Category: Politics & Current Events

7

The Speechfather

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It was late when Zach arrived back at the mall from the newspaper office. The entrance was blocked by a restraining order, partially shredded. Zach and Tom walked on, past the two Human Rights Commissioners the government had stationed to prevent further Hate Speech against the Corleone family, and the good name of Italian-Americans everywhere. The door was opened by another Human Rights Commissioner. wearing an outsized coat and vest over a big belly. Zach thought the Commissioner sure was fat, then banished that thought, as a form of body-shaming. As the over-sized Commissioner held the door, Zach reflected:

Body-shaming is ubiquitous and abhorrent; it happens everywhere, to pretty much everyone, at one time or another. It is especially levied against women, who are shamed for being skinny, for being tall, for being short, for having large breasts, for having small breasts, for having tattoos, for not having tattoos, for body hair, for dressing as they will, for being sexy, for being prudish, for being smart, for having interests outside STEM. Women are shamed at some point for being pretty much anything while also being female, including for being ugly (and failing to serve a purpose as a beauty object) and for being pretty (which must mean they are vapid or dumb). Zach shuddered that he had fallen into the trap of fat-shaming. The vest was no doubt padded with writs, for the protection of the Corleone family and others against harassment and hate speech, but even if it wasn't, the Human Rights Commissioner had a right to dignity, and to revel in his own body.

Inside, Sonny, Clemenza, and Tessio were waiting. Sonny came to Zach, and took the young student-columnist's head into his hands, saying kiddingly, "Beautiful, beautiful, that police captain sure knocked you up real good."

It was Tom who spoke first, over the stunned objections of Clemenza and Tessio: "Sonny, 'knocked up' is an outdated phrase used by anti-woman bigots and mansplainers to describe pregnancy. It implies, to right-thinking people, an element of physical violence, and if I may say so, using that term is a monstrous form of Hate Speech. It denigrates women, and it denigrates choice, the choice that each woman has to decide for herself whether to terminate an unwanted fetus."

"Sorry Tom," Sonny muttered. "It won't happen again." Zach and Tom walked into the room, and closed the door.

"Jesus Christ, Zach, the old man's barely talking," said Clemenza.

Tessio spoke up, "Pete, has it occurred to you that Zach might not be a Catholic, that Zach might not be a Christian, that Zach might be an Atheist, or a Muslim, or a Jew? When you invoke that name, you're excluding people of faiths outside Christianity (which I might add is responsible for 2,000 years of genocide and repression), and people of no faith. You're talking Hate Speech, and if weren't for the law of omerta, I'd turn you in right now."

Sonny added, "Sal, you're right, but I should add that referring to the Don as 'the Old Man' is ageist. It connotes senility, and at the same time grants him an authority he doesn't necessarily deserve. We can do better than this. It's a form of Hate Speech, and it should be against the law, if it isn't already."

All five men remained silent, for a few minutes, reflecting on their crimes.

Finally, Zach broke the silence. "What have we heard about the Turk?"

"JESUS CHRIST!" the other four interjected, then hung their heads in shame.

"Mister Sollozzo is holed up with that police captain," Tom said at last. "He's untouchable with that kind of protection. What you have to understand is that no one has ever attacked a New York police captain. All of the five families, and the Human Rights Commission, would turn against us."

"You get me a gun, and I'll kill him," said Zach. "And I won't do it out of any racial or religious animus. I'll do it out of respect for my father."

Sonny hugged Zach, violently, smiled, and said "Tom, this is speech, and this man's taking it very personal. It ain't like the war. You gotta get up on top of them until you see the whites of their eyes and then BADA-BING! All over your nice Ivy League suit!"

Clemenza sighed, "Sonny, I wish you hadn't said that. The Bada-Bing is a strip club in a racist melodrama that denigrates Italian-Americans as gangsters, sexists, and thugs. The media have promoted this stereotype through a plethora of mafia movies. It's fair to say that a disproportionate number of Italian-Americans have been portrayed as hoodlums by Hollywood. Though not to the same extent as people of color, marginalized European-Americans, such as Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, Serb-Americans, and Ukrainian-Americans, are generally reduced by screenwriters to a caricature of what Anglo-Americans deem them to be. Tragically, this marginalization at the hands of White society leads these maligned peoples into prejudicial conduct against women and people of color, the true victims of Hate Speech. If we're ever to move forward, the sort of speech in which you just engaged needs to be outlawed."

"So there's no hope for us?" Zach asked.

"I guess not. We should turn ourselves in to the Human Rights Commissioners," Tessio agreed.

And so ended the Five Families War of 1946.

35

With Apologies To Baron Macaulay

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XXVII

Then out spake prim Horatius,
The Censor of the Gate:
"To every persyn upon this earth
Butthurt cometh soon or late.
And how can we do better
When facing fearful speech,
Than shut down all discussion,
And stop the crimethink's reach?

XXVIII

"As for the tender mother
Who knits a woolen toy,
Best send the cops to brace her
Although it gives her joy
,
It matters not what we think,
We privileged with some sense,
Call the cops if anyone
May somehow take offense.

XXIX

"Haul down the books, Oh Councils,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with the state to help me,
Will halt bad speech in play.
If the people won't obey us
And alter all their norms,
Then force of law we'll bring to bear,
and stop extremism in all its forms.

106

Roca Labs, Lacking A Hornet Nest Into Which It Could Stick Its Dick, Has Sued Marc Randazza

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This crazy litigant goes to 11.

Roca Labs, you may recall, is the weight-loss-goo purveyor that is belligerent, litigious, and sensitive to criticism to a pathological degree. Last month I wrote about how they require their customers to sign no-criticism contracts, and had sued PissedConsumer.com for carrying negative reviews. Yesterday I lit the Popehat Signal to seek help for customers Roca Labs has targeted with vexatious litigation — including, in what no doubt is just a big coincidence, one of the witnesses against them in their first litigation.

Can Roca Labs push the envelope more? Yes they can.

Today Marc Randazza — counsel for PissedConsumer.com in Roca Labs' frivolous suit — filed an updated notice of related cases in the PissedConsumer case. That updated notice revealed that Roca Labs has now sued Randazza himself for his activities defending PissedConsumer.com.

The complaint itself — which I have uploaded here — brings the crazy and brings it good and hard. It was penned by Roca Labs' latest attorney, one Johnny G. DeGirolamo, a 2009 law school graduate and 2011 bar admittee, whose website is www.inlawwetrust.com. No, really. His site offers a flattering headshot of a smiling advocate, and it was a very good choice to use that picture rather than, say, his booking photo.

Roca Labs, through Johnny G., accuses Marc of interference with economic advantage and defamation per se1, demands a declaration that Randazza is wrong and he is libel, and moves for an injuction telling Marc to shut up. Yeah, good luck with that.

But that ain't all. The complaint is a model of prissy pearl-clutching. Johnny G. is aghast that Randazza has provided legal services to adult entertainment companies. Goodness gracious! Johnny G. is horrified that Randazza has been "an outspoken advocate for Phillip Greaves, the author of 'The Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure.'" To be more accurate, Randazza has been an outspoken advocate for the First Amendment issues presented by Greaves' case, but it's not surprising that a First Amendment distinction is lost on the sort of attorney who wold represent Roca Labs. Johnny G. is cheesed off at Randazza's catchphrase murum aries attigit, which apparently suggests a level of aggression that is upsetting to a company that flails around suing its customers for criticizing it. In short, Johnny G. — bless his heart — does his best to make Marc Randazza sound terrible, and only wind up making him sound knowledgeable about free speech.

On to the substance of the claim, if I may use the term very generously. Roca — through Johnny G. — asserts that Marc has been defaming Roca Labs during this litigation by making statements to the press (or, as Johnny G. puts it, to "webzines") and then putting those same statements in court pleadings. They imply he's trying to cloak his statements to the media with litigation privilege by repeating them in court filings. This theory is . . . odd.

Moreover, Johnny G. and Roca Labs are conspicuously vague about exactly what statements are defamatory, and exactly how. Other than complaining that Randazza defamed Roca Labs through a very clearly satirical tweet on Halloween, there are few specifics. Roca Labs complains that Randazza's purpose is to "mock, ridicule, humiliate, harm, and continue his war against ROCA," but that's not very specific. Roca Labs complains about statements in articles by TechDirt and tries to attribute them to Randazza, but doesn't explain exactly what Randazza said and exactly how it was wrong. That lack of specificity is probably deliberate — if Roca Labs admitted they were mad over the term "snake oil," they'd have to confront the fact that the phrase is obviously protected opinion. See, e.g., Phantom Touring v. Affiliated Publ'ns, 953 F.2d 724, 728, 730–31 (1st Cir.1992) (holding that description of theatre production as “a rip-off, a fraud, a scandal, a snake-oil job” was no more than “rhetorical hyperbole”). Moreover, in some parts of the complaint Roca Labs is attacking statements that are clearly, objectively true based on Roca Labs' own court documents. For instance, Roca Labs angrily quotes a paragraph in which TechDirt accused them of trying to silence customers. Which is what they are doing.

Finally, the complaint attaches a motion for a temporary injunction, in which Johnny G. demands that Randazza cease and desist saying mean things about Roca Labs, retract prior mean things, and remove any online content about Roca Labs. At this point I have to admit that I don't know whether Roca Labs and Johnny G. are powerfully stupid, breathtakingly cynical, unapologetically unethical, or all three. Despite the fact that they are suing a renowned First Amendment lawyer, despite the fact that they are demanding an injunction silencing him, despite the fact that they have lost a similar injunction request in which Randazza schooled them on the First Amendment and prior restraint issues, and despite the fact that it is clear those issues will arise again, their motion makes no mention whatsoever of the overwhelming First Amendment and prior restraint issues presented by their demand.

Roca Labs is mistaking aggression for strategy. Randazza, by filing his notice of related case, has alerted the federal court hearing the PissedConsumer.com case that Roca Labs is flailing around suing opposing lawyers, which will not go over well. Roca Labs has hired what appears to be an improbably matriculated Muppet to champion their case, despite a patent lack of qualifications. Roca Labs thinks that suing Marc Randazza to shut him up is going to end well. They should have asked Raanan Katz or Crystal Cox how that would turn out.

I'm calling it: Roca Labs has achieved Prenda status.

Edited to add: Adam Steinbaugh explains why Roca Labs' attempt to evade the litigation privilege is so frivolous.

130

Is The Right Mocking Victim Culture, Or Adopting It?

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For years, I've been criticizing the trope that the American Right (for want of a better term) is victimized by the mean rhetoric of the American Left (ditto). I ridiculed a rightie blogger when he said that accusations of racism are inherently tyrannical and silencing, I dissented when Clint Eastwood complained he should be able to tell ethnic jokes without being criticized, and I scoffed when Kirk Cameron said that he should be able to say homosexuality destroys civilizations without people being mean to him about it. I've discussed how both the "Left" and the "Right" have stretched the term "bullying" beyond recognition.

It's time for me to confess: I'm not entirely sure what some conservatives are up to.

Have they immersed themselves in "victim of speech" culture, accepted its premises, and become part of it? Are they making fun of it subtly? Are they acting to discredit it by overusing it? Are they illustrating how it can be abused, and how it is unprincipled?

Hell if I know.

Take Dennis Prager. I've criticized Prager before for suggesting that mean liberal rhetoric bullies conservatives into changing political positions. In his most recent foray into the issue, Prager portrays himself as the victim of a leftist mob based on angry reactions to comments he made about national dialogue over campus sexual assault. He said:

One in five women are sexually assaulted on campuses? You know what sexual assault means? Did you ever look at what counts? An “unwanted kiss” is considered sexual assault. I’m stunned it’s only one in five. Four out of five women have not gotten an unwanted kiss? My wife gets unwanted kisses every so often!

Prager then nails himself to a cross, citing incendiary comments at places like Huffington Post and Wonkette. He complains:

Second, mockery — indeed cruel mockery — is the norm on the left. I urge readers to visit any of the liberal websites cited and read the comments after the articles. No significant American group hates like the Left does. If you differ with them — on global warming, race relations, same-sex marriage, the extent of rape on college campuses, and any number of other things — they will humiliate, defame, libel, and try to economically crush you.

Look, I know this will provoke a few dozen comments making the empirical claim "the Left just is meaner than the Right." I don't buy it. I think we're hardwired to take more offense at attacks on "our side," and disregard attacks made by "our side." Take a look at the comments on Prager's own column — or on any column on NRO — if you doubt me. I guess that "their commenters fairly represent them, but ours don't represent us" is an argument, but it's not a persuasive one.

So what are Prager and his ilk up to? Do they genuinely see themselves as victimized by rough criticism? Do they actually think that social pressure directed at their speech is different from the social pressure they seek to direct? Or is this an elaborate pantomime, designed to illustrate that "bullying" rhetoric is unprincipled and can be used by anyone against anyone?

Whatever the answer, it's a misstep. If conservatives have fallen prey to the speech-victim ethos, it's a failure of character; if they think they are teaching a lesson, they are too optimistic about their audience. As I said recently in the context of "GamerGate," when you use rhetorical tropes and techniques, you normalize them, so they can be more easily used against you.

Bullshit should be identified as such. Complete lack of proportion should be commented upon. True threats should be reported and their makers stomped. Genuine harassment should be called out. But "we can't endure the unique rhetorical meanness of the other team" does not convey "our ideas are right and we deserve to lead." Instead, it insidiously promotes the very worst and most un-American of ideas: that we have a right not to be offended, that we have a right not to be ridiculed or disagreed with, and that speech might be as bad as action, and therefore a proper subject for regulation.

Cowboy up, Dennis Prager.

9

The truth of white hair

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“White here…. No, they have to be scratch and sniff. Can you make them or not? Look, I’ll call you back. Hi! Can I help you?”

“I need a fence a turney.”

“You need…”

“A fence a turney. The dark voice said you would help me.”

“I… uh….” (more…)

8

With Apologies To Black Sabbath

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ALRIGHT NOW!
Won't you listen to me?

When I first met you, didn't realize
Can't buy a condom, for Cory Gardner's lies.
He weirded the weather, in my clime.
Cut my brother's Pell Grant, him and his kind.

OH YEAH NOW!

Treasury was empty, revenues way down,
Until Mark Udall, turned things around.
Abortion's free now, your uterus is clear.
I love you Sweet Pea, that fetus won't adhere.

Come on now, try it out!

NDT5
Republicans don't know, what Science is about.
They put Neil deGrasse Tyson down, and shut him out.
On Election Day now, you'll vote Straight D!
We'll have an abortion, Oh Sweet Pea!

OH YEAH NOW!

439

Ten Short Rants About #GamerGate

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If you know what #GamerGate is, I don't have to tell you. If you don't know what #GamerGate is, any description I give you will be attacked by hordes of partisans saying that I have described it unfairly and that the sources I have linked are biased. So I'm going to treat you, dear readers, as if you know what it is. Clark wrote a post about it last week. My take is different. I'm not going to offer you a timeline or an attempt at a definitive "what happened" or "who is right." Instead I'm going to rant about ten ways that this controversy illuminates how we're screwed up.

(more…)

662

Gamer Gate: Three Stages to Obit

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A lot of things been written about Gamer Gate. Some of them wrong, some of them stupid, some of them both.

A lot of the confusion (both accidental and malicious) is because Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.

The Three Stages of Gamer Gate

Gamer Gate began in a relationship spat. Person X was dating person Y. At some point person X realized that person Y had engaged in a pattern of cheating and lying, and person X blogged about the dirt.

This relationship drama was the first stage of the GamerGate, and as a he-said-she-said tale, it's of interest only to the two people involved, and their friends.

The blog post, though, went beyond "she told me she loved me and then she showed she didn't", and alleged that the unfaithful partner had slept with powerful media figures in the small world of computer games journalism…figures who either reviewed games coded by the unfaithful partner, or managed writers who did review the games. The alleged behavior is (at best) a breach of common sense, and (at worst) a major breach of journalistic ethics.

This gamer journalism drama was the second stage of GamerGate, and as a sex-for-positive press coverage scandal (unproven, in my mind), or just as a "jeez, gamer journalism is as corruptly orchestrated as mainstream media is under Ezra Klein's Journolist" scandal, it's of interest to the tens of thousands of people who read and write game review journalism… which doesn't include me.

This is where things got wacky. And by "wacky", I mean "exploded like a barbecue grill when liquid oxygen is poured on it."
(more…)

129

Strange Seeds on Distant Shores

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In Soviet Russia, Pravda punches you

I once asked a coworker who had grown up in the Soviet Union "What was the most surprising thing about coming to the West?" I was assuming it was going to be something physical and mundane: the shape of traffic lights, or the fact that you can't find Vodka for sale in bus stops – something like that.

His answer, though, made me realize that I'd accidentally asked a really interesting question. "Growing up under communism, things didn't make perfect sense. Facts didn't quite fit together. But because everything – schools, newspapers, radio – was all from the same people, you never knew what was wrong…but you could tell that something wasn't right. It was like boxing while you're blind folded. You keep getting hit in the face, but you don't know why. Only after I got out did I see how the real world really was, and how everything we'd been told was lies and distortions." (Quote is from memory ten years later)

There's an aphorism that "fish don't know that they're in water." While googling up the phrase to make sure I had it exactly, I learned that Derek Sivers has made exactly the point I wanted to make next, and made it well, so I'll let him speak:

Fish don't know they're in water.

If you tried to explain it, they'd say, "Water? What's water?"

They're so surrounded by it, that it's impossible to see.

They can't see it until they get outside of it.

This is how I feel about culture.

We're so surrounded by people who think like us, that it's impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.

We can't see it until we get outside of it.

I was born in California and grew up with what I felt was a normal
upbringing with normal values.

My Russian friend was a fish, and it wasn't until he got out of the water that he could look down and exclaim "Holy shit! That is why I felt so wet all the time!"

Well, lucky us – we live in the West where the schools, the media, and the government aren't all held captive by one totalitarian ideology, so we get a diversity of viewpoints and can see how things really work.

I'm joking, of course. (more…)

50

Government Priorities: Compare And Contrast

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Part One: The federal government funds a study to monitor bad political speech on Twitter:

The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online.

The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”

Part Two: The federal government ignores, for a generation, its statutory obligation to gather and report on data about excessive force used by law enforcement:

But in the 20 years since the law went on the books, very little has happened and no one's holding the AG or any of the law enforcement agencies below him accountable for the lack of input.

Lawsplainer: How Mike Brown's Alleged Robbery Of A Liquor Store Matters, And How It Doesn't

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Last Friday, as the killing of Mike Brown continued to roil Ferguson, Missouri, the Ferguson Police Department released a police report and surveillance video showing a young man shoving a protesting convenience store clerk and leaving with merchandise. Mike Brown's family lawyer confirmed that the video showed Brown, but decried its release as an irrelevant smear. Later Ferguson's police chief later admitted that officer Darren Wilson did not seek to detain Brown based on the robbery, but because Brown was walking in the street.

Would the alleged robbery2 matter, in any case brought against Darren Wilson for the death of Mike Brown?

It might matter legally, but only for narrow reasons. It does matter practically, but shouldn't.

(more…)

Don't Give Special Rights To Anybody! Oh, Except Cops. That's Cool.

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I was all set to write a post making this point: it's offensive and irrational for the police to say "we have to protect the identity of a cop who shoots a citizen, for safety" when the criminal justice system routinely names suspects and defendants — either openly or by leak. People are accused of horrible crimes all the time, and does the system hold back their names out of fear that they or their families will face retribution? No.

But Kevin Williamson has already done a great job writing that post:

Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case.

Here's what I want to add to Kevin's observations: this particular piece of special pleading for cops is not unique; it's part of a pattern.

If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That's because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you've had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won't have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.

But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that's different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don't be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient. But if the police shoot someone:

New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, said such interviews hinge on the schedules of investigators and the police officers they are questioning. Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the agency has no set timeline for conducting interviews after officer-involved shootings. The Investigations Bureau schedules the interviews at an “agreeable” time for all parties involved, he said.

Cops and other public servants get special treatment because the whole system connives to let them. Take prosecutorial misconduct. If you are accused of breaking the law, your name will be released. If, on appeal, the court finds that you were wrongfully convicted, your name will still be brandished. But if the prosecutor pursuing you breaks the law and violates your rights, will he or she be named? No, usually not. Even if a United States Supreme Court justice is excoriating you for using race-baiting in your closing, she usually won't name you. Even if the Ninth Circuit — the most liberal federal court in the country — overturns your conviction because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence, they usually won't name the prosecutor.

And leaks? Please. Cops and prosecutors leak information to screw defendants all the time. It helps keep access-hungry journalists reliably complaint. But leak something about an internal investigation about a shooting or allegation of police misconduct? Oh, you'd better believe the police union will sue your ass.

Cops, and prosecutors, and other public employees in the criminal justice system have power. It is the nature of power to make people believe that they are better than the rest of us, and entitled to privileges the rest of us do not enjoy.

The question is this: are we so addled by generations of "law and order" and "war on crime" and "thin blue line" rhetoric that we'll accept it?