Ivan Pavlov trained some dogs to look for food by ringing a bell, blowing whistles, and other actions. The dogs got so used to food being served at Pavlov’s signal that they would start to salivate as soon as the signal happened. They had been well trained.

And the western media has also been well trained, but not to drool at the ring of a bell. Instead, the media has been trained to not give offense to brittle Islam. And the media has been so well trained to not give offense that they will silence themselves preemptively. The latest example of the media kowtowing to radial and brittle Islam comes at the expense of Berkeley Breathed and his Sunday cartoon, “Opus.” FoxNews describes the situation in an article posted August 27th, 2007.

A popular comic strip that poked fun at the Rev. Jerry Falwell without incident one week ago was deemed too controversial to run over the weekend because this time it took a humorous swipe at Muslim fundamentalists.

The Washington Post and several other newspapers around the country did not run Sunday’s installment of Berkeley Breathed’s “Opus,” in which the spiritual fad-seeking character Lola Granola appears in a headscarf and explains to her boyfriend, Steve, why she wants to become a radical Islamist.

The installment did not appear in the Post’s print version, but it ran on WashingtonPost.com and Salon.com. The same will hold true for the upcoming Sept. 2 strip, which is a continuation of the plotline.

Breathed managed to show the difference between the media’s response to Christians and Muslims in a 7 day period. His cartoon making fun of now-dead Rev. Falwell ran without riot, but the cartoon poking fun of radical Islam scheduled for that next Sunday caused the salivating media to pull the cartoon and preemptively apologize.

Way to assert your freedom of speech, guys!

In other news about brittle Islam, the U.S. military apologized for distributing soccer balls with the flags from many nations on them. And why did they need to apologize? They made the horrible mistake of including Saudi Arabia’s flag and its inscription of the name of Allah. Oh, the horror! Michelle Malkin calls Islam the Religion of Perpetual Outrage, and for good reason.

As we’ve learned from Rushdie Rage, MoCartoon Rage, Burger King Ice Cream Cone Rage, Koran Flushing Rage, Valentine’s Day Rage, Veil Rage, Pope Rage, Fallaci Rage, Miss World Pageant Rage, and Rushdie Knighthood Rage, they’re pretty damned “sensitive” (read: ready to riot) about everything.

Many people say Islam is the “Religion of Peace,” but I can’t help but believe it is the “Religion of Pissed.”

UPDATE (8/30/2007 11:48:48 AM): Hehehe. Cox and Forkum do an excellent job with a cartoon they title “Opus Akbar.”

Opus Akbar

Being hypersensitive to insults is a hallmark of immaturity. If you are confident about yourself and your actions, then snide or insulting comments by others are not a big deal. But for some insecure people, the mere mention of a word they don’t like–regardless of its true meaning–is enough to outrage them. This is what happened several years ago when:

… teacher Stephanie Bell said she used the word “niggardly,” which means stingy or miserly, during a discussion about literary characters. But parent Akwana Walker, who is black, protested the use of the word, saying it offended her because it sounds similar to a racial slur.

Walker was not upset because the teacher uttered a racial slur, but because it sounded like a racial slur to her — it’s not the facts, but how she feels that matters.

Tony Snow got in trouble when he said “hug the tar baby” in a press conference, but he’s not the only person to recently say this. While at a fund raiser in Iowa, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used the term when speaking about the Big Dig ceiling collapse. He defended his taking over the Big Dig project after a woman died in a collapse of the tunnel even though it could be a large political problem for him. He defended his action by pointing out that no action at all on his part would have been even worse. And then he said it — “The best thing politically would be to stay as far away from that tar baby as I can.”

I’ll give you a moment to recover from the shock of it.

Now that you are back on your feet and the tang of smelling salts is fading from the air, I have to ask a fairly simple question: did the Governor use the phrase “tar baby” in a racist way to label a black person, or was he talking about a sticky situation? It’s obvious from the context of his remarks that Gov. Romney was using the latter definition. But that really doesn’t matter. People who dislike Gov. Romney politically are upset by the phrase. Race-baiting poverty pimps are upset by the phrase. And hypersensitive people who see issues of race and prejudice in every action are upset by the phrase.

If someone ever speaks of a tar baby, ask yourself whether the phrase is being used to refer to a person or a sticky situation. Referring to a person that way is not acceptable, but using it to mean a sticky situation that is hard to get out of is not a racist phrase. It may sound like something objectionable, but it is no more racist than the word niggardly is racist, regardless of what it sounds like or how people feel about it.

I find it interesting that many of the same people who are resoundingly criticizing Mel Gibson for his verbal abuse during his drunk driving arrest don’t seem to bat an eye when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad utters his own anti-Jewish remarks while (presumably) stone-cold sober. But that’s neither here nor there. What really caught my eye about this issue with Gov. Romney was the following headline:

Gov. Apologizes for ‘Tar Baby’ Remark

Gov. Mitt Romney has apologized for referring to the troubled Big Dig construction project as a “tar baby” during a fundraiser with Iowa Republicans, saying he didn’t know anyone would be offended by the term some consider a racial epithet….

Black leaders were outraged at his use of the term, which dates to the 19th century Uncle Remus stories, referring to a doll made of tar that traps Br’er Rabbit. It has come to be known as a way of describing a sticky mess, and has also been used as a derogatory term for a black person.

“Tar baby is a totally inappropriate phrase in the 21st century,” said Larry Jones, a black Republican and civil rights activist….

Romney’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the governor was describing “a sticky situation.”

“He was unaware that some people find the term objectionable and he’s sorry if anyone’s offended,” Fehrnstrom said.

Fehrnstrom produced copies of editorials and columns from Boston newspapers using “tar baby” in a context similar to Romney’s. One example from 2004, a Herald editorial, used the term about the Big Dig itself.

Gov. Romney should have learned the lesson that every conservative must learn: never apologize to the Left. Doing so only encourages them to whine and complain more.

Merry Christmas to you!

Does that annoy you? It does? Well, let me say this as nicely as I may: if hearing someone wish you a Merry Christmas makes you annoyed, there is something wrong with you. You’ve got issues, my friend. You see, when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, they are wishing you happiness and joy, and if you take offense because someone wished for your happiness with this expression of good will, what does that say about you?

The latest poll shows that 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas. That means only about 4% of U.S. citizens might potentially be offended by Christmas, but this whiney minority has been working for years now to pull every instance of Christmas celebration from public life. Nativity scenes can’t be on public property because someone might be offended. You can’t sing some religious Christmas carols because someone might be offended. Government and business workers are told not to say “Merry Christmas” because someone might be offended. And a 7th grader in a Santa suit was turned away from the Christmas dance because (all together now, folks) someone might be offended.

I am a Christian, and I love the Christmas season. It is a time for remembering and commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Hanukkah often lands very near to Christmas, but while I am not Jewish and I don’t celebrate Hanukkah, I would not be offended in the least if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah. I would smile and thank them graciously.

In Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Podkayne of Mars, the title character learns that saying “thank you” to the people around her means they treat her much better than her brother, who never thanks others. “A small tip is much more savoir-fairish — and gets better, more willing service — when accompanied with ‘thank you’ than a big tip while saying nothing,” she discovers. Because of the polyglot nature of the area she is visiting, she spends time and effort to learn how to say “thank you” phonetically in many different languages:

If you say “tok” instead of “key toss” to a Finn, he will understand it. If you mistake a Japanese for a Cantonese and say “m’goy” instead of “arigato” — well, that is the one word of Cantonese he knows…. However, if you do guess right and pick their home language, they roll out the red carpet and genuflect, all smiles.

Does it really matter what language you use to thank someone? Some people think so. While traveling from Germany to Denmark, we stopped at the border to have our passports stamped. For the last two years, I had spoken either English or German, so after getting my passport I thanked the border guard by saying, “Danke.” His reply was a surly, “I’m not German!”

Was I trying to insult him? Not at all. Was he insulted? Yes. And it was his issue, not mine. I frankly wouldn’t care what language someone thanked me in. I would gladly accept the thoughtful meaning behind the phrase, but I’m not part of the perpetually annoyed class.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is another of the non-annoyed people. As a Jew, he doesn’t celebrate Christmas in the least, but he certainly does enjoy the holiday time and the way people behave differently during this season — nicer, kinder, more giving. He is pleased when people wish him a Merry Christmas, and he happily wishes them a Merry Christmas back. Though it isn’t his holiday, he recognizes and appreciates the sentiment.

Today is Christmas. If you don’t celebrate this holiday at all and you are one of the perpetually annoyed and whiney minority, have the common decency to let others enjoy this holiday. At the very least, you should appreciate the day off from work.

Since I work in the computer software industry, I enjoy walking past the cubicles and offices of my fellow employees. I’ve had the chance to discover that when it comes to office decoration, there are several schools of thought.

Some are what I call “business plain,” with only work-related information on the desk and walls. A family photo or occasional calendar is about the only indication this denizen has a personality. Boring!

If I were to hazard a guess about what type of office is the commonest, I would suggest the themed office. This is a space strewn with paraphernalia from some favorite movie, game or sports team. Within just a few feet of my office space, there are posters for the local college football team, a large model of the Iron Giant, and signs indicating the Tech Wizard is in, accompanied by a row of wizardly models and items. Office toys in these places are a must. Zen gardens are common, as are little toys like kinetic art sculptures and squeeze balls. Several people went wild with Nerf guns at Microsoft, and it was not uncommon to see Nerf battles raging down the halls. Magnetic poetry sets are great for the break room fridge or the hallway whiteboard.

Some cubicles are heavy on posters, whether inspirational — “Unity!” “Perseverance!” “There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’” — or very geeky — “There are 10 people in this world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.” “2 + 2 = 5 for very large values of 2.” or “I’m lost. I have gone out to find myself. If I return before I get back, please ask me to wait.”

Then there are the few offices that really stand out. I’m thinking of one with 50+ posters and stickers. Most are of the insultingly funny variety: “Did you eat a bowl of stupid this morning?” “My imaginary friend thinks you have serious issues.” “I’m sad that you suck.” When you find an office like this, stop and make friends with the owner. This is the person who totes the Xbox into the office for some lunchtime play, or who knows the people who do.

Some offices succumb to too much cute. These offices have dozens of pictures of family, dogs, cats, and sometimes calendars of dogs and cats. Grandparents are drawn to these offices, sensing a kindred spirit. You can recognize them by the photo album tucked under an arm. Unless you are also armed with your own family photos, avoid these offices. If you’re a diabetic, run.

None of this office décor is a problem in the workplace (assuming you are not diabetic), but some things are best kept out of the office. For instance, few things rile people up faster than religion and politics. Since I now live in a battleground state, there is a pretty even mix of Republicans and Democrats in my office. Emotions run high when it comes to politics, particularly in an election year, so placing a large Bush or Kerry sign in my office would be guaranteed to cheese off half my co-workers. This is not the wisest way to start a new job.

Religious or political differences between co-workers are bad enough, but when these things happen between employer and employee, it is tantamount to harassment. If my position or chances for promotion are based on my participation in the boss’ religion or adherence to his chosen political party, that has clearly crossed the line of acceptability.

People are still likely to express their deeply-felt beliefs. One of the guys at my workplace wears a lanyard with the initials W.W.J.D (What Would Jesus Do?) on it. In another cubicle, there are several Bible verses written on a small card attached to the wall. Neither of these instances crosses the line for me, but I am religious myself and have little difficulty with such items. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what others may find offensive. People have claimed that merely seeing a Bible on a co-worker’s desk is an offense worth suing over. Other people have been fired for wearing a cross to work. The problem lies not in the nature of the subject matter, but rather in the offensensitivity of others.

But what is too much? Who draws the line? Sadly, the final judgment lies with those who are offended. This means that an innocently intended comment, political opinion, or religious idea could be seen as offensive. In a society where people respect each other, the offended person would talk to the other person privately, explaining why the comment or item is inappropriate or offensive. But ours is a society where simple issues that could be solved by a heartfelt conversation are increasingly settled in court. Offensensitivity is driving respect and tolerance out of the corporate workplace, and it keeps people from discovering some of the most interesting aspects of their co-workers’ personalities.

Personally, I share the opinion of Rhode Island delegate Stephen Hopkins in the movie 1776: “in all my years I ain’t never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about.” I would prefer the open and free expression of people’s opinions and beliefs. But not everyone feels this way. If you think one political party is better than another, or if your religious beliefs are important to you, then you had best spend time expressing these concepts outside of work. This is why I vent my feelings here, rather than climbing on a soapbox on the corporate campus. If you cannot keep away from volatile subjects at work, be ready for the potential heated comments or lawsuits that will come from hypersensitive people.