CAT | Free Speech
Note: My weekly op-ed.
I will venture a prediction; every single person reading this column has things about them they would rather other people did not know.
If you’re lucky, it’s information that would merely embarrass you. If you’re not, you might have secrets exposure of which would put you at risk of losing your job, your friends, your marriage, or your life.
These need not be shameful secrets. You might not want it generally known that you have something worth stealing at home, for example.
Case in point. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, the The Journal News in Rockland County, New York, recently posted an interactive map on their website showing the names and addresses of approximately 44,000 people in the area who had legally registered hand guns. The information was taken from the gun registry database obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
And that’s when the manure hit the oscillator. The newspaper’s office was flooded with angry phone calls and emails.
And irony of ironies, though police who reviewed the messages found none of them overtly threatening (it’s not illegal to tell someone you are very angry with them) management was so alarmed they hired armed guards for the building. Now it seems those guards are going to be a permanent fixture of The Journal Record’s office.
Opinion about the consequences was mixed at first. On the one hand, it was pointed out that burglars now knew which houses had armed owners waiting inside and could avoid them, to the detriment of unarmed homeowners.
On the other hand, burglars who want to steal guns now know just where to find them.
Burglars after guns are often more dangerous than those who just want your stereo. A thief who steals mass-produced commodities knows overworked police can spare little effort to trace something that is quickly lost in the market of cheap used goods.
But a handgun whose chain of ownership is broken and cannot be traced if found at a crime scene is a valuable item indeed to a certain kind of criminal. The worst kind.
Then an even more sinister development emerged. It turns out about 8,000 active and retired police officers are on that map, and inmates in the Rockland County jail have been taunting corrections officers by telling them their addresses.
One has to wonder what The Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson and Editor Caryn A. McBride were thinking. McBride said she believes knowing where gun owners live is in the public interest.
No, they were indulging an urge to be news makers rather than news reporters, an occupational hazard of the profession. And sell newspapers of course, although that seems to have backfired on them.
And since turnabout is fair play, enterprising bloggers are now creating their own interactive maps showing names and addresses of The Journal News staff.
Way back in 1999, Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, shocked and angered a lot of people by saying, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
Well, “zero privacy” may be a bit of an overstatement, but the fact is McNealy was more right than wrong. Nowadays a lot of your life is an open book and more and more people know how to read it.
That same year author David Brin published, “The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?”
Brin points out the genie of surveillance technology and openly available information is out of the bottle and is not going back in. But he said the ability to look at your life need not be tyrannical, if it works both ways.
He further pointed out that maintaining the privacy we desire is going to depend on a mutual agreement not to invade the privacy of others in ways we would not want ours to be invaded. A kind of Golden Rule for the Information Age.
I think that point has been made rather forcefully to Janet Hasson and Caryn A. McBride.
Good news on the free speech front from Europe. Lars Hedegaard was acquited in Denmark of charges of saying true, but not nice things about Muslims resident in his country.
The hate-speech trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Austria is still ongoing though. Frau Sabaditsch-Wolff is facing similar charges stemming from… well it appears that in support of her xenophobic, racist, etc etc rants she (this is shocking but I have to say it) actually quoted the Koran
And in America a big-time Washington D.C. lawyer Paul Mirengoff, who happens to be a conservative blogger was made to grovel in public, take down a blog post, and shut up.
Mirengoff is a partner in the employment law group at the firm of Akin Gump, and one of the founders of Power Line blog.
The offending post was about the Tuscon tragedy. The specific offensive part concerned a prayer offered by a Yaqui Indian shaman. Luckily the post was preserved elsewhere – and now here. Take a half-minute and read the offending thing in its entirety..
In the post immediately below, I praised President Obama’s speech in Tucson this evening in honor of the victims of that horrific shooting spree. His speech was part of a larger ceremony which, on the whole, was rather a mixed bag.
The best thing about the evening, even better than Obama’s speech, was the news he delivered that Rep. Giffords today opened her eyes on her own for the first time since she was shot.
Other good spots: Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped save Rep. Giffords life, gave a brief and impressive talk in which he insisted that he was not a hero. And Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano used their time at the podium not to deliever speeches but instead to simply reading from scripture. This may have been designed to keep things fresh for Obama’s speech, but it was appreciated nonetheless.
On the negative side of the ledger, I didn’t appreciate the president of the University of Arizona (and master of ceremonies) telling us how lucky we are to have Barack Obama as our president and Janet Napolitano as our homeland security chief. Nor did the frequent raucous cheering by the huge crowd seem appropriate at what was, at least in part, a memorial service.
As for the “ugly,” I’m afraid I must cite the opening “prayer” by Native American Carlos Gonzales. It was apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to “the creator” but no mention of God. Several of the victims were, as I understand it, quite religious in that quaint Christian kind of way (none, to my knowledge, was a Yaqui). They (and their families) likely would have appreciated a prayer more closely aligned with their religious beliefs.
But it wasn’t just Gonzales’s prayer that was “ugly” under the circumstances. Before he ever got to the prayer, Gonzales provided us with a mini-auto biography and made several references to Mexico, the country from which (he informed us) his family came to Arizona in the mid 19th century. I’m not sure why Gonzales felt that Mexico needed to intrude into this service, but I have an idea.
In any event, the invocation could have used more God, less Mexico, and less Carlos Gonzales.
That’s it. The unforgivable offense was to suggest that prayers for Christian victims might appropriately be… Christian.
I myself cheerfully accept anybody’s prayers for my safety, salvation, or good luck with the lottery. The good wishes of a good person may or may not help, but they certainly can’t hurt.
Of course, that’s not the whole story as you find out when you follow the money.
But that was not good enough for one of Mirengoff’s law partners, James Meggesto, who issued a sanctimonious statement saying he was “shocked, appalled and embarrassed” by Mirengoff’s “insensitive” “web posting” (emphasis mine):
“As an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation; as an attorney who has dedicated his life and law practice to the representation of Indian tribes, tribal organizations and tribal interests; and as a partner in the American Indian law and policy practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, I was shocked, appalled and embarrassed by a recent Web posting by another Akin Gump partner, Paul Mirengoff, who posted on his personal blog an insensitive and wholly inappropriate criticism of the use of a Yaqui prayer as the invocation to the recent memorial service held in Tucson, Arizona. As soon as I and the firm became aware of this posting, the firm took immediate action to deal firmly with this unfortunate situation. Accordingly, Bruce McLean, chairman of the firm, issued the following statement: “We sincerely apologize for the blog entry posted by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff on his personal blog, powerlineblog.com. Akin Gump is neither affiliated with, nor a supporter of, the blog. We found his remarks to be insensitive and wholly inconsistent with Akin Gump’s values. Mr. Mirengoff regrets his poor choice of words and agreed to remove his post.” ”
Meggesto doesn’t say who dropped the dime on Mirengoff. How this even came to the firm’s attention is surprising. After all, the paragraph in question was pretty mild, part of a larger post and not really much different than a lot of others were saying. Perhaps some innocent concerned citizen just happened to read Power Line that night and call Akin Gump, but it’s equally likely the watchers were behind it, directly or indirectly.
The criticism by Meggesto and Akin Gump was disingenuous at best. There was nothing in Mirengoff’s post which was a “criticism of the use of the Yacqui prayer”; Mirengoff was making a point about the absence of a Christian prayer at a memorial service for religious Christian victims.
And just what are Akin Gump’s “values”? The primary value at stake here seems to be money to be generated from representing Indian tribes and financial interests. Nothing wrong with that, but Akin Gump should have just said what it really meant: “We are afraid that left-wing bloggers and others who hate Power Line will make a big deal about this and try to use it against the firm to disrupt our relationship with clients who pay us millions of dollars in legal fees each year.”
If Akin Gump had justified its actions based on its own financial interests, rather than hiding behind words like “insensitive,” I would have respected its decision (although still disagreed with it). A law firm has a legitimate interest in maintaining client relationships. Instead, Meggesto and Akin Gump chose to portray Mirengoff at best as insensitive and at worst as a bigot, which conclusions were not supported by the blog post in question.
Mirengoff obviously feared for his position at the firm, because he issued a confession/apology worthy of a political prisoner in (insert name of tyranny here):
OK, I have to say I support Mirengoff 100 percent – but I can’t help but think he’s kind of a wuss.
Dammit shyster, couldn’t you have taken the hit and sued the bastards? That’s what lawyers do!
Maybe I should be more charitable, and maybe I’m not in the mood because I’ve just come back from Belarus where a friend and comrade was forced to make public statements by threats on the lives of his partners.
Mr. Mirengoff I’m sure you have a family to support, but that redskin lawyer (yes I’m being deliberately offensive, sue me) isn’t going to scalp your wife and children. “Attorney” is a portable skill you can take damn near anywhere. And if you have sons, wouldn’t you rather they saw their father as a man who stands up for himself, than a provider of new BMWs for graduation?
I’m living a lot closer to the margin of poverty than you are – and I’ll say whatever I damn well please on my blog PRECISELY BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE TELLING ME I CAN’T.
Note: I’m cleaning up my “drafts” file and seeing what’s fit to publish. Among other reasons because I’m home with strep throat, losing money but not quite fit to write.
I originally wrote this last year as my weekend op-ed. The case referred to was a disorderly conduct charge against a 14-year-old girl who in Feb., 2009, called a 17-year-old black girl the N-word outside the local teen center. She then followed her into the bathroom at a pizza joint nearby, again used the epithet and said something to the effect of, “You don’t own this town.”
The disorderly conduct case went all the way to the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The 14-year-old got six months probation and had to attend a “sensitivity class.” This was all finished by the time the appeal went to the North Dakota Supreme Court as, “In the interest of H.K., a child.” I’m told there shouldn’t be any long-term legal burden for the girl, since juvenile records are by law destroyed when the juvie turns 18.
I don’t know any of the parties in the incident. I do know the attorneys on both sides.
It was spiked.
Something has been bothering me since the North Dakota Supreme Court ruling in a local case last month, something I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on until recently.
The Supreme Court upheld the disorderly conduct finding in juvenile court of a 14-year-old girl accused of using racial slurs against a 17-year-old African-American girl last year. The defense had argued the juvenile court was trying to criminalize the use of an offensive word, and that even offensive words are protected by the First Amendment.
I realized what was bothering me about this the other day, when I saw my son crying because a young teenage girl told him his T-shirt was “gay.”
(I advised him to suck it up and don’t let them see you cry or they’ll torment you without end.)
In the local case I fully realize there is more at issue than free speech. There are legitimate questions the prosecution raised about what constitutes disorderly conduct, fighting words, and actions likely to result in a disturbance of the peace.
And yet, I wonder if what was decided was less a question of law than moral indignation.
But shouldn’t we be indignant? Shouldn’t we do something?
Sure should, and if my kids used racial slurs like that I’d be pretty indignant on their backsides. But should moral indignation be a matter for the law?
There’s a lot of complicated ways it can be applied, but I think the basic question of whether a rule of conduct should be a law is, does it protect life and property?
The question is not whether it makes people nice, polite, socially conscious, non-smoking consumers of low-cholesterol organic foods.
I’d like to point out two examples of the desire to legislate moral indignation that fall, conveniently enough, on opposing sides of the political spectrum.
Once upon a time, in a state far, far away, I was a welfare bureaucrat for the state’s Department of Human Services. My job involved an awful lot of time spent establishing applicants’ eligibility for services. The department at that time claimed to have disbursement rate of around 60 percent. That is, sixty percent of all the tax money the department received eventually wound up in the hands of single mothers, dependent children, the aged, disabled, and blind.
This was considered very good for any welfare agency, where disbursement rates are more often around 40 percent.
There were of course, a fair number of clients who were con artists and scammers, i.e. “welfare cheats.”
This makes some people livid.
“That money is for the genuinely needy! We need to catch those cheats and make them pay it back, or send them to jail!”
In vain I’d explain that catching all the ineligible recipients would cost more money than the department would save, and actually make less available to genuinely needy clients. Didn’t matter to them, it was wrong and it had to be stopped, whether it would save money or not.
Switch to the opposite end of the political divide and income distribution.
Here live the people who are made livid by multi-million dollar golden parachutes paid to incompetent executives to buy out their employment contracts before they ruin their companies.
Again, it does no good to point out that the money paid them is insignificant in terms of total revenues, does not significantly affect costs of the company’s goods and services, and is in fact money well-spent to get rid of an incompetent or under-performing CEO. (Hat tip to Thomas Sowell for pointing this out.)
“It’s wrong!” and has to be stopped, whatever the damage done to contract law which, like free speech, is one of the foundations of our civilization.
There’s no doubt moral indignation feels good. Research shows feelings of moral indignation can cause a release of endorphins in the brain, resulting in a “natural high.” This would explain a lot about “cause junkies,” whose lives revolve around a passionate quest to set the world to rights.
But passion is a poor basis for deciding questions of law.
“A fateful characteristic of our violent age is the non-violence, the incredible meekness of the victims. Almost without exception, the social scientists are telling us that Americans are at present more violent than they were in the past. Yet anyone who observes the American scene in any big city with his own eyes knows that it is not so. The American man in the street is infinitely less pugnacious, less quarrelsome, and less ready to take offense than he was in the past. We used to fight in the streets, in saloons and on the job. Neighbors used to argue shrilly over the fence and often come to blows! But just now the great majority of Americans are afraid to open their mouths. They will not get into a fight no matter what you call them, and will not get involved even when they see people murdered before their eyes. They are afriad to get angry. The crucial, central fact about contemporary Americans is their timidity – their cowardice.”
Eric Hoffer: First Things Last Things, 1967
Eric Hoffer is so admirably succinct that it’s hard to paraphrase what he said, it’s almost always easier just to quote him.
I’ve been wondering about this point for a while now. In politics and public life you get insulted, period. If someone thinks your proposals are dumb – they say so. And they should, proposals for government action should always be challenged. Government is just too damn dangerous to be left to run unsupervised.
That is however, a different thing from calling one a liar or advocate of tyranny and mass murder, as in “racist,” “Nazi,” or “fascist.”
I take that particularly ill, when it comes from people who excuse – or actively justify, mass murdering regimes such as Castro’s, or belittle the enormities of the Soviet Union as “just Stalin.”
We’re supposed to be too “civilized” to offer to punch someone in the nose for an insult anymore, much less invite them to the field of honor.
The question I’ve been raising in recent posts is, have we become too civilized?
“If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, you must be prepared to accept barbarism.” – Thomas Sowell
Maintaining civilzation depends on most people accepting lines they will not cross. The vulnerability of civilization is that some people may discover they can get their way by crossing those lines with impunity when people have forgotten how to enforce them.
I think this goes beyond law. A society can survive very high crime rates, and indeed writer Louis Lamour pointed out all dynamic societies have high crime rates.
Defence against criminals is a matter of making it dangerous for them to ply their trade on you. Simple in concept, if not always in execution.
But what happens when criminal conduct becomes normalized in society?
College campuses are full of students today, who probably wouldn’t rob you at gunpoint or snatch a lady’s purse, but think it justified and worthy to steal a stack of newspapers containing opinions they don’t like, or shout down a speaker they disagree with.
What happens? The next stage is they begin to feel that it’s a good deed to rough up speakers, to physically humiliate them. To vandalize their property. To make false accusations against them – even in a court of law. To insult them hideously, and wait for the slightest opportunity to misrepresent what they said and prosecute them under “speech codes.”
Of course conservatives and libertarians complain about this. To each other, in the pages of editorials read by other conservatives and libertarians.
We’ve seen this growing over the past few decades. Now it’s getting worrisome, to the point many fear the left will soon attempt to shut down right-wing talk radio by bringing back the mis-called “fairness doctrine.” The ultimate hecklers’ veto!
And I wonder, would these punks be so bold if someone had asked them if they wanted to step outside when they first crossed that line?
Some years back, I was in Bulgaria during the last days of the communist-dominated coalition government, having lunch with the intelligence officer of the U.S. Embassy.
We were talking about the massive corruption, massive inflation, and general thuggish incompetence of the government, and how the people just seemed to take it. (Eventually they did throw the bastards out.)
We fell silent for a moment. Then he blurted out, “These people are sheep! When are they going to get angry?”
“Fuck democracy! Our power is in the streets!” Graffitti seen on a wall at an “anti-globalization” riot in Vancouver.
In a comment to my post “Free Speech: Where’s the Outrage?” blog friend Paardestaart says that over at Little Green Footballs you can see “Ezra Levant from Western Standard is lecturing the Canadian Human Rights commission who summoned him to appear for a hearing and to explain why he placed ‘the cartoons’ in his magazine..The way he tells her that she is out of line, and that he deeply resents being summoned to a kangaroo court is priceless, and a lesson to all of us, who seem to have forgotten our basic rights as free westerners..”
Go here http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=28582_Outrage_of_the_Week-_Canadian_Publisher_Persecuted_for_Mindcrime&only
It’s three YouTube videos and it’s good. Levant sticks up for his right as a free man to say and publish what he pleases eloquently, articulately and forcefully.
Thanks friend. Could you tell us a little more about yourself? As much as you feel comfortable with. The name sounds Dutch (?) Is it a nomme du guerre meaning..?
Posted at The Right Angle http://humanevents.com/rightangle/
— 09-24-2007 @ 04:19 PM
I admit to being somewhat torn about Ahmedinejad speaking at Columbia. Like Cal Thomas in today’s front page article at Human Events, I’m irritated that he got invited to Columbia and evidently spoke without interruption or heckling, while conservatives, border security advocates etc, are either disinvited or get the “hecklers veto”.
On the other hand, I think our people should hear him.
People in this fat, happy, lucky country of ours just don’t believe in evil anymore. Notice how people either avoid using the word – or use it in such a loose sense that it doesn’t mean anything.
Our people need to hear it, see it and get close enough to look into the eyes of a man who would kill you without a second thought – for what? Having different opinions about religion? Refusing to acknowledge the superiority of his civilization? Any reason that you could comprehend at all?
The problem of our country today is, that we have had the good life for so long now that we’ve forgotten that there really are people like that in the world – and that a small but significant number of our own people find the idea of that kind of power exciting.
Sunday morning and thank God it’s Labor Day tomorrow. I’ve got two, count ‘em two, sick kids and I suppose my wife and I are about due to get this grunge pretty soon. Guess we won’t be taking any road trips this holiday.
Well the nice thing about being a parent for the second time is that you can be a lot more laid back about it. When we brought our firstborn home and installed him in the crib at the foot of the bed, we used to sit bolt upright from the soundest sleep every time he coughed or grunted in his sleep. “Oh my God it’s crib death I know it is!” And when he was quiet, I had to get up and check that he was still breathing.
What is it about TV shows and changing diapers? I recall that the impression I used to get from family shows was that changing diapers was like the end of the world. Women giving advice to young women contemplating motherhood for the first time, or older women thinking about having more kids always seemed to bring up, “Do you want to go through feeding and changing diapers (again)?”
I got news for those of you who aren’t parents yet, changing diapers is no big deal. I suppose it’s like mowing the lawn – if it’s a rental house, it’s a chore. If it’s your house, there is something different about it. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of years as a garbageman and sewage treatment plant operator. (Yes, I’m the guy that coined the classic slogan, “Wastewater treatment. You excrete it, we treat it.”) After that it takes a lot to gross me out. (That and being the child of medical professionals. To this day I have to remind myself that there are some things people really don’t want to hear about when they’re eating.) But my wife doesn’t really mind it either.
Now mind you, I wouldn’t care to have two kids in diapers at the same time. And it does get kind of funky when the kids start on solid food…
It’s official, Carlos Mencia is my second favorite comedian, after Chris Rock. Last night after we got the kids put down way late, we saw Carlos riffing on, among other things, the war on Islamofascism and White Guilt. Some lines, as best as I remember:
“I am not White! I don’t feel the need to apologize for what we did to make this country great!”
“This Middle Eastern guy told me, “My people are crazy, you’d better watch out.”
“No, my people are crazy.”
“Well we blew up two of your buildings.”
“So we blew up two of your countries, you wanna play that game?”
“Well we’re getting an atomic bomb and we might use it.”
“Hey, we’ve got the bomb and we’ve already used it – twice. Go to Japan and go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They can introduce you to a guy with two dicks and five testicles. We called the plane that dropped the bomb the Enola GAY so they’d know they were going to get f&*ked in the a#$!”
Years ago there was a Latino reviewer for the Dallas Morning News who did a piece on “In Living Color”. He said, “Thank God a couple of Black guys did this show, because White guys would get crucified for it.”
What is it with this country?
You want to know how you can keep a nice cushy job in academia when you’re a third-rate hack? Loudly announce that the United States is the worst country on Earth, that White people are the worst people on Earth and that you’re ashamed to be both. They’ll treat you with kid gloves, because they’re mortally afraid to look like they’re repressing you.
Some of this comes from admirable motives, or at least can be sold to the public on that basis. We don’t want to fire someone for publishing his opinions because we believe in free speech. But I’ve got to say, it’s a little like a situation I’ve seen in some local government workplaces. If you’re on the point of being fired – turn yourself in as an alcoholic. Then they’re obligated to “treat” you, because alcoholism is a “sickness”.