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24 June 2017
Morning Sedition

Sixteen Tons… of Lies

Company Store in Mining Town

Company Store in Mining Town

Just about everyone knows the song "Sixteen Tons." It's about an angry coal miner railing about how no matter how hard he works he can't get ahead. (You can listen to it here.) The most famous part is:

I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

"Sixteen Tons" by George Davis

The phrase "company store" comes from the practice of mining companies of setting up towns that were owned lock, stock, and barrel by the mining company. Workers were paid in "scrip" basically monopoly money created by the mining company and spendable only at the company-owned stores, which could charge whatever they wanted. This allowed the mine owner to pay the workers with one hand and take it back with the other, an effective tool in controlling profits, and thus, prices:

Miners resented the company store for three reasons: prices were much higher than those charged by independent retail stores, their grocery and supply bills were checked off their earnings even before they received their pay, and trading was compulsory. It hurt the miner's pride to know that he was being robbed in the "pluck-me,'' his term for the company store. Responsibility for budgeting family income was shifted from the housewife, where it was in normal households, to the company store manager. Moreover, the debts which a miner piled up in the store bound him as securely to his employer as miners were bound to feudal barons in medieval Scotland....

Many coal corporations issued their own money, which for all purposes took the place of United States currency. This phony money, called scrip, took various forms such as pasteboards, coupon books, paper bills called shinplasters, brass checks, and metal discs with holes through them like Turkish piasters.... In states where the law barred the issuance of scrip, coal companies distributed wage advances or store orders, but the miners regarded them as just another form of scrip.... Chronic layoffs, part-time work, and low wages made the ground fertile for scrip as its purpose was to tide over the miner from one payday to another.

When an operator was unable to expand his mining capacity or the volume of his sales, he would increase the number of his miners. This would so cut each man's working time and earnings that it left no surplus to spend outside the camp. Because of monopoly, there was no limit to the height to which a company store could hike its prices. John McBride, president of the United Mine Workers of America (1892-1894), related how an Ohio coal operator of his acquaintance worked two mines for thirteen months and made a profit of only $287. During the same period his store, which without the mines would have been worth nothing, earned him a net profit of $22,000.

An unscrupulous store-keeping coal operator who sought to undersell the market could do so simply by cutting the price of coal below cost and making up his operating losses out of company-store receipts. It was a competitive device often resorted to, especially in the South, where non-union operators thereby were enabled to take business away from Northern operators.

"Coal Dust on the Fiddle," by George Korson 1965, pp. 72-73

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

So much for the song's meaning, which most people sort of know. Fewer know, however, that the song was allegedly (yeah, you've spotted the direction of this entry) written by Merle Travis, a record company employee, in August of 1946:

In August, 1946, Cliffie Stone, then an assistant producer and talent scout for Capitol Records, called Merle Travis (a Capitol hitmaker at that time) about recording a 78 rpm album (four discs in a binder) of folk songs. Capitol, seeing the success of a Burl Ives album, wanted their own folk music album. Merle told Cliffie he figured, "Ives has sung every folk song." Stone suggested Travis write some new songs that sounded folky, and to do so quickly; the first four-song session was scheduled for the next day. Travis recalled the traditional Nine Pound Hammer and wrote three songs that night about life in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky's coal mines, where his father worked. One was Dark As A Dungeon, the other, Sixteen Tons.

The song's chorus came from a letter Merle received from his brother lamenting the death of World War II journalist Ernie Pyle, killed while covering combat in the Pacific in 1945. John Travis wrote, "It's like working in the coal mines. You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt." Merle also recalled a remark his father would make to neighbors when asked how he was doing: "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store. " This referred to coal-company owned stores where miners bought food and supplies with money advanced by the company, called "scrip"."

"Sixteen Tons - The Story Behind The Legend" on ErnieFord.com

Travis apparently ran into trouble with the FBI because any song promoting workers rights must be promoting communism. And so the good boys working for Jane Edgar Hoover told radio stations to not play the song; that's a difficult thing to do with a hit, and many ignored the directive. Here are Travis' lyrics:

Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood, skin and bones...
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

(Repeat Chorus)

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store (Repeat Chorus)

(Repeat Chorus)

I was born one mornin' and the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal and
the straw boss said, "well bless my soul!"
.....you loaded...

(Repeat Chorus)

I was born one mornin' it was drizzlin' rain
fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in a cane-brake by an old mama lion
can't no high-toned woman make me walk no line

(Repeat Chorus)

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't get you, then the left one will

(Repeat Chorus)

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

— "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis

I put together some notes explaining the lyrics:

  • A "straw boss," according to Wentworth & Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang, is "the boss attended to the grain going into the thresher; the second-man watched after the straw coming out and hence had little to do."
  • The term "script" or "scrip" refers to a piece of paper printed by employer and used to pay its workers in lieu of money. The script is, naturally, only good at the company's stores, allowing it to charge whatever it wants.
  • The term "cane-brake" is derived from the term "brake," for bracken swamps, that surrounded cane fields. (This is why the crotalus horridus atricaudatus rattlesnake is often called a "cane breaks;" it lives in these lowland swamps.)
  • The term "number nine coal" was a little trickier to track down. "For some time, miners had followed the custom of naming the main pay zones of minerals, and numbering the splits, as in "Pocahontas Number Nine Coal" or "the Great Gossan Lead" for example. This method seemed to allow more flexibility, so it worked its way into use by the scientific community, and is now known as the Geological Time Scale." (Friends of Roan Mountain Newsletter, Volume 5, No. 1, Winter 2001) All sorts of coal gradations exist.

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Once allegedly written by Travis, it became popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford as a B side. What's interesting is that nobody remembers the A side, and "Sixteen Tons" became the best-selling single in the country. The famous finger snapping at the beginning was a happy accident:

It had a good solid beat to begin with. In addition, I snapped my fingers all through it. Sometimes I set my own tempo during rehearsal by doing that. The orchestra leader asks me, "What tempo do you want, Ernie?'' I say, "About like this,'' and I begin to snap my third finger and thumb together. After I was through rehearsing that song, Lee Gillette, who was in charge of the recording session for Capitol Records, screamed through the telephone from the control room, "Tell Ernie to leave that finger snapping in when you do the final waxing.''

Interview with Tennessee Ernie Ford by Pete Martin, Saturday Evening Post, 28 September 1957

George Davis

George Davis

There's one tiny problem here. Travis didn't write the song. He stole it from George Davis, a man known all over Kentucky for singing songs about mining, who wrote it circa 1930. The real lyrics are:

I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

(Chorus)

I was born one morning, was a drizzling rain
A fussing and fighting ain't my middle name.
Well they raised me in a corner by a Mammy hound
I'm as mean as a dog but I'm as gentle as a lamb.

(Chorus)

Well I got up one morning, the sun didn't shine,
I picked up my shovel and I went to the mine,
I loaded sixteen ton of that number four coal
The face boss said, ''Well bless my soul!"

(Chorus)

I loaded sixteen tons, I tried to get ahead,
Got deeper and deeper in debt instead.
Well they got what I made, and they wanted some more,
And now I owe my soul at the company store.

(Chorus)

Well I went to the office to draw some script
The man, he told me -- was a wreck in the dip.
To clear the tracks would be a week or more
But your credit's still good at our company store.

(Chorus)

If you see me coming, step aside.
A lot of men didn't and a lot of men died
I got a fist of iron, I got a fist of steel,
The left one don't get you then the right one will.

— George Davis, circa 1930

Here's the real story behind the song:

When I first met him [George Davis] at the Hazard radio station in 1959, he was very hesitant about doing any recording because of his previous bad experience with the records business. He claims to have composed "Sixteen Tons" during the 1930s, and feels that Merle Travis and Tennessee Ernie Ford capitalized on his song through changing the chords somewhat. George's original version is on this record....

According to George Davis, this song was first called "Nine-to-Ten-Tons,'' and he wrote it in reference to "this particular mine (which) had what is known as a Clean-up System. This was before the days of the UMW. In a clean-up system you either cleaned up your place every day, or brought your tools out (quit ? ). An old expression the operator used then was, 'We've got a barefooted man waiting for your job.' Here's the catch -- each place would make nine or 10 tons, but where you loaded this coal was very low; most of them had water in them -- as much as three or four inches -- and they had no pumps. On top of this you might have a cut of draw rock from 8 to 12 inches thick, 14 feet wide, and up to 9 feet long. All the coal, rock, and anything like wrecks, tore up track. All that was 'dead work' and it always had to be cleaned up, even if it took you 18 or 19 hours to do it.

John Cohen, liner notes for "When Kentucky Had No Mining Men," 1967

This is the key point: the mining company, like many large corporations today, forced workers to work off the timeclock for no pay. Americans, in some sense, still work for the company store, except now it's made from plastic and charges workers 18%, compounded daily.

Federal Bureau of Intimidation

Upside-Down Flag With Swastikas

Recreation of a flag I saw at an anti-Bush rally in Union Square prior to the 2004 election. (An upside-down flag is the international signal for distress. The swastikas, well, you do the math.)

The FBI visited me this morning for violating the UnPatriotic Act. I'm going to try to sell this story and will put this entry up at some point in the future.

The UnPatriotic Act — one nation, under surveillance, with oppression and terror for all.

— CitizenArcane

"Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine"

Record Albums

When I were a lad, and humans hadn't yet evolved opposable thumbs, we listened to music on eight-tracks and vinyl. Sad, but true. Now, one of the interesting things you can do with vinyl that you can't do with a CD is play it backwards, ruining both vinyl and needle in the process. (Ok, ok. One can now buy scratch CD players which allow you to do this, but Joe Sixpack doesn't have this specialized gear.) There was what amounted to a cult following for which albums contained secret messages only audible to the faithful. Mostly idiotic mumblage about how Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a robot, or how various songs really were tributes to Satan. As anyone who doesn't live in red-state America knows, these alleged "messages" are really nothing more than artifacts created by our brains:

The human brain with all of its capabilites and control has difficulty with one thing: time. It can only understand it when it goes in one single direction. To us it's forward; to other particles in the universe it's sideways, or tangential, or even crooked. When we are presented with something where time has been changed more than just slightly - reversed, for example - it seems nothing but completely foreign and incomprehensible. Only in the past 50 years has man even been able to hear sounds in reverse. These new sounds are not based in our reality, and to the uninitiated, quite scary. It's no wonder reversing of sound in popular culture has been linked with Satan or other devilish conduct - that's how most cultures deal with things they can't comprehend.

Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed

The technique of laying down reversed audio on top of a normal piece of music is called "backward masking". This is a different technique than choosing words that will sound out the proper message when played in reverse. The latter is much more interesting — and harder — than the former. The key to a message audible only in reverse is picking the proper forward phonemes — phonemes are the discrete sounds making up each spoken word — so that the reverse phonemes yield the desired message:

The combination of reversed phonemes in English results in yet more complication. In most cases the end result cannot be estimated from the initial sounds, because of many factors.

1. Slang - in most English phrases, words are strung together for ease of speaking. Certain consonants are lost, vowels shortened, etc. Phonetic analysis of the word as it is properly spoken usually has very little in comparison to how it is spoken in real life, and can even depend upon how the word is used in the phrase itself.

2. Pitch - The English language uses pitch to designate ends of phrases, emphasized words, etc. When these are reversed, the whole sense of the phrase is misdirected - the emphasis goes to a certain syllable (or combination of phonemes) which when reversed adds to its unusual rhythm.

3. Human experience - the most undefinable of the result of combined reversed phonemes is how they are combined in the human mind to form something discernable. Correlations with known slang words, changing vowels, and numerous other things are added or removed in order to interpret the vocal sound to something understandable. As we will see, this factor plays almost the biggest role in 'secret message' finding...

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

Ok, so what does this mean in practice? Let's consider a famous example:

The simplest of examples (and one of the most popular) comes from The Beatles' "Revolution 9". Throughout the piece is a spoken phrase repeating "number nine" in a slight British accent:

nUXmbUXnAOIHnUX

Note the removal of the 'r' in number , the deep swell in vowels in 'nine', from 'au' to 'i' sounding more like 'nauighn', and the addition of the vowel sound at the end. The pitch of the voice is very important as well - the note stays nearly the same throughout 'number', but rises quickly in 'nine', and ends on a high pitch for the final vowel sound.

When reversed at the phonetic level, the result is:

UXnIHAOnUXbmUXn

The heavy pitch drop at the beginning stretches out the first vowels, which come across as two words because of the different vowel sounds from the British accent, and the reversed consonants in 'number' separate the words as well:

UXn IH AOn UXb mUXn

...which has been loosely translated in the English language to "Turn me on dead man".

By loosely I mean that many of the consonants are dropped (which is usual for this phrase in slang): the starting "t" is dropped, the "r" is dropped (normal for British accents), the "m" is dropped, the first "d" in "dead" is dropped (usually combined with the preceding consonant anyway), the "b" changes to "d" (a very close relation as well), and the vowel sound for "man" changes from "AE" to the lazy-sounding "UX".

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

Turntable With Hand

So who's used this technique? Just about everyone.

Led Zeppelin's epic "Stairway To Heaven" creates possibly the most amazing phoenetic accidents known in popular music. To further the mystery around the song, a little background is necessary.

Led Zeppelin had it's popularity in the 1970s mostly in the grass-roots rock and roll community. Influences for the band included J.R.R. Tolkien books, mystical folks stories, and the like - most of which had paganistic overtones, easily interpreted by the public as closely satanic. The growth of Led Zeppelin seemed mystical in itself - though minimal promotion was done by the group's record company Atlantic Records, the group's popularity spread by word of mouth, something not usually expected or calculated.

The song "Stairway To Heaven" became a legendary song in rock and roll music culture. Stranger than the fact that it was the most-played track in radio history, stranger than the fact that the song's length was nearly 8:00 (most radio stations played nothing over 4:00), stranger than the fact that it is a staple of rock and roll guitar players everywhere, was the way the lyrics were written. Robert Plant, the lead singer and lyric writer described it: "I just sat down next to Pagey (Jimmy Page, guitarist) while he was playing it through. It was done very quickly. It took a little working out, but it was a very fluid, unnaturally easy track. It was almost as if - uh-oh - it just had to be gotten out at that time. There was something pushing it, saying 'you guys are okay, but if you want to do something timeless, here's a wedding song for you."

What makes this song truly amazing on another level is that in a stretch of nearly one minute, you could find 7 different consecutive phonetically reversed "phrases" seeming to refer to the same subject: Satan. Never in the history of popular music has this happened before or since.

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

There are many examples in Frank Zappa's musical output that were recorded at higher or lower speeds or backwards. In addition, there are many examples of conceptual continuity where musical themes in one piece can be found in another context somewhere else. The purpose of this Web page is to decode some of some of these puzzle pieces using some of the frightening little techniques science has made available. What was sped up is slowed down. What was recorded backwards is reversed. Themes that are found in entirely different musical contexts are recorded side by side -- version one on the left channel and version two on the right.

Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed

Another One Bites the Dust
Queen, The Game

Rumor: When played backward, the lyrics say, "It's fun to smoke marijuana."

Findings: There is something that sounds like "It's fun to smoke marijuana" in the reversed music. It is repeated over and over. It might be rendered no less faithfully, however, as "sfun to scout mare wanna." This "message" is the reversal of the song title, which is repeated a a line in the song.

Big Secrets by William Poundstone, 1983

But that's just a few of the many examples. Other bands claimed to use backwards masking include Jefferson Starship. Electric Light Orchestra, The Cars, Pink Floyd, etc.

Digital Voiceprint

Religious fundamendalists then mounted a campaign to label every album with backward masking to protect children:

Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act of 1982 - Makes it unlawful for any packager, labeler, or distributor to distribute in commerce phonograph records containing "backward masking" without a label bearing a specified warning.

Defines "backward masking" to mean an impression upon a phonograph record which makes an audible verbal statement when the record is played backward.

Makes any violation an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

H.R.6363, "A bill to require that jackets in which phonograph records containing backward masking are packaged bear a label warning consumers of such backward masking.", Sponsored by Representative Robert K. Dornan (CA), 12 May 1982

Which the Congress wisely referred to the "Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation and Tourism" where it was allowed to die a peaceful, and unreported, death. But groups other than fundamentalists were fascinated, as well. The lunatic fringe weighed in, saying the wonders of the universe are contained in backwards music and speech:

The pioneer and 20 year veteran of this field, Australian David John Oates, describes Reverse Speech as another form of human communication. He states that language is bi-level, forward and reverse. As the human brain constructs the sounds of speech, it forms those sounds in such a way that two messages are delivered simultaneously. One forwards, which is the conscious mind speaking, and the other in reverse, which is the unconscious mind speaking.

The applications of this discovery are exciting. On the surface level, it can act as a sort of Truth Detector as Reverse Speech will usually correct the inconsistencies of forward speech. If a lie is spoken forwards, the truth may be communicated in reverse. If pertinent facts are left out of forward speech these may also be spoken in reverse. It can reveal hidden motive and agenda and other conscious thought processes. At deeper levels, Reverse Speech can reveal thought patterns that are unconscious, including reasons behind behaviour and disease. This information can be used to greatly enhance the therapeutic and healing processes.

TalkBackwards.com - Backmasking & Reverse Speech

Yeah, I know. They are at least forty cards shy of a full deck. Who could make this nonsense up? Anyway, if Geraldo or Jerry Springer aren't satisfying your need for satanic messages, you can make your own. That's right, boys and girls, the lunatics over at TalkBackwards.com have a page where you can upload a .wav file and have it reversed:

Upload an audio file to our server, wait a few seconds for it to be reversed, and then you will hear it played backwards. No download or special software required.

Talk Backwards

And if you claim to hear secret Satanic messages in speeches from Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld, well, all I can say is, I hear those same evil messages when their words aren't reversed.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture (includes audible example)
  2. Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed (includes audible examples)
  3. Talk Backwards
  4. Excerpts from Big Secrets by William Poundstone, 1983

Porn Is Also Great and Would Suffice

Sign in Beacon Hill, MA saying "Porn Is Great"

"If State’s 'porn' Sign Won’t Slow Down Drivers, Nothing Will" by O’Ryan Johnson, Boston Herald 11 April 2005

Seems someone in Boston decided that the city should take a break from flashing empty, mindless, fear-inspiring messages like "If You See Something, Say Something," "Homeleand Insecurity Is Job #1," "Don't Let the Terrorist Win!," and "Your Tax Dollars at Work":

An electronic road sign on Cambridge Street flashed "EXPECT DELAYS" and "ROAD WORK AHEAD" but also alerted drivers that "PORN IS GREAT."

It's the second time such a message has appeared along the delay-plagued stretch of roadwork in Beacon Hill, but state officials aren't laughing.

"Obviously the message is unacceptable and will be taken down (Sunday) tonight," said Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the state's Executive Office of Transportation.

He said while there are some electronic signs that can be hacked into remotely, someone broke through a locked panel to change the flashing message on this one.

"That's pretty clever," said Chris Hickey, 27, of Boston while walking by the sign yesterday.

But her friend, Andrew D'Agostino, said he would have aimed for something more original.

"Of course it's (porn) great, tell me something I don't know," he said.

"If State’s 'porn' Sign Won’t Slow Down Drivers, Nothing Will" by O’Ryan Johnson, Boston Herald 11 April 2005

Finally, a message from the government that I can actually say I fully endorse. It just proves that in an infinite universe all things are possible, just not equally probable. Besides, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (The government being the stopped clock, of course, and not me.)

Oh, and the title line? It's an allusion to a poem by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost, 1920

I found the balance between desire (eros, lust) and hate (puritanism, censorship) particularly apt here.

"Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law…"

Camera Use Prohibited

I must have a real problem with authority. (Yeah, I know, realizing this was a shock to me, too.) Whenever I see a sign saying "no cameras" I, of course, feel obliged to take pictures. When the police harass me, I quote the First Amendment as if it were some ur-document of holy writ. (For some reason they have not been impressed by my recitations.)

I've been taking pictures in the Holland Tunnel for some time; most don't come out, because it is difficult to take a shot one handed, without looking, at 45 miles per hour. But I've lusted after the "Camera Use Prohibited" sign outside the Holland Tunnel for ages. Why? Not just because it sums up everything that's wrong with the post-9-11 view that the citizens are cattle to be herded from illegal war to illegal tax cut. That's a lot of it, true. But the biggest reason is that the area is crawling with cops, so it's a hard shot to get without being arrested. And the intersection is usually so packed with cars that I can't get a clear line of sight to it.

But it was a torrentially rainy day with flood-watch warnings, so the area was empty enough for a shot, even if it was overcast. I took this one almost perpindicular to the sign, and through my windshield, though. Sometimes discretion is the better part of not having your day ruined by jackbooted thugs.

Breaking The Law

You don’t know what it’s like,
you don’t have a clue
If you did you’d find yourselves
doing the same thing too

Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law

"Breaking The Law", Judas Priest, British Steel, 1980

Art Event Wear:
Black Jacket, Black Tie, Black MP5

NYPD Tactical Response Team

NYPD Tactical Response Team

On Friday I was almost arrested and "interrogated" (normally I expect dinner and a kiss first) by an NYPD tactical unit, in full regalia, guarding Christo & Jeanne-Claude for their signing at the Guggenheim. Seems I pointed a deadly weapon at the cops: my camera.

You surely know that only "terrorists" take pictures of NYPD units. Gee, Officer UnFriendly, when I see six humans so large they make football players look puny, armed with more firepower than an entire third-world nation's army and with trigger fingers at the ready, I tend to think, "hmmm, this is a somewhat unusual situation; might be a photo op".

The were guarding the Guggenheim against destruction by terrorists. (Personally, if the terrorists want to remove that piece of urban and art blight I'll send them fifty bucks to help cover their costs.) The idea that we live in a society so dangerous that anyone rich, famous, or powerful needs to be guarded against attack is a highly corrosive one. It teaches people to be fearful so they can be easily controlled.

Anyway, they gave me attitude about photographing them so I gave some back. I was polite, but I told them I had an absolute First Amendment right to photograph and they could call the editor of the news desk at the NY Times if they wanted someone to vouch for me. Yeah, I know. Whatever part of my brain is devoted to self-preservation — particularly when it comes to soldiers toting automatic weapons capable of turning me into something resembling bloody swiss cheese, in an eyeblink, no less — is clearly damaged beyond all hope of redemption. Either that or I've turned into a one of those lunatic photographers I keep reading about.

They blew a gasket at this point and told me that unless I could produce photo ID so I could prove I wasn't a "terrorist agent" who was "working for the other side" that they'd lock me up and interrogate me about my activities for four hours. Because I sooooo clearly look like a terrorist.

Puh-leaze.

Their big issue is that by photographing them I allow terrorists to identify them, and then kill their entire families because that's what terrorists do. (Yeah, this is happening all the time in America, right?) Then one of them deluged me with a tirade about how liberals don't support troops in Iraq and are training schoolchildren to write letters to soldiers calling them baby-killers, and how this aids the terrorists, how I need to respect the police as human beings because they protect me from being blown up, and how right this VERY MINUTE terrorists are plotting to destroy my way of life. All of this was pretty offensive; I don't know a single American who doesn't support the troops and who doesn't want them back home alive ASAP, and I don't know anyone who supports attacks on Americans, other than Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky. I can understand that they're angry because they believe all the Fox News lies about American's lack of support for soldiers, but still, their response was way over the line. (Their job is to tote a gun and protect people, which means they have certain responsibilities and obligations to be rational. Or, at least they should have those responsibilities and obligations.)

Some of the gems were: "Look downtown! YOU SEE ANY TOWERS? That's because WE ARE AT WAR!". And "Don't lecture me about the constitution and the first amendment. You have the rights I say you have." Oh, and "You gonna call the New York Times next time there's a terrorist attack? You think they'll keep you safe?" Their favorite phrase was, "You don't realize that WE ARE AT WAR ", which was repeated a lot. Well, officer, technically not, because only congress can declare war... (No, I didn't say this. Even I have shreds of rationality, sometimes.) And, beyond that, the Bush administration knew about 9-11 and bin Laden but didn't care. (No, I didn't say that either.)

I eventually managed to calm them down and walked away, after a handshake, with my photos intact. How did I do it? Easy: I let my inner fascist come out and play for a while. As I'll tell anyone who'll listen — republican or democrat, deranged neocon or delusional bleeding heart — the war in the mideast isn't about fighting Islamic terrorism. If it were, the US would have arrested, tried, and executed the entire Saudi royal family for financing 9-11 and other attacks, including Madrid. I wouldn't have outsourced finding bin Laden to the Pakistanis who actually put the Taliban into power and supported them. Then I told them about how Bush doesn't support the troops because they don't get their combat pay, they get forced to reup, they don't get Humvee armor they desperately need, and they don't get rehab after suffering horrific injuries because of multiple failures in command beyond just failure to provide Humvee armor or secure confiscated explosives. And then I started in on about how our borders leak like sieves, and how real security starts at the ports. (Yeah, they just listened. Pretty respectfully, actually, given the circumstances. I guess the novelty of a citizen talking back to them was too much of a shock.) Anyway, after I told the NYPD my thoughts on terrorism and the war — all true, by the way — and they decided I was an American and not one of "them".

Afterwards, I was reminded of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's observation waaaaaaay back in 1968 that, "The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder."

I think this is what's really wrong with America. The constitution isn't some toy that Americans get to take out of the box when we're good boys and girls, and it isn't something that presidents can suspend because the nation is allegedly "at war". Anyway, I got my shots and they look, well, terrible. Oh well. Shit happens. I was opened waaaaaaay up to burn out the sky and make the dark blue uniforms and guns show up, but it just needed a flash. Oh well. Better luck next time. (Except if I'd used a flash they woulda shot me, for sure.)

But, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. Or a photographer. Or a terrorist... Whatever. All seems to be the same difference to the NYPD.

"Art is Something Subversive"

Pablo shook his head. "Kahnweiler's right," he said. "The point is, art is something subversive. It's something that should not be free. Art and liberty, like the fire of Prometheus, are things one must steal, to be used against the established order. Once art becomes official and open to everyone, then it becomes the new academicism." He tossed the cablegram down onto the table. "How can I support an idea like that? If art is ever given the keys to the city, it will be because it's been so watered down, rendered so impotent, that it's not worth fighting for."

I reminded him that Malherbe had said a poet is of no more use to the state than a man who spends his time playing ninepins. "Of course," Pablo said. "And why did Plato say poets should be chased out of the republic? Precisely because every poet and every artist is an antisocial being. He's not that way because he wants to be; he can't be any other way. Of course the state has the right to chase him away — from its point of view — and if he is really an artist it is in his nature not to want to be admitted, because if he is admitted it can only mean lie is doing something which is understood, approved, and therefore old hat-worthless. Anything new, anything worth doing, can't be recognized. People just don't have that much vision."

Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, 1964

How Many Lawyers Does it Take…
To File Frivolous Charges?

Of all the places that you would cherish freedom of speech, surely one is in the shadow of a courthouse.

— Ron Kuby, constitutional attorney

Last month I blogged how two men were arrested for telling lawyer jokes. Well — surprise, surprise — the grand jury nobilled it.

A sidewalk comedian won over his toughest crowd yet on Monday when a grand jury declined to indict him on charges filed after he and a friend told lawyer jokes outside a courthouse, his lawyer said.

The man, Harvey Kash, and the friend, Carl Lanzisera, were doing their routine last month while waiting in line outside Nassau County's First District Court in Hempstead when one bystander, who identified himself as a lawyer, complained. Court officers, who were also not amused, clapped handcuffs on the amateur comics and charged them with disorderly conduct.

The men complained that their constitutional right to make fun of lawyers was being violated, and the case drew international attention.

Punch Line for Jokester: No Indictment by Grand Jury, by Bruce Lambert, New York Times, 8 February 2004

Just in case you're reading this after the NY Times article expires out of their free section — when will these idiots realize that micropayments are the answer instead of huge per-article fees — here's the Newsday version:

A grand jury delivered the punchline for a senior citizen charged with disorderly conduct after telling lawyer jokes outside a Long Island courthouse: charge dismissed. No kidding.

Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said Tuesday that a grand jury considered the evidence in the case and voted to dismiss.

Man who told lawyer joke gets last laugh as grand jury dismisses case, by Pat Milton, Newsday, 8 February 2005

After I blogged the original arrest then the lawyers chimed in. (What planet do these reptiles live on?)

It is, of course, the constitutional right of every American citizen to laugh at the law and, in the case of these two activists, even ridicule officers of the court. But to protect the integrity of the court, one needs to do any guffawing outside the courthouse. There is a legal imperative to create an environment that provides a fair, solemn and impartial forum from which to decide the fate of individuals and institutions. History reminds us what can happen when courtrooms become circuses, or worse.

...

But no one should shout "fire" in a crowded theater to proclaim one's right to freedom of speech. Mocking the legal system in a courthouse can be a corrosive force to jurisprudence. If permitted, it would attack the very fabric of our democracy by creating a judicial environment that ridicules and derides those who not just serve the courts but, far more important, those citizens who seek justice. Ultimately, scornful, derisive behavior inside our courthouses would threaten the very laughter that is so crucial to who we are as a free and open society.

Lois Carter Schlissel, Esquire, managing partner of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein

Anyone who has participated in the legal process, or been on the receiving end of it, knows that the crooked racket judges and attorneys run for their own benefit is the real joke. Except that joke just ain't funny.

Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line he doesn't really mean to cross — it just happens — and if you cross it enough times, it disappears forever, and then you're nothing but another lawyer joke...

— Rudy Baylor, "The Rainmaker" by John Grisham

Just Zip It

Cartoon of a man with a zipper across his mouth

A few weeks ago I blogged about Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist and his war on free speech and individual rights. Before that I'd blogged about the Freedom to Not Listen and the origins of the First Amendment in the John Peter Zenger case. So when I saw the results of the two-year, one million dollar study comissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on awareness of the First Ammendment among students and teachers, it was understandable that I'd be interested. Turns out that I'd also be appalled.

First, it must be pointed out that the foundation was not started by right-wing or left-wing ideologues, but journalists:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was established in 1950 as a private foundation independent of the Knight brothers' newspaper enterprises. It is dedicated to furthering their ideals of service to community, to the highest standards of journalistic excellence and to the defense of a free press.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Having established their bona fides, here are the details about the participants:

A national study commissoned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut says that America's high schools are leaving the First Amendment behind. Educators are not giving high school students an appreciation of free speech and free press, according to the study researchers, who questioned more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 principals and administrators.

Press Release

The "Future of First Amendment" Report itself is highly disturbing:

The words of the First Amendment - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances - do not change, but how we interpret them does. In recent years, in fact, annual surveys of adult Americans conducted by The Freedom Forum show that public support for the First Amendment is neither universal nor stable: it rises and falls during times of national crisis. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation was almost evenly split on the question of whether or not the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.’’ Not until 2004 did America’s support for the First Amendment return to pre 9-11 levels, when it received support from only about two-thirds of the population. Even in the best of times, 30 percent of Americans feel that the First Amendment, the centuries-old cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, “goes too far.’’

Administrators say student learning about the First Amendment is a priority, but not a high priority.

"Future of First Amendment" Report

Sure. You know what is a priority to these "educators"? Football. Here are some of the key findings guaranteed to give you the willies:

1. High school students tend to express little appreciation for the First Amendment. Nearly threefourths say either they don’t know how they feel about it or take it for granted.

2. Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

3. Students lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment. Seventy-five percent incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal. Nearly half erroneously believe the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.

4. Students who do not participate in any media-related activities are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn or deface the American flag. Students who have taken more media and/or First Amendment classes are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.

Study

The actual numbers are even more frightening:

  • Only 50% of students believe "newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories"
  • Only 83% of students believe "People should be allowed to express unpopular opinions"
  • Only 70% of students believe "Musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics others may find offensive"
  • Only 25% of students believe "Americans have the legal right to burn the American flag as a means of political protest"

Welcome to Red-State America where the only speech you get is what the government says you need.

Photograph of a pistol on a computer laptop keyboard

You can have my First Amendment when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. (As the saying goes, the Second Amendment guarantees all the others.)

Sources and Further Reading

  1. John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release
  2. "Future of First Amendment" Report

Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist

"Money you have expended without limits, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers--these are your only trophies."

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Sounds like someone commenting on the Iraq war, doesn't it? Except this was written during the Civil War. And during the Civil War, making statements like these got you arrested and banished from the country. Wait just one minute, you say. The First Ammendment and the Constitution — yeah, right. Didn't play in those days and it may not play here soon. Don't believe me? Think about how many morons defend the loss of our liberties saying, "ok, but we are at war...".

President Abraham Lincoln realized early on that his illegal war against the south depended on suppression of all speech critical of it. For if people were free to say they did not want their children, brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins drafted, mutilated, and slaughtered, the war would become unsustainable. And that's exactly what got Ohio congressman Clement Larid Vallandigham in such trouble: he did nothing more than speak out against the war.

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Clement Laird Vallandigham

When Lincoln was asked how he could persecute Vallandigham for speaking out against the Civil War, he replied with an analogy:

Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death… Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting and there working on his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning, 12 June 1863

Suppression of the First Ammendment and freedom of speech rights of Vallandigham was swift, brutal and effective: the United States government banished one of its citizens, forbidding him to set foot on US soil for the duration of the war. Really!

On 13 Apr. 1863, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, Commmander of the Department Of The Ohio, had issued General Order No. 38, forbidding expression of sympathy for the enemy. On 30 Apr. Vallandigham addressed a large audience in Columbus, made derogatory references to the president and the war effort, then hoped that he would be arrested under Burnside's order, thus gaining popular sympathy. Arrested at his home at 2 a.m., 5 May, by a company of troops, he was taken to Burnside's Cincinnati headquarters, tried by a military court 6-7 May, denied a writ of habeas corpus, and sentenced to 2 years' confinement in a military prison. Following a 19 May cabinet meeting, President Lincoln commuted Vallandigham's sentence to banishment to the Confederacy. On 26 May the Ohioan was taken to Confederates south of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and there entered Southern lines. Outraged at his treatment, by a vote of 411 -11 state Democrats nominated Vallandigham for governor at their 11 June convention.

Vallandigham was escorted to Wilmington, N.C., and shipped out to, Bermuda, arriving there 17 June. He traveled to Canada, arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario, 5 July, and from there and Windsor, Ontario, conducted his campaign for the governorship. Candidate for lieutenant governor George Pugh represented Vallandigham's views at rallies and in the press. Lincoln interested himself in the election, endorsed Republican candidate John Brough, downplayed the illegalities of a civilian's arrest and trial by military authorities, and claimed that a vote for the Democratic contender was "a discredit to the country." In the election of 13 Oct. 1863, Brough defeated Vallandigham 288,000 - 187,000.

Civial War Home article on Vallandigham

The famous short story "The Man Without a Country", was written by Edward Everett Hale in 1863 after he learned of Lincoln's persecution of Vallandigham.

When Vallandigham sought relief in the courts, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.) on the grounds that civilian courts had no jurisdiction over their military counterparts:

[T]here is no original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum to review or reverse its proceedings, or the writ of certiorari to revise the proceedings of a military commission.

Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.)

Yup, the Bush administration argued the same thing about its policy of indefinite incarceration without trial. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But the wrath of Lincoln and the war on free speech wasn't restricted to congressmen opposing the war. Newspapers quickly learned that to speak out against the war was to brutal censorship and oppression.

Suppression of these editors began early in the war. For example, in August of 1861, the Christian Observer was closed by the U.S. marshal in Philadelphia. At the same time, a federal grand jury in New York cited the Journal of Commerce, the Daily News, the Day-Book, the weekly Freeman's Journal, and the Brooklyn Eagle for the "frequent practice of encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government." This was followed by an order from the Postmaster General forbidding the mailing of these newspapers.

Similarly, other newspapers were forbidden to circulate and sell. General Palmer temporarily prohibited the distribution of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chicago Times within Kentucky. In New Haven, Connecticut the circulation of the New York Daily News was prohibited. General Burnside took similar action in excluding the New York World from Ohio. This action was taken on the grounds of suspected disloyalty, and was intended as a partial measure for press control.

On February 23, 1863, the Davenport Daily Gazette in Iowa reported that some seventy-five convalescent soldiers from a near-by military hospital entered the office of the Keokuk, IowaConstitution, wrecked the presses and dumped the type out the window. In the spring of 1863, the Crisis and the Marietta, Ohio Republican, a Democratic paper, suffered damages at the hands of a mob of soldiers. The next year a number of other newspapers in the Midwest, including the Mahoning, Ohio Sentinel, Lancaster, Ohio Eagle, Dayton Empire, Fremont Messenger, and the Chester, Illinois Picket Guard experienced similar visitations.

Along with suppression came the arrest of some editors. In October, 1861 the editor of the Marion, Ohio Mirror was arrested on charges of membership in a secret anti-war organization. In Illinois, a number of men were taken into custody including the editors of the Paris Democratic Standard, M. Mehaffey and F. Odell. These men were imprisoned without trial in Fort Lafayette, Fort Delaware or the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. In other Midwestern states those arrested, usually on charges of interfering with enlistment or similar activities, included Dennis Mahoney, editor of the Dubuque Herald, and Dana Sheward, editor of the Fairfield Constitution and Union. In Philadelphia the Evening Journal was suppressed by military order in January, 1863, and Albert D. Boileau, its editor, confined to Fort McHenry for a few days until he wrote an apology and promised to reform.

Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith

So the next time someone tells you that the Republican party is the party of Lincoln, well, you can agree with them.

Oh, and Vallandigham? Well, his political career was just getting started when he met an untimely end:

Following the Civil War, Vallandigham emerged as a leader of Ohio's Democratic Party. He served as the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Convention in 1865. He also encouraged the Democrats to adopt his "new departure" resolutions. Vallandigham came to believe that the Democratic Party had to support slavery's end and equal rights for African Americans with whites if the party was ever to regain power from the Republicans. His political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871. While preparing the defense of an accused murder, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, mortally wounding Vallandigham.

History of Clement Vallandigham

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Transcript of Trial
  2. History of Clement Vallandigham
  3. Ex Parte Vallandigham
  4. Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith
  5. History of Clement Laird Vallandigham

"The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was."

Campaign slogan coined by Clement Larid Vallandigham, May 1862

First Thing, We Gag All the Lawyers

When lawyer jokes become the basis for prejudice and bigotry, a line has been crossed which can lead to dangerous situations. Lawyer-bashing is hate speech that is as heinous as all other forms of bigotry. Crimes of violence against attorneys should be covered by hate-crime laws.

Harvey I. Saferstein, President of the California State Bar Association
quoted in "He Must Be Joking", The Oregonian, 8 July 1993, Page B8

Following on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that the First Ammendment is not advisory, we have this story:

"How do you tell when a lawyer is lying?" Harvey Kash, 69, of Bethpage, said to Carl Lanzisera, 65, of Huntington, as the queue wound into the court. "His lips are moving," they said in unison, completing one of what may be thousands of standard lawyer jokes.

But while that rib and several others on barristers got some giggles from the crowd, the attorney standing in line about five people ahead wasn't laughing.

" 'Shut up,' the man shouted," Lanzisera said. "'I'm a lawyer.'"

The attorney reported Kash and Lanzisera to court personnel, who arrested the men and charged them with engaging in disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

"They put the handcuffs on us, brought us into a room, frisked us, sat us down and checked our driver's licenses to see if there were any warrants out for our arrest," Lanzisera said yesterday. "They were very nasty, extremely nasty."

The men are founders of Americans for Legal Reform, a group of outspoken advocates who use confrontational tactics to push for greater access to courts for the public and to monitor how well courts serve the public. One tactic is driving a truck around the Huntington area emblazoned with the slogan "Stop The Lawyer Disease." They said their rights to free speech were violated Monday.

NY Newsday

And lawyers wonder why they have a bad reputation? So bad that people are always quoting that that line from Shakespeare. You know the one. The one people always say is about how eliminating lawyers is the key to destabilizing society and seizing power: "First thing, we kill all the lawyers." Well, that interpretation is just plain wrong and is nothing more than wishful thinking, if not downright lying, on the part of lawyers.

The line comes from Henry VI, Part II. The context is fairly simple. Jack Cade, a notorious thug and vicious criminal, is a pretender to the throne, and is talking about all the wonderous things that will transpire upon his coronation. Dick The Butcher is a member of his gang.

JACK CADE: Be brave, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king, as king I will be —

ALL FOLLOWERS: God save your majesty!

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people — there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK THE BUTCHER: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

JACK CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is this not a lamentable thing that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings, but I say ’tis the bee’s wax. For I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.

Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2 by William Shakespeare

So the quote is not about how lawyers prevent revolution by keeping society orderly. It is not about how lawyers are key to ensuring that government is not disrupted by criminals. It is just about a bunch of semi-drunken criminials talking about what would constitute utopia. And given how lawyers treat the rest of us, is there really much doubt that eliminating many of those two-legged reptiles would bring about, if not utopia, at least a better world?

Ooops! Hate crime! Anyone know a good bail bondsman?

The Freedom to Not Listen

In Russia is freedom of speech.
In America is also freedom after speech.

—Yakov Smirnoff

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 2

Free speech is not supposed to be inoffensive. Not only that, but it is, in fact, guaranteed to be inherently offensive to someone. That is, after all, the whole point of being able to say whatever is on your mind, no matter how distasteful someone will find it. It doesn't matter if we agree with the ideas or even like them: the rights of those who espouse Nazi or KKK dogma are just as protected as those touting kittens and puppies or the truly wonderful job Bush is doing for America by liberating Iraq and exporting jobs to China.

Free speech allows the Ayn Rand foundation to condemn tsunami relief efforts using government funds (aka tax dollars) just as it allows us to label their ideas as "typical callous and cruel Randroid claptrap". (No, I am so not making this up. Read their apology if you don't believe me; they — wisely — yanked their original editoral.) Free and open discourse is an essential to freedom, no matter how repugnant we may find it at times.

That's really the whole point: we don't have to all just get along. We don't have to spout ideas that everyone likes. We don't have to say only those things that the government gives us permission to say. Communism, to use a famous example, is a truly idiotic ideology; that does not, however, give the government the right to spy on and persecute those who believe in it.

You probably were not aware that the American fascist dictator Abraham Lincoln — yes, that Lincoln — suspended freedom of the press during the Civil War, suspended habeas corpus, suspended the Constitution, and actually imprisoned those who criticized the war, either verbally or in print. People could be arrested and incarcerated for the duration of the war on mere suspicion or even rumor of advocating peace. (The Republican party truly is the party of Lincoln.) Ezra Pound spent thirteen years institutionalized because he espoused repugnant political views. Is this right? No, it isn't.

The best way to deal with abhorrent ideas is to get them out in public where the santizing light of day can illuminate them for what they are. During the Civil War, my explaining the crimes of Lincoln, for example, would have had me imprisoned or banished. (I'll be writing more about that in a few days.)

The origins of the First Ammendment can be found in the John Peter Zenger trial.

No country values free expression more highly than ours, and no case in our history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German printer named John Peter Zenger. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors, inspired by the eloquence of the best lawyer of the period, Andrew Hamilton, ignored the instructions of the Governor's hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels." The Zenger trial is a remarkable story of a divided Colony, the beginnings of a free press, and the stubborn independence of American jurors.

John Peter Zenger Trial

The case, in a nutshell, is that way back in 1731, a newspaper publisher named Zenger published an article critical of New York's governor, and the governor retaliated by having Zenger arrested for sedition and libel, and then imprisoned for ten months before trial when Zenger couldn't meet the £800 bail. (This was a truly staggering sum in those days.)

The trial opened on August 4 on the main floor of New York's City Hall with Attorney General Bradley's reading of the information filed against Zenger. Bradley told jurors that Zenger, "being a seditious person and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels" had "wickedly and maliciously" devised to "traduce, scandalize, and vilify" Governor Cosby and his ministers. Bradley said that "Libeling has always been discouraged as a thing that tends to create differences among men, ill blood among the people, and oftentimes great bloodshed between the party libeling and the party libeled."

John Peter Zenger

Andrew Hamilton Summation

Andrew Hamilton's Summation at Trial

Nowadays this would be an open-and-shut case. But there was no First Ammendment back then. Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, had travelled all the way from Philadelphia to represent him. (This may well be the origin of the advice, "Get yourself a Philadelphia lawyer".) Hamilton argued that the jury could only convict if what Zenger wrote was false; the judge ordered the jury to convict, saying that Zenger had no defense. Well, the jury refused to convict and the case achieved such renown that Thomas Jefferson added the right to speak one's mind to the Bill of Rights.

Andrew Hamilton: The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, is not of small nor private concern nor is it the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone. No, it may affect every Freeman to deny the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.

Alexander Hamilton
Summation,August 4th, 1735

Ok, enough with the history lesson. What bearing does this have on the news? Well, it seems that the The United States Supreme Court just declined to hear Rahn v. Robb, Case 04-629, a case important to all believers in free speech. For those of you who don't track the Supremes' docket like a Yankee fanatic tracking Billy Martin's ups and downs, this was the case involving the Ku Klux Klan wanting to adopt a section of the Missouri highway. (Can you imagine? The Ku Kluxers have hobbies other than lynching and cross-burning. Who knew?)

Now, we all know that the KKK isn't doing this out of civic mindedness, and giving back to the communty. Far from it. This is a potent propaganda opportunity to say that the KKK is still alive and well in Missouri, given that the state will put up a sign saying that litter is being picked up by them. This sign is, of course, offensive. But, then again, so is seeing signs from churches, other bigoted groups (like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), political groups (Republicans and Democrats), and even the local funeral director. It's all bigotry, politics, advertising, or some combination thereof, and I don't like it or want to see it. But the First Ammendment says, too bad. And that's good.

The state of Missouri, like most states, encourages groups to adopt a section of highway and keep it free of litter. Everyone wins: the group gets some free, and very public advertising; the taxpayers save millions in cleanup costs; and the public gets a clean stretch of road. (So the prisoners who used to do this job don't get their dose of fresh air and exercise anymore; too bad.) Anyway, when the KKK filed papers to adopt a stretch of highway the state refused. Litigation ensued, and the 8th Circuit Court of the United States ordered Missouri to honor free speech and let the KKK have its segment of highway. While the Missouri appeal was pending, however, state officials showed they had a sense of humor: the stretch of highway was renamed the "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway". No, this is not an urban legend.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today honored a pioneer of the civil rights movement by dedicating a one-mile section of I-55 south of downtown St. Louis, MO as the Rosa Parks Highway.

"Forty-five years ago, Mrs. Rosa Parks’quiet defiance greatly contributed to the civil rights movement, said Secretary Slater. "Today’s naming of the Rosa Parks Highway reminds individuals that transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It’s about people and empowering citizens to fulfill their dreams."

During the 2000 legislative session, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill, sponsored by State Senator William Clay and State Representative Russell Gunn, to name a 1.13-mile stretch of Interstate 55 from one mile south of Lindbergh Boulevard to Butler Hill Road the "Rosa Parks Highway." Former Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law on May 30, 2000.

Missouri, Department of Transportion

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 1

What's most amusing is that neither the United States Department of Transportation nor the Missouri Department of Transporation managed to mention exactly why Rosa Parks was being so "honored". (Another bit of trivia: John Ashcroft ran against Governor Mel Carnahan. When Carnahan died in a plane crash right before the election, Missouri voters elected the dead man over Ashcroft. After the dead man won, Republicans challenged the vote on the grounds that Carnahan was not, strictly speaking, a resident of the state on election day. They lost and sent Ashcroft to Washington. Guess who got the better end of that deal.)

Anyway, here's the story:

For the second time in four years, the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Ku Klux Klan to participate in Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The high court on Monday declined to hear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling siding with the Klan, meaning that picking up litter along Missouri 21 heading into Potosi can remain the responsibility of the Klan.

...

Missouri began its Adopt-A-Highway program in 1987. About 3,400 groups care for about 5,000 miles of Missouri roads, according to the MODOT Web site. The program saves the state about $1.5 million a year, the Web site said.

Such programs are popular nationally; every state but Vermont has one.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court supporting Missouri's position, the Texas solicitor general warned that states could cancel their Adopt-A-Highway programs if they are forced to allow the Klan to participate.

Kansas City Star
Courtesy of BugMeNot.com
Login: icantkick@mailinator.com
Password: oregon1

I think the real question here is when are Americans going to wake up and realize that individuals must make decisions about what is or is not appropriate speech for themselves and that we must defend to the death the right to offend others. To do otherwise is to create world where a committee determines what we can say or hear, and that road, my friends, leads to fascism.

Oh, I have one more real question: how do klansmen keep those white outfits so spiffily starched and free of grass and dirt stains while picking up the trash in the hot sun?

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Kansas City Star Story (Login: icantkick@mailinator.com, Password: oregon1)
  2. Snopes confirmation of "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway" story as fact
  3. Seattle Post Intelligencer
  4. John Peter Zenger

Confessions of a Photographer Criminal

New York/New Jersey sign in the Holland tunnel

Taking this picture was a crime. (No, not because it has some glare, either.)

The tunnels in New York are now festooned with signs saying, "Camera Use Prohibited". (I have a shot of the sign, but it is on film which hasn't yet been developed. I used film and a telephoto, instead of the point-and-shoot digital, because I didn't want to tempt Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis by taking it up close and personal, what with the cops having a car parked right underneath the sign.) Such a prohibition is, of course, a blatant and egregious violation of the First Amendment and I hope someone takes the city to court over it.

Article I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Bill of Rights, United States Constitution

Illegal restrictions will, of course, do nothing to stop anyone with a van outfitted with a combination of video cameras and still cameras who really wants that footage for some nefarious purpose. And if there is anything we know about terrorists, it is that they can be particularly meticulous and patient. Given that traffic moves at a crawl during rush hour, anyone who really cared could obtain footage of every inch of the tunnel without too many passes and without ever being spotted.

Anyway, being a stubborn troublemaker, I make it a point to snap pictures inside the tunnel whenever I can. These are not easy shots to take; far from it: I must hold the camera in my left hand — right hand on the wheel — and take the shot without aiming or, in the case of film, focusing. (I prefocus before entering the tunnel.) Oh, and I do all this at forty-five miles per hour, guessing when the sign will appear. Not to worry, my eyes are on the road and I'm plenty far back from the car in front, but putting safety first means I miss a bunch of shots.

This may not be my finest work, but given the awkward circumstances of its birth, I'm quite proud of it; framed and focused is half the battle. When camera use is a crime, only criminals will have cameras.

"And, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta."

— Geto Boys

No Cocktails, Please – We’re Prudish

Microphotograph of crystalized 'Sex on the Beach' Cocktail

Microphotograph of Crystalized "Sex on the Beach" Cocktail

While I don't approve of marketing drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to children, I'm amazed that a drink that can be ordered by name with impunity in a bar is subject to severe regulation in the commercial sphere because it is "objectionable". The Carrie Nation mindset clearly is alive and well, even in Britain.

Lord Condon, who chairs the independent panel that assesses complaints about the marketing of alcoholic drinks, said the "sexualisation" of prepackaged drinks such as Quickie cocktails and Stiffy's Shots had been "the theme of the year" in 2004.

...

Shotz (Spencers Drinks Ltd) "The panel ... concluded that the flavour names Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm and Sex on the Beach contained either a direct or indirect association with sexual success."

Love Potion (Marks & Spencer)

"The panel considered that the heart-shaped bottle together with its pink contents strongly resembled a perfume bottle and was likely to cause confusion ... [and that] the product was clearly associated with romantic love."

Guardian

The full set of complaints makes for interesting reading. Oh, and in case you were wondering, here are some recipes for the cited drinks: Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm, and Sex on the Beach.

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