21 May 2010

Village Idiots, Free Press and Acute Intellectual Astygmatism

Islam Faces Facebook at the Village Idiots Convocation

Hey, yesterday was “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” per a Facebook page of the same name which has, at this writing, more than 80,000 members. Thursday, Pakistan blocked its citizens’ access to Facebook as well as to a number of other “inappropriate” websites. To Muslims, it is a grave sacrilege to make an image of Mohammed, their Prophet, even a picture which is neutral or flattering. The thinking is, apparently, that this would promote idolatry. (That ship has already sailed. In the West, we have idolatry out the wazoo and drawings don’t have anything to do with that. Don’t believe me? Google “Miley Cyrus.”) In calling for drawings, this Facebook page is getting cartoons which can be scored along two axes: (1) Are they skillfully or unskillfully drawn? (2) Are the creative/intellectual or stupid in content? The submissions to the website/page generally fail both tests.

The best known example of the backlash again cartoon Mohammeds is the strange case of Lars Vilks of Norway. A few years ago, a Norwegian newspaper published his cartoon showing Mohammed with a turban that was morphed into a bomb with a lit fuse. On my skill scale, it was reasonably well drawn, but it was only middling in imagination. The mullahs whipped up everybody and their Aunt Tillie in righteous anger and there were demonstrations, some violent, and assorted fatwas (death decrees) were issued against Vilks and the publishers.

In the United States, the ability to freely publish such material is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment reads:

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.

This amendment, including freedom of speech has been extended beyond the literal language of prohibiting Congress from acting to create a general right of free speech which Government generally cannot breach. The First Amendment is the banner under which new and exciting and controversial offerings have been published in the Marketplace of Ideas which would not have been available in a less open society. I can think of some quick examples of fiction that would have been banned: Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Doubtless, you can think of your own favorite examples. Seldom is there gain without cost. The cost of admitting these pillars of reason into the Marketplace of Ideas is that the First Amendment is also a shield for idiots, porn purveyors, halfwits, conspiracy theorists, and especially for those who want to complain that they have been victimized by creating their own mayhem.

Parenthetically, the victim industry is huge in the United States, and drives a great deal of our commerce and public discourse. Do you have acne? Oh my, if you do, must sit around the house, ashamed, and you’ll have no friends because they are shocked at your outbreaks until and unless you use ClearAsABaby’sButt for only $19.95 (plus S&H). Or in the scads of medication ads, you are invited to look at yourself and ask, “Might I be depressed/have restless leg syndrome/have sticky platelets? If I do, thank God, I can ask my doctor if MumbleMax is right for me. Poor me. Did you or your loved ones use Yaz/Celebrex/Cadmium Cream? Call Tweedle & Dee for your free legal consultation – protect your rights. Did your school not teach you to read? Did your iron not come with a warning label telling you not to iron clothes while you’re wearing them? Do you not dare eat a peach? Poor you, poor you, you’re a victim, you’re a victim.

Thus with the publication of idiocy. Muslims are outraged at these silly cartoons which have been published for the purpose of offending them. “Screw them!,” say these ham-fisted artists, "these Muslims are anti-freedom. Let’s draw Mohammed, not seeking some lovely or meaningful art, but just to piss off the Islamists and then enjoy hearing them whine about being victimized, and boy do we love those whines!" And then, of course, many Muslims obediently oblige. “Heresy! Issue a fatwa! Burrrrrrn them!” (Some years ago, an “artist” depicted Jesus covered with excrement, which resulted in many Christians saying very nasty things about that “artist,” but I’m not sure if “kill ‘em” was the most prominent sentiment.) And what do these Muslims get to be? Got it in one: victims! Oh, you have offended me, now I have an excuse to (1) be a victim and (2) act like an idiot without taking responsibility for it.

Do we have enough people who act like morons? Do we need more? Are we up to our quota yet? For the offensive, for the offended, for the tired, for the poor, and for the huddled masses yearning to be free, I had a three-point plan:

1 - Shut up.
2 - Be nice.
3 - Do your job, do your duty, live your life.

(Yes, I am aware that this very closely resembles the advice given by Larry Winget. I acknowledge that I’ve read everything he’s written and agree with 95% of it. We should all be embarrassed that he’s the first one to write this sort of thing down clearly and bluntly enough that it cannot be ignored.)

The West Virginia Record

Some months ago, I stumbled on a publication on the Internet called The West Virginia Record, which bills itself as “West Virginia’s Legal Journal.” I became a moderately faithful reader and over a period of a few weeks formed the opinion that this publication was not terribly balanced, to the point that it presented an inaccurate view of West Virginia’s system of law and justice. By “inaccurate,” I mean at least it’s a view which differs from my own. Naturally, I believe that my view is totally unbiased and based on objective information in every respect. In the real world, of course, that’s hardly probable, so it would be pretty dumb of me to just out and out say that they are “wrong.” Not that I was ever really upset about anything, because every journal and writer (including this wretched scribe) is biased, although usually “bias” is honored with the term “viewpoint.”

Sometime later, I found on one page of the website that The West Virginia Record is published by a foundation or committee the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (I can’t find that on their website now, but their “where we stand” page is pretty clear.) And so we can understand where the viewpoint comes from. As I’ve said before on a couple of occasions, I appreciate it when opinion pieces are signed and identified by who really writes them and who really pays the bill to publish them. There are entirely too many generic “Citizens for Good Government” groups which are mere shills to hide someone with lots of money and an ax to grind.

My first impression was that the Record painted an inaccurate picture by listing so many stories where Mary sues John and John sues XYZ Corp. In many instances, the stories were of lawsuits over really puny sounding things, especially when some lawyer was personally involved. In recent weeks, we’ve seen one of the leading plaintiffs’ lawyers in West Virginia filing a relatively small claim over undelivered exercise equipment. We’ve seen another small firm attorney filing a Lemon Law action over some extraordinarily fancy and expensive Mercedes automobile which I would be thoroughly embarassed to own. (Those are the sorts of automobiles which say, "Look at me, I'm uppity, profligate & insecure!") There’ve been a couple of fee disputes published which made the lawyers asking for the fees out to be bandits. They are often public relations articles (“puff pieces”) from large corporate/business/insurance defense firms. From the story selection, I can understand why readers of the Record might agree with the national Chamber of Commerce drumbeat that West Virginia is a “judicial hellhole.”

West Virginia has an “open courts” provision in the state Constitution. As I used to tell my students, anybody can sue anybody for anything. To get relief, to get the Court to do something, you have to prove your case. You have to have the law and facts on your side. So what is missing from the Record are the instances where suits don’t have the strength to make it through the process and get screened out or defeated. Some are screened out by judges through a summary judgment process or a directed verdict. Others are screened out by juries who returned verdicts for defendants. Do juries make verdicts which are wrong? I’m not sure, sometimes that’s a silly question since we define the verdict as the truth of the case. Let’s just say that some juries come back with verdicts that are fairly unexpected and which require close post-trial review. Having this “rest of the story” is necessary to understand just the civil law in West Virginia. Of course, there other areas of our system of law and justice – criminal law, juvenile law, legislation, administrative Law, bankruptcy, and so forth, all of which impact all of the citizens, including the business community.

I’ve not seen the Record way in with both feet on the judicial selection issue. This is approached by lawyers mostly in an academic fashion. My theory is that nobody wants to piss off a sitting judge. In truth, there is a bell curve of judges. The greatest limitation has been either undiscovered or ignored. Judges are drawn from lawyers and in West Virginia that usually means lawyers who have gone to the State’s only law school, the West Virginia University College of Law. And so there is one single institution with a relatively small and long-serving faculty which exercises enormous control over law and justice in West Virginia and who runs it and how it works is virtually unknown even to the power brokers in West Virginia. Generally, the judges produced in the current process are decent people. There are some happy exceptions who make superior judges. There are some sad exceptions.

Some prominent cases have made the treatment of businesses in West Virginia courts an issue. In the most recent regular session of the Legislature, a “business court bill” was passed. This gave the Supreme Court the power to do what it already had the power to do, designate some circuit judges as judges of a “business court division,” where some unspecified business issues would be heard. The bill said nothing about who these judges would be, what grades they got in law school in any business-related courses, nor even if they could balance their own checkbooks. I hope that not very many business people were dumb enough to think that the business court bill did anything. (I have had some harmless fun with friends in the Legislature who tried to talk about how important the bill was and had trouble keeping a straight face.)

Now something which the Supreme Court did this week which is significant is to publish proposed new Rules of Appellate Procedure. Under the existing rules, an aggrieved party files a petition for appeal. The Court may grant the petition in which case both sides are heard or simply reject the petition with an order that says they reject it but gives no reason. If you thought you had a good case on appeal, you might wonder if they even looked at the Petition for Appeal. Under the proposed rules, there will be more “reasoned decisions.” That is not to say that the Court was not looking at Petitions and making “reasoned decisions” before. Indeed, there are always apocryphal stories which slip out of the Court about raised voices heard during the Justices’ conferences. But under the new Rules, the Court will be telling people what their reasoning is in more cases which are rejected. This will make for a more transparent judicial process. In our system of government, that generally means a preferable process which will be more trusted and respected.

Now, the question naturally arises is whether I could do better with some sort of West Virginia legal publication. There was a time when I might’ve said yes. That was when I was sadly ignorant of human nature, and the complexity of our monetary economy and “social economy.” Moreover, my practice has tended toward the somewhat old-fashioned, dealing with individual clients directly over problems that some would think of as small. I’ve always thought of the pinnacle of law practice as trying a murder case to a jury, and I must say I didn’t really feel like a trial lawyer until I had tried my first murder case. To some lawyers, my sort of practice is distinctly downmarket, and I can live with that.

So the Chamber uses it’s supermarket of The Record; and I the hot dog cart of these Dispatches; and we all practice in this Marketplace of Ideas.

Pippa passes.


1 comment:

sheila222 said...

In the same vein- when did privileges become entitlements?