHS agents.

  83. Thanks for the updates again Jesse. It’s good to know the professor stands 100% behind what some secret student told him happened somewhere else. I’m convinced and that pretty much clears this up.

  84. The real question is what isn’t currently the purview of DHS…

  85. I really could not be bothered to work myself into a franzy over somethign that seems tailor-made for this reaction. Wait and see is the best approach. “Tenative belief” just ruins your own credibility, because it reveals your own biases about a topic.
    Kelo vs New London is of more concern to me than “Little Red Book”. I think *that* is a tavesty that starngely hasn’t been getting any press at all.

  86. UPDATE: The professor made it all up.

    oh no Jennifer!!! the professor made a fool of you and yours by playing to your paranoia!!! i’m just amazed that anyone couldn’t see this was a lie by RTFA.

  87. CORRECTION: The student made it all up…or so says the esteemed professor. And the professor turns out to be a professor of Islamic History, something omitted from the original article. Why? Will journalists and academia investigate this and expel the hoaxers from their midst? Mapes doubts it.

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