Censoring vs. Censuring
Apr 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I teach my students about the difference between the words censor and censure–because I want them to know what words mean and because I want them to be able to participate in conversations about the 1st Amendment.

This is especially important with my freshmen, many of whom are Chinese, learning here in a system that throws around “free speech” like everyone knows what it means.

The problem is that most Americans don’t seem to know what it means.*

I was disappointed by Bill Maher’s show last night,** because it seemed that he doesn’t know what it means.

He was furious that people are calling for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s sponsors after her awful comments about the Parkland protestors.

I understand Maher’s anger–he is sensitive about this topic, since he lost his job–and his show–after a statement he made on Politically Incorrect after 9/11. Many people were calling the attackers “cowards.” Maher disagreed. The attackers were many things, but they were willing to die for their beliefs, which means they didn’t fit the definition of coward.

Maher’s opponents falsely claimed that he praised the attackers.

No–he was making a semantic point. (A correct one.)

Which is why I’m disappointed that he equated calling for a boycott of Ingraham’s sponsors with attacks on “free speech.”

Free speech means the government can’t shut you down, can’t imprison you.

It doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want without consequences.

It doesn’t mean that you get to have other people pay you to say those things.

Laura Ingraham gets to say whatever she wants. She can blog about it, self-publish about it, yell it to people walking by, mumble it to herself in the insane asylum where she belongs.

But if her speech is no longer profitable, no one has the obligation to pay her to say it.

The old man on the quad who calls women “sluts” when they walk by gets to do that–free speech!

We can call him an asshole–free speech!

But the university doesn’t have to invite him to give a talk, no one has to publish his rantings, and I don’t have to let him follow my students into the classroom, give him “equal time,” or turn the other cheek.

When we disapprove of speech, by saying, “hey, that’s racist,” we’re not censoring anyone–we’re censuring them. Disapproval is not censorship.

My grandparents liked to remind people that my grandfather served to protect free speech–this was of course a form of censure–an attempt to tell liberals they didn’t have the right to speak if the speech didn’t agree with my grandparents’ view of the world.

Like it or not, my grandfather’s job was to fight for my right to criticize his party and to advocate for minorities and for women’s rights.

My job is teaching writing and critical thinking.

Words have meaning. Which is why the 1st Amendment is important in the first place.




*Of course, the 1st Amendment isn’t the only misunderstood one. Ummmm . . . militias . . . ?

** I have to add that Louie Anderson was on the show. And I love him. Desperately.



Yes, Milo, Free Speech Matters
Feb 23rd, 2017 by Dr Karma

Last Friday, on Real Time, Milo Yiannopoulos held himself up as a great defender of free speech, while minimizing the effects speech has.

He admitted that he got off on people’s reactions to his trolling and abusive comments, trying to get all three panelists at the end (on Overtime) to tell him to go fuck himself (Larry Wilmore got it started after Milo responded to an attempt at honest debate by saying “you [Maher] always invite such awful people on your show; they’re so stupid”).

Milo said he “hurt[s] people for a reason” and that he’s “a virtuous troll,” in between insulting female comedians and actors (Lena Dunham, Leslie Jones, etc.). He never said what the “reason” or “virtue” might be in such attacks, but he attempted to claim at one point that he actually builds bridges with his “jokes.”

Perhaps the strangest thing he said, however, was “Mean words on the internet don’t hurt anyone.” Milo then said that what he does isn’t harmful in any way, compared it to physical instances of abuse. Maher mentioned that some believe speech provokes action. Milo’s response was that those of us who believe so “would be idiots.”

There’s a reason why one form of speech that’s not protected is speech that incites violence. There’s a reason why we have laws against slander (and some against certain forms of lying).

But setting that aside, the claim that “mean words on the internet don’t hurt anyone” is insane. Luckily, I’m not famous, so I don’t get trolled very often; however, I’ve been hurt by things people have said on the internet.

And I know lots of other people have been too.

The first lady said she wants to work against teen cyberbullying–because mean words hurt.

Young people sometimes commit suicide–because mean words hurt.

I know women who are scared by rape and death threats–because mean words hurt.

Lindy West had a man pose on Twitter as her dead father to verbally abuse her. Guess what? Those mean words hurt.

I was planning to write about this before Yiannopoulos’s words finally got him in trouble with conservatives this week. There are so many more layers now, so much irony. It’s so fitting that the knee-jerk reaction to “please think of the children” is biting him in the ass after he used it against trans people.

It’s ironic that all the conservatives who said Milo should be allowed to talk have pulled him from their editorial boards and conventions.

It’s sad that they weren’t bothered by any of his racist, sexist, transphobic, white supremacist bullshit.

Yiannopoulos, for maybe the first time, apologized (partially).

“I’m partly to blame. My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that. People deal with things from their past in different ways.”

He seems obtuse and stubborn, so I don’t know if he’ll get the lesson:

Words matter. Words can hurt.

That’s why free speech is important–because, as Margaret Atwood once said, “a word after a word after a word is power.”


Atwood under attack
Nov 12th, 2010 by Dr Karma

A prominent critic of the “theory” of climate change wants Margaret Atwood to be removed from her position on PEN. (article here:

PEN is an organization Atwood has been at the forefront of for years–it fights for the free speech of authors around the world (it’s akin to Amnesty International, but has a specific focus).

The critic seems not to like Atwood because of their differing views on climate and the environment, but is using a petition Atwood signed as the main evidence that Atwood should be removed. You see, Atwood signed a petition against a FOX News-like channel coming to Canada.

(There are many reasons why someone might sign such a petition. Perhaps you think the channel won’t be clear about news versus entertainment–Bill O’Reilly was on Bill Maher last week and when Maher asked him about a fact that FOX had reported, O’Reilly’s response to the completely wrong fact was that FOX wasn’t “reporting” it because it was on one of the entertainment/opinion shows. If you’ve seen the show, you know that the distinction is not at all clear. Perhaps they should change their tag to “we give you the facts (well, on the following shows, which don’t air when most viewers are watching–on the popular shows, we’re saying whatever comes into someone’s head); you decide).”

Or perhaps you might object because FOX news breaks up families. All 24 hour news makes my head hurt and the crawl seems only to have been invented to make me want to cut myself, but FOX makes me especially wary about going home, because it is impossible to avoid there.)

To recap: Atwood signed a petition. This critic says her signing the petition means she’s anti-free speech & thus should lose her position.

Petitions are free speech, though. I believe in free speech. I believe that I have to fight for your free speech, even when I think you’re wrong (unless that speech is an incitement of violence). However, I get to say that you’re wrong. I get to say that you shouldn’t say x, because x is a lie or because x is irresponsible. (Shouldn’t is different from can’t–one is censure and one is censor.) Signing a petition is exercising free speech & this critic doesn’t have to like it & this critic can say Atwood shouldn’t have, etc., but you shouldn’t say someone hates free speech because they said something you didn’t agree with.

I know I haven’t posted in a long, long time. Fall quarters are always really hard and this may be the hardest. If I stopped to list all the reasons why, I’d be late to class. Let’s just say that I was hanging on by my fingernails & then I got the stomach flu and it broke my nails.

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The News This Week
Jan 21st, 2010 by Dr Karma

A few thoughts on the news:

The Supreme Court has just reversed precedent that limited how much corporations can spend on political campaigns. On a theoretical level, I’m torn. I believe in free speech, and the corporations are claiming that money IS free speech.

On a practical level, however, I’m not torn at all. I’m not convinced that money is free speech. If it is, then I don’t really have any access to free speech at all.

If money is free speech, we can’t call it “free” anymore.

The way corporations run everything is already frightening. This decision opens the door to America fully becoming a corpocracy. It’s already absurd that insurance companies get to be “consulted” on health care reform bills (um, they profit when you pay but then they get to deny you the coverage you paid for). Imagine what their “free speech” will be able to accomplish now.

In other news, hearings have shown that one of the major problems that caused the Christmas day Detroit flight near-bombing was a spelling error. That is, the person putting the terrorist’s name into the system spelled it wrong.

Congresspeople yesterday were assured that the government was now using a spell-checker program to prevent this from happening again.

Two things: 1. a spell checker program will not help, because names aren’t in the spell-checker’s dictionary. A spell-checker doesn’t know my last name to know if it’s spelled correctly; it’s not going to know likely bombers’ names, either.

2. To all those people who thought I was crazy for saying that proofreading could sometimes be the difference between life and death . . . I was right.

Finally, Conan’s last show will be on Friday. This is such bullshit. Conan is funnier than Jay has ever been. Jay Leno left The Tonight Show because he wanted more money in prime time. He bombed. And now he’s being rewarded by getting his old job back? Fuck him. If I left my job and my job was filled–with a talented person with a contract–I wouldn’t get my job back after I totally failed at the other job.

In fact, am now boycotting Jay Leno. Yes, he joins Domino’s, Six Flags, Coors, Continental Airlines, and Long John Silvers.

Michael Savage (and other news)
May 5th, 2009 by Dr Karma

Michael Savage was on Talk of the Nation today because he has apparently been banned from entering the U.K. because of his hate speech. He was offended, of course, and kept talking about the first amendment, which does not apply to the U.K. He also mentioned the Magna Carta, but not in a way that indicated he had read the document.

Talk of the Nation is a call in show, so they took a call from a man who pointed out that if you replace “Christian” or “Jew” in place of “Muslim” when Savage talks, he might not be on the air.

Savage interrupted him and said he wouldn’t stay on the show if he had to listen to people calling from insane asylums in their pajamas. He ended up hanging up on the show.

Yes–our defender of free speech, who makes sure he has all the freedom to speak and all the freedom to not let anyone else do so in his earshot.

The other news: had meeting with the boss about my future (meaning will I be invited to be more permanent in three years). The good news: some of the highest student ratings in the department. The bad news: I thought my “file” was cumulative, meaning that whatever I added each year was added. I had been trying not to submit the same stuff again and again, but apparently that’s what I need to do for the next three years.

Not a problem, of course. I just feel silly.


What we’ve learned today:  students appreciate me, I’m not skilled at selling myself, Dan Savage is so much cooler than Michael Savage (that’s not even Michael’s real name, by the way).

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