I wrote this on May 26:
Today is Memorial Day, when we're supposed to honor those who have fallen in defense of our great nation and its principles. Many will do this by participating in a parade, going to a cemetery, or looking through photos of loved ones buried across the globe.
There are other ways to celebrate the sacrifices that have made America the world's most radical experiment in free speech and free thought. Remember, it's not the fact that you were born here that makes America great. It's the principles that America stands for, struggles with, and protects.
So this week you'll be honoring those who have fought and died for America when you:
* Use birth control
* Download porn
* Watch the Sopranos or South Park
* Go to a raunchy comedy club or listen to a raunchy CD
* Have non-intercourse sex
* Get a lapdance at a neighborhood club
* Read a gay magazine
* Have sex with someone of a different race
* Write a letter to the editor about same-sex marriage
Every single one of these acts took a court decision to affirm its legality. Many of these required Supreme Court action. Yes, the same historic court that decided the fate of racial segregation, "one man, one vote," and the 2000 presidential election was needed to decide that whites and blacks could have sex together, and that Americans could legally purchase contraceptives.
When you live your normal life this week--using condoms, watching grownup TV, shopping in private on the internet, enjoying oral sex, ignoring ads for massage parlors in your local newspaper--you'll be honoring the lives and hard work of thousands of plaintiffs, lawyers, judges, clerks, and volunteers.
These men and women may not have died in the line of duty, but they are on the front lines, serving our country. We have no medals for Bill Baird, Phil Harvey, Mildred Loving, or other heroes who have risked their lives, freedom, and sanity to protect our sexual expression. They fought not against a foreign enemy, but against tremendous pressure right here at home--from tyrannical majorities, powerful minorities, vindictive government agents.
These same elements threaten our basic American rights today.
Like other freedoms, sexual freedom isn't free. Today, on Memorial Day, let's remember those mostly-anonymous people who struggled and suffered to make America safer for sexual expression and the commercial and intellectual activities needed to support it.
Some will say that granddad or the local barber didn't die in Flanders, Gettysburg, or Vietnam so that his neighbor could go see a stripper, or his nephew could buy rubbers or hear Jon Stewart say "dickhead." I say that that's exactly why people died to defend America--a special country in which people have the extraordinary right to do, say, and think things of which their neighbors disapprove.
Returning the TV Clicker to Parents
You've heard about the government raid on the Yearning for Zion fundamentalist Mormon compound in Texas.
Now that a court has told the Texas child welfare authorities that the parenting rights of even polygamists are paramount, I suggest we use that same principle about what kids can watch on TV--instead of letting the government decide, let's put parents in charge.
That means letting parents use methods like the V Chip, ratings system, and cable TV lockout system. Parents can even decide not to own a TV if that's what they want. The important things is that we get the government out of the business of deciding what TV shows kids OR adults can watch.
The FCC was originally established to monitor the technical details of broadcast operations. It slowly evolved into the morality watchdog it is today--which necessarily means it will favor one worldview over another.
This is outrageous and un-American.
Our precious Constitution is clear: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." What part of this is unclear?
As part of the expanding Executive branch of government, the FCC has simply seized power it doesn't--and shouldn't--have. Today's "decency" groups say "the people" should decide about broadcast content. OK, let 'em. So memo to individual members of the Parents Television Council and Morality in Media: shut your sets, or change your channels, if you don't like what you see. That's how "the people" can decide for themselves, without deciding for ME.
And that's how democracy works--each of us has an enormous range of rights, and can make whatever private decisions we like. But when "morality" is dragged into governance, those in charge aren't satisfied with making their own choices--they want to limit OTHERS' choices as well. They say "since we believe you SHOULDN'T watch that show, we want to remove your RIGHT to watch it."
Members of groups like PTC, MiM, and the Family Research Council don't want their neighbors watching porn, The Sopranos, or South Park. That's why they want such things off the air.
Incredibly, these groups claim that it isn't the American public that demands "trash" on TV. No? Who's paying for HBO, Showtime, pay-per-view porn? Those things are EXPENSIVE. You gotta really want them if you volunteer to pay those bills.
These groups ask "when it will stop," as if there's some unwanted sewer pipe pouring sexual crap into our TVs. I can tell you exactly when it will stop--when consumers stop wanting it. Then it'll be off the airwaves in a second. Whether it's Howard Stern or Pat Robertson's The 700 Club, the market is exquisitely sensitive to people's tastes.
Ah, the market--where people vote with their dollars, and everyone believes in its wisdom--until some Americans notice what the market says about their neighbors' eroticism.
Memo to Indiana: Porn=Shakespeare=Free Speech
Count Indiana among the hated Axis of Evil.
In countries like North Korea, Iran, and Libya, individuals and organizations have been required to register communication tools like modems and cell phones with the government. Such countries want to know exactly who has the capacity to express "dangerous" ideas.
The state of Indiana has recently added itself to this illustrious honor roll. The legislature has passed a law requiring businesses to register and pay a $250 fee if they sell any "sexually explicit material."
That would include Salinger's "Catcher In the Rye," episodes of "NYPD Blue" the FCC has labeled indecent, and reproductions of Michelangelo's "David," whose world-famous arms, legs, face, and hands come burdened with a world-famous penis.
The law's sponsor claims that it's intended to reduce the availability of porn--a dubious goal at best (and unconstitutional, according to a group suing the state, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers). So busting the ballet or opera shouldn't be a problem, says State Representative Terry Goodin, because "Individuals, corporations, companies know whether or not they're selling pornography."
Tell that to broadcasters who wouldn't air "Saving Private Ryan" last Memorial Day for fear the FCC would bankrupt them with "indecency" fines.
But the inclusion of high-class erotic stuff isn't what makes the Indiana law destructive and unAmerican--it just highlights the problem of deciding which expression deserves legal protection whenever a legislature attempts to say that some of it does and some of it doesn't.
The answer, according to our Constitution, is that it all does, or none of it does.
This is hard for some people to understand or approve of. So let's say it clearly: in the radical American political system, the right to express ideas is singled out as sacred, protected above all others.
Every American's right to say, write, paint, dance, sing, film, and otherwise express an idea is protected, regardless of the content of the idea. And the more people object to the content of the idea, the more firmly it must be protected.
All the rest, as Rabbi Hillel said 20 centuries ago, is commentary.
Anti-Gay-Marriage Activists--I Feel Your Pain
The California Supreme Court has just overturned the state's ban on same-gender marriage. People (gay AND straight) who support full civil rights for all Californians are celebrating; those who believe people forfeit their routine civil rights if they have same-gender sex are outraged.
Memo to this latter group:
I've read your denunciations of this court decision. When I look beyond the lies and distortions, I see your fear and anger. And I sympathize. Appreciating your pain helps me forgive--well, at least understand--your destructive, undignified lying, your desperate cries that civilization is collapsing.
So let me address some of your lies:
Lie: "These are liberal, activist judges inventing
Fact: You know that three of the four judges affirming the decision were appointed by Republican governors. They describe themselves as conservatives who consider the Constitution the final authority, not themselves.
Lie: "This will destroy traditional marriage."
Fact: You know it hasn't done so in Massachusetts, or in Spain, an even more traditional society. Traditional marriage has been destroying itself quite energetically in America for years, BEFORE gays could marry.
Lie: "Marriage is intended to facilitate procreation."
Fact: You know that if this were true, marriage would be denied to couples who were infertile, post-menopausal, or committed to being childless. The state doesn't do fertility tests before issuing marriage licenses.
Lie: "Children are better off with a heterosexual
Fact: You know there are no reliable studies showing that kids do better with straight parents. You know there are LOTS of studies showing that kids do as well with gay parents as with straight parents with similar incomes and education. And you know that half of all heterosexual married couples get divorced. Do you argue that having divorced heterosexual parents is good for kids?
You tell these degrading lies because you're afraid. Afraid of this homosexual "other," this monster you're convinced is different from you. If you knew how many gay people you saw today at Starbucks or Target or the gas station you might not be so afraid. If you knew that that helpful woman three cubicles down from yours is gay you might not so easily deny her the basic rights that you enjoy.
Being a psychologist, I have to add that you (or your best friend) tell these lies because the whole idea of a man kissing a man's penis is creepy. A creepy idea that you (like ALL men) think about once in a while--which is way too often for your comfort.
You tell these lies because you're angry. Things are changing way too fast for any of us to absorb. Everyone who isn't young feels old. It seems like no one's really in control. We can't blame the Communists, and the terrorists aren't molesting our kids, or demanding we commute 90 minutes to work everyday in horrible traffic.
Your churches and political leaders are telling you who's ruining America--gays. You can't kill them or deport them, so you try to limit their rights and their impact. You're failing. You're getting angrier.
And now it looks like gays are going to share what you value most--the right to love, and the right to have that love blessed by the state (with, of course, the tax advantages and hospital privileges that come with that blessing).
I understand your pain.
But quit lying.
Gays don't want to seduce you or your spouse, don't want to molest your kids, don't want to undermine your marriage. Each gay man and lesbian has their own life to lead, their own petty little problems to work out. It's not all about you and your little marriage, which NO ONE except you cares about.
So I understand your pain.
But quit lying.