Author Archives: JKL

Time Bombs

Offenses of the First Quarter, January-February-March, 2019
Voltaire, that incorrigible philosophe, the celebrated Enlightenment liberal and probable anti-Semite, may have been having fun when he reputedly told Mme. Emilie du Chatelet that “history is only a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” Which leads me to the probably not wholly original observation, pertinent to our discussion here, that the present is the greater joke that our ancestors have played on us. In fact, it’s the perfect crime.

The joke often comes in the form of time bombs left behind by departed predecessors who can no longer answer for their misdeeds. That’s because until recently “history” took its time, playing out slowly over several generations to our present day. Lately, however, we have been blessed, if it’s a blessing, with a great cultural foreshortening. Today some makers of history live long and well enough into their own greatly altered futures to yoke themselves to the punchlines of their own jokes.

Here I have in mind our featured offenders for the first three months of 2019: Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa), Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va), and Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County). I stick with these three, from a longer list of offensive talkers, because the rules direct that, except in rare circumstances, there be only one Offender of the Month.

I remind you that in mid-January Congressman King was stripped of committee assignments and rebuked by the U.S. House of Representatives for essentially supporting white supremacy. His exact line, quoted in a piece in The New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

On February 1, it transpired that Governor Northam had appeared in his Virginia medical school yearbook in 1984 next to a picture of a student in blackface and another person in the white hood and robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Whether he was one of those depicted remains obscure. Why such pictures are in a medical school yearbook is also puzzling, and many schools are now undertaking to find out why.

In late February, the Maryland House of Delegates censured Del. Lisanti because she labeled a particular majority-black Maryland House district a “n —– district,” as most newspapers delicately put it. (I am cheating slightly here; she made the statement in January, the story broke in February, and it continued to play out in March.) Continue reading

FUCT again! The United States v. Offensive Speech

It seems I overstepped nineteen months ago in claiming that in a unanimous ruling involving disparaging trademarks, “the Supreme Court, presumably once and for all, has green lighted offensive speech.”

In Matal v. Tam, you may recall, the Court struck down a law that banned registration of trademarks that disparage people, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols. Continue reading

Mocking Misery

Offense of the Month, December 2018
How do you get to be an offender of the month? If you’re in the right place at the right time — or maybe make that the wrong place at the wrong time — it’s pretty easy. You can do it in just three simple steps: (1) Take insensitive photos making light of and even mocking a disaster that killed scores of people. (2) Affix stupid captions that traffic in others’ grief. (3) Post your artwork to Facebook. Then just sit back and wait for it all to be discovered.

That’s how it was for Rob Freestone, December’s offender of the month.

Until about two weeks ago, Freestone was a crane operator employed by Bigge Crane and Rigging, a company hired to begin recovery efforts in Paradise, California, the worst hit of the many towns in Butte County, where the horrific Camp Fire killed at least eighty-five people and destroyed more than fourteen thousand homes in the space of seventeen days in November. The company’s job was to check and trim trees that posed an acute danger to returnees, rescue workers, and others.

Nosing about the ravaged properties, Freestone took a number of photos — a charred cat, a wrecked structure, a mailbox tricked out as a fire truck. Appended to each was Freestone’s idea of a funny caption — e.g., on the wrecked structure, showing two people appearing to be in the ruins of a vehicle beneath the legend: “They’re off on a fun filled vacation to unknown destinations in their new RV.”

The uproar wasn’t instantaneous. It took victims and others a month or so to discover and focus on the photos. But when they were posted to the Town of Paradise website in mid-December, the aggrieved lit up a public information recovery clearinghouse website with denunciations. Condemning Freestone’s “unacceptable and reprehensible behavior,” the Paradise town manager made it clear that Freestone and two co-workers “will no longer be working in our Town.” Bigge Crane didn’t hesitate. It fired the three within hours, proclaiming it had “identified the three participants in this abhorrent event and their employment has been terminated.” Continue reading

The Curious Case of Sarah Jeong

The sense of offense is finely calibrated. It can detect an insult in a nanosecond and score it as a vile disparagement or a brilliant riposte, as contemptible or courageous, as harmful or enlightening, as doleful or droll, as wretched or risible, all according to the recipient’s sense of identity, community, and ideology. Such is the curious case of Sarah Jeong, Continue reading

Megyn Kelly Flames Out

Offense of the Month, October 2018
Trump and his coven aside (it would be hard, nay, probably impossible, for anyone else to compete), the October 2018 offense-of-the-month designee, hands down, is Megyn Kelly, partly for her actual offensiveness—that is, her racial insensitivity—but mostly for her obtusely loopy dopey stupidity or, as the British might better put it, for being several sandwiches short of a picnic. Not sure I can be any plainer.

Everyone who has looked at a paper, or been online, or watched the news, now knows (but may well forget a month or so from now), that on Tuesday, October 23, Kelly let loose on her NBC show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” about blackface Halloween costumes. She was commenting on a report she may have misread about the “costume police” at the University of Kent in Great Britain. Kelly seemed to think that certain costumes were about to be banned. News accounts are sketchy, and it may be that the student union there was considering a recommendation that students avoid wearing, rather than on outright ban on, “fancy dress” that caricatures cowboys, Nazis, and Harvey Weinstein, among others.

Kelly wondered “what is racist?” Speaking of children today and her own childhood, Kelly, 47, said: “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK just as long as you were dressing as a character.” Continue reading

Meek Disinherited

Offense of the Month, September 2018
In this time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, there are many candidates in the contest for offender of the month. For example, Rep. Ralph Norman (R.-SC), who distinguished himself opening an election-related debate at a Kiwanis Club in Rock Hill, South Carolina with this doozy: “Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news on the Kavanaugh hearings? . . . Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.” And there’s Sarah Jeong, the young tech writer who joined the editorial board of The New York Times despite a plethora of sketchy anti-white tweets, but that controversy exploded in August, and besides, I’ll soon post a longer piece on the problem tweets like hers pose (for her and for the rest of us).

So I’m anointing Ed Meek, a less well-known offender, who likely blundered into his moment of infamy, despite a background that should have kept this honor at bay. Continue reading

Turtles, but not all the way down

Offense of the Month July 2018
Probably not the most offensive display this month, probably not even by a longshot, but it’s the quirkiest that has come to my attention. To be sure, it’s the dog days, so I’ve been slacking off. But now right to it.

The honors (that is, as offender of the month) go to a herpetologist (your basic reptile and amphibian specialist), name of Richard C. Vogt. If you webble him Continue reading

Spiteful Spittle

The interesting thing about ABC’s defenestration of Roseanne Barr two weeks ago when she gratuitously tweeted a racist remark about President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, is that it wasn’t the first time the comedian let loose. Her reputation preceded her. Why was she hired in the first place, only now to be fired because of a single short tweet? Continue reading