My Little Red Book

Cross-posted at the paper tiger

It takes a lot to flabbergast me these days. I mean is anyone really shocked by the relevation that the NSA is engaged in domestic surveillance, authorized by the Preznit, without any judicial review, not even by the secret court which generally reviews such things (apparently any kind of oversight is too much oversight for the Bush Administration, which certainly leads one to question just whom they are surveilling, and why).

Here’s what it took for me to gaze upon my computer screen in slack-jawed amazement: this story, via the invaluable Digby, about a student who was visited by agents from Homeland Security because, wait for it…

He tried to check out a copy of Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book” from a university library.

No, really.

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.”…

…The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.

The eavesdropping was apparently done without warrants.

The Little Red Book, is a collection of quotations and speech excerpts from Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung.

In the 1950s and ’60s, during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was required reading. Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book.

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.

Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.

“My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think,” he said.

Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

“I shudder to think of all the students I’ve had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that,” he said. “Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless.”

So can I just say, I am so going to Guantanamo? I mean, I have maybe four Little Red Books floating around my house, in both English and Chinese, including one featuring Mao’s then “Closest Comrade in Arms” Lin Biao’s calligraphy on the frontispiece, which I figure, given the brief tenancy of anyone occupying that particular position, has got to be some kind of collector’s item.

In fact, I’ve had one of my “Xiao Hong Shu” since high school, when my school represented “Red China” in the annual Model United Nations conference. Which, come to think of it, is probably another black mark on my permanent record.

And boy, if any of these hard-working Homeland Security agents have actually surveyed my house – I’m doomed. What would they make of the wall of books dealing with the history of the Peoples Republic of China? The Collected Works of Mao Zedong? The compilations of CCP documents? The framed Four Modernizations posters on my wall, one of the “Peoples’ Premier,” Zhou Enlai, showing his domestic side, spinning yarn in Yenan, the other of a rosey-cheeked, chubby baby holding up this, well, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, some kind of festive, lantern thingie with a nuclear atom in the center and a rocket ship on top? Not to mention my, erm, Chairman Mao piggybank.

Remind me again. Was it ultra-leftist, unreconstructed Red Guards who flew planes into the WTC?

But maybe I’ve got this whole thing wrong. Maybe owning such things isn’t the problem. Given the obsession that the Bush Administration seems to have with wanting to access library records (without the patrons’ knowledge), well, maybe it’s libraries that are the real danger here, the subterranean threat to American security.

Just remember: if library cards are terrorized, soon only terrorists will have library cards. Or something.

The Discussion: 29 Comments

It’s an interesting post. Thanks, Lisa. I was curious about Chainman Mao’s quotation the other day and searched some on the Internet (I learned that at school but have forgetten almost all). I certainly hope my name is not with the Department of Homeland Security, -:)

December 18, 2005 @ 2:21 am | Comment

What is the temperature of paper burning?

Might give a new meaning to memorising Mao’s Little Red Book.

Or maybe it’s slightly reconstructed ultra-leftists like Davey Horowitz and Karl Rove that are driving policy and don’t want folks doing a compare and contrast on their working material? Long Live the Glorious CONServative Cultural Revolution! {please look for O’Reilly’s book next year entitled “Cultural Warrior” in a remainder’s bin near you shortly after release scheduled for a few weeks before the mid-term Congressional elections}

December 18, 2005 @ 2:27 am | Comment

Definitely check out Digby’s post, which points out that Mao’s writings have majorly influenced…I’m sure you’ll be shocked…the very same Neocons who have taken over the Republican party and our government.

December 18, 2005 @ 2:31 am | Comment

Isn’t it about 450 F?

I’m pretty amazed by this. I hope that the senate gives the executive branch a smackdown for recent behaviour. Usually I cringe when I think of all those pork-barrel politicians and their tentative grasp of foreign reality, but in this instance I’ve been pleasantly surprised by McCain et. al. regarding torture etc.

December 18, 2005 @ 3:17 am | Comment

Jeez, Lisa, with a collection like that, well, I hope you’ve been doing your yoga lately, so you can slip into the “stress positions” more easily.


December 18, 2005 @ 4:57 am | Comment

A Chairman Mao piggy bank? That’s nothing! When I move back to America, I’m commissioning one of my artist friends to make me an life sized Mao “wooden Indian” holding out a jar for my cigars.

December 18, 2005 @ 4:58 am | Comment

It’s a d@mn shame that Beijing officials shut down the festival. They should see the writing on the wall. There’s already a c0l0r rev0lution happening in China — and it’s color is pink.

December 18, 2005 @ 5:08 am | Comment

Grr! That comment was supposed to go in the gay festival thread. Sorry.

December 18, 2005 @ 5:10 am | Comment

To: Miss Hypatia, Head Librarian, Library of Alexandria, Egypt

Dear Sorceress:

Please burn all of your Pagan books (especially any by Aristotle) or else we’ll do it for you.

Sincerely yours,
Bishop Cyril of Alexandria,
In the name of Pontifex Maxiumus Security Department

December 18, 2005 @ 6:36 am | Comment

What a difference a couple of years can make. Can America ‘t really have fallen so far so fast?

December 18, 2005 @ 7:02 am | Comment

By the way, it’s not just libraries. Apparently bookstore purchases are also fair game. I assume they can track card purchases with ease.

Not enough outrage was given to the library records issue initially because (I for one) thought of it as only a condiment, if you will, in the smorgasboard of civil rights violations that is the Patriot act. Never did I think that the feds would base an investigation primarily on something as flimsy as this…

December 18, 2005 @ 8:06 am | Comment

I am a librarian. If this story is true, I am very concerned about how the Dept. of Homeland Security obtained a library patronรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs records. It is a violation of principle III of the American Library Association Code of Ethics to provide a library patron’s records to anyone without the patron’s consent. If the story is true, I would like to see the American Library Association take disciplinary action against librarians responsible for the release of these records.

December 18, 2005 @ 8:19 am | Comment

“Can America really have fallen so far so fast?”

Actually, no. It wasn’t fast. It’s just that – contrary to popular belief – real information and ideas actually travel more slowly today than around 200 years ago. There are complex reasons for this, mostly involving the way democracy slows down the pace of change AND the pace of thought.

(Of course this is contrary to what most Americans AND Chinese believe about “democracy”, let alone about “information technology.” But Tocqueville perceived it over 150 years ago: He saw, very early, how democracies tend to be the MOST stable countries – but also the most slow to think, or to see what kind of changes are going on.)

The basic problem is that in “democratic” societies (despite all their truly good qualities), new ideas and new perceptions are initially “unpopular” and therefore suspect, and ignored for a long time.
In democracies their tends to be a long lag in changes of ideas, and in “POPULAR” acceptance of new ideas.

So what really happens, is that a time comes when the “leading” intellectuals begin to state what should have been obvious for a long time – and then when this becomes fashionable, it’s mistaken for “cutting edge, new” thinking, when in fact it’s just popular restatement of a long overdue recognition.

(And personally, by the way, that’s why I so often diverge from nominally “liberal” opinions – precisely because most “liberals” are behind the times, just restating what’s fashionable in their own circles. But on the other hand, the Bush administration is NOT CONSERVATIVE, it’s revolutionary and destructive, and the Bushies have no understanding – let alone respect – for America’s heritage. Conservatives do not shit on the Constitution, and they do not rape the commonwealth and the land’s resources, like the Bushies do.)

A few examples of this kind of time lag in perceptions, in America’s (truly!) democratic society:

1. America reached its height of power, and was a REAL “Superpower” for only around five years, from 1945 to 1950. America is far less powerful today than it was in 1945. In 1945 we had defeated the two greatest military powers in the world. Today we can’t even manage a shitty little country like Iraq. And yet, TODAY it’s fashionable to call America a “Superpower” and to say it started around 1989. No. This is 60 years too late. America’s Superpower days ended in the 1950s.

2. America did not become paranoically anti-Communist until around 1950. In 1945, FDR (otherwise a great man) gave away too much to Stalin. (The Red Army was very worn out by spring 1945, and America COULD have pushed all the way through Germany. FDR and Eisenhower LET the RED Army take East Germany.) Ah, but a few years LATER, it became fashionable for Americans to be “anti-Communist”…
….but that was exactly when Soviet power was DECREASING – and then Stalin died in 1953 and the USSR began to lighten up and open up, but THEN, a few years too late, THEN the Americans became “anti-Communist” in insane ways….because it was fashionable.
We had an opportunity to push the Soviets way back in 1945, but in 1945 it was NOT YET FASHIONABLE to be anti-Soviet.

3. Even in cultural matters: The 1960s were just a re-hash of the 1920s. Feminism? HA! The real Feminist revolution was in the 1920s.
Women got the vote in 1920, and THEN – sexual revoution? – in the 1920s, women began to show their legs in public. (HOORAY! ๐Ÿ™‚ And that was the FIRST TIME SINCE THE ROMAN EMPIRE, the first time in 1,600 years, that “respectable” Western women ever showed their legs in public. (Bet most of you didn’t know this. Check it out!)
Except for political issues like the VietNam war and Black civil rights, most of the “social revolutions” of the 1960s were just re-hashing what they were doing in the 1920s.

4. Perceptions of the USSR as a “Superpower”: It never was one, except for having a lot of nukes. But Russia STILL has nukes (still pointed at the US), so, obviously having nukes does not make you a Superpower. And the USSR began to collapse in the 1950s, not in 1989.
It was ALWAYS weak – because Communism is bullshit. The Soviet Empire was always doomed. In 1983, my Dad (a perspicacious scholar) told me his prediction that the USSR would collapse within ten years – and he said that in 1983, when Reagan and other Americans were going crazy about the “Soviet Threat.” No. It was bullshit. Their economy was in the toilet in 1983, and they were bleeding in Afghanistan, and nobody in Europe beleived in Communism. But most Americans did not see the obvious until AFTER 1989, and then they gave the credit to Reagan, who had nothing to do with it.

5. In 1946, Churchill predicted that the Russians would withdraw from Central Europe, and that Communism would collapse, within 50 years. It happened even sooner than he predicted. But Churchill saw this – while most Americans went crazy with fear of “Communist expansion” – because Churchill had a mind of his own, while most Americans were just repeating whatever was fashionable.

6. Next headline – I predict that within less than ten years, mainstream American journalists will all be telling the “new” “cutting edge” story about how China’s “booming economy” of the early 2000s was all a sham, all smoke and mirrors. And they will be perceived as “cutting edge analysts” for just repeating what has been obvious for a long time……

December 18, 2005 @ 8:49 am | Comment

I would be careful taking this story as fact because the story is coming from two left leaning college professors and the student is not even coming forward. What if I said two conservative commentators said that Howard Dean was having an affair on his wife. You wouldn’t believe that either so the same scepticism should be applied to this story until the person comes forward and provides more facts.

I would agree investigating someone for checking out Mao’s book is absurd though and if true should be looked into.

However, investigating let’s say someone living in San Diego who is making phone calls to suspected terrorists in Pakistan I think is appropriate because it was Al-Qaida operatives living in San Diego making phone calls overseas to other suspected terrorist that ultimately led to 9-11.

Basically my civil liberty to talk to suspected terrorists overseas without the government listening in I am willing to give up.

December 18, 2005 @ 9:29 am | Comment

Living in America, I always assumed that this kind of stuff goes on, even before GW. But I have nothing to hide, so I really don’t care much. When I was living in China, I know that phones and letters and Internet postings are randomly monitored, but I don’t go around writing inflammatory stuff, so it was no big deal.

But I do have a problem with the fact that it seems to be “ok” for the USA to tap phones and survey emails because that’s for national security, but when China does it, it’s a “gross violation of human rights” and somehow it deserves more denouncation. Case in point, after Other Lisa posted this story, 90% of the comments here do not seem to be outraged, and people seem to just accept that. In fact, most people here “rationally” and “intellectually” is agreeing with the government’s actions, such as the post above me.

BUT, if this is about China’s censorship of the Internet, then there’ll be no “rational” or “intellectual” discussion of how that may be justified in some ways, but a totally and unabated denunciation. And if anyone dares to come out and reason that perhaps, just perhaps, there are CERTAIN cases where the Chinese government is justified in monitoring certain blogs, he’ll be torn apart mercilessly and called offensive names.

It just seems to me there’s a huge double standard here.

December 18, 2005 @ 9:53 am | Comment

And a few more examples (vis a vis my previous comment) of how popular “liberal” American ideas of sex and sexuality are WAY behind the times:

1. The Feminist Cult of Hillary Clinton (which, I notice, NOW seems to be going out of fashion among “liberals” – again, several years too late, after what SHOULD have been obvious finally becomes widely accepted): I could see Hillary was a phony and an vapid opportunist back in 1992, when my “liberal” friends perceived her as some kind of Feminist Icon. But at any rate, even today, it’s still an open question whether America is “ready” for a “Woman President” – as if a Woman Head of State were something revolutionary.

HA! In the West there’s nothing “new” about female heads of state. Most recently, consider UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson of Ireland, and other European female heads of state – AH, but it’s not even new – Queen Elizabeth I of England, 400 years ago…and the Men of England had NO PROBLEM following her lead, with enthusiasm……oh, but when America nominated Geraldine Ferraro for VP in 1984, America’s “feminists” thought it was very progressive, very new…..HA!

2. Women in the workplace. It didn’t start in the 1960s. It started more like 60,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens appeared. The ridiculous role of “Housewife” was an aberration of the 1950s – a deliberately concocted one – starting around 1945 when millions of American soldiers were demobilized, and women were encouraged to stay at home so that the men could get back to work. The old “Leave It To Beaver” Housewife of circa 1946-1970, was a freak of History. When women went back to regular employment in the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t anything “new” – it was just getting back to normal. Women have ALWAYS productive workers of one kind or another. Always.

3. Homosexuals. Being gay was not an issue in America until very recently. Not that it was widely accepted in public (BUT NEITHER WAS HETEROSEXUAL SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE!) – but it WAS widely accepted in private – and the public/private distinction was MOSTLY because ALL sexuality was assumed to be private, until rather recently.
Whether gay or straight, until rather recently, the rule was “do whatever you want with consenting adults, as long as you don’t frighten the horses AND as long as you don’t get divorced or violate your spouse’s reputation.” Which was hypocritical, yes, but overall it was a pretty sensible rule.

Americans by and large didn’t bother with homosexuality – I mean they were neutral about it – UNTIL the 20th century when busybody neo-Puritans began to blur the lines between public and private issues.
So, again, American Homophobia is NOT TRADITIONAL, it’s actually something relatively new.

Up until around the American Civil War (then the changes came a few years after, during the neo-Puritanical Gilded Age, mixed with influences from Victorian England) – up until around the 1860s, Americans didn’t even have a clear concept of “homosexual.” It was just assumed that most people are sexually straight, most of the time – and so nobody really BOTHERED to hunt down and root out “gays” – for the obvious, sensible reason that most people are NOT gay, and never will be, and there will never be a lack of heterosexuals to carry on breeding.

It only became an issue in rather recent times – thus, “Gay rights” (or whatever phrase you want to use for a common sense way of saying, “leave gays alone”) is NOT SOMETHING NEW! No, it’s a REACTION against a TRULY NEW trend of homophobia.

The REAL tradition of the West, is just to leave Gays alone as long as they don’t frighten the horses. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Excuse me, I gotta go find one of my own runaway horses. We straight guys have the same problem, frightening the horses sometimes…. ๐Ÿ™‚

December 18, 2005 @ 9:55 am | Comment


I love Muhammed, blessed be his name forever. I have the highest respect for Islam, a sister religion of the Christians and the Jews.

But you are a spammer, and I want you to go sit on a flagpole.

December 18, 2005 @ 10:08 am | Comment

And if I can get serious for just a moment…

This is why we have a free press.

It’s unconscionable that the New York Times sat on the domestic spying story for a year…but at least it came out.

The Bush Adminstration commits all sorts of abuses of civil liberties. If not for the press, when would we have found out?

December 18, 2005 @ 11:50 am | Comment


Ditto, what you said! I agree entirely.

Oh and if you look at my three last comments here, you’ll see I was being deadly “serious.”

Ah, but I just love it when Calvinist Americans like you “get serious!” ๐Ÿ™‚
(Lisa, you really are a typical American of the Puritan heritage, whether you realize it or not. Your tendency to draw strict lines between “serious” issues and other things, is very American-Calvinist. And so is your way of pedantically moralising in categorical ways, even if you do it from a nominally “left wing” perspective. But I admire the way you do it! ๐Ÿ™‚ I wish more American Puritans had your integrity of mind and your generosity of heart…..just like America’s founders, you speak with the same kind of abstract, but honest and integrated, spirit….. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Oh God, as Richard knows, sometimes I’m too smart for my own good…. ๐Ÿ™‚

December 18, 2005 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Nah, Ivan, I’m an immigrant mongrel…raised in no religion…though I do have that latent Midwestern moralizing streak.

December 18, 2005 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

Colata, there’s no double standard. We’re all shocked and outraged about what Bush is doing; that’s why the post is up here. But we are also desensitized, because Bush is always doing crap like this. I get outraged at any example of the government trampling on our liberties, whether it’s the CCP or the GOP. So where is this double standard you refer to? Thank God, as Lisa said, for the free press that keeps Bush in check and allows us to know what’s happening. Imagine if there were such a correcting device in China. (Well, one can dream, can’t he?)

Last thing: there is nothing wrong with the government monitoring blogs. They would be foolish not to, since blogs can have significant political influence. But there has never, ever been a blog shut down or banned in America, while blog bannings are a daily occurrence in China.

December 18, 2005 @ 5:21 pm | Comment

every commentator here has a profile matched that of the student.

travelled to china
commented on a psot related to the little red book.

you are all tracked.

December 18, 2005 @ 5:58 pm | Comment

As I left for work this morning the brouhaha seemed not to be that the Adminsitration is doing this. But rather that they ignored the procedures for doing so legally. The government does have a right to spy on Americans, if they can show probable cause that the individual in question is likely engaged in criminal, terrorist, or treasonable activities, and that the search is reasosnably related to the discovery of such evidence. That, apparently, was too much for this administration.

December 18, 2005 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

Colala, no double standard.

Rather, I think a lot of us are suffering from “outrage fatigue” over the Bush administration.

Personally, my “outrage gland” has been taxed so severely by this monumentally incompetent and un-american regime that it’s getting harder and harder to wring even a drop of weak bile from it.

At this point I’m emotionally more or less down to “shame and embarassment”, and waiting for the nightmare to hopefully end in three years.

For China we still have hope, so we can still work up some indignation, and once in a while even some good old-fashioned outrage.

December 19, 2005 @ 12:40 am | Comment

Lirelou – right. And the real kicker is, this is a SECRET COURT! I mean, we are not talking about any kind of procedure that could possibly endanger national security, and as i understand it, you can even start wiretapping and go to the court for permission retroactively (I may be wrong about that).

If the BUsh administration isn’t even willing to do this, they are either more utterly arrogant than even I had assumed, or, more likely, they don’t want ANY kind of oversight because of who they are monitoring.

December 19, 2005 @ 11:32 am | Comment

Ditto, Other Lisa. I saw a commentary on some blog that likened the Bush approach to the righteous hubris of Nixon during the watergate years. That only served to put Jimmy Carter in the presidency (a great American, great Statesman, and poor President). And the reaction to Carter was Ronald Reagan. America needs two strong political parties, not one, or one and a half, with the half being a gang of sycophants proclaiming “Great is the boss!”.

December 19, 2005 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Bush is like Nixon without Nixon’s intelligence. A far, far scarier character.

December 20, 2005 @ 3:30 am | Comment

Bush is like Nixon without Nixon’s intelligence. A far, far scarier character

I think Cheney was supposed to fill that void.

Now who’s scared? :-0

December 20, 2005 @ 5:06 am | Comment

As I suspected the whole story was false

December 25, 2005 @ 7:30 am | Comment

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