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JEFF JACOBY

Musings, random and otherwise

STORIES ON Iran's presidential election repeatedly described former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who ended up losing the runoff to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a ''moderate," a ''reformer" a ''pragmatist." That made for a familiar story line -- Islamist hard-liner battles reform-minded centrist -- but not a very accurate one.

In fact, Rafsanjani is a nasty piece of work, a collaborator in the brutality of the Khomeini era and an advocate of terror. In 1989, he called on terrorists to launch ''attacks against Americans and other Westerners and their interests around the world" -- specifically urging them to hijack planes, blow up factories, and kill Americans, Britons, and Frenchmen.

In 2001, Rafsanjani heavily implied that Iran's interest in nuclear weapons is far from peaceable. To a Tehran University audience, he explained that nukes would make possible a final solution to the Israel problem: ''The use of a nuclear bomb against Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam."

Failing to take such naked enmity and incitement to violence seriously was one of the causes of 9/11. If we are to win the war on terrorism, we cannot ignore what the Rafsanjanis of the world were saying and doing only yesterday -- no matter how ''moderate" or ''pragmatic" they may try to appear today.

Last week the House of Representatives restored $100 million that the Appropriations Committee had cut from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's federal subsidy. Too bad: the CPB allowance should be cut, particularly when the federal budget is so badly out of balance.

But despite the argument made by some Republicans, the reason to defund ''public" television is not its liberal political bias. It is that it has no legitimate claim on taxpayer dollars. Maybe it did back when public broadcasting was a lone oasis in a vast wasteland of mediocrity, but that is no longer the case. Thanks to cable, satellites, and the Internet, viewers now have access to an incredible array of offerings, much of it of very high quality. From ESPN to A&E to the Learning Channel, today's private broadcasters more than fill the need it was once said only public broadcasting could meet. They manage without a federal handout. Big Bird can, too.

The most eloquent commentary I saw on the manslaughter conviction of Edgar Ray Killen in the 1964 deaths of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman was an editorial cartoon in the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. Marshall Ramsey's drawing, titled ''Evolution of the Robe in Mississippi," consisted of two panels. The first, labeled ''1964," showed a Ku Klux Klansman in a white robe and hood. The second, ''2005," showed a black-robed judge carrying a gavel.

In some circles, America is routinely described as a land filled with racial hatred -- a hatred that, while no longer expressed in lynchings, finds other outlets. In a commencement address at Colgate last month, Marian Wright Edelman spoke of ''the new racism that is seeping up across our land," a racism she said lurks in ''budget technicalities" and ''racial disparities in health and in education."

Of course intolerance still exists, and there are still bigots among us. But surely the most striking transformation in American life is precisely the one Ramsey's cartoon drives home: the uprooting of a virulent racial hatred that much of this country once took for granted. In 1964, Mississippians like Killen made it a priority to hunt down civil rights workers. In 2005, Mississippi makes it a priority to hunt down men like Killen.

The FCC is weighing a proposal to lift the rule against using cell phones during airline flights. Apparently the original reason for the ban -- fear of interference with the plane's communications equipment -- is no longer a serious concern. But while in-flight cellphone use might be safe, it would also be unbearably irritating. Who wants to be trapped in a plane for hours as scores of other passengers yammer into their phones, oblivious to the exasperation of those around them? As far as I'm concerned -- and the public comments filed on the FCC's proposal suggest I'm not alone -- the ban can remain in place forever.

On the other hand, why should it be for the government to decide if United's passengers may use their cell phones in the air? Shouldn't that be United's call? After all, United has a greater stake in its passenger's satisfaction and peace of mind than the feds do. If the public safety rationale has indeed been discredited, why not let each airline decide whether cellular yackety-yak is something it wants to permit? Contrary to popular belief, not every question in American life has to be answered in Washington, D.C.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is jacoby@globe.com.

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