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Promoting kindness, civility: The difference between an “opinion,” hate speech, and free speech

LETTER TO AN (UNNAMED) WEBSITE OWNER WHO THINKS HATE SPEECH IS THE SAME AS AN OPINION

Dear Ms. Website Owner:

Shame on you.  A few days ago I put a few words into the Google search tool about a subject I was interested in, and found my way to your story about it. I then had the misfortune of reading the third comment down, which was hateful and beyond appalling.  I wrote to you privately, asking you to take the comment down because it is clearly “hate speech” and specifically because of the terrible pain it would cause its intended target. I carefully explained my reasons for asking this, which I won’t identify because I don’t really want to call attention to the particulars, except to make a larger point about the prevalence of “hate speech” presuming to masquerade as “opinion” or “free speech” in our culture, and whose responsibility it is to take a stand.  Your response to my request to take it down?

As a fellow blogger I am disappointed that you would want me to censor my readers. I don’t know what kind of blog you run, but (my website) receives (x number) of unique visitors a year and we take our readers’ freedom of speech very, very seriously. Although I do not see eye to eye with many of the comments that are left by my readers, I do respect their right to have an opinion.

Now I admit that you’re not alone in misguidedly offering an unrelated principle to boost a specious argument, Ms. Shopping and Gossip Blog Owner.  And this kind of garbage seems to be everywhere–on television, in the unbelievable amount of name-calling in this culture, in the unkind way people talk to each other, even on big, influential, serious Internet sites like Salon and Slate, which are presumably run and edited by educated, responsible people.  Personally, I think it’s easy to distinguish between hate speech and an “opinion.” It’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s notion that hard-core pornography is hard to define, but he knew it when he saw it.  But obviously you need clarification, so here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Hate speech is communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of color, disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.”

So give me a break. I would vigorously defend your right to publish your blog, even if I don’t particularly like its voyeuristic and strange focus on the misfortunes of others, but do you REALLY think allowing hate speech on a shopping and gossip blog makes you a virtuous defender of “free speech?”

First of all, if that commenter were exercising free speech, he wouldn’t be hiding his identity, and behind a disgusting moniker yet.  Secondly, many websites do ban hate speech; Facebook, for example, bans (according to its own definition) violence and threats, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, nudity and pornography, and phishing and spam.  Some websites leave a placeholder, something like, “THIS COMMENT REMOVED.” Some may have policies on such things but don’t enforce them particularly well.  Shame on them too.

Perhaps when you’re not promoting gossip and shopping you’re a law scholar, and you really are one of those free speech absolutists who say all expression, no matter how despicable, should be allowed online. So then where are all the spam comments?  Ah. Your spam filter edits those out, right?  Well, that’s free speech too, so obviously you’re not a free speech absolutist, now are you? It is, after all, someone’s “opinion” that penises should be larger, and that they can be made so with a product called PENIS ERECTOR, and if free speech is what you care about, why not allow all that up there in addition to the Prada and hate speech?

Now people (and governments) may disagree on what governments should and shouldn’t protect, but you’re not a government. This has nothing to do with free speech; YOU OWN THE SITE. And you’re making a choice here, an unkind and hateful one, an uncivil one.

Ms. Website Owner, what’s the downside to editing out hate comments?  Would it hurt your cause of more shopping and gossip?  All it would do is deprive the hater of a forum to anonymously spew hate.  Yes, I believe that the answer to hate speech is more speech, and I see now that a few people are dressing that commenter down in follow up, some with name-calling almost as bad, which of course makes my point, that we’re so steeped in this junk that we can’t see our way out.  Nevertheless, if the comment’s intended target, who is already suffering from unspeakable pain, were ever to see that first comment, it might STILL bring even more unspeakable pain. Do you really want to do that?  Do you have no empathy?  Didn’t your mother teach you anything about morality, civility, kindness?

And while you’re leaving that placeholder, I suggest you do the same for all comments by this person, who seems to be trolling your site for ways he can say the most indecent, hateful things and do the most damage to his targets. He’s obviously very sick.  If you provide a forum for this individual, it doesn’t make you a defender of free speech.  I’m not sure what it makes you, but it isn’t anything good.

If no one takes responsibility for anything in this culture, if people hide behind meaningless and unrelated principles, where the hell are we?  The Dalai Lama said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Sincerely,

Fran Dorf

Rove has to eat his words as Palin asks what the VP does

Following up on my previous post on the cynical choice of Sarah Palin as VP, the Bruised Muse would like to invite Karl Rove to a word eating party. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” a few weeks ago Rove said that Obama was “going to make a ‘political’ choice rather than a ‘governing’ choice, and offered Tim Kaine as an example of such an intensely political and bad choice, one that would help Obama win but not govern. Karl Rove should know about these things because he presided over an Administration in which the entire workings of government took a back seat to politics in every single area. But he was wrong about Senator Obama, who made a very wise, non-political choice in Joe Biden, and showed great “judgment.”

Well. It turns out that it’s actually John McCain who’s made a “political” choice rather than a “governing” choice. Isn’t the VP supposed to 1) help the President govern, and 2) be the person best qualified to take over. Surely McCain doesn’t think this former mayor of a town of 6700 with less than two years of experience as Governor of Alaska is the best qualified person to take over, should he not be able to serve? What are we to make of his judgment when he picks someone with no foreign policy experience after he’s spent the last few months trying to sell us on the idea that Senator Obama is unqualified because he has no foreign policy experience? At least Senator Obama is self-reflective enough to recognize a potential gap in experience and chose a foreign policy expert like Joe Biden, who might actually help him govern, and who WOULD be qualified to take over. Perhaps the old warrior McCain feels he’s invincible. Doesn’t he realize that he’s 72 years old? We’ve had enough of a President with no capacity for realistic self-reflection.

You have to wonder if they even vetted this woman. Wow. For a real scare (or laugh, depending on your mood), watch Sarah Palin on youtube, asking the key question of our age:

What exactly does the Vice President do on a daily basis?”

Lady, with all due respect, let’s hope you never get to find out. John McCain puts America First? I don’t think so.

McCain chooses Sarah Palin: A remarkably cynical VP pick

After Senator Obama’s triumph last night, this morning we have the distressing spectacle of John McCain trying to steal the spotlight with a pick for VP so odd that we can’t help but pay attention.
But my goodness, in the end, what a mistake, and what a cynical choice. So much for McCain and his “country first” patriotism. First it’s obvious McCain is pandering here to his right wing. And second, he probably figures he can also get the so called disaffected Hillary supporters with this choice, odd as it is. I do hope Senator Clinton puts a stop to that idea right away, and that the so called “disaffected” Hillary supporters don’t fall for it. Does McCain think that Hillary’s diehards are so stupid they think anyone woman will do, just because she’s a women, even if this particular women is on the opposite side of every single issue to which Hillary has devoted her life? (As an aside, I love the way clever Kate on her blog, Evolution of Kate, put it: “McCain panders to Americans with Vaginas. ) Personally, I think it’s possible that many of the so called disaffected Hillary supporters are Repub plants, anyway.
But most important, in the end, isn’t the choice of Veep supposed to be about 1) the person best qualified to take over, should the candidate not be able to serve, and 2) helping the candidate govern? He’s complaining that Obama is unqualified? What does it say about McCain’s judgment when he picks this women, when there really is a question of whether he will be able to serve a full term, given his age. What narcissism. What self-regard. What a lack of capability for self-reflection.
Palin’s primary qualifications seem to be that she spent ten years as the major of a town of 6000, and almost two years as Governor of Alaska. She is also apparently qualified because she has five children (with the oddest names, I might add), including one born with Down’s Syndrome whom she didn’t abort (as opposed to liberals who would have); believes in drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Sanctuary (which fits with McCains “drill here and drill now” mantra); is a rabid NRA member, and is staunchly anti-choice. According to Wikipedia, she also supports the teaching of creationism in schools. Hmmm. I wonder what her views on contraception are?
Doesn’t McCain realize he’s 72 years old? Does he really think this is a qualified person? Does he think he can survive forever because he survived the Vietcong? Wow. The Republicans constantly amaze me.

Quick Note to Obama before the Sunday talk

Before I turn on the tube for the Sunday talk shows and find myself forced to worship at the “mantra of McCain’s triumph,” a mantra that no doubt will be repeated over and over by the so-called Liberal Media about the Obama/McCain event last night, here’s a thought. Senator Obama, most progressives, I think, appreciate your nuanced stances in a nuanced world, your principled campaign and even temperament, your intellectuality and by bi-partisan instincts, but THIS IS AMERICA. Americans don’t think that deeply, and the press is usually part echo chamber and part corporate stooge. You cannot respond to McCain and the Republican attack machine by just responding. This allows McCain to identify the narrative, and define you. You must not only respond to his attacks, you must attack HIM. You must create HIS narrative and define HIM.  Here are some possibilities: war monger, hot tempered, never met a war he didn’t like, Bush three. Choose one or find your own. And by the way, why is it that the new anti-Obama screed by our favorite character from Swift Boat fame is being plugged over and over, but other books, like “The Real McCain” are ignored. Tell me that? Is it because the media is plugging the anti-Obama screed in favor of the anti-McCain screed? Or perhaps it’s a purely market driven phenomenon because those on the right are more susceptible to lying screeds than are those on the left?

Follow up: More Guns, More Death, More Grief

Commenting on my post, “More Guns, More Death, More Grief,” “andthebuddhasaid” (love that moniker) said:

You make great points and are absolutely right, but you didn’t comment on Barack Obama’s support of the Supreme Court’s decision. Apparently he was in whole hearted agreement. Personally I don’t think that this is the decision to measure his stance on gun control, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Well, frankly, I was upset by Obama’s support of the decision, (which came after the post) but not totally shocked. I posted the piece on http://www.dailykos.com, thinking that that supposedly left-leaning community would mostly be in support, and found myself completely under attack by gun nuts, most of them claiming the right to defend themselves in their homes, and saying gun control laws don’t work, in no uncertain terms. Nearly four hundred people weighed in against me, I felt like a sitting duck. (And they call themselves liberals…for shame. Maybe they’re actually Republican plants.) Strict constructionists and others may argue about the original meaning of the Second Amendment and parse the placement of the comma in its words, and argue that such placement means citizens are allowed to own guns, INCLUDING assault weapons, but what I was primarily saying in that post was that two angry teenage boys in a school yard with loaded guns equals more death and grief than two angry teenagers in the same school yard without guns. Give a suicidal individual access to a gun (suicides account for a huge portion of gun deaths, way more than homicides) and see if a momentary urge doesn’t turn into a permanent condition. Compare the homicide rate in the United States of America with its weak gun control laws to other developed countries with strong gun control laws. I’m interested in grief, and more guns means more grief.

If this was about self protection, why not fight for non-lethal methods of self protection?

As for Obama’s position, my guess is that he’ll not appoint judges who are “strict constructionist” or judges obsessed with “original Intent” to the Supreme Court, and while whomever he appoints might agree with the current Court’s current decision on guns, they will not agree on so many other issues that are important to me that there is STILL no choice about whom I will support in this election. John McCain will be a disaster for this country, which has already endured eight years of disaster. Even a few of McCain’s own Republican party admit that he has too volatile a temperament to be President in this volatile world. Here’s a quote from the Huff Post on this:

“The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), also a senior member of the Appropriations panel, told the Boston Globe recently. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

If Thad Cochran is worried, so am I. Obama, in my opinion, has the kind of mind, focus, conciliatory approach, and even temperament that we sorely need in a volatile world. He is by far the better man. The Presidency is not only about policies; it’s very much about inspiration and vision. McCain has never met a war he didn’t like, and he’s chomping at the bit for more war. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. It seems to me that Senator McCain learned the wrong lessons from his time as a prisoner.

Note to the so-called “Liberal Media”: WHO played the race card?

The only mention I got in Elizabeth Kim’s Stamford Advocate piece about the Lower Fairfield Blog ‘n’ Grog Society was presumably this: “The group keeps growing, bringing together a mix of people that otherwise might not have met.” Indeed, I was just happy to be there as even an invisible part of the mix, the elder of the group by more years than I care to count, and I do agree that I probably wouldn’t have met ManagerMom or SarahAmerica, or Unloaded in real life. Since Kim described many of my fellow bloggers as ranting about one thing or another, I’d like to engage in my own rant today. I’m not a snarky person, but just this once…

Leave it to the Evil Genius Karl Rove and the Merry Band of Blood-sucking, Rovian Protege Geniusettes running John McCain’s Presidential campaign to come up with the perfect boomarang ad strategy for playing the race card. They’ve apparently decided that the straight talk express has no choice but to head right down the low road. In the first week of the new approach, they came up with a campaign slogan, “Country First,” along with direct accusations impugning Obama’s patriotism, with their delightful suggestion that Obama would lose a war in order to win a political campaign. This was followed by their load of malarkey about how Obama had dissed the troops by not visiting a hospital in Germany. Only after all that (and all in one week yet), did they unveil their Machiavellian, slight-of-hand advertisement. All of this was carefully timed, of course, to draw attention away from Obama’s triumphant overseas trip (And two hundred thousand Germans waving American flags instead of burning them is bad because…why?). The ad, as surely everyone knows by now, features images of Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton alongside Obama speaking to that huge crowd in Berlin, and the voice-over: “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world, but is he ready to lead?”

In response, Obama, essentially repeating what he said last month, said:

“They know that you’re not real happy with them and so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. What they’re saying is ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, he’s a got a funny name.’”

To which McCain’s people, followed by McCain himself, yelled that Obama had “played the race card,” –from the bottom of the deck, yet.

Say WHAT?

I think what we need is a McCain Mendacity Meter, which each day attempts to separate the Overt Lies of the McCain campaign from the Covert Lies of the McCain campaign.

I waited for one of Obama’s surrogates or the mainstream (so called “liberal”) media on the Sunday morning talk shows to address the matter with ANY degree of honesty. Donna Brazile on “This Week” came close to identifying the racial elephant in the room, but backed off before actually explaining, in the face of an onslaught of misogynistic laughter by the males on the the panel when Jake Tapper said the the ad was meant to show Obama as a ditz, like Paris and Brittney. (WHO’S a ditz? McCain graduated from Annapolis 894 out of 899, while Obama was Magna Cum Laude at Harvard Law School). Brazile asked if Tapper was calling Spears/Hilton ditz’s because they were blond, and Tapper said, “No, because they are stoopid!” It was funny, ha ha ha. Perhaps Brazile’s disgust and shock was what rendered her speechless. She should have said, “Now just a minute fellows….” In any case, it seemed taken as a given that Obama was the one who played the race card.

As if juxtaposing two blond, white, sexually promiscuous young women with Senator Obama is anything BUT racist in the first place. Not as overt as the notorious “Call me” ad that helped defeat Harold Ford in Tennessee, but its meaning is exactly the same. And while Terry Nelson, who produced the Ford ad, is now only a consultant to McCain, the newly appointed Steve Schmidt is leading a no holds barred approach, and it sure looks like he’s got a PhD from Nelson and Rove. The new McCain team, according to US News and World Report July 2, “was a long time coming…following weeks of harsh—and increasingly public—criticism by influential members of (McCain’s) own party who say they have been alarmed at what they have seen as the campaign’s lack of focus and poor planning.”

Indeed, the straight talk express has gone the way of McCain’s occasional so-called maverick positions of the past, nearly all reversed under pressure from our beloved lunatic fringe on the right, now called The Republican Party. What we can look forward to, if McCain wins, is four more years of Rovian double talk. More bills that allow pollution named The Clean Air Act. More false choices presented, as in the grandstanding by Congress today (forty Repub members rotating speeches in the dark) demanding a re-opening of the Senate and another emergency “up or down” vote, as if immediate off shore drilling will bring the price of oil down and is the ONLY thing standing between the United States and catastrophe. And more covert race-baiting ads named “straight talk.” Do we see a pattern here?

Such ads do appeal to the basest psychological creations of the Jim Crow south: That uppity black men covet white women. If this wasn’t the ad’s intended psychological message, why not juxtapose Obama with Beyonce, or Denzel Washington, or Bono? If it was just about ditz’s why not choose political ditz’s, like Dan Quayle, who couldn’t spell, or Daniel Inouye, who claims climate change is a hoax. Oh, I forgot, they’re REPUB ditz’s. Well, surely McNasty’s operatives could have found some Dem ditz’s.

Indeed, it is the ad’s diabolical subtlety–which enables “plausible deniability,” exploits a disgusting racial idea that NO ONE (other than perhaps Klansmen) admits they hold, and forces Obama to respond in an equally veiled way– that keeps the subject of race underground and makes the strategy so brilliant. How would Obama respond directly: “They’re trying to tell you that I secretly covet your white blond women”? (Imagine that, when he’s got the ADORABLE Michele as his wife.) Of course not. For God’s sake, the ad isn’t directed at the white liberals who are going to vote for Obama anyway and who probably don’t hold that view, but at Southern (and other) white racists who very well might.

And by the way, the ad also came complete with edited-in audio of a crowd chanting Obama’s name which, juxtaposed with video of the Berlin crowd, is remnicent to anyone who isn’t brain dead of an Adolph Hitler address circa 1937. The not-so subtle conclusion? Obama equals Hitleresk Demagogery and Anti-Semitism. The blogosphere smear campaign about Obama being an anti-Semitic, secret Muslim is nothing compared.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the lies in the ad that follow the Spears/Hilton smear, about more taxes and more foreign oil.

Dubious denials by Obama surrogates, followed eventually by begrudging admissions, belated and weak, that, “Okay, this strategy IS about race,” just aren’t going to cut it. The problem is THIS STUFF WORKS. I know everyone’s afraid of dealing with this directly, but…. I’m really beginning to worry that Senator Obama, like John Kerry before him, just isn’t doing enough to fight back. While my sense is that it simply isn’t in his nature (just like it wasn’t in John Kerry’s nature to fight back when they called him a traitor) I increasingly think Obama needs his own evil genius, or at least a snarling attack dog for a running mate, who will point out McCain’s paucity of ideas, pathetic delivery, right-pandering flipflops, humiliating gaffes, intellectual pigmyism, and elderly demeanor, or at the very least tell it like it is when John McCain heads the race-baiting straight talk express down Obama’s way. How about the Dems produce a commercial showing Obama with his elevated, hope-filled rhetoric and thousand watt smile, juxtaposed with a pasty looking McCain appearing near death before tiny crowd, in front of an institutional green background, showing us his programmed, scary, alien, podlike smile and his pearly yellows? Any Democratic Evil Genius’s out there?

Postscript: The BruisedMuse’s husband points out that Hilton’s parents contributed to McCain’s campaign. I wonder if McCain got the Hiltons’ permission first, or if they’re now trying to get back their contribution.

Novelist Bernice McFadden highlights Book and Author Luncheon

A few weeks ago my friend Gail Malloy invited me to be her guest at the Book and Author Luncheon sponsored annually here in Stamford by the Ferguson Library. I figured it would be a staid affair, as these things usually are, but the proceedings were surprisingly lively. The first unexpected liveliness came in the form of Mickey Sherman, the attorney famous for his television appearances, his controversial legal tactics, and mostly for his losing defense of bail-skipping, convicted Darien rapist Alex Kelly, and convicted Greenwich Kennedy-cousin murderer Michael Skakel. Plugging his book, “How Can You Defend These People,” Sherman, when his turn came to speak, insisted he isn’t really a writer and acted as if he’d both written the book and wandered into the place by accident, but he did prove to be quite a hilarious storyteller, so I may just pick up his book anyway at some point.
The second and more interesting liveliness, at least from a bibliophile’s standpoint, came in the form of the beautiful, talented novelist, Bernice McFadden, whose fourth novel, “Nowhere is a Place,” I bought on the spot. (Actually, Bernice also writes sexy “chick-lit novels” under the pseudonym Geneva Holliday, so her total “books-written” count is somewhere around ten, she informed the crowd that day.)
I finally got a chance to read “Nowhere is a Place” and it turns out to be an extraordinarily compelling tale about family, family secrets, journeys of self discovery, and the personal and ancestral history that make us who we are as people. Using a technique similar to the one I used in “Saving Elijah,” Bernice weaves back and forth between a contemporary story and a historical one and manages to compel us with both. In the contemporary story, an estranged mother and daughter, Dumpling and Sherry, embark on a road trip across the country to a family reunion in Georgia, and along the way we discover the tragic, brutal and sometimes joyful history of this compelling African-American family. With startlingly vivid, often sensuous language, Bernice not only compels us to turn the page but with great bravery shows us in stark reality the absolute violence and uncompromising brutality of the institution of slavery, the psychological and physical dehumanization, the utter disregard for the common humanity of its victims. And with great, subtle wisdom, Bernice also shows us how that legacy affected and still affects the children of slaves and their children’s children, even to this day.
As a person deeply interested in the psychological effects of grief, trauma, and loss, I found the novel utterly moving, though I admit I often found myself cringing when confronted with scene after scene showing the depraved cruelty perpetrated on blacks by whites. I see why Bernice has been compared to Toni Morrison, and I highly recommend the book.
I also love it that Bernice included a short section at the back of the book called “Are We Related?” Well, Bernice, I doubt that you and I are related, since my family history (about which I admittedly know very little) is one that seems to deny that possibility. Here’s what I know about my family and it isn’t much: Because of brutal persecution of Jews in Russia, my great-great grandmother and father (whose names I don’t know) sent two of her sons, ages 10 and 11, my grandfather Abraham Freedman and his brother (whose name I don’t know) to America. They came alone in ship steerage around 1900. I have seen an affidavit my grandfather signed when he arrived, in which he renounced the Tzar of Russia. I suspect, as you say, that it is a labor of love to research one’s family tree that is not always fruitful. Though I would seriously like to find out more about my own family, fruitfulness might be an issue for me too. The problem is that name Freedman was probably not even my grandfather’s real name, since it was common for immigration officials to simply make up names that would be more “American” when people came before them. My mother’s people also came from Russia around the same time, I think, and on that front I do at least know their name, which was Balabanovich. Any Balabanovich’s out there?
Bernice has agreed to answer some questions–on the writing and publishing process, on how grief figures in her fiction, on some of the startling scenes in her novel, and on the legacy of slavery today. I’ll post that in the next few days.