Media

Truman and Free Speech

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“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.

The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.

“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”

We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)

We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.

Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?

We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.

Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.

The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.

Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…”  He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.

If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?

 

 

 

The Debate: What is “Life”?

This is, apparently, life.

This is, apparently, life.

This, apparently, is not life.

This, apparently, is not life.

Science is an interesting thing. Much like math, you can pick and choose how to use it or interpret what it means.

It always amazes me that scientists can define “life” as a microscopic microbe (literally had to use an electron-microscope to see it because it is so tiny) and yet fail to see a fetus in a womb as “life”. The definition of “life” on biology-online.org seems pretty clear to me.

This article, “Critters found in Antarctic ice show how tenacious life is,” has me in a feisty mood. “Life” as they claim can apparently exist in the most inhospitable environments (including space, maybe) but “life” can’t exist in the most protective and nurturing of places, like a woman’s womb. At least, that is if you are someone that supports abortion.

Here is another one of those weird (not really, but we’ll call it that) things that seems hard to justify. If you are a criminal and happen to kill a woman who was pregnant, you can be charged with murder of the fetus in 38 states in the United States. However, if you are an abortion doctor, you apparently exempt from these laws? What gives?

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox, for now. Anyone else not understand these obvious inconsistencies?

Wanna join me on the box? Add your two cents below.

I am not an Idiot: Celebrity Endorsements

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Dear Capitol One (or any other advertiser),

I am NOT a idiot, though you keep insisting that I am.

Why do you keep running ads with a celebrity endorsement that you had to pay too much money for? Do you think I am that weak minded enough to run out and get your product just because a celebrity holds it in their hands?

Just recently I saw your ad, “Musical Chairs,” with the likes of Jennifer Garner praising the merits of your travel miles credit card. Why, oh why, do you think this would compel me to get your credit card? She isn’t going to sell it to me any better than Samuel L. Jackson, or Alec Baldwin. I didn’t get your credit card then, so what makes you think I am going to do it now? Really? Like those two are gonna sell anything to respectable adults.

How much money do you have to pay these celebrities to hock your wares? Does Jennifer’s husband, Ben Affleck, not make enough money so she is out earning a living again?

Why don’t we make a deal? How about we agree to leave each other alone? You stay off my television/computer, stop clogging up my online shows with your stupid commercials (and my mailbox for that matter) and in return, should I need a credit card, I’ll seek you out. I’m sure I know where to look if I need you. Deal?

And to you celebrities, knock it off! Has your shine worn off enough that you prostitute yourself to any company that will pay you? It doesn’t matter the product, or even if it is a charity. I DON’T CARE! Entertain me. That is all. That is what I pay for. Not your opinions or your endorsements. You only show how desperate you are to stay in the limelight that faded long ago.  Stop. Please.

Please, Capital One, if you are going to run lame commercials, don’t employ B-list (or any other list) celebrities.

Not so sincerely,

Smartus Assimus

Blogs I enjoy and you should too

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So, I know you probably didn’t know you needed this. And, maybe after reading it, you still don’t think you need it. But I promise you, if you take a little time to take a look around at the following blogs, you’ll find something you really like. You’ll probably want to follow them too!

Now, here’s the thing, I am sharing this just because I can. Not because I am getting anything out of it and not because I am expecting anything from it. It is just because. (OK, maybe I didn’t have anything else come to mind to write about…) But really, in all seriousness, I have found some really cool bloggers out there and that I enjoy reading on a regular basis so I thought maybe you would like to know about them too.

So, in no particular order, here they are:

  1. Ben’s Bitter Blog 2 – Ben spins everything in life from a bitter perspective and usually that adds a smile to your face, which makes everything better. He recently was unable to recover his initial blog (thus the “2” in the title), so if you followed him before and haven’t seen anything from him in a while that is why.
  2. Pieces of History – Being a history guy (and former history teacher) I love this blog from the National Archives that highlights primary resource material in an engaging way. Nothing like seeing history from the nation’s past, some of which rarely gets any sort of love from anyone. Oh, and it never hurts to learn a thing or two along the way.
  3. MovieBabble – Movie reviews in an approachable format. This team covers current movies as well as older ones too. They give an honest breakdown (unlike some of the bigger, well-known, services) and encourage discussion of the movie and their reviews. A great resource if you love movies!
  4. The Nerd Lady – an English teacher (lettering artist) who does word art on her whiteboard (and now other mediums) to highlight quotes from the texts she is reading in class, or just a favorite quote from literature she loves. A beautiful and engaging way to get students excited about the book they have in their hands, or might have in their hands in the future. I bet you recognize a few of them yourself!
  5. IdeaProvoker – A story-teller who makes you think while you read. Each story has a deeper meaning in it and sometimes the twists in them will get you thinking and questioning what you really know. Perspective matters and this blog will give you a different perspective on a wide range of topics.
  6. what stacy did – A travel blog that highlights sights and adventures in England (mostly) and Europe. Well documents and beautifully photographed, the trips highlight something that might not be on everyone’s travel agenda but should be. One day I hope to get to travel in Europe, so this blog will definitely be a place I go to when it comes time to plan the trip. In the meantime, I travel vicariously via Stacy’s eyes.
  7. roadsbeltravelled – Another travel blog, but this time it’s a different kind of travel. This blog highlights hiking and the slow travel over terrain to find serious adventure, but on a budget. Who doesn’t like to get into the outdoors? This blog will take you places you may not have been but would consider going after you have seen the amazing pictures of her adventure.
  8. No Eggs or Ham – If you have food allergies or specific dietary needs, then this blog is for you! (I don’t have those needs, but I a family member who does) Their approach to food is pragmatic and adventurous! The recipes are accessible, easy to follow, and the photography of their food is simply scrumptious. If you don’t want to lick your computer screen after “consuming” one of their posts, you simply don’t like food.
  9. iwannabealady – Fashion, photography, literature and poetry, life…there is no topic off limits here and she is both funny and serious. While the goal may be to inspire and encourage women, I think everyone can take a little something away from this blog. Life is an adventure and she highlights hers very well as she now grows her empire into a social media juggernaut. I think you’ll be inspired and smiling after you visit this blog!

There you have it, a list of nine blogs that get me to stop scrolling through the “Reader” news feed and pause for a respite from life. Blogs that I actually look forward to and get excited to read as soon as their next post is out. Perhaps you too could have the same experience, so go check them out!

Tell me what you think! Did you find any of these suggestions helpful? Do you have a favorite blog or two you want to share? Let me know in the comments!

 

*These are not a paid endorsements – just an FYI in case you need something else to read and enjoy while relaxing or drinking your coffee in the morning.

Bullying – Do Children Need to be Taught to Cope Better?

*Originally posted on the blog 10/21/2013

I had an interesting conversation with my senior students (this is a Contemporary Issues class) this morning. We were watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast from October 20, 2013. There was a story about a student who was bullied and how it was handled, including how it is helping others around the country. Following their viewing of the broadcast, I asked them if there was anything that that caught their attention, something that they wanted to discuss further. One student raised his hand and asked, “Should we be teaching our students to cope better with bullying?” What do you think? Is this a valid question or just insensitivity?

They are, of course, aware of the case, and others like it, where a middle school student jumped from the top of the abandoned cement factory because of the bullying she endured from kids at school.  Some of them also admitted to instances in their past where they were being bullied and how they dealt with the situations. But, many of the students agreed with the first student that asked the question. Many agreed that if students were taught skills to cope with adversity in life, kids might not react so drastically.

Before I get too deep into that part of the conversation, let me also mention that the students, nearly to the person, said that bullying was a problem in society and that is has rightly gotten the attention that is deserves. Several students brought up the fact that there is a fine line between playful teasing, something that can happen between friends or family, and becoming mean – usually where bullying resides. They acknowledge that students need to be sensitive to others’ feelings and they also agreed that laws protecting those who are being bullied are necessary.

However, many of the students said that we live in a hypersensitive society. Too many people today, they felt, are too quickly offended, too quick to sue, too quick to play the victim. They said that we have become “soft” and that one of the reasons we are this way is because we have failed to develop “thick skin” when it comes to what other people do or say to us. Several examples they used (again, we watch the news) to demonstrate their point were the case where a school banned balls of any kind on the playground, the school that banned playing tag on the playground because children get hurt, or even from their own school where a former superintendent banned dodge ball because a student broke his wrist in a freak accident be stepping on a ball as he jumped out of the way. All of these cases, they felt, were from people overreacting to incidents because they were afraid that someone might sue. While these cases don’t have a direct connection to bullying, the point was well taken. Adults have been a bad example of how do deal with instances of conflict and our kids see how it has been handled and they act accordingly.

So, how do we teach our kids to have thicker skin? Better yet, how do we, as adults, begin to demonstrate that trait? Surely there is a need in our society to have thicker skin.

I am short and I get short jokes all the time. I have always been teased, maybe even ridiculed. But it hasn’t ever bothered me. It is a fact of my life. It isn’t something I can change so I accept it and make jokes about my own height as well. How did I develop the skill to cope with such treatment? I am not sure. But I am sure that there must be some value in teaching others the skills to cope in similar situations as well.

Admittedly, we all are different and what might set one person off doesn’t set another off. We all have different “breaking points” or we all have a threshold for tolerance. But why is that threshold so low in some and so high in others?

I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Did my senior student have a valid point or was he just being insensitive?

Conquered, not stolen

Misappropriation of history.

This has got to be one of the dumbest images I have seen. Not only is it inaccurate about immigration (if you didn’t follow the law, you’re illegal), but also about history and the Native Americans.

The land (and people) was not stolen, it was conquered.

It was conquered. Let’s be clear, it was conquered. The people who lived here before the Europeans arrived were conquered and there is no disputing it. That’s not to say there weren’t ugly periods of time where we, as a (formerly) Christian nation, shouldn’t be upset about the treatment of people. However, war is war. When you are trying to conquer a people, a land, a continent – there is really no fair play. Before you get all up in arms about that statement, remember that even the people who lived here before did exactly the same things now being misrepresented. They fought, the pillaged, they slaughtered, they enslaved, and they assimilated. This it not new history, so the image above is inaccurate at best and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

If you look at world history, there were only several outcomes possible for a conquered people: total annihilation (as in death of the people, society, and culture), slavery, or assimilation. Name a civilization, or nation, that didn’t do this? The greatest (at least in the classical sense) nations and peoples have always done this. It is human nature. From the smallest tribes and clans in third world countries to the biggest and most powerful empires known to man, the quest for power and more land has been the same. As such, the quest to conquer has been the same.

So, let’s get history straight, shall we?

 

I built a fence and I bet you have one too

Fence

The fence, while under construction.

I built a fence. Well, when you get right down to it, it really works more like a wall. But it serves a purpose and it does it very well.

Raise your hand if you have a fence around your place too!

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Why did I built a fence?

The new neighbor. Actually, he really isn’t all that bad but, for various reasons, I have wanted to put a fence up for a while now. So why now?

  1. His place is a little run down. It is a bit unsightly with junk laying around, overgrown flower beds, a lawn that isn’t mowed (assuming there is lawn), garbage, house is falling apart, etc. To his credit, he is a new occupant so he is working on cleaning it up. Despite of his efforts, I just really don’t want to see it.
  2. His pets. He has two big dogs. They are well behaved, but they are dogs and they get excited. So, they wander into our yard. They also crap in it…which again, isn’t his fault, per se, but I hate cleaning up after other people’s animals. I just don’t want them in my yard.
  3. My privacy, and by extension his. So, I don’t really want people looking in my back yard, or my windows, or my garage, or my front yard. Well, ok, to be fair they can look in the front yard, but not the windows. They are off limits. Anyway, I am kind of a private person and without some way to block the view of my neighbor or anyone else it feels like my life is on display. Not that I have anything to hide, but why does it have to be on display? Know what I mean?
  4. Having an open yard is not an open invitation to visit, for my neighbor or anyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Just because I don’t have a fence doesn’t mean you can come into my yard any time you want and it doesn’t mean you can come over for a visit any time you want. There has to be an invitation, otherwise it is just trespassing (and that is against the law, ya know?).

Obviously, these things also apply to me. The fence keeps my privacy and keeps unwanted people out of my yard but it also goes both ways. It keeps me from being in his yard and keeps me from being able to see what he is doing. I respect the fact that I know there is a border between us and that we can live in harmony that way.

Besides my neighbor, there are other things to keep out of my yard too.

  1. In the fall, fewer fallen leaves blow into my yard. That means less time raking for me.
  2. Fewer deer come into the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I like deer. They are so gentle and docile and really aren’t hurting anything major. But, they would come through the yard in the spring and eat the new buds on the apple tree, which then meant fewer apples later in the year. Or, they would eat the apples off the lower branches of the tree, which meant fewer apples at harvest time. Not a big deal, but annoying to some degree.
  3. It keeps some of the garbage from the neighborhood out. I have a couple of neighbors who insist on overloading their garbage cans before it can be picked up. As such, the can gets knocked over or the birds open the bags or raccoons spill the contents as they dig. Either way, garbage then blows into my yard on occasion. The fence helps prevent that.
  4. It just provides a sense of security. Maybe it is a false sense to some degree, but it feels like if there is a barrier then those who are only moderately motivated will attempt to cross it – thus, a discouragement to most.

If a fence can do all that, it is no wonder when you drive through neighborhoods in ANY city (or state) in America that you will find fences in yard after yard, or drive through the country and you will find fence around property after property. Why? Because they work!

So here’s a thought…if it is OK to build a fence or a wall around my house or property, etc…

Why is it not OK to build a wall or fence on our nation’s borders? Aren’t the goals the same?

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It seems a bit hypocritical to me if you have a fence around your property and oppose having one on the nation’s border. If is, after all, a property line that should be protected as well.

Desperately seeking direction, or not

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Ever feel that way? Sometimes definitely maybe almost always?

So, it seems I have come to a crossroads and I am looking for some genuine feedback.

I haven’t had much of a “focus” on the blog and as a result, I think, growth has been slow. I haven’t been able to find a correlation between the posts that do well or and those that do not. One thing that hasn’t made sense to me is the writing I think is good and actually addresses something of substance, doesn’t seem to get a lot of interest; but, the posts that don’t really address anything of a serious nature seems to score higher with views and likes…which is perplexing.

So I am going to make an appeal, to you the readers (if you really exist), what do you want to see more of or less of? What direction do you think I should go? Should I find a place of focus, a niche, if you will? Or, should I keep doing what I have been doing?

This may take some work on your part, but I think it’s the only way to get a good picture of what you like/dislike (unless you have a fabulous memory). So, if you are so inclined, please take a gander at past posts and give me some feedback. I’d even be willing to do the same for you if you find yourself in a similar funk.

A Liberal Double Standard

**I first published this five, almost six, years ago, while I was teaching senior high school students. I am no longer a teacher, but the subject is still relevant so I am reposting it today.**

Let me first start, right from the top, by saying that this has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the small erosion of our rights.

Recently in class we have been studying the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. This is a yearly occurrence in my classroom with seniors and I try to get them to think about their rights in a different ways. I also try to point out areas in our society where the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, makes the news almost on a daily basis. I try to impress upon them that this is still a living and active document. Some days are more successful than others.

The 1st Amendment has five clauses: freedom of religion, press, and speech; the right to assemble and petition the government. We focus on all of these, admittedly some more in-depth than others, but the one that usually makes me ponder more deeply about the state of our society is our “Freedom of Speech.” Because of our discussions in class, I can’t help but notice that our freedom seems to be getting eroded piece by piece, making this natural right harder and harder to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is taking away that freedom, we are actually doing it to ourselves.

It is generally believed that the only real limits to our speech are those that pose an imminent danger to society (i.e. shouting fire in a theater), statements of libel, or when there are certain national security interests involved (though there has been a flood of classified info on the government/national security in print lately). With these limitations in mind, why do we censor ourselves and others in society? The discussions with my seniors always make me wonder this. They believe that it is wrong to utter words that hurt someone’s feelings or that offend the sensitivities of others. They have all bought into that old adage that our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.                     – Voltaire (though attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, his biographer)

Our debate in class usually begins with a discussion about the quote above. Based on the discussion, I can gauge that it appears to make sense to them and yet they still want to qualify it. They get stuck on the idea that something that may be offensive and, yes, even hurt someone’s feelings still shouldn’t be spoken. Have we gotten to be that sensitive, that thin-skinned, that mere words can hurt? What happened to the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” chant we used to hear on the playground? OK, yes, I admit it. Words can hurt. We all know that truth and I am sure we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. However, no matter how much they hurt, or are offensive to someone, don’t we (or they) have a right to say them if we choose to do so?

As of now, many of the words that have been CENSORED from society are still legal to say. We have taken it upon ourselves to declare them socially irresponsible, thus socially “illegal.” (Plug your ears or cover your eyes if you are sensitive because I am about to be socially irresponsible and politically incorrect). “Oh, that’s gay!” and “Man, that is so retarded.” There are other words out there but we don’t need to get into all of them. I think you understand my point. Now, we have seen our society jump all over people in the media or celebrities for using these words and typically there is an apology issued because of the pressure put on them via social media, etc. If directed at an individual and intended as an insult, these statements would obviously hurt an individual’s feelings or offend. If said as a general statement of disgust or disappointment, someone may get offended but in general there was no specific hurt intended or group targeted. This is the where the first part of Voltaire’s statement applies – “I disapprove of what you say, but…” Many people will say things that we don’t like or approve of. Many of us will be hurt by what others say or hurt others by what we say ourselves, but that is the crux of our liberty. We have the right to do so, if we choose, and we shouldn’t be made to censor ourselves because of someone else’s sensitivities.

This is one place where a liberal double standard comes in. In general, liberals are all about being open and permissive. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” “I’ll do what makes me happy.” “Hey, live and let live.” “It’s MY truth.” We can see this attitude in our society as things that once were seen as unacceptable have become, increasingly, more acceptable. The list is long and I won’t even try to make it complete but I offer a few examples: abortion, tattoos, divorce, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, assisted suicide, casual sex, atheism, nudity and cursing on television. As our society has grown more open and permissive in most areas, we have become more restrictive in others, language being one of them. So how far do we go in accepting these limitations? How much erosion of our freedom of speech can we tolerate? If it hurts someone’s feelings (and we are all a bit too sensitive these days), it is now off limits…I disapprove of what you say, but…

Let me be clear, I am not condoning the use of offensive or hurtful language. No one has a compelling need to use their words in that manner and certainly we should work to hone our own internal filters when it comes to the use of language. However, I am condoning a careful examination of the external censorship we allow others to exert on us. I have a right to say what I please and I have a right to choose not to talk that way. It was bestowed upon me at the foundation of my country. However, others do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t say. The freedom of speech, as written in the Constitution, wasn’t intended to be abridged. There wasn’t supposed to be a limit on it, ever. Infringing my rights, or the rights of others, lets others censor us in the name of stamping out insensitivity. That sounds callous, I know, but the fact is that even in callousness there is freedom. “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is better to be angry than to be silenced.”  Megan O

The quote above is from one of my senior students. She reworded and summarized Voltaire’s statement with a rather profound statement of her own. She realizes that being angered by someone’s voice is better than not hearing their voice, no matter how much she may disagree with what she hears. She understands that as soon as she silences the voice of another, her voice could be silenced as well. Her voice, as of now and into the future, isn’t something she is willing to give up.