Gracias por estar aquí

This.  This, this, this.

This. This, this, this.

Lets start with what this is not. I am neither predicting doom from a Trump presidency, nor am I telling you that you have nothing to worry about. That isn't the point. The point is not the relative merits of what happened on November 8.

The point is that if you want to fix it, whatever it is, you can.

I don't have a brilliant grand plan.

But I have a little idea.

Say "thank you."

Say "thank you" to the people who might be feeling marginalized.

Say thank you to Muslims you know. Say thank you to any immigrants you know, or meet. Say "thank you" if you see a gay couple. Say thank you. Introvert? Then leave a note on their windshield.

You have to admit, no matter how pro-Trump you might be, that right now, a lot of people are scared and wondering if America just had a referendum on whether to hate them or not. Again, I am not saying that is what a Trump vote meant. Personally, I disagree. But, I can't deny that a lot of people need to be made to feel welcome, because they don't feel that way right now.

No matter how they got to feeling that way, that's where they are. Even if you think they should not feel that way, you don't get to tell them how to feel.

Well, you do a little. You can tell them to feel that you, personally, want them here.

You hear someone speaking Spanish? Tell them "Gracias por estar aquí". You see someone in a hijab? Tell them "thank you for being here." You see someone wearing a "Black Lives Matter" button, and you think "all lives matter?" So what, if ALL lives matter, then Black ones do too, right? So shake their hand and say "yes, they do."

And so on… Maybe they need to hear that right now. A lot of them are feeling worried.

Forget whether they should or not.

That is how they feel.

Those of us who aren't scared should make damn sure to let them know how we feel. Most of us feel that they belong. Way more of us feel that way than the tiny slice of us who don't. But, that tiny slice gets the press. That tiny slice is the image that the media wants everyone to see.

Drama sells. Random acts of kindness don't. So, we have to outnumber them. We have to overwhelm them. Do it so much that we annoy them for god's sake. Do it so that they feel like America turned into a big dumb dog that wont stop licking their faces.

So, can you try this? Just say thank you. If you're an introvert, then leave a note on their windshield that says "thank you for being part of America." Look up random foreign sounding names in the phone book and email them a postcard that says "Thank you for being in America." Just do something to thank them for being here. Because, without them, we aren't America.

So to all my friends who don't think they're welcome in America right now, you're not just welcome. No, "welcome" isn't enough.

Thank you.

Thank you for being here.

*Note: Please share this. Or steal it. Plagiarize it without credit, if you like. Public domain, with no rights reserved. The point is to spread the word.

I Stand, Despite

I stand when they play the National Anthem.

I stand even though I don't sing along with it. I don't sing when I stand in church, either. It's not an act of defiance, it's an act of compassion. I only sing in the car, alone. And I do that with the windows closed. (I learned that after an incident when I was singing along with Messiah. The text "all we like sheep," enthusiastically bellowed, is vulnerable to misinterpretation.)

I stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, too. I stand during that even though I don't say the words "under God," which constitute a rare instance of actual virtue-signalling and, in my view, a vanity. I stand for it despite its prominent historical role in tyranny against my fellow Americans, which I despise.

I stand for the National Anthem and the Pledge secure in the knowledge that if I do so, very few people will ever question my commitment to the ideals referred to in them, or inquire whether my rhetoric or actions are consistent with them, or suggest that I am standing out of self-interest or calculation, or use it in an opportunity to delve into my relationships or personal history. By contrast, if I don't stand, I know that people will question all of those things (and, sometimes, not unreasonably.)

I stand knowing that if I don't stand people will interpret it as a sign of outrageous disrespect for people who have served America in uniform. I stand even though more people will get more upset, and more news coverage will result, over that disrespect than over the fact that 20 veterans commit suicide every day, or the fact that there's more homeless veterans in America than there are residents of ten of our state capitals, or the fact that veterans routinely die waiting for (inadequate) medical care because we've thanked them, clapped them on the back, and consigned them one of our most entrenched and incompetent bureaucracies that is exceptional at protecting its own (except for whistleblowers) however freakishly bad at their jobs they are but pretty bad at protecting veterans, or the fact that we'll drone-strike anyone who shoots at them in Fallujah but if they encounter police in America they're pretty much fucked, or the fact that every mainstream politician for two generations has promised to make it better without accomplishing jack shit. I stand even though this disparity in outrage and coverage is indescribably grotesque.

I stand even though the discourse about standing or not standing is rife with culture-bundling, with standers sneeringly dismissed as uneducated rubes and sheep and sitters angrily dismissed as effete thug-sympathizing communists.

I stand knowing that my standing doesn't mean the same thing to me that other people standing means to them, and that's okay. I stand despite being conflicted with and uncomfortable about uniform unison rote displays of nationalism. I stand despite my suspicion that standing is sometimes part of the commodification and monetization of patriotism.

I stand loving America, aware that I often fall short of what that love should mean. When I say I love America I mean I love certain shared values and founding ideals like the rule of law and equality before it, liberty, and self-determination, and what people have done to achieve them. I love the values as lofty as the right to speak and worship and as humble as the right to raise a family and work and live as I see fit. I love it knowing that these ideals are more aspirational than descriptive, more a to-do list than a resume. They are what Lincoln called "unfinished work" and "the great task remaining before us." I try to love it the way some grievously wronged veterans I saw being naturalized one transformative day a quarter-century ago loved it — for what it can be with shared effort, not always for what it is or has been. If America is Americans being deprived of their property and herded into camps and reviled for their ethnicity, it is equally those same Americans fighting for their country and its values with extraordinary valor and dedication.

I stand because when I stand I'm ten again at a ball game with my parents, or twelve again, fat with burgers and ice cream cake, watching fireworks in the dusk on the Fourth of July, or a young man again proudly being sworn in to my first job representing the United States. I stand knowing that other people's experiences aren't the same.

I stand even though the reaction to people who don't stand is one of the best arguments for not standing in the first place.

I stand, but I support the people who don't. In fact, when I stand, I mean to show that I support them.

Satire Is Satire Even When People Fall For It, Mr. Jarvis

For years I've been trying to figure out who made this point: all satire is a shared joke between the writer and the reader at the expense of a hypothetical third person — the dupe — who takes it literally. The existence of that third person is a specifically contemplated feature, not a bug.

This is so both as a matter of law and as a matter of art.

Yesterday Esquire ran a satirical column in the voice of Jeff Jarvis. It's not up at Esquire any more, but you can see it here. The satire — penned by Rurik Bradbury, long-time Twitter satirist of Jarvis — mocked the pretense and vapidity of modern internet-changes-everything blather. To my taste, the satirical nature is quite clear:

The Innovation Party will be phablet-first, and communicate only via push notifications to smartphones. The only deals it cuts will be with Apple and Google, not with special interests. We will integrate natively with iOS and Android, and spread the message using emojis and GIFs, rather than the earth-killing longform print mailers of yesteryear. This will give us direct access to netizens, so we can be more responsive than any political party in history.

But tastes differ. Jeff Jarvis thought it was not clear and not permissible:


Esquire subsequently altered the piece to make the satire more explain-the-joke-to-you explicit, then axed it completely without explanation. Both Esquire and Jarvis have their supporters and detractors, and Jarvis wrote an angry post expressing outrage that he continues to be the object of satire.

There are many pieces of this. One is legal. That piece is very easy.

Bradbury's Esquire satire is very clearly protected by the First Amendment. I wrote about a case frighteningly on point. Esquire previously did a satirical article with mock quotes from Joseph Farah of WorldNet Daily and author Jerome Corsi. They sued, claiming defamation. The United States Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit crushed their arguments. Remember: only things that could reasonably be understood as provably false statements of fact can be defamatory. Satire is not a statement of fact. In deciding whether something could reasonably be taken as an assertion of fact rather than satire, courts look to what an audience familiar with the publication and players would understand. Said the Court:

The article’s primary intended audience — that is, readers of “The Politics Blog” — would have been familiar with Esquire’s history of publishing
satirical stories, with recent topics ranging from Osama Bin Laden’s television-watching habits to “Sex Tips from Donald Rumsfeld.” See Findikyan Decl. Exs. 35–42. At the same time, followers of “The Politics Blog” were politically informed readers.

. . . .

With that baseline of knowledge, reasonable readers of “The Politics Blog” would recognize the prominent indicia of satire in the Warren article.

In other words, the notion that Jarvis is silly and his views mockable may be inside baseball, but the relevant question is whether readers familiar with that inside baseball would recognize it.1

The fact that some people — inattentive people or people unfamiliar with the subject matter — may take the satire literally does not stop it from being satire. It's expected, the Court explained:

But it is the nature of satire that not everyone “gets it” immediately. For example, when Daniel Defoe first published The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, an anonymous satirical pamphlet against religious persecution, it was initially welcomed by the church establishment Defoe sought to ridicule. See JAMES SUTHERLAND,ENGLISH SATIRE 83–84 (1958). Similarly, Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” a fictitious news story mocking New England’s harsh treatment of unwed mothers, was widely republished in both England and the United States as actual news. See MAX HALL, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN & POLLY BAKER:THE HISTORY OF A LITERARY DECEPTION 33–35, 87–88 (1960).

Again, the joke is not only at the expense of Jeff Jarvis. The joke is, in part, at the expense of people who read carelessly. The joke is "Jeff Jarvis is silly, and by God, so is our society." The root of all comedy is human fallibility, and this article is funny in part because even though it's on a site known for satire by a frequent writer of satire in the voice of a frequent target of satire using exaggerated satirical arguments some people will still be inattentive, uninformed, or simply dumb enough to fall for it. That's why Jarvis's defenders are flat-out wrong when they say silly things like "It's the knowledge that something is satire that makes it satire in the first place."

Legally, this is not a close call.

What about morally? Jarvis and his supporters suggest that it's unethical for journalists to run satirical pieces written in somebody's name. It's not a new argument. Meghan McCain freaked out over apt satire of her writing voice. Visitors here occasionally become indignant over satire. People may get upset because satire written in the target's own voice is so effective against both of its targets. It illuminates the silliness of the person it is aping, and the more people fall for it the more powerful the argument that the mockery is on target. It strikes at the heart of the pretense of internet denizens – that they are well-informed and understand what the hell is going on.

Could there be satire that is unethical because it is genuinely deceptive? I suppose so. (Hopefully not here.) But I think it would have to be a genuine attempt to deceive by a publication not known for satire — something where the publication should expect that even reasonable inquiry and thought would not reveal it. This is not such a case. Esquire is known for satire. Bradbury is know for satirizing Jarvis and Jarvis is known for being satirized. The text of the satire was, well, overtly satirical. And as Bradbury told me, "[T]he bio stated specifically that this person was "not @Jeffjarvis", and the author photo was wearing both a beer helmet and a Santa hat, in late April.""

I don't think ethics prohibit a magazine known for satire from engaging in satire. I don't think ethics prohibit magazines from ridicule, even if that ridicule is part of a pattern. I don't think ethics require satirists to pitch to the lowest possible common denominator, to make their satire ABC-at-8:00-PM obvious. Ethics doesn't require catering to carelessness or foolishness or ignorance. If anything, it's unethical for the media to encourage those bad traits by dumbing down the ancient, deadly, and noble art of satire. One of the Bad Things about the internet is that people foolishly fail to exercise critical thinking about things they find on it. I don't share an ethical viewpoint that indulges and even encourages that trend.

Satire is a matter of taste. If Esquire decided this wasn't to their taste after all, that's their right, although the sequence of events makes them look foolish. But if Esquire caved to explicit or implicit legal threats, or to feckless arguments about journalistic ethics that undermine the very notion of satire, then shame on them.

A Response To A Critical Email From A University of Wisconsin-Superior Student

In response to my post yesterday, a UW-Superior student wrote to me. I responded. Meanwhile, after receiving the FIRE's letter, UW-Superior closed the investigation without action. I confirmed that the person writing me was a student, but have elected not to name him here.

Dear Mr.White,

Last Friday (04/23/2016), you published an article called "How Inanely Censorious Can College Administrators Get? University of Wisconsin – Superior Will Show You", which raise many concerns. First of all, you're using the name of Ilana Yokel and Debbie Cheslock without their consent and you attacked them on a personal level, which is a terrible thing to do. Secondly, the nature of the investigation and the complaint filed by Debbie Cheslock were that of "student misconduct". Therefore, the procedure occurred as an attempt of trying to resolve a misconduct between student, which shouldn't involve the defense of the First Amendment nor Free Speech. This means that your article wrongly attacked both Debbie Cheslock and the Institution. Thirdly and most importantly, your comment section is filled with hatred and harassment for this poor women, whom life is now threatened because of what you published (including her place of work and her location). Upon learning that you can moderate your comment section, I sincerely ask you to censor those comment (or at least the information regarding Debbie Cheslock) as an attempt to protect her from harassment, cyber bullying and potential assault.

I believe that hurtful action came from misunderstanding, rather than bad intention. Which is why I wrote you this letter to inform you about the situation as well as the possible consequence.
Best regard,

John Doe.

Dear Mr. Doe,

Thank you for writing to me with your response to my post.

You may find my reply disrespectful, rude, or even cruel. In fact, I believe that respect requires me to treat you as an adult capable of a forthright response. I believe you can hear what I have to say, evaluate it, and reject or accept parts of it as you see fit.

First: Mr. Doe, I do not need anyone's consent to speak or write their name. There is no legal requirement that I obtain someone's consent before expressing myself about them, and any such requirement would violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Moreover, you have implied that I need people's consent to write about them even after they have given quotes to newspapers about an issue of public interest, which takes your complaint from silly to utterly ridiculous.

Second, I reject your assertion that I attacked Ms. Cheslock or Ms. Yokel "on a personal level." I attacked their conduct and their demands. Ms. Cheslock demanded that a state school bound by the First Amendment punish students for engaging in satire that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment, and to be subjected to "cultural competency training" — that is, mandatory education on the right way to think and speak. This is wholly despicable and un-American, and nothing I have said about her comes close to expressing the contempt it deserves. Ms. Yokel asserted that a student newspaper has a nebulous "duty" to exercise free speech in a "responsible way." I stand by calling that incoherent and unprincipled.

Third, your argument about "student misconduct" is nonsensical. University of Wisconsin-Superior is a state school bound by the First Amendment. It cannot violate student rights by labeling things "student misconduct" or labeling an investigation as "trying to resolve a misconduct between a student." If a public school investigates a student and threatens to impose official discipline on that student based on protected speech, it is violating that student's constitutional rights. Your assertion that this "shouldn't involve the defense of the First Amendment nor Free Speech" is also nonsensical. The law, not your feelings, governs whether constitutional rights protect speech. The paper's attempt at satire was obviously protected speech. It's just not a close call at all. The fact that you don't feel it ought to be a First Amendment issue is irrelevant. As the FIRE's letter linked in my post accurately shows, it is a First Amendment issue, and the administration was squarely in the wrong — until it recently announced it had abandoned the "investigation."

Fourth, I think your assertion that the comments are "filed with hatred and harassment" is overwrought. I have deleted some comments that contained gratuitous insults and racism, because Popehat is my private blog and I use it to express myself and exercise my right to free expression. But so far, I don't see anything published that exceeds the level of contempt I think these totalitarian attempts at censorship richly deserve. I will not be "censoring" any of the comments I've approved.

Mr. Doe, let me be more forthright. I do not believe you have equipped yourself to be an adult citizen in a free society. It is not too late to do so.

I am not suggesting that becoming a responsible adult citizen in a free society requires you to become a conservative or eschew "liberal" or "progressive" values. To the contrary. But becoming a responsible adult citizen — and an effective advocate for liberal or progressive values — requires a quite different approach.

We're in the middle of a modest conservative backlash and a resurgence of bigotry, both actual and arrested-adolescent-poseur. I believe a large part of this backlash results from the low quality of advocacy for progressive ideas. Much of that advocacy has become characterized by petulant whining and empty dogmatism. The message conveyed by too many of your generation is not that people should adopt progressive ideas because they are right or just, but that they should adopt them because that is what they are supposed to adopt because that is what right-thinking people adopt. That is irritating and ineffectual. Faced with an idea, I don't expect your generation to confront it. I don't expect you to explain how it's wrong, and win hearts and minds that your ideas are better. Rather, I expect you to assert that you should be protected from being exposed to the idea in the first place. That's disappointing and doesn't bode well for the success of progressive ideas (many of which I admire) in society. In short: if this is how you're going to fight for what you think is right, you're going to lose. Do better.

Meanwhile, I sincerely wish you fulfillment and joy in college, which is a marvelous experience. Don't stop meeting new people and trying new things. Don't overspecialize; you'll never again have such an opportunity to expose yourself to new and different subjects. Take advantage of it.

Very truly yours,

Ken White

I've Got A Little List

Making lists of disfavored or ill-behaved people seems to be popular these days. Let's check some out!

Stated Ethos: "You were added to the list because you publicly called for someone to be fired, disinvited, shunned, no-platformed, or otherwise punished or silenced for refusing to submit to the SJW Narrative. The particular incident is linked to your name in the list. Tortious interference is not a joke."2
Actual Ethos: Jumbled, as you would expect from a wiki inspired by a nerve-stapled easily excitable white nationalist. Some entries offer proof that the named person actually called for some sort of firing or disinviting. Others don't. Take, for instance, the entry for artist and author Alison Bechdel:


Now, I don't feel silenced or no-platformed or shunned if someone tells me that a movie I like is sexist, even if I disagree with them. I suppose if you were emotionally and socially stunted then someone criticizing Apollo 13 could be silencing. YMMV.
Is it defamatory? Unlikely. As I frequently discuss here, only statements that can reasonably be interpreted as provable facts can be defamatory; insults and opinions cannot unless they imply false provable facts. To the extent the statements on SJWList don't have supporting links, they seem mostly emotive rather than factual. To the extent entries have links, they are characterizing the information in those links and therefore disclosing the factual basis for their opinions. Moreover, the entire enterprise is probably subsumed by the batshit-crazy rule.
Is it creepy? Meh. To me it's too effortful and impotently angry to be really creepy. I think it tries to be intimidating, and I could see how people could find it creepy if it directs hordes of incel cheetofingers to froth at someone.
Am I mad I'm not on it? YES. Dammit.

Social Autopsy

Location: [not giving them traffic over the lingering suspicion it's a scam or a troll job]
Stated ethos: "We are about to break the internet. Literally." "Users submit a screenshot of a person’s hate-fueled social media post, which is then used to create a profile that includes their full name, place of employment, city of residence and schools."
Actual ethos: "lol i made a kickstarter :)" "Please allow me to explain the law to you based on this quote from Wikipedia."
Is it defamatory? Too early to say. It's not defamatory to quote someone. It's not defamatory to characterize something that someone said (unless, I suppose, you deliberately took it out of context in a way to change its meaning). It could be defamatory if the site managers negligently attributed to someone a statement they didn't actually make. They may look to a "we only allow user submissions" approach so that they can take advantage of Section 230, but that contradicts their claims that they will verify information. Also, it's possible that gathering and exposing data about minors will violate some state and federal laws; I'm still researching that.
Is it creepy? Hell yes. First, it's creepy because it increases my anxiety about how, in the modern world, it is almost impossible to distinguish trolls from stupid people from evil people. (Edited to add: I previously cited a tweet here but it came from a troll posing as them, not from them.) Second, it's creepy because it's aimed at children, and seems to be Clickhole satire brought to life. I accept the first premise (bullies suck) and part of the second premise (bullies are morally responsible for their bullying) and even some of the third premise (it is appropriate for bullying to have consequences) but I can't agree with a platform that seems either intended to, or reckless about, empowering more bullying than it punishes or deters, even leaving other moral issues about minors aside. Also, the project's advocates offer garbled and contradictory plans and explanations suggesting that they are either great performance artists or unusually dim-witted.
Am I mad that I'm not on it? No.


Stated ethos: You don't have to listen to Gamergaters on Twitter if you don't want to; use this app.
Actual ethos: You don't have to listen to people who follow certain Twitter accounts we associate with Gamergate as a rough cut of who is a Gamergater; use this app.
Is it defamatory? No, as I've said before. They're pretty up front that this blocks people because they follow other people. Most third-party characterizations of people on the list are self-evidently opinion and hyperbole. "Everyone on that list is a sexist/racist/harasser" is almost certainly protected opinion rather than a statement of provable fact, particularly in the contexts in which it is uttered. Moreover, the group is probably too large and diffuse to attribute generalizations about it to any one person. Group Libel is rarely a thing.
Is it creepy? Not to my taste. It's not a list of people by real name, and as far as I can tell no effort has been made to connect the Twitter handles to real humans. Popehat doesn't use it — each Popehat block is artisanal. I generally would not cede my decision-making over whom to block on Twitter to an algorithm based on who follows a set of users, especially when I don't control the set. Sometimes I follow trolls for information and amusement, and I assume the same is true of others. But then, the sort of abuse Popehat gets on Twitter is limited in scope, and generally suitable for hand-banning. We don't get a thousand eggs a week yelling at us. I can see how this sort of tool could be useful to people who do. It's an extremely rough cut, but I don't think it pretends to be anything else. I think many users adopt it as an expressive act: "I reject thee, Gamergate!" That may be silly but then so is lots of expressive conduct. Caveat: if some employer started making hiring or firing decisions based on whether someone is on the list, that would be ignorant, arbitrary, and thoroughly creepy, and would mark it as a company I wouldn't do business with. But then it would be the company that's the problem, not the list. Consider this: if your local police department starts arresting people based on what psychics tell them, the problem isn't the psychics. The problem is the irrational police.
Am I mad that I'm not on it? Yes. Pretty sure I could get on it by following @Nero, but eh. Doesn't seem worth the effort.

The Block Bot
Stated ethos: You don't have to listen to abusive people on Twitter. "The Block Bot was created specifically for the atheist feminist community and currently includes a strong contingent of transgender social justice activists and intersectional feminists."
Actual ethos: You don't have to listen to people on Twitter if they have been identified as abusive by a group of other Twitter users, sometimes based on sensible criteria and sometimes based upon ideological purity, junior-high-school ingroup squabbling, humorlessness, inability to comprehend satire, binge-drinking, and possibly performance art.
Is it defamatory? Again, No. It pretty explicitly bills itself as a list curated based upon idiosyncratic criteria. "It should go without saying that blockers, as with any other human beings, make assessments based on their own perspectives and world-view and any commentary they make is their own." So, though being on the Block Bot list means somebody has classified you as a Level 1, 2 or 3 baddie, and those levels have unflattering descriptions, it's clear in context that inclusion is subjective-opinion based, and that it's largely an expressive enterprise. For instance, consider the description of Level III: "This may include, but is not limited to, accounts that appear to frequently engage in microagressions, parrot tired talking points, show a sense of entitlement to have a conversation, exhibit a lack respect for the lived experience of others, etc." Once upon a time you could look at what Tweets got someone put on the list, but as far as I can tell that function is no longer available. I was not particularly impressed with what I saw in that regard.
Is it creepy? Eh. In the sense that human interaction is creepy, I suppose. At its best, it identifies and blocks people who are actually dicks on Twitter. At its worst, it makes semi-transparent the judgmental, irrational, and catty nature of human interaction. Honestly. Say that John Doe thinks "I want to give over the decision about whom to block on Twitter to a group of people who say "intersectional" non-ironically." How much are you missing by not being able to interact with John Doe? Now, I have the same caveat as above. To the extent anyone tried to weaponize this by tying handles on the list to real names, I'd start to find it creepy. To the extent that any employer started making hiring or firing decisions based on it, I'd find the employer creepy, ridiculous, and unworthy of my business.
Am I mad that I'm not on it? Definitively. At the risk of being narcissistic I suspect they didn't put me on the list just to spite me. Well trolled.

Look: making lists and following lists and acting based on lists is expressive conduct, both speech and free association. That doesn't make it right; speech and association decisions can be good or evil or neutral. But when people treat this sort of thing as inherently censorious, they're forgetting that the people writing and using the lists have expressive rights too.

Sono Stato a Roma Ma Non Ho Visto Un Cazzo! (I was in Rome and I didn't see dick!)

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 8.06.56 AMIranian president, Hassan Rouhani, visited Rome recently, and in order to avoid offending his delicate sensibilities, the Italians covered up all the dicks and tits on the statues for him. (fonte) (source)

It probably comes as no surprise to any readers that this bothers me.

Remember when John Ashcroft couldn't handle this?  How about Obama?

Remember when John Ashcroft couldn't handle this? How about Obama?

It isn't that I'm against thawing Iran's relationship with the West. And, maybe that requires us to be a little sensitive — you know, like maybe don't serve Carbonara at dinner, or don't offer the guy a caffè corretto. But, to censor some of Italy's most magnificent art, because this guy might be offended?

But, for all I know, he might have thought "what do these fucks think, I can't handle the sight of a plaster dick? We stone motherfuckers to death were I come from, Mario. I can handle public executions. I can handle public whippings. What you call "gang rape," we call "gently making love." Motherfucker, I made it through the Shah and the Ayatollah. I can handle some stone tits."

I dunno, or maybe he thought "aww, for FUCKS SAKE… I came all this way, hoping to fill my mental spank bank. I gotta go every fucking day where I'm lucky if I get to see a woman's HAIR. I'm all excited to see some tits, even if they're made of stone, and these assholes cover the shit up… and not even with a burkha, with a FUCKING BOX! Jesus, I hate these fucking people."

But, lets presume that he actually appreciated that the Italians decided to protect him from granite ball sacks. You never know, it might have burned his eyes. Although, if the Pope can handle this shit, at least in modern times, then I think that Mr. Rouhani can tolerate walking past a few less-than-clothed statues.

I get a case of the red ass from this from two different perspectives. On one hand, fuck Rouhani. When in Rome, you look at stone nudity. The West (except for the United States) grew out of this bullshit more than a century ago. Yes, a few hundred years ago, some blue-balled fuckhead tight asses at the Vatican either smashed off the dicks of a bunch of the statues or covered them with leaves. But, after that Taliban-esque episode, Western culture sort-of grew up a bit. At the very least, we no longer destroy our patrimony because it might make us clutch our pearls or offend an imaginary friend.

Covering the statutes, whether out of respect or by request, sends the wrong damn message.

I'm not just sticking my finger in the Italians' eye here. Who can forget the episode when George W. Bush's attorney general John Ashcroft lost his shit that Lady Justice had a pair of nice tits? Probably a lot less people forgot that than those who forgot that the Obama administration did the same thing. Yep, the most powerful nation in history is scared of sculpted boobs. So, we are no better.

Meanwhile, in Europe, you see tits on prime time TV, you see them everywhere. Tits. Tits. Tits. It is the Garden of Happy Boobies, everywhere, everyday. Why in the hell should that change because some guy in a dress shows up, much less a guy in a dress who represents a nation that has a somewhat spotty record on human rights? Stone women to death, just don't make me see her tits! That might offend the prophet!

The message this sends, no matter where it is done, is precisely wrong. I think it is fucked up when Americans do it, covering up tits, whether they be on lady justice or on Joanna Angel, in the name of modesty. But, in Europe, to avoid offending a conservative Muslim leader?

No way.

Would a Western leader go to any non-western country and expect them to cover up their art? Would we go to Iran and expect them to serve bacon and booze?

We live in a world where extremists destroyed priceless cultural relics in the name of their particular brand of Islam. The Bamiyan Buddha Statues stood for 1700 years, until the Taliban blew them up in the name of Islam. Islamic extremists burned Tripoli’s Al-Saeh library to retaliate for a mere pamphlet. Daesh destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra. In fact, Daesh is on a rampage to destroy all cultural heritage that doesn't meet with its approval.

It is not fair to say that Islam itself is at war with cultural patrimony. Muslim heroes died trying to save artifacts in Palmyra. And, if you go back far enough in history, it was the Muslims saving cultural heritage from the Christians when they lost their minds about this kind of thing. Nevertheless, there is a brand of Islamic extremism, which has begun to infiltrate Europe, which would be delighted to see the Vatican museums, the Louvre, and the Uffizi Gallery reduced to rubble.

This cowardly cover-up gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

I admit, covering a few statues, temporarily, is hardly the same as destroying priceless artifacts. But it is a symptom of the same disease — "erotophobia." And if we yield to it, even in this small way, we let the camel's nose in the tent. (This is partially the point in my latest law review article)

Personally, I'd love to wag a dick in this guy's face for the sole purpose of insulting Iran's fucked up sensibilities. Although, I do think we ought to be better friends with the Iranians, in general. But, that's a rant for another day.

But, lets set aside the Randazza school of diplomatic protocol, where we just keep a bucket of dicks around to throw at these kinds of people. Lets just look at it somewhat sensibly. Would this really have offended him? If so, take him somewhere else. Take him to the Colosseum and tell him about how many people were publicly killed there. He's the president of Iran, that would probably give him an erection more than a pair of stone tits.

We should stand against censorship and erotophobia every time they raise their heads. If we yield, even in this seemingly small and temporary way, we give credit, credence, and weight to those who say that there is "something wrong" with erotic expression. We give credence to the notion that there is something wrong with tits and cocks, and that there is nothing wrong with censorship.

Will this really be the end of it? Perhaps. Or, could it go further? At what point will we do this for other leaders? Guys who are rich enough that we want to keep in their good graces? (UPDATE: Yes, apparently so) Muslim day at the museum? What about other belief systems? What about when there is a group of feminists visiting? Do you think that a Smith College women's studies class could walk through an art museum in a few years without some professor who looks like Benny Hill with tits squealing "can we get some muscle over here?????" to get the statues smashed to bits, lest they "trigger" some little snowflake?

No, we need to resist this kind of thing… and I mean everyone, everywhere, every fucking time.

If the Italians were really concerned about this, the best way to deal with it would be to, perhaps, give him a "trigger warning" like every other little precious delicate snowflake wants.

"Hassan, we're now going to see some art. You might not be used to seeing tits, but this is some of the best stuff we have to offer. Welcome to our culture. If that concerns you, you're more than welcome to wait in the car. Either that, or might I interest you in this cordial invitation to go fuck yourself?"

Or how about take him to the museum, but blindfold him? That would be appropriate.

If you can't handle seeing art, then cover your own eyes. The rest of us will just keep on being free grown ups.

MLK's First Amendment Legacy

Their Rising Voices Sang Alongside Martin Luther King

Their Rising Voices Sang Alongside Martin Luther King

If I were to write about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s contribution to civil rights, I think I would be wasting my time. Far more qualified views are out there, especially today.

However, I feel like it is worth mentioning that he had a part in a profound change in favor of Civil Liberties as well. I speak of nothing less important than N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

That case is the foundation upon which stands most of our modern First Amendment jurisprudence, without which we would not have modern investigative journalism, the right to express our opinions, nor very likely much content on this blog.

That case concerned an advertisement that ran in the New York Times in 1960. The ad, titled “Heed Their Rising Voices,” stated: “As the whole world knows by now, thousands of Southern Negro students are engaged in wide-spread non-violent demonstrations in positive affirmation of the right to live in human dignity as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” The ad went on to state that “In their efforts to uphold these guarantees, they are being met by an unprecedented wave of terror by those who would deny and negate that document which the whole world looks upon as setting the pattern for modern freedom.” The ad illustratse the “wave of terror” by describing events that took place across the South, concluding with an appeal for donations in order to support the right to vote, the student movement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legal defense fund.

There were indeed some slight inaccuracies in the ad. L.B. Sullivan, a Montgomery, Alabama City Commissioner sued the New York Times for libel, claiming that the advertisement targeted him. The Alabama state court held in his favor, and awarded him $500,000. This was unsurprising given the time, place, and jury makeup.

In writing for a 9-0 majority, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote:

[W]e consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials. The present advertisement, as an expression of grievance and protest on one of the major public issues of our time, would seem clearly to qualify for the constitutional protection. The question is whether it forfeits that protection by the falsity of some of its factual statements and by its alleged defamation of respondent. N.Y. Times Co., 376 U.S. 254, 271.

How beautiful that language is. The Court went on to reject any notion that the burden of proving truth is laid at the feet of the speaker. Id. And even though the advertisement had some minor errors, New York Times v. Sullivan held that if there is to be wide open and robust debate, the First Amendment needs “breathing space” in order to survive. And in order to impose liability for merely erroneous reports on political conduct reflects the “obsolete doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors.” Id.

The ad was, according to the Court, “an expression of grievance and protest on one of the major public issues of our time.” N.Y. Times Co., 376 U.S. 254, 271. And since the decision, it has only gained more traction and more strength, being firmly entrenched to the point that one can not usually write a brief defending a defamation case without citing to Sullivan. Similarly, one should not bring a plaintiff's side defamation case without seeking to avoid its shores upon which many a censorious asshat finds his ship dashed.

This leaves the American press wildly free — at least in theory.

But for Dr. King’s struggle, we would never have had New York Times v. Sullivan. It may not have been a case or event central to his legacy, but it is central to our profound national commitment to wide-open and robust debate.

In this day and age those who seek to promote Civil Rights often seem to be at odds with Civil Liberties. The First Amendment is seen as the enemy to the "Social Justice" crowd. Today, I try and remind them that there was a time when Civil Liberties and Civil Rights were symbiotically joined.

Lets remember that, on this day set aside to honor Dr. King.

A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War"

Earlier this week Marc asserted that Twitter is "taking a side in the culture war" wars by removing the identity-confirming blue check from the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, who is what we refer to these days as a personality, like an unusually literate Kardashian. I think Marc is blurring the difference between individual and institutional action.

But let's get this out of the way at the start: Twitter is a private company. Conservative extremist that I am, I believe that private companies have free speech rights. They use those rights to create their brand. Conservatives normally approve of this. They question, for instance, why the government should be able to force a bakery to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage when that contradicts the business' beliefs and brand. Many progressives, on the other hand, applaud such government intervention. Cases like this have an odd way of flipping that dynamic: conservatives cast about for legal theories that might let the government regulate how private businesses deal with speech they don't like, and progressives suddenly applaud private autonomy.

We feel that places like Twitter are a public place, and ought to be run like a public forum. But it's self-indulgent to mistake our feelings for reality or law. Twitter is free to us. It makes money (if it makes money) by serving our eyeballs to advertisers. Our feelings and desires are relevant to Twitter only to the extent it wants to brand itself or wants to retain sufficient eyeballs to sell. Otherwise it's irrational to expect Twitter to care what we want. In deciding how the Kylo Ren action figure ought to be posed on the box art, Disney does not consider the sentiments of the Kylo Ren action figure. Nobody's entitled to a free corporate platform run the way they like: this, too, is supposed to be a conservative ideal. You get what you pay for, and we aren't paying. Can we threaten to vote with our feet and go be somebody else's eyeball supply if we don't like how Twitter is run? Of course we can, just like we can refuse to eat at Chik-Fil-A if we don't like the owners' politics. But if we couch it as a right, we look silly.

But on to Twitter's side-taking. I think Marc probably overstates Twitter's focus and degree of deliberation. Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals. The decision-making looks less cinematic and more cynical. The focus tends to be on branding, but mostly on money-making, avoidance of unpleasantness, reduction of cost, and ease of use. Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides; it's a cost-driven, practicality-driven decision. Consistency in such decision-making is expensive and troublesome. Running decisions up the chain to ensure consistency on inherently subjective calls costs time and money. Moreover, Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim). Again: the fact that Twitter kinda looks like a public forum if you squint doesn't stop it from being a big business.

In short, I think Marc substantially overstates the coherence and intentionality of Twitter's side-taking.

If Twitter is taking sides, then it's being uncharacteristically incompetent.

Look: Milo's a troll. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a troll. Some trolls are amusing. But de gustibus non est disputandum. I prefer somewhat more subtle trolls. Milo's a troll in the tradition of Ann Coulter, saying outrageous things and benefiting from both the fist-pumping of the like-minded and the profitable outrage of people who think it's sensible to feed trolls. Milo's no Ann Coulter, of course, but it seems he aspires to be number two, and number two tries harder. To my taste Milo's trolling is too loud, too precious, too busy, too edgelord-twee. Plus, he strikes me as a rather blatant huckster. Only fickle fate has led to him trying to sell me anti-feminist tropes rather than extended warranties. He says some phenomenally nasty things, and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil to threaten and curse at people he calls out. He does so to an extent that I believe Marc significantly understates. Does he genuinely hate the people he reviles? Does he actually believe the more shocking lines he delivers in self-conscious and belabored fashion, like a dull eighth-grader attempting Macbeth? I rather doubt it. He's probably indifferent to them, and to the impact of his words. But he likes the attention — the clicks and the credulous adulation and the money. Whomever Milo hates, Milo loves Milo.

Given that, Twitter's action is like throwing Milo into the brier patch and throwing hundred-dollar-bills in after him. The removal of the silly blue check is utterly insubstantial, but promotes Milo's conservatives-are-persecuted-and-liberals-are-evil narrative. It's free publicity. To his audience suggesting that he harasses ideological opponents is a promotion, not a rebuke. It's like banning a hot dog stand from one side of the park on the explicit grounds that the hot dogs are too delicious. He should be sending them some sort of fruit basket. It is, in short, more like fumbling decentralized decision-making and less like a centralized agenda.

I'd be interested in seeing Marc's evidence of systemic bias in Twitter's approach to what is harassment and what isn't. I have noticed anecdotal differences. But then I've also noticed plenty of bad conduct from "the right" that hasn't been punished. My strong suspicion is that the difference is not the result of a corporate agenda, but of a routine corporate decision to decentralize decision-making.

I'll probably stay on Twitter, knowing that I could get kicked off at any time by some low-level decision maker who doesn't like me. When I don't want to take that risk, I'll pay for my platform — like here.

[Sometime soon, I want to say more about how blurring the line between First Amendment violations and "spirit of free speech" violations leads to all sorts of bad attitudes, like thinking that your speech can suppress mine.]

Graphic Novels and Web Comics I Put on Patrick's Reading List

Some of which he even read.

At Popehat, we  celebrate our core beliefs.  To achieve victory, one must attack.  But one cannot attack without a plan.  A plan cannot be formed without mastering fundamentals.  And nothing is more fundamental than reading.  We even think pictures occasionally enhance the experience.  As such, here's a slice of my standing list of recommendations to Patrick.  With bonus material covering Patrick's thoughts where applicable, or he can just comment in the thread like a big boy.  Waxing poetic is not my strong suit, but here goes anyway!

Planetary – Warren Ellis.  Archaeologists of the Impossible!  Planetary are an organization dedicated to charting the secret history of the twentieth century, in a world with super heroes and many other sorts of insane, fantastic things.  It's both a love letter to 5+ decades of pop culture as well as an interesting treatment of those things.  It's entire premise was based on one of those geeky exercises "if Reed Richards is the smartest person in the universe, why is Earth-616 as bad off as our own", though you'll have to read it to discover the answer (which is satisfying). Patrick started and I believe finished it and loved it.

Morning Glories – Nick Spencer.  A group of seemingly random brilliant and troubled teenagers is "invited" to attend a prestigious prep school.  There are no safe spaces at Morning Glory Academy, and I mean that literally.  You have no idea where this is going, and won't at the end of the first six issues.  Except that it's crazy and if you liked it like I did you'll be dying to know what happens next.  Though I have fallen behind (my disposable income is not unlimited, and it's not the only thing I read, I think I'm 3 or maybe 4 trades behind now), it's high up on my "things to catch up on in 2016" list.  It's a different and interesting comic and the characters are never far from my thoughts.

All Star Superman – Grant Morrison.  Widely hailed as one of the best Superman stories of all time.   If you're the sort of person that doesn't like Superman because a lot of Superman stories come off as badly written fanfic, this is a comic for you.  It's a deep and thoughtful take on a character who needs to be in deft hands but usually hasn't been.

Nextwave: Agents of Hate – Warren Ellis.  As comics matured and moved out of the silver age, a few things became inevitable.  People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis showed us that comics might have started out as male power fantasies, they could be other things to.  Lots of other people tried to copy them.  Or tell "mature", "gritty", "dark", "complicated" stories.  Most people failed, and failed horribly.  What we got was often worse than mere power fantasy.  Nextwave is the polar opposite of these things, I am happy to report.  Nextwave is not, to quote, about Learning and Character Arcs and Morals and Hugs.  It is about things blowing up and people getting kicked.  It is about healing America by beating people up.  It's Stephen Chow meets vintage action Arnie at the drive in.  It features violence against broccoli, robots, sort of "other beings" and the six greatest two-page panels (lain out back to back) in the history of comics.  Did I mention explosions and kicking? It is especially about THINGS BLOWING UP and PEOPLE GETTING KICKED.  All of the delight you might have once felt when rising on Saturday morning to begin the ritual viewing of cartoons but later discovered was fake because it turned out all of those beloved cartoons were bad?3  It's real, and it exists in Nextwave.

Wytches – (Scott Snyder and Jock) – horror series that debuted this year.  What would you trade to the things out in the woods for immunity to cancer, or prolonged life (while looking young and fit)?  Their price is high.  The first trade is out, and proved to be an interesting twist on a this very old formula.

Atomic Robo – Brian Clevenger (writer and co-creator) and Scott Wegener (artist and co-creator). Now available as a free web comic (Volume 1 Chapter 1).   I guess I might try to describe Atomic Robo as a golden age comic done in a 21st century style.   It's not gritty or dark but it's gleefully ridiculous, often thoughtful, sometimes touching.  Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne battle evil in all it's forms throughout the decades (often with nods to the age in the process).  Features one of the greatest comic book villains ever, bar none.   If you had been 15 when finding Atomic Robo you would have immediately moved to set all of your table top gaming in it's universe (unless you were doing it in the Planetary universe instead, which is understandable).

Selling out: you can support us by purchasing any of the above through Amazon using our affiliate link over on the right.  If for some reason one of these is not available through the store let me know and we'll add it.  Or just order it on your own, that's cool too. Even better if you have a fun local place you can go through.  Tell them we said hello.


Scared of Sondheim: A Story About Offense

Popehat is pleased to welcome back Lisa McElroy, an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, for another guest post. Her first novel, Called On, was just published by Quid Pro Books.

Ask any university professor in the country, and she’ll tell you that trigger warnings are a hot topic on her campus. That sounds good, right? Alerting students to a potentially sensitive or controversial issue before addressing it class? Oh, except that saying a topic is “hot” might connote something sexual; using the word “trigger” might call to mind gun violence; and issuing a “warning” is something that most professors fear with students these days, in this customer-service culture of education.

Ask any parent of a high school student, and she’ll tell you that schools see protecting students as an essential part of their mission. That sounds good, too, right? We need lockdown drills and secure buildings and assemblies on drugs and alcohol. Oh, but not conversations about the sensitive topics that lie in wait in books like The Color Purple or All’s Quiet on the Western Front – those might offend someone. Romeo and Juliet? Well, they were in love – except that they were actually engaging in statutory rape, and their families battled each other, and then there’s that whole suicide thing. Oedipus? Well, he had that mother hang-up – but maybe we shouldn’t talk about it, because that’s about sex and, OMG, incest. Let’s read The Mousetrap instead.

I’m both a university professor and the mother of high school students, and I’ve learned there’s at least one thing that both educational settings have in common – a small number of offended students or parents may control the conversation, taking it away from the majority of the school community that believes that debating controversial topics is the very essence of education. (And, yes, I know about Erika Christakis at Yale, and yes, I know that’s what got her unfairly shunned, and yes, I realize that I’m probably making the same point here, but not as well as she did.) But I have to speak out, because parents and kids who are afraid – of Sondheim, no less – are setting the agenda for our schools these days, just as so many did when Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Judy Blume’s Forever were removed from school library shelves.

This week, at my children’s top-notch suburban public high school, I had my first experience with a trigger warning for high school students. The issue? The spring musical.

Yeah, I know. These are high school kids. They’re cute and enthusiastic and creative. And they’re doing a musical! Disney made about a zillion bucks turning that concept into gold a decade or so ago.

So where’s the trigger?

In this case, it was the musical itself, Company, a lesser-known Stephen Sondheim work – you know, the dude who won a Pulitzer? The school picked the musical at the end of the spring semester last year. The kids prepared and auditioned a couple of weeks ago. When the cast list went up, the school halls were full of a whole bunch of rapturous mini-thespians in leg warmers.

Now, I’m going to admit that Company has some racy scenes. The male lead romances a lot of different women (notice that I avoided the “s” word (sex) and the “b” word (bed). Because, triggers.). Some of his friends smoke pot. One of his friends is an alcoholic who smokes tobacco cigarettes.

OK. So, would you let the kids do the play? Well, as the parents of the girl who was cast in the role of a woman who gets really, really high on stage and then acts really, really dumb, my husband and I answered “heck yes.”

Because, real life situations. Because, kids already cast. Because, statistics (about the “s” word and the “b” word and the “p” word (pot)) show that the kids already know about and even do this stuff. Because, Sondheim. Because, not High School Musical. Because, education. For the audience and the kids.

Yesterday, the kids were told that the show was being killed.

Except I don’t think they used the word “killed” with the kids. Because, you know, trigger.

And why? I know why, but I’m going to let you guess. Let’s just say that I’m not authorized to give out that information. You’re pretty smart. It has to do with another “p” word. But no more hints. Because the “p” word involved didn’t let other “p’s” have a voice. And that “p” is thus far anonymous and probably mostly so because the “p” doesn’t want other “p’s” to know that he or she is the one that made the ruckus. And the school had to deal with the offended “p.” Because, well, triggers.

But now I have a very disappointed daughter, and the school has a whole cast of kids who are being taught that if you get up in arms about something and say it offends you, you can shut down a whole class. Or get a professor who has offered a different perspective to resign. Or cancel the spring musical. Even when you have a totally enlightened musical director and the most awesomesauce principal on the planet.

The kids and the director are talking now about what show they’ll do instead. Schoolhouse Rock and Legally Blonde have been raised as possibilities. But I’m pretty sure that there’s someone out there who will think that “Conjunction Junction” is about “but” and “yet” getting it on (oooh, and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” – the subtext just screams “drug dealing”). And the bend and snap? We don’t want to send a message that girls should be crushing on boys, and we definitely do not want them to snap and grin – that’s just asking for trouble. That whole scene will have to go.

It will have to go, just like our kids’ exposure to stuff that’s real, like drugs and alcohol and sex and tough marriages and guns. And their chance to fictionally explore those things, to talk about them thoughtfully, and to seize the opportunity to educate. And, hey, their experience of a semester singing Sondheim.

Because what’s most important? Making sure no one’s offended.

Send in the clowns.

Lisa T. McElroy is an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law. Her first novel, Called On, was just published by Quid Pro Books. She notes that she is Jewish, the high school fall play was A Christmas Carol, both her kids participated, and she did not say a word. Because, Dickens.