Category Archives for First Amendment

Tribute To The Ink-Stained Wretch

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Tuesday, 11:22pm
Reno, NV
I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)

Howdy…

For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country.

Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments…

… we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.

For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.

Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment…

particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace.

For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter…

… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes.

We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception.

Yet, the opposite is true.

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Tribute To The Ink-Stained Wretch

Flag

Saturday, 12:42pm
Reno, NV
I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)

Howdy…

For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country. Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments, we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.

For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.

Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace. For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes. We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception. Yet, the opposite is true.

Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet. Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries. I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.

It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.

Much deeper than that. The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship. All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.

It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges. The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it. Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions. I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art. But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all banned or censored at some point in our history). And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.

We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.

So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today. This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal. The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box. Dangerous stuff.

I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.

For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks. Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.

Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm). But the restrictions should remain rare. Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it. Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology. And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.

I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life. It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.

For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory. Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being. Free.

Fuckin’ A. Play ball.

Stay frosty,

John

Why We Blow Stuff Up On The 4th Of July (redux)

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Saturday, 1:35pm
Reno, NV
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)

Howdy,

As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair… of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways… of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery… of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism itself long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to be “well, what would you do in his situation?”

Which, of course, produced exasperation that someone of such intelligence and knowledge as themselves should be required to come up with solutions.

The nerve, asking him to dirty himself with real-world considerations.

Nowadays, I prefer to just let the conversation die from non-involvement. No matter what the cynic is talking about, it’s the same game every time – either “they” (the mysterious folks apparently running everything) need to fix things, or the world just needs to stop bothering Mr. Cynic with its problems if no one’s gonna take his advice.

Yawn.

Yeah, you’re the guy I’m going to when problems need fixing. Those platitudes, snooty attitudes and arrogant dismissals of detail work oughta solve everything fast.

Oops, I let some sarcasm slip there. Sorry.

Anyway, I bring up my detestation of cynicism because it often rears its ugly head right about the Fourth of July, when guys like me start ruminating on what’s good about this country.

Yes, I know The Man is getting better at keeping us down. I know we’re being groomed for digital slavery by evil geniuses who want to control the universe. And I know it’s hopeless to fight city hall (let alone the gazillionaires currently corrupting every corner of the government with buckets of moolah).

But I’m an amateur historian. And I can scoff at the cynics because even a casual glance at the ride we’ve taken as a country so far lays bare a single fact: We’ve always been at each other’s throats… Continue reading

Why We Blow Stuff Up On July 4th

Flag

Monday, 1:43pm
Reno, NV
“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)

Howdy,

As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair, of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways, of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery, of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to beContinue reading