Some stories have a good guy and a bad guy, a white hat and a black hat.
This is not one of those stories. This is a story in which everybody is pissing me off.
Professor Loomis Gets Upset
Last Friday, as the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut unfolded, Professor Loomis got upset. As described at Twitchy, he tweeted or retweeted violent rhetoric about the NRA, and then began to engage angrily with people who criticized his rhetoric:
First fucker to say the solution is for elementary school teachers to carry guns needs to get beaten to death.
I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick.—
Looks like the National Rifle Association has murdered some more children.
You are goddamn right we should politicize this tragedy. Fuck the NRA. Wayne LaPierre should be in prison.
Wayne LaPierre is a criminal and should be in prison for complicity with murder. 27 counts.—
Can we define NRA membership dues as contributing to a terrorist organization?
Larry Pratt and the group Gun Owners of America are terrorists and should be dealt with as such.
Professor Loomis' rhetoric had moderated somewhat four days later — but not by much.
The right-wing intimidation campaign against me for saying the NRA was a terrorist organization continues. Will not succeed.
Dear rightwingers, to be clear, I don't want to see Wayne LaPierre dead. I want to see him in prison for the rest of his life. #nraterrorism
Professor Loomis' behavior nicely suited a popular narrative — crazy liberal professor is crazy! — and so the story of his tweets spread fast to conservative sites like Campus Reform and American Thinker and Daily Caller and Townhall and The Other McCain.
It is right and fit that people react to expression they don't like — such as Professor Loomis' tweets — with more speech. Vividly expressing disagreement, contempt, and ridicule of his behavior is core First Amendment activity. To the extent that Professor Loomis is complaining about tweets, or blog posts, when he cites a "right-wing intimidation campaign," then he's a weakling and a whiner, someone who can dish out tough rhetoric but can't take it.
Regrettably, that's not all that's at issue.
I'm Not Going To Sugarcoat It
Professor Loomis' vivid tweets are not actionable threats. That is to say, they aren't "true threats" outside the protection of the First Amendment.
I could continue to blog about the application of the true threats doctrine until I'm blue in the face, analyzing Professor Loomis' tweets and comparing them to precedent. But I'm not going to waste the time. I can't imagine anyone who starts out thinking those are real, actionable threats being persuaded by any amount of analysis. This is not a close call. This is not close to the line. The tweets are obvious hyperbole and no minimally rational person could interpret them as anything else. To indulge in a level of bluntness equivalent to Professor Loomis: if you think those tweets are criminal threats outside the scope of the First Amendment, then (1) you're ignorant, probably willfully so, of fundamental American civil rights, or (b) you're not too bright, or (c) you're blinded by partisanship, or (d) more than one of those. Is that condescending? Is it arrogant? Tough shit. Deal with it.
More Speech vs. Censorious Retaliation
Even though Professor Loomis' tweets are not true threats, they deserve a forceful, vivid more-speech response in the form of tweets and blog posts criticizing and ridiculing him.
Regrettably, some people think "more speech" means "try to get him fired and arrested."
In a defensive and self-pitying post, he indicates he met with the police; the context suggests that someone called the police on him based on his tweets. A statement from the University confirms that people reported him to his employer — his state employer, which is bound by the First Amendment. The blogs are full of comments like these:
I just called the above number and reached a very nice lady in the President's office. They are obviously aware of Mr. Loomis' comments on various sites and Twitter and are keeping track of complaints. I urge everyone to call that number, but please DO NOT be abusive. I sense the lady answering the phone is offended as much as the rest of us by Mr. Loomis' comments. I, personally, suggested that this should be Mr. Loomis' last term at the university, since it also appears that he does not yet have tenure.
The president of URI posted this: www.uri.edu/news/memo/president/statement12182012.html
How about manning up and firing this coward?
And so on.
The university's response is weak:
The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.
Let me rewrite that so it sounds like they have a spine and a grasp of the mission of higher education:
Professor Loomis' remarks on a private Twitter account do not reflect the views of the University of Rhode Island or any particular member of its faculty or staff other than Professor Loomis. Many people — myself among them — are offended or disgusted by Professor Loomis' choice of rhetoric and hyperbole. However, vibrant debate of important public issues often involves pungent expression. Professor Loomis' expression is protected by the First Amendment and the University will let the marketplace of ideas address it.
To be fair to the bloggers, the ones I have seen are not explicitly calling for Professor Loomis to be fired or reported to the police. But they sure aren't responding to the "fire him" comments in the way I would hope they would. And they seem to be celebrating the fact that their readers are calling the police and trying to get Loomis fired. Consider Twitchy's triumphal posting of this Joshua Trevino tweet:
Looks like @ErikLoomis deleted his Twitter account. Huge @TwitchyTeam win.
People criticizing Loomis are not responsible for him deciding to delete his Twitter account; that's on him. But it's not clear to me how it's a "win" for Twitchy for Loomis to delete his account, unless — as Loomis would probably argue — the goal is not just to expose and criticize dipshittery like his, but to shut people up.
Some of these conservative blogs, on other occasions, have stood up for conservatives when people try to get them fired based on their protected speech — people like Patterico and Aaron Walker. They seem to have forgotten that value here.
I support, without qualification, people writing about Professor Loomis. I find his expression contemptible. But I also find the efforts to get him fired or arrested contemptible, and I find it highly regrettable that some blogs are, at the most charitable interpretation, acting as smirking spectators to that effort. The effort is not without cost, even if neither the police nor the University take action. Trying to get a professor fired for clearly protected speech promotes and contributes to the culture of censorship in higher education that FIRE fights and that Greg Lukianoff exposed persuasively in his recent book "Unlearning Liberty." Trying to get Loomis fired contributes to a culture in which people are disciplined for reading a book about the defeat of the Klan because coworkers find it "harassing" or threatened with disciplinary proceedings for putting up a Firefly poster or prohibited from using signs at protest because OMG 9/11. Calling the cops based on clearly protected hyperbole promotes and encourages a law enforcement culture that does things like launching "cyberbullying" investigations based on satirical criticism, nudging us further towards the theoretical British zero-point at which old men get questioned by the police for putting rather mild expressions of atheism in their windows.
I'm disappointed, and more than a little disgusted, that partisanship is more important than principle.
Professor Loomis Is No Hero
I started this post by saying that there are no good guys in this story, and I meant it. Erik Loomis is no hero. He's no free speech martyr.
It's not just because he likes hyperbole about killing people who disagree with him — though that is hardly a way to encourage the marketplace of ideas. No, what I find the most repulsive about Erik Loomis is that he equates petitioning the government for the redress of grievances with murder and terrorism — a point on which he continued to double down even after he had time to cool off and retreat from his violent hyperbole. He echoed that even in his self-justifying post about his experience:
Do I want to see Wayne LaPierre punished in the way many of us wanted to see Tony Hayward punished during the BP oil spill or the way many of us wanted to see Dick Cheney punished during the Iraq War. Of course. That would mean real accountability for causing immeasurable harm to families, nations, and/or nature. Do I think the National Rifle Association is culpable for the murders of thousands of people in the United States and Mexico because of the policies they support? Yes. Do I think it is reasonable to call the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization? Although obviously using more than a little hyperbole, yes. It is defensible precisely because the polices they support facilitate the terror unleashed in Newtown, at the Clackamas Town Center, at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at the theater in Aurora, at Columbine.
But here's the thing: in America, under the First Amendment, we hold people "culpable" for their effective policy advocacy by becoming a more effective advocate and convincing our leaders to move in another direction, or by convincing our fellow citizens to vote them out. Professor Loomis — perhaps because he is too banal, excitable, ineffectual, and self-indulgent to be an effective advocate — dreams not of rebutting arguments, but of rendering it unacceptable to make the argument in the first place. It's a familiar position — heard in talk of "fifth columns" and "objectively pro-Saddam" after 9/11, and heard in decades of "pro-criminal" smears applied to anyone who advocates for the rights of the accused. But Professor Loomis' it's-terrorism-to-advocate-that-right rhetoric reminds me most powerfully today of the government of Uganda, which would like not only to criminalize gay sex, but to make it a crime to advocate against the law itself.
Professor Loomis' position is fundamentally anti-speech and anti-petition. There's nothing to admire or respect about it. (I doubt there's even anything tactical to admire about it — I don't see advocacy premised on "it's illegitimate for you even to take your position" to be particularly persuasive to the American people.)
Bah. A pox on all your houses.
Edited to add: Here's a statement from the folks at Crooked Timber. I think they minimize what Loomis said and ignore his rhetoric that is, as I argue, fundamentally anti-free-speech. But I think they are completely correct in their call for protection of his First Amendment rights by both the university and society as a whole.
We don't like Jack Stuef.
Jack Stuef is a low level troll, a self-styled comic and self-styled journalist who was forced out of WONKETTE (think about that) for poor taste. Specifically, his taste in subjects for comedic journalism, such as handicapped children. Now Jack Stuef writes for Buzzfeed, which is sort of like Reddit without a downvote button.
So when Jack Stuef applied his talents, formerly devoted to mocking the disabled, to a hit-piece on Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, we thought Inman would shrug it off. Inman, after all, is the internet equivalent of a former samurai turned buddhist monk, living on a mountaintop, a samurai who has abandoned the sword for a life of contemplation of the idea of a sword, who can now kill with a stick, or a blade of grass, or the Shao Lin Buddha Finger. Such a man does not lower himself to street brawls with thugs like Jack Stuef.
Still, even a master swordsman must defend himself from time to time: This is the result.
From an email yesterday:
Re: Popehat & Technorati Media Advertising Partnership
My name is Justin
Hi, Justin! Are we going to have a pleasant relationship?
and I manage publisher relations
for Technorati Media, the leading social media ad network and blogosphere destination
They should put "the leading social media ad network and blogosphere destination" in UrbanDictionary under "Word Salad." You can rearrange it endlessly. "The leading blogosphere network and social media ad destination." "The leading ad destination and social media blogosphere network."
Popehat.com is a fantastic site and I would love to establish a partnership to help you further monetize your traffic.
Justin, I don't want to get off on the wrong foot here, but I think you're a stinking liar. I don't think you, or anyone human responsible for targeting me with this email, has ever "read" or formed an opinion of Popehat. How many sites have you called "fantastic?" Would you still have called us fantastic if you knew that we consistently mock your profession as substanceless, loathsome, and bad for everyone involved? Also, you used "monetize your traffic" non-ironically, so fuck you very much.
We're currently working with similar publishers, including LawyersAndSettlements.com, DocStoc.com, DailyCaller.com, Alternet.org, TopClassActions.com, AmericaBlog.com, TheFreeDictionary.com, TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com, CommentaryMagazine.com, QuickAndDirtyTips.com, Care2.com, RealClearPolitics.com, & ChaCha.com.
Similar publishers, Justin? In what way are these "publishers" similar to Popehat, or to each other? You've mashed together a seemingly random collection of political blogs and shitty commercial linkfarms and ad-revenue-placeholders. If your goal was to convey to a potential customer that you're a competent marketer who could tailor a suitable advertising product for my blog, you've just started the interview with the equivalent of puking on my shoes and wiping your mouth with my tie. Seriously. Did a non-drunk human read that list?
On the advertiser side, we're connected to great brands like Microsoft, Toyota, Ikea, FedEx, Clorox, Sony, New Balance, Disney, Best Buy, H&R Block, Macy’s, Intel, Taco Bell, AT&T, Mattel, Hertz, Levi's, Dell, Chevron, JetBlue, & Verizon.
Bleeeeeeuuurrghhhhahahhhhhh. You just puked all over my shoes again, Justin. And I really thought you were done after the last paragraph. What does "connected to" mean? And what makes you think that anyone would think any of those brands are suitable for advertisements here? I mean, sure, I can see how you'd want Clorox after some of Clark's posts, but do we really strike you as a Disney outfit?
Please let me know if you are interested and would like to hear more. You can also apply to the network here. Thank you!
I am not interested, Justin, and I would not like to hear more from you ever again. Thanks!
I don't know that Dr. Michael Farris, Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, will act like a censorious tool today or tomorrow. But as Patrick Henry said, “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” So I'm betting on yes.
Patrick Henry College is a small, private, devoutly Christian college in Virginia. It's honest about speech — by that I mean, unlike schools that promise to celebrate and respect freedom of expression whilst enacting indefensible speech codes, Patrick Henry College is very forthright about restricting the expressive activities of its students. I condemn public institutions that suppress speech, and private institutions that promise freedom of speech but deny it, but when it comes to institutions like Patrick Henry I share The FIRE's viewpoint, which I would paraphrase as "you knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred."
So: I wouldn't spend much time on Patrick Henry College banning students from advocating gay rights on campus. I might find it repugnant, but it's their patch. However, when Patrick Henry College — through Chancellor Farris — starts to threaten lawsuits based on criticism of the school from a gay rights perspective, I become perturbed.
The blog queerphc, or "Queer at Patrick Henry College," says up front that it is not part of or endorsed by the college, but is written by Patrick Henry students unified by "our desire to help and encourage other Patrick Henry College students, current and former, in any way that we can." The blog covers things like the ongoing dialogue about conflicts between sexuality and religious dogma at Patrick Henry and disputes over the very language of the discussion about sexuality.
This was apparently intolerable to Chancellor Farris, who should have listened to Patrick Henry: “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and to provide for it.” Chancellor Farris issued a foolish threat — not merely of academic consequences to the anonymous Patrick Henry bloggers, but of legal consequences. He wrote a threat on the blog's Facebook page:
This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.
Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.
Had Patrick Henry College at last been brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted to endure criticism on a blog? Apparently.
Then people started to take notice. Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen called Chancellor Farris to inquire whether he is represented by counsel in the matter. If you are a reckless would-be censor, such an inquiry is about as ominous as a call from your doctor asking "how quickly can you get in to discuss the extremely alarming things our team has discovered on your rectal X-ray?" Within minutes, Farris publicly retreated:
After further consultation, I withdraw my note from yesterday. While we believe in the inappropriate nature of the use of our trademarked name, we believe that litigation is not appropriate.
Patrick Henry said that "the battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Of course, the vigilant know which battles to pick in the first place, and don't make utterly reckless and legally specious threats. As Levy says, "Apart from displaying his ignorance about the difference between copyright and trademark, Farris showed his lack of familiarity with the rudiments of trademark law, which allows bloggers to use the name of the target of their criticism to identify the pages where the criticism appears."
Farris retreated ignominiously from the field, but it was too late to salvage his reputation as an attorney. Levy picked it up, as did New York Magazine. The lesson is a sharp one: foolish litigation threats may lead to public humiliation. They should. It is the solemn duty of everyone who cares about freedom of expression to contribute to that public lesson.
But it is not just censoriousness that has lost here. Some opponents of gay rights, and critics of increasing tolerance of gays, view homosexuality as a weakness. How appropriate, then, that their credibility and cultural sway continues to be undermined by their own human frailties — hubris, ignorance, and misguided wrath. They are losing. Good.
A stroll through some petitions on Whitehouse.gov:
"Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group," with more than 2000 votes. Dear Andrew D. of Sacramento, California: "legally recognize them as a hate group" under what statute? You're thinking that they get classified as a "hate group," and then they can't be douchebags any more, right? Under which statute, again? Can't think of it? BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ONE, YOU MORON. There's no generic "hate group" statute that permits blanket censorship. Thank God.
Restore Objectivity and Fairness to Our Media — oh, this should be good — with 2400 votes. "The 1st amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. However along with every freedom there are responsibilities. Example: One cannot yell fire in a crowded theater." Actually, Pam B. of LaClaire, Iowa, you can, if it's actually on fire. The hackneyed-and-rooted-in-thuggish-censorship-quote is FALSELY shouting fire in a crowded theater. "Finally any media outlet that promotes itself as a news organization should be required to present a neutral and objective presentation of news and events, without predominate bias for or against any viewpoint." Yes, we should DEFINITELY have the federal government judge that. "Americans want the freedom of truth." Congratulations: you've crafted a slogan that's simultaneously stupid, meaningless, and chilling.
Regulate Internet Pornography: "We petition the government to keep pornography away from minors by demanding and enforcing that a valid credit card number belonging to the adult viewer is provided at a login screen to every pornographic website." I see you are using "regulate pornography" in the sense of "make select pornographers rich, with an immense side benefit to identity thieves."
"outlaw offending prophets of major religions" — "Moses, Jesus, Mohammad" — because "acts like this contradict the essence of coexistence and peace among humans. Labeling these acts as freedom of speech is similar to labeling murder as freedom of expression!" Similar, in the sense of "very stupid people might compare them."
These people vote, and reproduce, and drive popular culture. DESPAIR.
Nancy French pointed me to this great video that illustrates the sort of comments you get from people when you are out and about as a multiracial family (often, but not always, an adoptive one). Been there, heard that.
Like I said before, the point of this is not to throw a pity party for adoptive parents. Any discussion of transracial adoption shouldn't be all about the adoptive parents' feelings. Rather, calling this sort of thing out is about (1) preparing parents to deal with such situations in a way that's constructive for their kids, (2) whistling past the graveyard — a sharing of the experience, and (3) laughing about the brokenness and general asshatitude of humanity.
TO: SINCLAIR COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACULTY, STAFF, AND SECURITY OFFICERS
RE: SCC POLICY AGAINST AGITATION AND USE OF WEAPONS ON CAMPUS
Dear Sinclair Community College team,
No doubt you have heard that Sinclair Community College is under assault by an extremist outside agitation group known as FIRE. The very name of this organization suggests — and inflicts — lawlessness and violence.
Write a blog that's well-trafficked enough, and you'll draw scrapers lie flies to roadkill. Every time we get a link from a big site — a BoingBoing or TechCrunch or something — I'm amazed how multiple identical pingbacks from scraper blogs pop up within a few hours, automatically generated as the scraper sites copy and republish the entire original posts with their links to us. Following the backlink leads to some junk site — designed to carry ads, or in a misguided effort to improve somebody's search engine position by link farming. Usually there's no easy remedy — the scraper's site has an anonymously registered domain, and may be hosted offshore.
This is not such a case.
Recently I noticed a series of very familiar pingbacks — very familiar because they appeared identical to pingbacks I'd already gotten from Kevin Underhill at the top-notch you-got-your-humor-in-my-law site Lowering the Bar.
I decided to investigate. Here's what I found.
1. The scraper site is calltothebar.com.
3. The scraper site copies the entire posts, links and all, and runs them with the (false and misleading) byline "by kszafarsk," with a link to the actual author site at the bottom. The scraper site has a header at top with what appears to be category or subject area links ("Attorney Humor | Politics | Professors Point of View | Law Practice Resources | Legal Careers") but are actually not hyperlinked.
4. The scraper site has tags that appear randomly generated from the text of the scraped posts. For instance, for both bot-weirdness and extra douchebag points, when the scraper site lifted Bitter Lawyer's entire very personal post "I Had To Put My Dog Down," it printed it with the tag "Down."
5. The scraper site does not allow comments and adds no commentary whatsoever to the posts it copies.
7. A WHOIS search reveals that calltothebar.com was registered by — wait for it — KM Sciences, Inc..
I wrote to KM Sciences last Thursday, sending the email to their sales and tech support addresses as well as the administrative and technical contact they listed when they registered calltothebar.com. I followed up when I didn't hear from them. Still no response.
So: it appears that software company KM Science is promoting itself — albeit extremely ineffectually (the calltothebar.com site had 22 hits today) — by stealing other people's work and slapping it on a shitty little site running one of their ads. Whoever is doing it lacks the slightest freaking clue of how to cover their tracks. Now, if I were representing them, I'd say the abject failure to exercise discretion about this shows lack of mental capacity to form bad intent, but here the scraping is just too painfully obvious to be defensible. Or maybe KM Sciences hired some marketeer who is doing all that, and utterly failed to supervise them — remember, when you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics and your reputation.
Either way, ask yourself this: would you install software these people coded on your computer?
I wish I knew the lawyer who turned these headlines:
RACY PHOTO FOUND IN LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK
RACY YEARBOOK PHOTO BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION, OTHER PARENTS SAY
$100 HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK TAINTED WITH 'PORN' PHOTO, PARENTS SAY
DISTRICT SAYS STUDENT BARING GENITALS IN YEARBOOK WAS 'ACCIDENTAL' OR 'ILLUSION'
SCHOOL SYSTEM ISSUES SECOND RESPONSE TO YEARBOOK PHOTO CONTROVERSY
into the most abject and humiliating retraction I've ever read. I'd shake his hand. I'd buy him a beer.
Perhaps the ex-reporter at Charlotte, North Carolina's WSOC who is responsible for the stories and retraction could use a beer too.
We write a lot about abusive defamation suits, so it's worth remembering that They Also Serve who file these claims.
MIDDLEBOROUGH, MA – The residents of Middleborough have had enough of uncouth language such as the "f-word", "s-h-word", and "c-word". On Monday night, they took ACTION.
"I'm sick of all these fucking teenagers fucking swearing all the god damn fucking time," shouted Mitchell "Mitchie" Winthrop, spilling Bud Light all over his faded Patriots Jersey, "These fucking asshole kids need to learn some fucking RESPECT for their betters!"
And now they will, $20 at a time.
"I'm fucking telling you," shouted James "Jimmy Putnam, spilling Budweiser all over his Boston Red Sox Jersey, "Too many of these fucking little douche-fucks have mouths on them like fuckin' Jimmy fucking Rock or whoever that fucking black dude was. You know who I'm talking about. All eff-this and eff-that. WELL FUCK HIM RIGHT IN HIS BLACK ASS. Fucking idiot. You know what'll happen if he shows up here in Middleborough…"
At this point Mr. Putnam waved his beer in the reporter's face, "HE'S GOING TO FUCKING PAY TWENTY FUCKING DOLLARS, THAT'S WHAT."
Mr Putnam, still drinking his beer, then went into his 1996 faded blue Toyota Corolla and peeled out of the Stop n' Shop parking lot, nearly hitting a Hispanic family and cutting off several cars.
"Why the fuck are you talking to me, asshole?" queried Rebecca "Becky" Coolidge, as she was coming out of a Package Store, "Can't I fucking buy some god damn fucking Tequila at 1 in the afternoon from the Packie in some fucking peace? Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ, you fucking media types. THIS IS A NICE TOWN GOD FUCKING DAMN IT. You want to quote me? FUCK THE YANKEES."
Most citizens were supportive.
"When I was in middle school, our school counselor wanted to fucking stop all the fucking swearing," said Robert "Bobby" Cabot, spilling beer all over his Drew Bledsoe Patriots Jersey, "He replaced 'fuck' with… get this… fucking 'FUDGE'. That year, everyone said Fudge. Fudge This. Fudge You. Shove it up your Fudging Ass. How about we go behind those dumpsters and Fudge like we hate each other? MotherFudger. Get a load of those Fudging MILKERS on that Fudging hottie. I'd like to go back to that innocent time. It's certainly better than the fucking bullshit we have fucking going on now."
William "Billy" Kennedy was less supportive. "This used to be a great fucking town," he slurred, spilling Colt .45 all over his bare chest and the Bruins Tattoo covering it, "Used to be, you could fucking walk down the street and not worry about being fucking… ACCOSTED… by all the fucking swearing and that shitty fucking music blaring out of the fucking speakers. What is that shit anyway? It's all fucking bass and some idiot with no pants is talking about shoes? But I don't know if a fucking law is going to fucking fix it anyway. The Mayor probably needs to find a new fucking way to cover his fucking mistress's clothing bills or else she'll reveal his weird fetish or some shit. Which is bullshit of course, we all know Mickey likes feet. It's no big fucking deal, that's a totally fucking vanilla fetish at this fucking point. That fucking fat fuck Rex Ryan loves him some god damn feet. Fucking Ryan. FUCK THE JETS."
On a point of clarification, the "gangsta" use of the "n-word" was disallowed under this ordinance. The racial slur however, was still okay to use.
The world was so much easier for crazy people before the internet.
Let's face it — in the bucolic neighborhoods of pre-internet America, you could pretty much phone the crazy in. Spend a few minutes shouting at the geese on the town commons and make the occasional pronouncement about aliens at the school board meeting and you could call it a day. But now, with floor-to-ceiling media and all of the world's crazy people at your fingertips, the bar is terrifyingly high.
But Little Debbie clears it.
"Commentator" Debbie Schlussel is the stream of bat's piss that shines out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark. She is the manic and oddly-worded blog post in the darkness, the watcher of the malls, the fire that burns the homes of incorrectly-hued neighbors, the light that brings the truthiness, the shrill honking voice that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of the totally mental. Little Debbie stands out.
And apparently, as is common with floridly nutty people in public life, she's an aspiring censor. Go figure.
When I wrote this post advocating for a non-partisan approach to defending thuggishly threatened speech, I was happy when people started to link to it, because I believe its message sincerely and forcefully.
I was happy, that is, until I noticed that a large number of the links were coming from scrapers — sites that simply copy an entire post verbatim, with or without attribution.
Take conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' site InfoWars, which scraped my post wholesale, though it at least preserved original links and attributed it with a link. That's clearly not fair use. I tried writing InfoWars Editor Kurt Nimmo, politely requesting that they transform the post into a reasonably limited quotation and a link, so as to respect both my intellectual property rights and good blogging etiquette. I never got a response. Perhaps that's understandable. Folks at InfoWars are busy. Day by day, they are the tip of the spear, seeking the irrefutable proof that Lizard People faked the "Moon Landing" to create the illusion of a genuine space program, whilst actually preventing humanity from encountering That Which We Are Not Meant To Know. This month they are very busy fact-checking this so-called private space mission, which is actually being filmed on a sound stage in Burbank. If you look carefully you'll see a number of the participants were washouts from second-string reality shows. And InfoWars is this close to a blockbuster story about how local craft services people have been delivering a suspicious amount of live bugs to the soundstage. So they're busy — too busy to create original content, too busy to refrain from thievery, too busy to respond to emails.
I considered sending them a DMCA notice, but I may hold off just a bit. My wife has informed me that I have reached my quarterly quota of unbalanced people I may antagonize. She's concerned that I might get snatched off the street and stuffed into some sort of Patriot's Terrarium or something.
I also got scraped by a blogger named Chris Roubis, whose blog falls into the general classificaion of "sites with advertisements about how fluoridation threatens babies" or "sites with post categories involving the terms 'UFO' and 'Chemtrails.'" As much as I like attention, this seemed like something of a disappointing comedown, venue-wise. InfoWars is heavily trafficked, and has higher-class advertisements advocating use of colloidal silver, not posts about babies, who after all are not independently productive members of society. [Interesting Fact: Lizard People, who are naturally green, are genetically incapable of turning blue, whatever disguise or glamour they are wearing. Therefore widespread use of colloidal silver is an excellent method of identifying Lizard People. This is also why it is imperative that someone fund a live-action Smurfs movie.] Anyway, I left a comment at Chris Roubis' site, but a week later it's still in moderation. He's busy too, I'm sure. So is Radio Justin, who also scraped me shamelessly. I tried listening to Radio Justin to see if he's hold a symposium explaining his principled reasons for ripping off my content and not answering my complaint about it, but after a while a got sort of depressed by the weepy Donna Summer tributes and tuned out.
Anyway, I guess I should be happy. Silence and stonewalling, ultimately, are preferable to enraged, vaguely threatening, and semi-literate justifications, which is what I got the last time I complained about a scraper. Counting blessings!
Yesterday in this post I mentioned a response I recently sent to a cease-and-desist letter generated in the course of a controversy about whether a particular seller was eligible to sell goods on the web site Etsy.
I've since spoken to the attorney to whom I wrote. We had a very civilized discussion, though we disagree on some fundamentals (including but not limited to the substance of his email).
He related to me that he is the husband of the young woman at the heart of the controversy, and the father to their two-year-old daughter. He said that since the controversy went viral, they have received a flood of abuse, both by email and in various internet postings. He said that the abuse included threats of physical harm against his wife. He said that people went as far as to post his daughter's school, its address, and a video of it. Though he complained about some of the factual claims made about the business in question, these threats and comments were his chief concern in his discussion with me.
For purposes of this post, I am taking him at his word.
I stand by what I wrote in my response to the cease-and-desist letter. Nobody who reads this site is likely to doubt my commitment to freedom of expression. But allow me to be blunt: if you are the sort of person who thinks it is funny to react to this sort of situation by making threats, or targeting somebody's kid, or engaging in harassment that crosses the line into illegal behavior, you are not a friend of free speech, and you are not my friend. You're an enemy.
The internet is full of assholes. I strongly disagree with this attorney's argument, which seems to be — in part — that people who write vehemently about controversial issues on the internet are morally or legally responsible for what assholes do when they read it. That's not the law. But that doesn't change the fact that people who make threats, and target the family members (especially children) of folks embroiled in controversy, and engage in direct harassment of them (as opposed to writing about the situation and stating their views), are vile, and we should call them out.
So. If you are someone who reacts to these controversies by sending threatening emails to the participants, or writes comments about how violence should be done to them, or posts their kids' schools, you are my enemy. I will call you out. You liked that response I sent to the cease-and-desist letter? You might not like the tone as much when it's naming and shaming you. You like it when I conduct lengthy and detailed investigations of fraud? You won't like it if I use those same techniques to track down people who make threats, and hand them over to the victims, or to law enforcement.
You want to argue? Fine. You want to criticize? Fine. You want to ridicule? Fine. But when you threaten, and if you cross the line into unlawful harassment, and if you target families of controversial figures, you're hurting the cause you think you're fighting for. You're also making it easier for law enforcement, and legislatures, and courts to justify censorship. You're a problem. And if you become my problem, I'm going to use my First Amendment rights to make you pay. You won't enjoy it.
My client in this matter engaged in clearly protected expression and said absolutely nothing that could rationally be taken as encouraging threats, violence, or unlawful harassment. If this attorney sues, I will fight him on every front without quarter and with all of the allies I can muster. But let's be clear: if you are someone who has been making threats against these people, then you are a substantial contributing factor to my client's stressful situation this week. That makes me angry.
Please don't make me angry.