Blog Archives

Burt Likko responds to Kristin Powers, speaking of how universities can walk the line between free speech and hostile-environmentalism. Powers says that official speech codes are the worst, and Likko goes into the legalities involved.

I don’t know what they taught at Georgetown, where Ms. Powers went to law school, but I know at my own law school, anti-discrimination law was not taught as something that had all that much Constitutional implication. A significant lacuna in my professors’ presentation of anti-discrimination law. As a newly-minted attorney I believed, because I had been taught, that anti-discrimination statutes were an unambiguous good and a moral imperative upon the body politic to enact. The corpus of larval lawyers of which I was then a member had been exhorted: “Go ye forth, and enforce these laws, through civil litigation!” Such preaching convinced me — a younger, more conservative version of me than the me actually practicing this brand of law today — that being a private attorney general like this would be a way to simultaneously seek both personal enrichment and public justice.

Turns out, soon after picking up that banner I encountered defendants who protested, “Don’t I have freedom of speech?” The answer is, “Not if your speech creates a hostile workplace environment, you don’t.” Which sat uncomfortably with me because freedom of speech is important, too. So there has to be some point of balancing if we are to have both a discrimination-free environment and freedom of speech for individuals.

I think Powers is wrong. Speech codes are talked about because they sound scary, ominous, and Orwellian. The bigger concern I personally have is among the student body, and more importantly how the universities respond to the views of the student body.

I’m less worried that schools are going to formally declare that certain words and thoughts are out of bounds than I am that administrators will indulge student bodies’ determinations of what’s reasonable by using the powers they invariably have. There’s no question that universities have the power to, for instance, decide who to pay to bring to campus to speak at a commencement or other event. They are responsible for recognizing clubs, and in many cases forming them. If they’re doing their job, they or one of their subsidiaries arrange student events of all kinds. They permit, or don’t permit, displays on campus. Often, as a practical matter, they have to limit who can do what, because not everyone can always be accommodated even if everything is completely viewpoint-neutral.

But it doesn’t have to be viewpoint-neutral. And if it’s not, it doesn’t have to come out and admit it.

Over at Ordinary Times, I briefly became the symbol of millenial-hatred by refusing to automatically grant the protests over American Sniper as being reasonable. Maybe they were, if it was just a matter of the time and place of the screening. That, you know, it wasn’t the showing of the movie but the showing of the movie at this particular mixture. But controversies erupted at the University of Maryland and George Mason over special screenings, and people at Eastern Michigan actively disrupted a screening there. So I still don’t think it’s unreasonable to interpret these objections not as “Can’t we have a mixer without this movie?” but “I don’t want this movie to be shown on campus.” You can “how about not doing that here” something into being nowhere.

The UMd and GMU stories have happy endings, only because the universities or other student groups stepped up to make sure that it happened. That only happened because of the backlash, and past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The left is experiencing a cultural apex at the moment, especially at universities, and seem to be wondering why they should have to tolerate speech that they’re not comfortable with when can theoretically have the tools at their disposal to displace it without actually having to go afoul of the First.

It can become even harder if things reach a certain tipping point, where people with unpopular ideas simply stop speaking up. The window of socially acceptable dialogue – even if protected by Freedom of Speech – can move to the point that young people who voted for the side that just won a national election feel the need to keep their views to themselves.

Here in the University of North Carolina student paper expressed grave disappointment that Duke University invited Mitt Romney to speak at their campus. Romney, who came within a few million votes of becoming the President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of its military.

Just as they concede with Romney and David Horowitz, who the piece is primarily about, have a right to free speech, I will concede that the Tar Heel has a right to run stupid editorials. The University should not pull its funding and they should not be thrown in jail. Like I said, this isn’t especially about the First Amendment. It’s not that the Universities will shut down speech. It’s that they’ll stop stopping the students and some faculty from running speech off.

Category: Coffeehouse

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I was pretty incensed at any attempt to contextualize the murder of the cartoonists by focusing attention on how “offensive” the cartoons were. Whether they were offensive or not was beside the point. The point was that they had a right to say it and not be killed over it. In the immediate aftermath of such an event, attention devoted to the sins of the dead is at best misguided. Often worse.

Adding to this was the fact that Charlie was mostly just being Charlie, and did not have a habit of pulling punches with anybody. That’s context mattered to me a lot more. To argue that what they did was – while not as bad as murder – the important thing, is not to argue that we shouldn’t target a beleaguered minority, but that all humor should conform to the idea that certain religious, and certain peoples, should be entirely free of ridicule. It’s one thing to say “Don’t talk about Muslims the way you don’t want people talk about Christians” but another thing to say “We must hold Christianity accountable for its many sins, but we have to pull our punches against Islam because that’s punching down.” Even if we’re not talking about passing a law or killing people, that’s not a good position to take if you support “free speech.”

My reaction to the shooting in Garland is not as intolerant. While I don’t think the focus should be on the offensiveness of the speech, which unlike Charlie Hebdo was pretty specific in targeting Muslims.

While I get the sense that Charlie Hebdo would love nothing more than to live in peace with Muslims, Pamela Geller is a different story. Geert Wilder made a career out of trying to keep them out of Denmark. Maybe in the particular the latter is the right position, and if it’s the wrong position it certainly doesn’t warrant violence. But it’s not the same. They have the right to say here what they will, but what they are saying, and the context in which they are saying it, is more worthy of criticism, even after an event like this.

Not the least of which because they’re still alive. What had me so incensed about Charlie Hebdo was that whatever their sins, they were dead. While even those who criticized them past the buzzer said they didn’t deserve that, a lot of them spent more time talking about the sins of the dead than the sins of their killers. Geller and Wilders are thankfully alive. Everybody but the two would-be terrorists are dead. Praise be. More than being dead, they were made stronger by this and, to a degree, vindicated by it. The result, though, is that condemning the dead comes doesn’t seem the same level of preenery at the expense of the conveniently dead than was the case with Hebdo.

If we don’t Geller and Wilders and people like them doing what they’re doing, it doesn’t pay to make them martyrs. And since they paid little price for what they did, there is less need to hold back. Since the damage done was so light, there is more room to talk about what is and isn’t appropriate speech.

My own view is that we have to share this planet with too many Muslims to go about conscientiously antagonizing them all. I may not view Islam favorably, but that’s as irrelevant as whether you think Charlie Hebdo is funny. There are too many to really consider them a single entity, and if they were as bad as Geller suggests, events like this would be a far more frequent occurrence. Instead, Geller and Wilders had to go out of their way to bring the crazies out of the wordwork. Which, in turn, alienates those who can be and are productive and peaceful members of society. While I do not for a moment lament the death of these shooters, maybe we should choose not to do that?

Category: Newsroom

Re: Hebdo

Click on the below cartoons to get the whole thing. If you only read one, read the second.

Here is Joe Sacco, explaining why satire needs to be more sensitive:


And here is JJ McCullough, explaining why modern satire stinks:


Category: Newsroom

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but in the event of your death for saying it, I will expend most of my energy reiterating my disagreement with you in the strongest possible terms. Racist.” -Voltaire, if alive today.

Category: Coffeehouse

You may have heard about the heroics of Batkid:

San Francisco is safe again all thanks to Batkid.

Five-year-old Miles, stepping in to help Bruce Wayne, freed a damsel in distress Friday morning after getting an urgent call from Commissioner Gordon.

So daring were his feats, and so perilous was the fate of the city, that CNN Headline News interrupted to bring live coverage, and the Gotham Chronicle printed a special edition.

Hundreds of thankful Bay-area residents lined the streets to watch Batkid apprehend the Riddler (aka Edward “E.” Nigma). Batkid’s bravery encouraged hundreds more to volunteer to help fight crime.

The whole thing was set up by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Even President Obama got into the act. Wil Wheaton says that it gives him faith in humanity. For me? It indicates that I have probably lost mine.

I’m sorry for the kid having cancer and I’m happy he got the day of his life. But I also look at this as a terrible allocation of resources mostly in the name of making us feel better. A lot of time, effort, and money here was spent on the emotional welfare of one child. Not even pain alleviation, but having a good time. The memory of a lifetime… to a kid that is dying. If you were to do this for a kid that isn’t dying, that kid would have a lifetime of memories that would last longer. As likely as not, he’d have kids to pass the story on to. It’s the ultimate example of self-regarding charity.

I have nothing against the Make-a-Wish Foundation or anything. Or doing things for dying kids. Maybe I have some of my humanity left. But this raises the bar really high for future MAWers. Obviously, you can’t do this for every kid that is dying. So the next dying kid is going to look at meeting Cal Ripkin and say “But I wanted to be Batkid!” Expectation-management failure.

Of course, with my luck, it’ll turn out that the kid lives to 100 and has the kids and all that to pass the story on down to. That’d be cool.

Category: Newsroom

With a little more effort and brains, this dog could pass for a cat.

Category: Theater

Matt Bruenig wants you to know that education won’t reduce poverty and if you think otherwise you are an enemy of poor people.

Well, okay. I personally think we might have gotten the idea that education would reduce poverty from, well, liberals. Who argued for decades and decades that we had to spend more and more on education because education was the ticket out of poverty. Even now we hear about how important it is that everyone goes to college because it’s – taDA! – the ticket out of poverty.

But wait? You want to fire teachers? You want charter schools and voucher programs? What kind of poor-hating monster are you? It was obviously never about education, you dishonest fig.

For the most part, I think they were wrong then and are right now. I think a base-level education for most people is important, but everything else is trying to grab a bull by its pinkie toe. It just took change that meant something other than money to get some people to admit it.

I probably shouldn’t have made my first post a political one, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to point out that they’re starting to resemble the classic Onion article about hands up and hand outs.

Category: School