The finale of the National Football League season comes next Sunday with the Super Bowl contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and it marks the end of a season when relatively few fans attended games in person due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions observed by the league’s teams. Attendance at this Super Bowl will be limited to 22,000 fans, in a stadium that can seat over 65,000. For hard core fans used to watching the games in person rather than on television, it must have been a peculiar season.
Crowd in the Polo Grounds grandstand for the final game of the 1908 baseball season, watching the visiting Chicago Cubs play the New York Giants. Library of Congress photo from Bain News Service.
To be at a stadium or ballpark for a game is to experience something beyond the game alone, which really can be viewed more intelligibly on a television screen or computer monitor from the comfort of home. The sports fanatic can spend hundreds of dollars for the experience, counting ticket price, parking, concessions, and other sundry expenses, and still the sports fan prefers bearing those costs instead of staying home to watch the game for free or at very little cost. One hundred years ago, there were no such contrasting choices.
At the beginning of 1921, there was no broadcast medium at all involved in bringing sporting events to the masses. In the United States, radio broadcasts of sports began later that year, with the airing of a boxing match on April 11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a baseball game on August 21 from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. In both cases, the broadcasting station was KDKA in Pittsburgh. On October 8, KDKA broadcast a college football game. The first American television broadcast of sports didn’t occur until May 17, 1939, when NBC covered a college baseball game in New York City. Hard core sports fans didn’t get to listen to a sports talk radio show until New York’s WNBC started airing one in March 1964.
One hundred years ago, people either bought tickets to see sporting events or read about them the next day in a newspaper. Talking about sports was a first hand endeavor limited to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Now there are several options besides buying tickets for vicariously experiencing athletic contests, and with sports talk radio and television shows and social media, there are many options for sports fans to gab on and on about their obsessions to familiars and strangers alike, both near and far.
One of the subplots from a 1995 episode of Seinfeld involving Patrick Warburton as David Puddy, the boyfriend of Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Michael Richards played Cosmo Kramer, and Jerry Seinfeld played a fictional version of himself.
Social norms of public appearance and behavior loosened after World War II and particularly in the ’60s and ’70s, resulting in sports fans changing over the 50 years from the ’30s to the ’80s from men (they were overwhelmingly men in the stands) who attended the games largely in suits and ties, to people who wore casual clothing, often comprised of the merchandised parts of their favorite team’s uniform. Some went shirtless and painted themselves in their team’s colors. In the 1950s, only little boys and some working class adults wore baseball caps regularly. Now, almost everyone wears one at least occasionally, and many of the caps bear team logos at a price. No one has to grow up anymore (or wants to), and sports merchandisers, who had very little business at all before the 1970s, are counting money in the billions each year now, even without sports fans filling the stands.
Filing an unemployment claim online is the modern way, and few people bother about calling to file their claim. At least they don’t bother until they reach the last step of filing online when they may be confronted by a request from the unemployment office to call them in order to answer some questions for clarification of their claim. By the way, the claim is not complete and official until the applicant makes that call. *CLICK*
Jobless men lined up for the first time in California in 1936 to file claims for unemployment compensation under the Social Security Act of 1935. Photo for the Social Security Administration by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).
Making that call and actually getting through to a live human presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle when tens of thousands of other applicants are trying to do the same thing at the same time, overwhelming a system that was meant to handle only hundreds of calls each day, or maybe a few thousand calls a day at best. Since Department of Labor guidelines for unemployment claims dictate that many, possibly most, applications require follow up questions for clarification, there are now hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of unemployment applicants around the country whose claims have been in limbo for weeks because they cannot get through on the phone to their state’s unemployment agency, at the agency’s request. “We’re sorry we can’t take your call at this time, as all operators are currently busy assisting other applicants. Please try again later.” *CLICK*
In the 1979 PBS television show Previn and the Pittsburgh, Miklós Rózsa conducts a suite from his score for the 1959 film Ben-Hur, performed here by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If you’re going to be on hold with a phone call, you might as well listen to some glorious music, and particularly at this time of year if it’s related to Easter.
No one knows exactly how many people are trying to call and not getting through. The online claims are in limbo, and so how would anybody know? The current estimate of approximately 10 million new unemployment claims nationwide is almost certainly a low ball figure. The technology exists for handling such a high volume of online claims and the phone calls they generate, but state governments didn’t want to spend the money for technology and employees that would have been underused most of the time. State officials would have had difficulty selling preparation for the absolute worst case scenario. “The party you have reached is not taking any more calls.” *CLICK*
Rózsa’s “Overture” to Ben-Hur, recorded in 2017 using state of the art technology. For all that, music like this is performed by musicians on instruments that have changed little for centuries. Note the fellow filming the proceedings on a digital video camera no bigger than a tablet computer, which nonetheless delivers excellent optical quality and smooth motion. If you’re stuck at home for days and weeks at a time, it’s nice to have technology like this available as a compensation.
They could have come along part of the way, however, mainly in improving their ability to scale up quickly in response to a crisis. Instead, in some states like Florida, led by Republicans, officials actively undermined the capabilities of agencies, like unemployment offices, which were meant to aid workers. In times of low unemployment the agencies adequately supported the needs of claimants, but as soon as the load increased the system buckled and the agencies’ inadequacies became apparent. “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line to speak to the next available representative.” *CLICK*
Like the infectious disease advisory boards and the equipment and facilities necessary for coping with a pandemic, the state unemployment agencies appeared in quieter, safer times to be unnecessary expenses in the view of the kleptocrats currently occupying public office throughout much of the land. But wiser heads understand these are services that, when you need them, you really need them. Dumbkopfs don’t understand and are unwilling to admit these services can’t be brought up to speed overnight to handle a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. Primarily they don’t care. Trumpkins do understand military defense preparedness, but then that has more to do with maintaining the gravy train of defense contract boondoggles than with the actual requirements for defending our country. They think defending our country means ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and throwing the parents and children into separate concentration camps. Trillions for defense, but no more than pennies for scientific and humanitarian concerns. “All lines are busy. Good-bye.” *CLICK*
Finally, an analysis of Rózsa’s “Prelude” to Ben-Hur, the music that played during the opening credits. To all those who must sit and wait while technology catches up, may your call finally get through.
Tongues are wagging and fingers are busy typing all around the country about the Instagram influencer topic of “perineum sunning”. Or did the topic gain traction on Instagram from a post by a micro-influencer? Or even less popular than that? Wherever she was a week or two ago in the Instagram influencer pecking order, surely by now she is on her way to becoming a mega-influencer, if there is such a ranking.
The perineum is the part of the human body between the genitals and the anus, and according to Metaphysical Meagan, the influencer everyone is now talking and writing about, it feels good and is good for her – and possibly for you, too – to expose that area to direct sunlight for as little as less than a minute each day. Judging from pictures posted online by M. Meagan and others, the preferred method of achieving the proper exposure is lying naked on one’s back and splaying one’s legs in the air. The pictures of people baring their nether parts to the sun are hilarious.
A Miami Beach, Florida postcard from February 1967, in the Postcard Collection of the State Library and Archives of Florida.
As stupid trends go, this is relatively harmless, like mood rings or pet rocks. A few people will get rich off it, some others will buy into it and wonder why they did years later, and most will shake their heads and chuckle about it. In any event, the trend will pass soon, knocked off the radar by the next supposed big thing. The adherents of perineum sunning promote it’s dubious health benefits, and it is doubtful their claim will lead to great harm for Instagram devotees who follow prescribed practice and expose their perinea to the sun for less than a minute a day. Why talk or write about it then, and give this silliness more free publicity? Because of what this kind of ultimate silliness says about us and how we arrived at this moment.
First of all, the relatively recent phenomenon of the fascination with a suntanned physique as a sign of health and wealth is an attribute of white people generally, and of some white people with too much time and money on their hands particularly. Until the 1920s, a suntan was the mark of working class people who toiled outdoors all day for little pay, and the upper classes therefore scorned suntans and suntanned people. That flipped in the 1920s and ’30s, in some cases for worthwhile health reasons, such as the recognition that rickets was caused by a lack of vitamin D, a vitamin the skin produces upon exposure to sunlight. Other reasons had to do with displaying one’s wealth and the leisure time to be able to travel to far off, exotic locales and lie around in luxurious idleness soaking up the sun’s rays. Suddenly having a healthy glow from a tan was the in thing among the upper crust, and being pasty white was for the lower orders or the sick.
Now white folks with too much time and too much money are doffing all their clothes, lying back and flinging their legs in the air to get a warm, toasty feeling down where the sun don’t normally shine, and some of them are taking pictures of their frivolity and writing about it and distributing the goings-on to followers who eagerly soak it all in like the rays of the sun, for good or ill. Well, more power to them. It beats working for a living.
Researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile have developed an insulating material which allows a device to achieve a cooling differential of up to 23 degrees Fahrenheit using no electricity and no moving parts. 23 degrees cooling may not be sufficient on its own in all applications, but it will certainly increase the efficiency of existing devices by assisting them in not working as hard and thereby using less electricity. The useful attributes of the new insulator will help mitigate the climate warming effects of increased use of air conditioning and refrigeration, which in turn can lead to increased climate warming, and on and on.
Heating and cooling of indoor spaces accounts for between 40 and 60 percent of energy use worldwide, depending on location and also on who is doing the studies and how. It’s enough to know that indoor climate control is the single biggest factor in energy use around the world. Heating is the larger portion of the 40 to 60 percent of energy use, but that could flip by mid-century as the warming climate increases demand for cooling and lessens demand for heating. Be that as it may, it helps to understand that overall energy use will continue climbing, as it has throughout human history, though perhaps at a lesser rate due to improvements in the efficiency of devices and systems.
A banner outside the August 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, displays an image of Martin Luther King, Jr., along with a quote from him. Though the Reverend Dr. King’s remarks and activism on behalf of civil rights earned the most attention, his beliefs about the evils of unbridled capitalism and militarism were also worrisome to leaders of the nation’s power structure. Photo by Flickr user Liz Mc.
The achievements of researchers and engineers who develop improvements in using energy more efficiently are necessary and helpful in the fight against global warming, and they are to be lauded. It is government and business leaders and ourselves, the users of energy, who deserve condemnation as improvements in energy efficiency come without changes in the overall demand for energy and reduction of its deleterious effects on the climate. Embracing improvements in efficiency without simultaneously reducing our demand for more of a currently harmful thing is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Eliminating the burning of fossil fuels for energy will make the single greatest reduction in the pollutants causing global warming. That seems obvious, and it’s a simple statement to make, but it conflicts with powerful corporate, capitalist interests. Switching energy production entirely to renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric will greatly reduce pollutants, though not eliminate them. That also seems obvious. Ignoring for the moment the fraction of the population who blindly refuse to acknowledge responsibility for what is happening all around them, there is a greater obstructive force standing in the way of reducing carbon emissions enough in the next 10 years to slow – or even halt – climate change, and it is called capitalism.
The Trio of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt sing “After the Gold Rush” on Late Show with David Letterman on March 24, 1999. Neil Young wrote the song for his 1970 solo album, and the lyrics of the final verse dreaming about escape from this planet to a new home are bound to remain a dream for the foreseeable future, despite the efforts of technology capitalist Elon Musk.
At the climax of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, the team of scientists studying an alien microbe they have dubbed “Andromeda” discover in the nick of time that the destructive microbe would grow out of control if given a nearly limitless source of energy, in this case the detonation of a nuclear device meant to contain it by destroying it. They discover the opposite would happen, that the Andromeda strain would feed greedily on the energy supplied by nuclear fission and would quickly overtake the planet, and in a tense scene during the countdown to detonation, they manage to disarm the research facility’s nuclear device. Capitalism is similarly greedy and destructive. It is a system that needs close watching and regulation, not the rampant deregulation of the past 40 years. Like the unregulated sex urge which has led to global overpopulation and the consequent strain on the earth’s resources, greed is also an innate urge in humans, an urge that has found its closest reflection in capitalism, and unregulated it plunders and eventually destroys the earth’s resources, including its many peoples, rich and poor alike. — Techly
What kind of English word is “Winnemucca”? How about “taco”? “Fond du Lac”? People who get bent out of shape over other people speaking languages besides English while out in public in this country probably fail to realize how many English words have their origin in other languages. As much as 30 percent of English words are borrowed from the world’s thousands of languages. It would be difficult or impossible for the average English speaker to use only Anglo-Saxon words.
In the United States especially, where nearly 100 percent of the population comes from elsewhere in the world, the English language is a polyglot mixture made up of additions from languages everywhere, and yet it stands apart in its diction, its spelling, and in other ways. Place names preeminently use some version borrowed from the many Native American languages that have all but disappeared otherwise. What does it mean to send somebody back where they came from, when almost everybody came from somewhere else at one time? Send them back where? To Ohio? To Florida? If we go back far enough in time, almost everyone will have to leave, and the Native Americans – what is left of them – will no doubt feel immense relief, as of an oppressive burden lifting away from them.
The Tower of Babel, a painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525/1530-1569).
Exclusionary talk is loco chauvinism. It is meshuga, and yahoos who go on about sending others back where they came from are clearly non compos mentis. They should examine their own origins, which in the latest generation or two or three might be in places like Tulsa, Santa Fe, Tennessee, or Baraboo, but going back further could be traced to Scotland, or Frankfurt, or Sarajevo, and ultimately to Africa. White folks weren’t always white, and anyway no deity ever descended from the heavens to declare whiteness a superior trait. It only matters to people who are terrified of losing their imagined superior place in society, and must have Others to look down upon. Ordering Others to speak English when they are conversing among themselves is not only high-handed, it ignores how immigrants have enriched and informed English itself with words and expressions from everywhere. The proper remark for an English-only speaker to make in that case, if any is necessary at all, is gracias, or merci, or danke, or mahalo, or arigatô, or . . .
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) sang a North American version of “I’ve Been Everywhere”, a song written in 1959 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack, and which in the original version included all Australian place names, many of them originating in the languages of the Australian Aboriginal peoples.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
— from President John F. Kennedy’s “Race for Space” speech delivered before students and faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, an event witnessed on television by people around the world. The achievement after a decade of hard work and dedication by NASA personnel was enormous, of course, and as a prestigious accomplishment in science and engineering it has not been topped in the 50 years since July 20, 1969.
The feature that stands out after a half century is how little the actual landings on the moon, by Apollo 11 and by subsequent missions, has mattered in the lives of people on Earth. It was all the technological and scientific discoveries and advancements made along the way to landing astronauts on the moon which have made the most impact on the lives of many people. Giving astronauts prominence before the public and making them integral to the Apollo program garnered public support while increasing the expense and difficulty of the missions. Having the Apollo astronauts bound around the surface of the moon for a few hours and gather up some rocks made a comparatively small impact on the wealth of scientific and technical knowledge NASA reaped from the program, while keeping up public interest and support.
“Earthrise”, a photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.
Of all the insights common people gained from the Apollo program, perhaps none made a greater impression overall than the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. In the foreground is what astronaut Buzz Aldrin would seven months later call the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and viewed from a distance of about 240,000 miles, in a perspective never before seen by anyone on Earth, is the partially sunlit Earth, our home, appearing fragile and jewel-like in the black emptiness of space.
That picture and the emotions it stirred gave impetus and urgency to the environmental movement, and before the end of 1970 people around the world recognized the first Earth Day and in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency began operations. To strive for a decade to land astronauts on the moon, increasing knowledge and spurring progress all along the way, and then to have those astronauts turn around and look back toward the earth, sharing that view with everyone, that was perhaps the greatest legacy of the Apollo space program.
The opening sequence of the 1982 meditative documentaryKoyaanisqatsi depicts the Holy Ghosts portion of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, followed by the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Godfrey Reggio directed the film, Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, and Philip Glass wrote the music. The title comes from the Hopi language and the film makes oblique and direct references to Hopi prophecies, or warnings; and while the Great Gallery pictograph did not originate with the Hopi, they believe it and other pictographs in the Four Corners region are the work of their ancestors and they hold them sacred.
A federal judge ruled recently that the city of New Orleans violated the First Amendment rights of street artist Cashy D and property owner Neal Morris when the city censored a mural painted by Cashy D on Mr. Morris’s property for the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) Mural Project. The mural in question quotes off camera remarks made by the current president when he was still a private citizen to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. Those were the infamous “grab ’em by the p*ssy” remarks. For the mural, Cashy D painted pictograms to stand in for some of the words, and it was supposedly one pictogram in particular that some citizens and the city objected to, taking their case to court.
In a case like this, it’s probably impossible to separate politics from concerns about public display of lewd images. People engage in political displays on their own property all the time, the most prevalent example being electioneering signs. Those signs typically do not contain lewd images or profane language, though it’s possible some homemade versions might. Art displayed on private property where it can be viewed by the public is often subject to local zoning and nuisance regulations. The NOLA Mural Project artwork is a political statement expressed on private property within public view, and any lewd images and profane language it contains are directly related to the quotation from the political figure the creators are criticizing.
A Gay Pride Festivus Pole and Nativity Scene on public display on private property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in 2015. Photo by DavidCharlesFLA.
Simple as the language of the First Amendment to the Constitution appears, it is amazing how many different interpretations it has engendered over the years. It would seem fairly cut and dried, but obviously it is not, according to the nation’s judiciary. First Amendment cases decided one way by a lower court are often as not overturned by a higher court, an outcome that wouldn’t appear likely if it were not for the fallibility of judges and the judicial process, and the malleability of the law itself.
The current president may have made his foul remarks in private as a private citizen, but the way the American political game is played, he and his history became fair game once he entered public life, and remarks like those quoted in the Cashy D mural are indicative of his character, or lack of it, and become part of political discourse, their very offensiveness being the whole point of the mural. Political expression on public view from a private space is subject to interpretation and possible censure by the public, and its merits are therefore best judged on a case by case basis in the courts, as they should be, and not by bureaucrats and politicians in city halls around the country.
Snow has always been more problematic for movie sets than rain, but when the filmmakers and their special effects people do it well it creates an atmosphere for viewers that suspends their disbelief to the point of not noticing smaller details, like how the snow fallen on performers doesn’t appear to melt quickly when they go indoors, where it is presumably warmer than it is outside. All sorts of obstacles dictate the use of fake snow for movies rather than the real stuff, from warm weather outdoors to shooting scenes indoors on sound stages. Real snow also compacts underfoot, making it impracticable for filmmakers to get more than one or two takes in one spot outdoors even when they go to the trouble of brushing over footsteps to make the snow appear fresh for retakes. As expensive as it is to make a movie, it makes sense to use fake snow.
In the early twentieth century, filmmakers created fake snow with bleached cornflakes, salt, flour, cotton wadding, asbestos, or combinations of those materials as well as others. All posed problems either of realism or health and safety. Cornflakes crunched underfoot and were difficult to use once sound came into movies; salt was corrosive; flour congealed on exposure to moisture; cotton was a fire hazard, and its replacement, asbestos, was a health hazard. Filmmakers experimented with many materials, but it wasn’t until Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life that they came upon a winning formula which was realistic and safe.
Fake snow attracts visitors to Chamberlain Square in Birmingham, England, in August 2011 as part of the Six Summer Saturdays festival. The fake snow was supplied by Snow Business, an English firm that has also used the material on many movie sets. Photo by Elliott Brown.
For that film produced by the studio RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), special effects supervisor Russell Shearman helped create a mix of foamite – a fire extinguisher material – with sugar, water, and soap flakes. Mr. Shearman’s snow effects were so convincing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him and his special effects department a Technical Achievement Award for their work on It’s a Wonderful Life. Watching this Christmas classic over 70 years later, after special effects have made huge advances in duplicating reality, and noticing how at the end of the movie the “snowflakes” on Jimmy Stewart’s shoulders take a long time to melt when he comes indoors to a warm reception from his family, friends, and neighbors, should not detract from anyone’s enjoyment of a great cinematic moment or the filmmakers’ expert creation of George Bailey’s (Stewart’s) snowy odyssey one long Christmas Eve in the fictional New York town of Bedford Falls (or its nightmare alternative, Pottersville). Movie magic at its best suspends the viewer in another world for a time, and on the few occasions when the artifice shows through, it’s charitable not to be too picky and to brush them off.
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in the 1954 filmWhite Christmas, directed by Michael Curtiz, and with songs by Irving Berlin, including “Snow”. The performers take the train from Florida and eventually arrive in Vermont, where snow doesn’t fall until Christmas Eve.
March 2012 caricature of Rush Limbaugh, by DonkeyHotey.
On Tuesday, September 11, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the southeastern United States, Rush Limbaugh spouted off once again on his radio program with his own ideas about hurricanes and climate change, much like he did last year when Hurricane Irma was bearing down on southern Florida. Last year, after cynically boasting of his skepticism over the forecast track and intensity of Irma, which he attributed to scare mongering by the political left, he hightailed it from his West Palm Beach estate in southern Florida to Los Angeles, California.
Presumably Florence does not threaten any of Mr. Limbaugh’s properties, and he has not made headlines for hypocrisy this time, but merely for being a dangerous loudmouth as usual. If Mr. Limbaugh remains skeptical of anthropogenic climate change and also thinks the hardworking forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) are in league with sellers of bottled water and other emergency supplies, then he should start doing his own weather forecasting and climate assessments using publicly available data from weather stations and satellites. He and his conspiracy theory acolytes would probably find other reasons to twist the facts to suit their beliefs, such as intimating the data were skewed by leftists, but it’s best not to go too far down the rabbit hole with them.
In this satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Florence nears the East Coast of the United States on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. West Palm Beach, home of Rush Limbaugh, is safely out of the way at the bottom left of the picture, near the southern tip of Florida.
It’s easier than ever to gather useful data from public sources in this, the Information Age. It’s easier, however, and apparently more profitable, to sit on your butt in the back of the class and shoot spitballs. It’s unfortunately likely that some people who heeded Rush Limbaugh’s lazy, reckless frothings on hurricanes and climate change are now coping with the destructive flood waters brought on by Hurricane Florence, which doesn’t care what he has to say.
The departure of advertisers from Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News after a boycott of their products and services was proposed by David Hogg, the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor Ms. Ingraham gratuitously mocked on Twitter, is not censorship, as Fox News executives claim, but the simple economic result of a self-inflicted wound. No one disputes Ms. Ingraham’s First Amendment right to make hateful, idiotic remarks. Furthermore, no one claims that Ms. Ingraham cannot disagree with Mr. Hogg on gun control. As a public figure, however, with a forum that allows her to generate revenue through television viewership ratings that are often as not in her case driven by the outlandishness of her hateful, idiotic remarks, and ad hominem attacks on those she disagrees with, she cannot expect there will be no repercussions. Boycotting her advertisers is simply hitting her where she and Fox News are most vulnerable.
Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King Jr. in the background. Ms. Parks was instrumental in starting the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Photo by the United States Information Agency (USIA).
There’s a world of difference between the costs paid by Ms. Ingraham for her free speech and that paid by someone such as Juli Briskman, the woman who lost her job after flipping off Supreme Leader’s motorcade last October. Ms. Briskman was not a public figure at the time, and she undertook her action on her own account, with no connection made by her between that action and her employer. Still, her employer, a federal contractor, fired her after it became widely known she worked for them. Ms. Briskman had no thought of ginning up popularity and revenue for her or her employer, far from it. People like Laura Ingraham are well aware their speech will generate controversy, because controversy translates into money. Ms. Ingraham and other public figures like her are the television wrestlers of punditry, throwing metal chairs and bellowing insults while they stomp around the arena doing their best to incite the crowd.
The boycott is a time honored method for expressing disapproval and trying to effect change in public policy or the behavior of public figures. People on both sides of the political spectrum engage in boycotts, as the Reverend Franklin Graham demonstrated recently when he called for a boycott of Target department stores on account of what he sees as their overly liberal transgender restroom policy. Everyone votes with their dollars, for the simple reason that in our capitalist society it is the easiest and most effective way of getting the attention of the powerful. Whether a boycott is undertaken for frivolous or nasty reasons is in the eye of the beholder, but it has to be respected because it too is a form of free speech. The object of a boycott may weather it with enough counter support from people who perceive the boycott as unfair. At any rate, the economic effect is often secondary to the real aim of the boycotters, which is to bring a matter to widespread public attention, causing the boycotted company or public figure to explain or justify their actions, policies, or remarks.
Mahatma Gandhi coined the term “satyagraha” to explain his view on the right way to conduct non-violent efforts for change. Satyagraha means truth (satya), and grasp or hold onto (graha), or holding onto the truth. When people hold what they believe to be the truth, they actively try to get someone or some group who is obstructing their aims to see that truth as well, so that in the end they will step out of the way without the threat of violence. Of course, we all believe we hold the truth, with the possible exception of media pundits who cynically exploit political arguments for personal gain, in which case it’s hard to say whether they believe their own nonsense or not. It doesn’t really matter.
An assembly of moments from the 1982 Richard Attenborough film Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley, showing some of the Mahatma’s methods and philosophy.
For everyone else, with their own truths (not their own facts), it is important to treat those who disagree by the light of their own truths with respect and consideration during the contest for change. The boycott throughout history has been an instrument of change used by the weak against the strong, and today is no different. It’s unseemly then for the strong to veil themselves in the First Amendment in a cynical attempt to elevate the debate into the same arena where Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez fought for their rights, when they brought this public criticism upon themselves as a consequence of abusing their public forum in the interest of spewing vitriol in pursuit of dollars.