Free Speech for Assholes

I try not to say that I hate anyone who disagrees with me politically.  Sure, I make fun, possibly insult, and so on, but I don’t hate. But I’m inclined to throw that out the window for the Phelps group. 
You’ve heard of these pussheads, right?  Fred Phelps, and his cohorts form the Westboro Baptist Church.  They make a point of  standing around at solider’s funerals.  Soldiers. Who. Have. Been Killed. In. War. And they wave their flags and banners and celebrate the death of our brave men and women.  See, they’ve somehow gotten it into their tiny little asshole heads that God hates gays, and since America is (kind of-sort of) nice to gay people, every dead solider is just a wee little bit of God’s glorious retribution for our wrongs.  So they take it upon themselves to go to the funerals of passed on soldiers, where there are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and sometimes even spouses and children who have lost a loved one far, far too early, and they wave banners proclaiming “God Hates Fags.” 
The only good thing about the Phelps group is that it has sparked one of my now-favorite organizations, The Patriot Guard Riders.  This is a group of what would appear to be your stereotypical motorcyclists, with leather and chains, but they’re mission is to ride around to these funerals.  With the grieving family’s blessing, they do what they can to stand between the family and the Phelps assholes, hoping to separate them so the family does not have to deal with dickheads in what should be a private time of mourning.  They wave flags and even pray with the family if desired, anything to help them deal with their grief and these monsters. 
But here’s the problem:  There’s more to this than just a bunch of idiots exercising their sadism on a dead hero’s grief-stricken loved ones.  A Kansas father, who’s had to experience these assholes firsthand at his son’s funeral, has sued these jerks for invading his privacy and emotional damages.  Although the fallen hero’s father did win a significant jury verdict, the Fourth Circuit has overturned this verdict, stating that they had a protected right to speak.  The Supreme Court will review it. 
As much as I hate it, I hope the Supremes rule in favor of the Phelps monsters.  If the First Amendment failed to protect unpopular and even emotionally destructive speech, it would not be worth one of the Phelps groups filth spewing signs.  If emotional devastation is the standard by which we reject speech, we will have to allow others to decide what could be emotionally devastating.  It may be something almost all of us can agree is horrible today, but it may be something that is vitally important tomorrow.  Even assholes have First Amendment rights. 

Tonight they’re putting John Allen Muhammad to Death, and I don’t know how that makes me feel

The notorious DC sniper will get a needle in his arm at midnight tonight, for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers in 2002 (and six others). 

My feelings on the death penalty are complex.  And by complex, I mean confused and poorly defined.  I’m sure that there are parameters; I’m just not sure where they are.  I have principles, but if you don’t like them, well, I have others

As I’ve indicated before, I think that the death penalty against Saddam Hussein was a Decidedly Good Thing in some situations, even a cause for celebration, though one tempered by somber reflection.  I’d say the same if we ever manage to dig up Osama Bin Ladin before his kidneys finally bury him.  But those, perhaps, are extraordinary circumstances. 

Maybe it’s because I was in law school when it went down and I was able to apply my fledging legal analysis to the 24-7 coverage of the case, or maybe it was the first story like this to hit the news after I became a certified news junkie, but the opposite extreme of the analysis for me has always been Scott Peterson.  You remember him, right?  Pregnant wife went missing right before Christmas, Nancy Grace and Greta Van Susteren poured on the sympathy?  Then his bit on the side showed up, and his wife and kid washed up, and he was slapped with a double-homicide. 

Now, it’s not that I don’t think that Peterson is not guilty; I never really saw anything to make me think the jury got it wrong.  And it’s certainly not that I feel some strange sympathy for the man who committed such a horrible act. 

One of the reasons, I think, that this case resonates with me is that I happened to be driving at the time that the verdict went down, listening to a radio show that cut live to the sentencing.  “Death.”  Unanimous.  Twelve people, each agreeing,”yes,” in turn.  I amazed even myself at the breath I drew as I acknowledged the gravity of this event, happening right then and there.  Death.  Again, it’s not that I feel sympathy, but I find myself asking “who does this help?”   

Saddam was different; he didn’t kill a single person or two; he terrorized a nation.  Merely bringing him out of power was not enough; the people needed to see that he was gone, that he was over and there was no possibility that he could return.  But for Peterson?  Well, I’m sure that there’s some closure for the families, but many argue that this is more hurtful than helpful.  How much closure can be had through re-living the crime over numerous appeals and seeing the final event years after the loss?  As far as deterrence goes, the jury is certainly still out

So, where does John Allen Muhammad fall on this scale? I’m still trying to figure it out.  Fox describes a three week killing spree “that left 10 dead and spread such fear people were afraid to go shopping, cut grass or pump gas.”

Now, I was hardly young when it happened; I remember it well.  But, for some reason, it doesn’t feel like it was a really big deal, which, looking back, seems bizarre.  But, I had just completed the first year of my marriage at the time, and I was finishing up my undergrad degree; I hadn’t fully developed my current news fixation (although it doubtlessly started in the mixed up election of 2000), so I guess I just wasn’t paying much attention.  I’d hear the news stories, but they didn’t resonate.  Another murder near D.C.  It happens.  But, looking back, it appears that the people in that city feared for their very lives to do normal things, which sounds to me like terrorism in action.  Even so, that fear is gone now; I don’t think that the good citizens of the beltway are fearful for these criminals’ return.  So, I’m torn.  Is his death a good thing, or is it a simple waste of resources?

I hope that he had the opportunity to apologize to Mary Jo Kopechne

I had the TV news on during breakfast, as I tend to do, and it was all Teddy’s funeral, all the time, even on Fox News (or Faux Noise, or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days).  I’ll admit that it was fascinating to watch the political elite, all in one place, talking to each other like they were normal people and their friends and neighbors.  I watched with great curiosity as Hillary leaned far over G.W. for several minutes to chat with Laura about something that was, quite clearly, riotously funny.  And God only knows what Joe Biden was saying to folks, but they all looked, well, like people look when someone like Joe Biden is talking to them, with that odd combination of amusement and annoyance. 

 But on to the man of the hour.  Now, I generally do not wish harm to people with whom I disagree politically, at least those who aren’t actively trying to cause great harm (I’ll admit that I smiled when Saddam swung, but for standard political opponents, there is no comparison).  And I think that, speaking in broad generalizations, this is a positive trait of conservatives.  When Kennedy’s tumor was announced, when Bill Clinton needed heart surgery, conservative commentators that I heard didn’t speak ill, they usually said something positive, that they hoped for the best for these people.  I can’t recall having heard similar empathy from the left for, for example, Reagan’s Alzheimer’s. 

 But, oh, Teddy Kennedy.  You really emphasized so much, so very much of what is wrong in American politics, and particularly what is wrong with the modern, and perhaps, given the length of your tenure, the not so modern, left. 

 Today, Mr. Kennedy is hailed as a great humanitarian.  Yet, his actions toward actual humans were all too inhumane. He claimed to be for the little guy, but he skated by with every advantage, from getting into and cheating in college, to reneging on his military service agreement, to literally getting away with killing a woman and possibly acting as an accomplice to rape, that was afforded by his obscenely powerful family.  He is praised for being remorseful for his wrongs, yet, according to author Ed Klein (who speaks of this as if of a loveable quirk), one of his favorite topics to hear and tell jokes about was that fateful day at Chappaquiddick, when he abandoned a young woman to slowly drown. 

 I’m not celebrating his death; I don’t wish death on anyone unless it is necessary to save another, but I am glad that he is out of the senate.  I wish that he had been out years ago, or that he had never gotten in. By all rights, he should not have.  I hope for the best for the remaining Kennedys, but I hope that their stranglehold on American politics is at an end.  I believe in forgiveness to one who asks for it and shows genuine contrition, but not in forgetting, not in turning a deliberately blind eye to something so obviously in front of one’s face.  Not in allowing the money, glamour, and power of a family name to excuse lying, cheating, abuse, and worse.  (“If his name was Edward Moore, with his qualifications . . .[his] candidacy would be a joke“).  I hope that, in his rare and underappreciated private life, Mr. Kennedy did find the time to seek forgiveness for his wrongs, but sincerely, not through “public service” that gave him almost unlimited power and prestige.  I hope that even he had the opportunity to make his peace with God, and that there is a place for all of us to make amends to those we harmed in this life.  But I don’t think that we should forget, as we say good-bye, that this man was no hero.

Is Porn a Dangerous Job?

Feminist Law Professors bemoans a recent outbreak of HIV among porn actors, citing 16 previously unreported cases in Los Angeles County in the last 5 years, for a total of 22. 

Ann Bartow, the author of the piece, approaches it from, of course, a feminist perspective.  But, what I would like to know is what happens if we just look at it from a dangerous jobs perspective.  I am loath to google the number of porn actors and actresses in Los Angeles County, so I’m going to keep this hypothetical. 

No one can claim that porn actors don’t know the risks that they are signing up for, particularly when they choose to work bareback.  How does this number, as a percentage of the total number of workers, compare to deaths (to take it to extremes, since how often do we hear now that HIV is not a death sentence?) in other dangerous jobs, such as military, firefighters, commercial fishermen, police officers, oil rig workers, etc.? 

Of course, I guess one has to bear in mind that most of the people who die or are seriously injured doing those jobs are men.