Creepy Creepy Donald Trump

Published: The Good Men Project (February 27, 2016)

Let’s discuss the history of presidential creepiness. In this election, this is a discussion that really matters.

We can start with the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who raped his 14-year-old slave Sally Hemmings.  Nearly a century later, Grover Cleveland became the first president to get married in the White House. His bride? Frances Folsom, who at 21 was more than a quarter-century Cleveland’s junior and as an infant had been babysat by her “Uncle Cleve” back when her father was still his law partner. Flash forward to the Great Depression and you will find First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whose maiden name was… um, Roosevelt (she was his fifth cousin once removed). And let us not forget Bill Clinton – husband of America’s probable future first female president, Hillary Clinton – whose well-known philandering may very well have crossed the line into sexual harassment or quite possibly even rape.

So where does Donald Trump fit into this tradition of creepiness? Is he merely incestuous (psychologically if not biologically), like Cleveland and Roosevelt, or does he betray a profound lack of respect for women’s bodies, like Jefferson and Clinton?

As it turns out, both!

The most obvious target is Trump’s barely concealed incestuous lust for his daughter, Ivanka. During a 2006 appearance on The View, he remarked that “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.”  Don’t worry, though, he had a completely rational reason for bringing this up… They were discussing whether she should pose nude in Playboy! Last year, The Donald returned to the subject in an interview with Rolling Stone in which he said “Yeah, [Ivanka’s] really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”

As talk show host Trevor Noah put it, I’ve never been more grateful for ellipses than after reading that sentence. Having said this, there is one Trump-wants-to-bang-his-daughter quote that is more relevant than all the rest. It comes courtesy of a 2003 interview with comedian Howard Stern, in which the two men casually dished about women they considered hot or not. “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka,” he declared. “My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot of money as a model—a tremendous amount.”

Bear in mind, this was an interview in which Stern and Trump were sizing up women as if they were slabs of meat existing only for male consumption. Even if one attributes Trump’s remark here to paternal pride instead of something less savory, it undeniably reduced his daughter’s worth to her physical beauty and perceived sexual desirability. This brings us to the second way in which Trump is creepy… namely, his absolute disregard for women as anything other than objects for carnal gratification.

Some telling quotes:

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me— consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

[On women] “You have to treat ’em like shit.”

[On sexual assault in the military] “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”

[On the tough questions posed to him by Fox News host Megyn Kelly] “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

And, of course, this one about his likely opponent in the upcoming presidential election:

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

It’s tempting to dismiss these comments for being misogynistic, which they certainly are. More importantly, though, they betray an inability to recognize women’s value as being more than what they can offer him as a man. His jab at Hillary Clinton is particularly revealing here because, jokingly or otherwise, he played off of the assumption that the best way to assess her worthiness for the White House was her marital relationship. Bear in mind, he is talking about a public figure who has dominated America’s political consciousness for almost a quarter-century, serving as one of the most influential First Ladies in history, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State. It is perfectly fine to disagree with her ideology or question her policy decisions, but attempting to sum up her career based on her presumed sexual prowess is more than just sexist. Because Trump clearly identifies with husband/patriarchal figures, there is an implicit narcissism in there as well. And when you are so narcissistic that you literally can’t value women beyond how they might please yourself, sexism evolves into creepiness.

That’s why, as Americans prepare for an election between its first major party female presidential candidate and the bloviating racist billionaire, it is entirely appropriate to use the word “creepy” in reference to the latter. It speaks not only to his personal proclivities, but a dangerous flaw in his larger worldview. Trump’s creepiness may not be unique in American presidential history, but it’s hopefully a tradition that we are ready to move past.

Rapers and Murderists Everywhere!

Published: The Good Men Project (February 23, 2016)

My friend George recently told me that his friend’s mother, who watches the BBC on a regular basis, uses the word “raper” instead of “rapist.” At first I scoffed at this revelation, but upon further reflection I started to wonder: Why do we say “rapist” instead of “raper?” Do we say “murderist” instead of “murderer” or “killist” instead of “killer?”

A quick glance at the etymology yields some insights. The word “rape” is derived from the Latin word rapere, which means “to seize”; by contrast, “murder” comes from the Old English word myrðrian and “kill” from the Old English word cwellan. I’d imagine that if I scratched around further, I’d probably find similar examples to support this thesis, although it would likely face maddening inconsistencies as well. Then again, we tinker with and alter the English language in countless ways every day. Obviously some cultures saw fit to simply refer to it as “raper” while others believed “rapist” sounded more appropriate. Why?

I don’t have an answer, but I do have a word count to fill, so I’ll press on with this observation. Regardless of which term makes the most etymological sense, there is something off-putting about adding an ‘-ist’ suffix to a terrible crime. Sure we do it with lesser offenses (“plagiarist” rolls off the tongue more easily than “plagiarer”), but when you tack it on to something as heinous as rape, it makes the crime sound almost distinguished by comparison. An ‘-er’ suffix merely implies that you have committed the action in question – a murderer has murdered, a robber has robbed, that sort of thing – but ‘-ist’ almost comes across as an accomplishment. Think about it: Would you have more respect for a “murderer” or a “murderist?” I might watch a one-hour episode of a True Crime show about a murderer, but I’d watch a whole damn TV series about someone worthy of the title “murderist.” Am I right?

Probably not. I’m probably putting too much thought into this. Then again, language does matter. The words we choose, or even the letters we include or exclude in those words, impact our consciousness. Maybe it’s not the biggest deal in the world that we say “rapist” instead of “raper,” but I suspect it probably does subtly effect how we view the nature of that particular crime… and, more specifically, the perpetrators of said crime. If it wasn’t for the fear of being viewed as an uncultured boor, I would revise my own use of the language and say “raper.” But, of course, I am a slave to appearances, so I dare not cross that linguistic threshold.

Instead I will close by noting that, at some future date, I would like to see a verbally dexterous comedy play fast and loose with switching out the ‘-ists’ and ‘-ers’ in these terms. Maybe a farce about a serial killist who spends his days as a truck drivist and, to conceal evidence of his crimes, burns down the buildings where they take place. As a result, he is eventually caught and charged with being an arsoner… Come to think of it, why do we say “arsonist” instead of “arsoner?”

You know what, I’m not going to pull on that thread.

The next Supreme Court justice and the future of the Internet

Published: The Daily Dot (February 22, 2016)

When it comes to the field of cyber law, it’s rather ironic that the next Supreme Court justice will replace the late Antonin Scalia. After all, the famous constitutional originalist revealed in 2012 that, if he had his druthers, his successor would be University of Chicago law professor Frank Easterbrook, a man who once compared studying Internet law to creating a hypothetical field in “horse law.”

“Lots of cases deal with sales of horses; others deal with people kicked by horses; still more deal with the licensing and racing of horses, or with the care veterinarians give to horses, or with prizes at horse shows,” Easterbrook argued. “Any effort to collect these strands into a course on ‘The Law of the Horse’ is doomed to be shallow and to miss unifying principles.” So too, he claimed, withthe Internet.

Not surprisingly, Easterbrook isn’t on President Barack Obama’s short list to replace Scalia, in large part because his self-proclaimed “originalist” views differ so widely from those of the liberal Democratic Party. Fortunately, several of the other judges and lawyers reportedly being considered by the president do have backgrounds in cyber law, stretching beyond merely dismissing it as the modern equivalent of equine jurisprudence.

As Republicans and Democrats argue over whether the White House should wait until a new president is sworn into office next year, Obama has made it clear that he will nominate a replacement soon.

As Republicans and Democrats argue over whether the White House should wait until a new president is sworn into office next year, Obama has made it clear that he will nominate a replacement soon.

First on the list is D.C. Circuit Court Judge Sri Srinivasan, who is widely regarded as afrontrunner to replace Scalia. Although his views on net neutrality aren’t well known, they will soon become very important to the fate of the Internet. In December Srinivasan joined a panel with fellow judges Stephen Williams and David Tatel to determine whether Internet providers can be legally permitted to favor preferred websites when consumers surf the web on their personal computers, smartphones, and tablets. Tatel has already demonstrated an opposition to net neutrality, having authored opinions striking down the FCC’s attempts to enforce net neutrality on two previous occasions, which means that Srinivasan’s views on the subject will be particularly important.

More disturbing are the views of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who is also reportedly on Obama’s short list. When confronted with the NSA’s surveillance program that included spying on every American through their various uses of the Internet, Lynch has been an unapologetic supporter for the agency’s excesses. Speaking with CBS News in May, Lynch warned that the United States would be “less safe” unless the NSA had broad-reaching powers to monitor Americans using telephone records and information about their Internet use. “I think that we lose important tools. I think that we lose the ability to intercept these communications, which have proven very important in cases that we have built in the past,” she explained. “I am very concerned that the American people will be unprotected if this law expires. I’m hopeful, however, that Congress, who I know is working on this issue, will come to a resolution.”

By contrast, California Attorney General Kamala Harris seems to have a strong appreciation for the importance of online privacy. Although she hasn’t been involved in deciding NSA policy, she has been a staunch protector for consumersin her state who don’t want their personal information collected and passed onto buyers who specify their marketing based on this individual data. These have included sending notices to 100 app makers in her state who hadn’t heeded disclosure guidelines, suing Delta Airlines for collecting personal data without fully informing their users, and urging that app makers not ask for personal data when it’s not essential for basic functions. “These are challenges that we must confront and that we must resolve in a way that appropriately protects privacy while not unduly stifling innovation,” Harris told CBS News, recognizing the importance of app development to our economy while insisting on the right to privacy.

Issues ranging from national security and copyright infringement to protecting privacy and curbing the power of big business have intersected with cyber law and how it ought to be conceived and implemented. As the Internet becomes more and more prevalent in our social, political, and cultural life, these questions are only going to multiply.

Finally, we can look at Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents how the views of individual policymakers can evolve over time on these issues. Back in 2011, Klobuchar joined 11 other senators in co-sponsoring the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which along with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House was written with the goal of stopping “rogue websites dedicated to infringing on counterfeit goods.” After becoming aware of her constituents’ concerns that PIPA and SOPA would stifle creativity under the guise of protecting copyright holders, however, Klobuchar’s officewalked back its support for the bill. “[Klobuchar] believes we need to address concerns being raised today and work out a compromise that balances free exchange on the Internet with stopping foreign piracy that hurts our economy,” her staff explained.

There are several advantages to reviewing the records of Srinivasan, Lynch, Harris, and Klobuchar on Internet law. Along with representing very different points on the spectrum of American legislative/judicial life (being, respectively, a circuit court judge, a federal attorney general, a state attorney general, and a federal senator), each one has been required to confront thorny issues about how the Internet fits into the modern legal system. Issues ranging from national security and copyright infringement to protecting privacy and curbing the power of big business have intersected with cyber law and how it ought to be conceived and implemented. As the Internet becomes more and more prevalent in our social, political, and cultural life, these questions are only going to multiply.

Does this mean that Easterbrook was right when he compared “any effort to collect these strands” as comparable to creating “a course on ‘The Law of the Horse’”? Certainly he was correct in assessing that, as of yet, no unifying and coherent juridical philosophy exists to govern Internet law. At the same time, whereas a horse is merely one animal among many that are commonly used in the modern world, the Internet’s reach spans so far and is so enormous that judges are going to be compelled to come up with a consistent way of legally contextualizing it whether they want to or not. As Srinivasan and Klobuchar have learned, we will need to determine the extent to which it belongs to the public rather than the private businesses that currently profit of it; as Harris demonstrated, it will be necessary to protect ordinary people from exploitation, much of which they couldn’t have even conceptualized less than a quarter-century ago; and as Lynch’s stance on NSA surveillance makes clear, there are many in the government who believe it needs to be carefully monitored for national security reasons, even if the methods used are constitutionally questionable.

There are no easy answers to these questions, but it is vital that we ask them. Hopefully, as Obama narrows down his list of possible replacements for Scalia, he is asking them as well.

#MisfitsUnite! – An Aspie’s Call for Social Change

Published: The Good Men Project (February 20, 2016)

I’ve been writing about living with Asperger’s Syndrome for more than three years, and during that time I have received a curious response from many readers outside of the HFA (or high-functioning autism) community. Although many of them strongly identify with my descriptions of not understanding “the game” behind social interactions and therefore struggling to “fit in,” they’re not sure what to make of the fact that they have these problems but aren’t autistic themselves. Three questions usually arise:

  1. Do my arguments imply that most of these misfits are on the autism spectrum but simply haven’t been diagnosed?
  2. If not, what is my explanation for why so many people aren’t able to fit in?
  3. What do I think should be done to help all misfits, as opposed to merely those who are on the autism spectrum?

The first and second questions can be addressed with the same answer. Although psychology and neurology have made great strides over the past century, the human brain remains one of science’s great unknown frontiers. Because we currently understand so little about the mind, it is impossible for anyone to effectively comprehend the complex challenges facing those who for one reason or another are regularly marginalized, rejected, and abused just for being themselves. I boldfaced and italicized the phrase “for one reason or another” because, while autism is an explanation for some of these individuals (including those who haven’t been diagnosed), there are plenty of people whose social difficulties are caused by entirely unrelated conditions – including, I suspect, many that haven’t been discovered yet.

Even though our knowledge of the psyche remains incomplete, though, that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to improve the experiences of misfits everywhere. In fact, I would argue that the three lessons society should learn from HFAs – i.e., the attitudes and expectations that, if they became the norm instead of the exception, would make it exponentially easier for us to fit in – would actually benefit everyone whose internal wiring has turned them into outcasts.

♦◊♦

1. Don’t jump to conclusions when someone behaves in a way that could be considered weird, rude, obnoxious, or annoying.

Regardless of why another person comes across as weird, rude, obnoxious, and/or annoying, it is important to remember that quite often they aren’t doing this because of poor choices or character flaws. Societies come up with thousands of unspoken rules that govern how people interact with each other, and the ability to follow them has as much to do with neurological good luck as it does with personal agency. On one extreme, there are the men and women who are instinctively attuned to these unspoken rules; on the other, there are those who are entirely unaware of them and wouldn’t be able to master them even if they were explained in detail. Although most people fall somewhere between those two poles,  those who are closer to the latter end are destined to “come across the wrong way” in social interactions because their gaffes veer too far from the normative margin of error.

In a society that encourages openness, awkward individuals won’t have to worry about losing important personal and professional relationships because they mishandled a social situation; their errors will instead be correctly viewed as the interpersonal equivalent of blindness, with the condemnation falling on those who would reject or scorn them rather than on themselves for being disabled.

Here’s where things get tricky. On the one hand, it’s understandable that people who are unfamiliar with abnormal behaviors – particularly those which are poorly understood, like autism, or not understood at all – will initially feel put off by them. The problem is that, instead of dispassionately trying to figure out why someone is behaving in an unusual way, many people are inclined to assume the worst. If you come across as rude, it must be that you’re a jerk; if you’re pushy, it must be that you don’t respect other people’s boundaries; if you make inappropriate or hurtful comments, it must be that you’re a boor or mean-spirited; and on and on it goes.There are literally countless ways in which someone who desires to interact on a normal level can come across abnormally – and thus be regarded as weird, rude, obnoxious, or annoying – because, for whatever reason, their brains do not pick up on all of the frequencies necessary for social proficiency. Even if we don’t precisely understand the why and how behind this, it’s still possible to create a system that benefits everyone. All we need to do is…

2. Encourage honesty and openness above all else.

There are two dimensions to this advice. For those who find themselves on the receiving end of socially awkward behavior, they should honestly and directly explain to the other person both what they are doing wrong and why they find it objectionable. For those committing the social awkwardness in question, they should be open with the other party about the nature of their struggle and accept the new lessons they are being taught.

This maxim may seem absurdly simple, but you would be amazed at the frequency with which it is disregarded… and, although my biases may be unduly influencing me here, my sense is that the normals are far more likely to ignore it than the abnormals. If nothing else, the power dynamic is entirely skewed in their favor, so they have no immediate incentive to extend their empathy and alter this behavior. What’s more, many of them are uncomfortable with bluntly explaining such delicate matters to other people and as such react negatively to being put in that situation in the first place. Finally, there is the pervasive prejudice that – regardless of the science and the lived experiences of millions – people who make social mistakes must be doing it because of a character flaw, and are simply using their condition (diagnosed or otherwise) as an excuse. This last assumption is especially pernicious because it discourages struggling individuals from being open with others, including those who could be understanding, because they assume they won’t be believed.

Even though there is so much we don’t understand about our own selves, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by promoting a culture of honesty and openness and discouraging actions that pass harsh judgments and close off communication.

In a society that encouraged honesty, however, people dealing with awkward individuals will have a way of communicating their own needs while treating the other person with respect. Similarly, in a society that encourages openness, awkward individuals won’t have to worry about losing important personal and professional relationships because they mishandled a social situation; their errors will instead be correctly viewed as the interpersonal equivalent of blindness, with the condemnation falling on those who would reject or scorn them rather than on themselves for being disabled.

This isn’t to say that no burdens fall on the awkward…

3. Misfits unite!

In the end, anyone who has ever felt marginalized has a moral and practical responsibility to show empathy toward other marginalized people. While this may seem as self-evident as my second piece of advice, I have been shocked by how often I observe marginalized people mistreating others. Many of the socially maladjusted men (autistic or otherwise) that I meet harbor virulently homophobic views, ignoring the many structural similarities between the attitudes that cause anti-gay and anti-transsexual discrimination and the assumptions that perpetuate mistreatment of HFA and HFA-like individuals. Similarly, I’ve met many people who suffer from one type of psychological syndrome who – though rightly insisting on fairness for others with their specific condition – seem incapable of extending that same empathy toward all misfits in general. Instead of learning that the problem is a society which creates misfits in the first place, all they’ve picked up on is that they personally do not want to feel among the misfits.

If we’re going to make this a better world for marginalized people, we need to start by realizing that everyone who is marginalized is ultimately in the same boat. The specific issues may differ, but the underlying cause is always the same: Because someone is different, and that differentness is misunderstood, it is considered acceptable to reject or mistreat them. Anyone who suffers in this way – from HFAs and other people with conditions that make them socially awkward to victims of oppression based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation – deserves empathy and understanding. When we support each other, we are stronger than when we go it alone; and when we sympathize with each other, we are better people than when we only extend our empathy to those who are like us.

♦◊♦

Even though there is so much we don’t understand about our own selves, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by promoting a culture of honesty and openness and discouraging actions that pass harsh judgments and close off communication. If we achieve those goals, there will be far fewer misfits out there in the world, just a lot of differently abled people whose conditions will be better understood over time.

I feel the need to end this essay on a personal note. Looking back over my own life, I find innumerable occasions in which I have been penalized socially for reasons that I did not understood and could not control. One of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been connecting with others who face similar predicaments, but even as I learned that I wasn’t alone, I became increasingly frustrated at the knowledge that so much of what makes our lives difficult would be GONE – evaporated, poof, in a cloud of smoke – if the prevailing assumption was to be honest and communicative. This frustration is heightened by the knowledge that, save for the deliberately malicious and duplicitous, everyone would win by adopting this ethos, not just HFAs and people who are like them.

This needs to change… and it needs to change now.

Why I Admire Hillary Clinton’s Toughness

Published: The Good Men Project (February 18, 2016)

Whenever I write nice things about Hillary Clinton, I’m compelled to preface them by mentioning that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. Inevitably I receive angry letters insisting that no one who truly Feels The Bern could say anything positive about his current arch-rival, but the reality is that I don’t simply respect Clinton out of a desire for party unity. Although ideologically I align more closely with Sanders, Clinton has a certain intangible quality that I believe doesn’t get nearly enough credit: Sheer grit.

Her closest analogue in the annals of presidential history may be Richard Nixon. Like Clinton, Nixon was a prominent political figure in American life for more than two decades. Right from the beginning, they inspired the most vitriolic hatred in their enemies – Nixon for his red-baiting in the McCarthy era and Clinton as a symbol of second wave feminist idealism. Both played prominent roles in presidential administrations later viewed fondly for being periods of economic prosperity and pervasive optimism, Nixon as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president in the 1950s and Clinton as First Lady in the 1990s. Finally, each one faced a flurry of scandals that would have destroyed other politicians – Nixon’s secret funds and ties to organized crime, Clinton’s tendency toward exaggeration and reckless use of power (see the email scandal). This remarkable resiliency has, over time, almost taken on the appearance of battle scars. By now, Clinton is almost immune to having her political prospects harmed by scandal simply because her opponents have tried and failed to destroy her so many times.

Unlike Nixon, however, Clinton’s need for toughness has been heightened by her struggle against sexism. Within the American zeitgeist, no single woman is associated with the term “female politician” as frequently as Clinton (I base this on my own observations), and as a result she has faced an unending barrage of sexism from the moment she became a national figure. During the 1992 presidential election, her strong-willed personality was often viewed as a liability to her husband’s presidential ambitions; attacks on her are often laced with sexist verbiage (“bitch,” “shrill,” “pushy”); she is regularly derided for her physical appearance as she wears pantsuits, gains weight, and grows older. I would argue that any politician who maintains a career amidst these adverse conditions is, by default, going to develop the fortitude to withstand almost any other pressure. For better or worse, it seems inevitable that the first female president is likely going to have to be someone with the hide of a rhinoceros. Skin even slightly less thick would likely bust open and hemorrhage in this climate.

This praise needs to be made about Clinton for two reasons:

  1. Because of her disproportionate support among non-white voters and superdelegates – as well as her massive leaders in most of the upcoming primary states – it is impossible to imagine that Clinton won’t be the Democratic nominee. If she was a candidate without redeeming value, this would be truly terrible, but…
  2. Her redeeming quality is the fact that she is still here, and isn’t going anywhere. That is called tenacity, and it’s a good attribute for a president to have.

Obviously I hope that Clinton won’t repeat many of Nixon’s mistakes. It would be devastating if America suffered another Watergate (and under its first female president, no less), and any kind of terribly flawed second Clinton administration might undermine the legacy of the first one. Nevertheless it’s important to remember that Nixon, after being defeated in his first presidential bid in 1960, was elected eight years later because he was tougher than the Democratic candidate (Hubert Humphrey) and third-party challenger (George Wallace). Clinton, having been bested by the John Kennedy of our times in 2008, now seems poised to defeat Sanders for the Democratic nomination and Donald Trump in the general election. If liberals can’t find it in our heart to rejoice, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that the White House will be left in the charge of someone we already know is abundantly equipped to withstand terrible pressures. It’s worth noting, at least.

John Lewis is a legitimate civil rights hero – and, unfortunately, a liar

Published: The Good Men Project (February 16, 2016)

It isn’t fun to accuse someone like Rep. John Lewis of being a liar. Without question, Lewis is a legitimate living hero, a man whose legacy as a civil rights activists in the 1960s has earned him a lasting place of honor in American history books.

That said, the tremendous respect which he is due for his achievements in the past does not entitle him to a free pass for dishonesty in the present. This brings us to his recent attack against Bernie Sanders – and, more specifically, his attempted distortion of Hillary Clinton’s own record.

During a news conference discussing the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee’s endorsement of Clinton, Lewis heavily implied that Sanders was lying about his work as a civil rights protester. “To be very frank, I never saw him, I never met him,” he insisted. “I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963-1966. I was involved in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery.” As a seeming afterthought, he then added “… but I met Hillary Clinton, I met President Clinton.”

This statement can be divided into two segments – the one implicitly attacking Sanders, and the one directly praising the Clintons. While the former is certainly sleazy, it doesn’t quite fail the sniff test. Technically we have no way of knowing whether Lewis personally met Sanders during his three years as chairman of the SNCC. What we do know is that Sanders’ involvement in those civil rights protests has been proved enough that, just like Lewis’ own record, it deserves to be treated as an undeniable fact. In 1962, Sanders was arrested for protesting segregation in Chicago’s public schools, with the local police even labeling him as an outside agitator for his efforts. Indeed, a photograph showing him at a sit-in – which one “Washington Post” reporter tried to debunk – has been subsequently verified, rendering his involvement beyond dispute. One year later, Sanders participated in the legendary March on Washington in which he personally listened to Martin Luther King deliver his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

The problem with Lewis’ statements about Sanders isn’t that they are flat-out lies, but rather that they’re deliberately deceptive. Because the Clinton campaign sees Sanders’ reputation for ideological “purity” as being his greatest strength, they have unsurprisingly focused on undermining that narrative as a way of peeling off his supporters. By mentioning that he never personally met Sanders during his career as a civil rights protester, Lewis clearly intended to imply that Sanders either never did what he claims to have done or did not play a particularly large role. What he neglects to mention is that (1) Sanders’ work in Chicago occurred in 1962, before Lewis’ chairmanship of the SNCC began and (2) thousands of people participated in the March on Washington, the vast majority of whom Lewis would never have been able to meet. By leaving out this important context, Lewis managed to smear Sanders’ reputation for purity on civil rights issues without openly slandering the man’s good name.

On the other hand, it is impossible to believe that Lewis didn’t deliberately lie about knowing the Clintons during his work as a civil rights protester. To understand why this is the case, one need not look any further than Lewis’ own words in “Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton, from Hope to Harlem”:

“The first time I heard of Bill Clinton was in the early ’70s. I was living in Georgia, working for the Southern Poverty Law organization, when someone told me about this young, emerging leader in Arkansas who served as attorney general, then later became governor.”

And again…

“I think I paid more attention to him at the 1988 Democratic Convention, when he was asked to introduce the presidential candidate and took up far more time than was allotted to him. After he became involved with the Democratic Leadership Council, I would run into him from time to time. But it was one of his aides, Rodney Slater, who actually introduced us in 1991 and asked me if I would support his presidency.”

To be sure, Lewis doesn’t mention Hillary Clinton once in these accounts, but considering that she spent the years from 1963 to 1966 supporting segregationist Barry Goldwater and generally identifying as a Republican, it is doubtful that she participated in civil rights protests at all (and certainly if she had, it stands to reason that Lewis would have brought it up when being interviewed about when he first met the Clintons). What we do know is that Lewis’ assertion that he met Bill Clinton while serving as chairman of the SNCC directly contradicts his own earlier accounts – even as, rather conveniently, it fits perfectly into the Clinton campaign’s agenda of undermining Sanders’ left-wing credential while bolstering their own.

I can’t speak for Lewis, and thus I can’t explain why he would undermine his own credibility in order to advance the Clintons’ political ambitions. What I do know is that, although he deserves the respect of every American for risking his life in order to advance the cause of racial equality, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held accountable for his unscrupulous rhetoric today. If I’m going to be convinced that Clinton is a more suitable candidate for the presidency than Sanders, it will need to be based on facts. Lewis has not only failed to provide any, but has made it impossible for me to take his word on these matters in the future.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s evolution on Internet freedom

Published: The Daily Dot (February 14, 2016)

Say what you will about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia–and pundits and people on both the left and the right have been doing just that since his passing on Saturday–but when it comes to Internet freedom, he may have been one of the great legal minds of our time.

Let’s start with a 2005 case in which an Internet service provider named Brand X sued the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The central issue was whether companies that promised high-speed Internet access had the right to use the faster infrastructure available to big content providers. To determine that, the court needed to first determine whether the Federal Communications Commissionhad the right to label cable broadband companies as providing an information service (which would mean they could deny them access) or a telecommunications service (which would mean they could not). Although the court ruled 6-3 in favor of the FCC’s right to do as they pleased, Scalia joined liberal judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter in offering a powerful dissent.

“The relevant question is whether the individual components in a package being offered still possess sufficient identity to be described as separate objects of the offer, or whether they have been so changed by their combination with the other components that it is no longer reasonable to describe them in that way,” Scalia observed.

Although the FCC insisted that the product being offered by these Internet service providers (i.e., Internet service) was somehow distinguishable from their ability to provide it in a timely fashion (i.e., with high speed), Scalia argued that this distinction would be dismissed as self-evidently absurd when applied to other businesses. For instance, “If I call up a pizzeria and ask whether they offer delivery, both common sense and common ‘usage’… would prevent them from answering, ‘No, we do not offer deliver–but if you order a pizza from us, we’ll bake it for you and then bring it to your house.’” Indeed, “the myth that the pizzeria does not offer delivery becomes even more difficult to maintain when the pizzeria advertises quick delivery as one of its advantages over competitors. That, of course, is the case with cable broadband.”

Flash forward to last spring, when a federal appeals court ruled that NSA bulk data collection was illegal, paving the way for the case to head to the Supreme Court. According to the ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act does not permit the government to engage in bulk collection of domestic calling records, even though the NSA had justified the practice by citing that provision of the bill. Because Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the court declared, the program was illegal, adding that “if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Although Scalia’s positions on Internet freedom ranged from supporting net neutrality to questioning whether a right to privacy exists throughout his career, the most important quality here is that they evolved.

Someone anticipating how Scalia would approach this issue may have assumed that he would side with the NSA, given his well-known skepticism on the notion of a government right to privacy. That said, an incident back in 2009 may have impacted Scalia’s view on this topic. A Fordham University law professor named Joel Reidenberg asked his class to search for any publicly available but personal information about Justice Scalia in response to a speech by the judge in which he questioned whether more privacy protections were really necessary.

By the time the dossier was presented to Scalia, itincluded the judge’s home address, phone number, favorite movies and foods, wife’s personal email address, and pictures of his grandchildren. “It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible,” Scalia wrote in response to Reidenberg’s dossier. “That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg’s exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.”

While Scalia seemed resolute in his thinking at the time, though, it seems that the experience prompted him to at least question some of his initial conclusions.

When it came to two cases heard by the Supreme Court in 2014, in which the fundamental issue was whether Americans’ cell phones required as much protection as their private homes, Scalia acknowledged that law enforcement officers should be allowed to search phones in cases where the devices could obviously contain information relevant to a potential crime, he conceded that if someone is arrested for an offense like driving without a seat belt, “it seems absurd that they should be able to search that person’s iPhone.”

That same year, as the Supreme Court was confronted with the possibility of ruling on whether the NSA’s domestic surveillance program was constitutional (a case that Scalia felt was “truly stupid” for having reached his court, since he felt they were least qualified to make knowledgeable national security assessments), he was visibly impressed when an audience member at Brooklyn Law School asked whether data stored on computer drives could count as “effects” under the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Although Scalia insisted that “conversations are quite different” from the four entities protected from unwarranted search and seizures by the Constitution, he implicitly acknowledged that data may fall into a different category altogether. “I better not answer that,” he told his questioner, since “that is something that may well come up [before the Supreme Court].”

Scalia was correct in observing that questions about where exactly the Internet falls into American jurisprudence are very tricky–and that the court will, eventually, need to render important decisions about them.

Although Scalia’s positions on Internet freedom ranged from supporting net neutrality to questioning whether a right to privacy exists throughout his career, the most important quality here is that they evolved.

Despite being a staunch originalist (meaning he believed cases should be decided based solely on the original intent of the Founding Fathers), Scalia recognized that the technological advances brought about by the Internet age meant that old legal traditions need to re-evaluated in a new light.

Thanks for the Automated Valentine!

Published: The Good Men Project (February 13, 2016)

First, I just want to add that I’m a big fan of Film Brain, the British movie critic whose web series “Bad Movie Beatdown” manages to intelligently deconstruct some of the worst motion pictures ever made. Since our Twitter conversation inspired this piece, I figured it would only be appropriate to preface this article with a gratitude plug.

Now for the tweets themselves:

For those of you who haven’t seen “Her,” I’d highly recommend it. It’s a bittersweet romantic comedy about a nerdy, socially awkward man who develops a romantic connection with a self-aware computer operating system. For all of his (literal) Jackass-ery, director and writer Spike Jonze is one of the most original filmmakers entertaining mainstream audiences today, and this movie (like so many of his others) is a pleasure.

On the other hand, for those of you who haven’t used the Auto-Compose Valentines on Yahoo! Mail, I’d urge you to stay away. Not because there is anything particularly wrong with what the Valentines actually say, but because there is something deeply, deeply disturbing about their underlying implications.

Since I’m not a Yahoo! Mail user myself, I created an original account for the sole purpose of investigating these Auto-Compose Valentines. They were exactly what I expected to find – a scroll bar in which you scanned various themes, picked the one that seemed to fit your sentiments, and let Yahoo! take care of the rest by providing you with a romantic letter. Although you can add edit these if you’re so inclined, the overall purpose is clearly for individuals to substitute their own heartfelt sentiments for some platitudes deemed “holiday appropriate” by a large corporation.

Wait a second Matt, I hear you saying (because for the purposes of this article, an imaginary dialogue with my readers will have to do), Valentine’s Day is already a corporate holiday! Why do the Auto Compose Valentines make things any different? This wouldn’t be a bad point, except that email is a medium which by its nature lends itself to highly personalized communication. It’s one thing to say that you bought a box of chocolates or bouquet for your loved one because those are the gifts traditionally associated with this holiday. Even a greeting card from a store, though just as corporate and depersonalized as these Auto Compose Valentines, is partially justifiable by virtue of the fact that individual sentiments are the exception and not the norm when it comes to physical cards.

Emailing an Auto Compose Valentine, on the other hand, strikes me as a deliberate use of the impersonal in an environment where the personal is not only possible, but ideal. If you have an active email account, it is just as easy to type up a series of thoughts that are specific to yourself and the other person as it is to click your mouse a few times. The difference, though, is between an end result that obviously came from one person to another and a product that was quite literally written to apply to anybody. At least in the movie “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix developed a meaningful bond with his operating system because of who he was and how he could relate to her. With an Auto Compose Valentine, the notion of romance is obliterated by formulaic substitutes. It may not be dystopian, but it’s certainly downright depressing.

And yet… And yet I think about the millions of people who need to languish alone during this holiday. My mind wanders to the men and women who, instead of sharing an intimate connection with another person, are instead recovering from heartbreak or from the pain of romances that have never materialized. I wonder what these feelings might do to their self-confidence – and as such to their capacity to weave romantic prose from any medium – and I question whether Auto-Compose Valentines, though depressing on one level, could be just the boost these individuals need to take that necessary next stab at ending their existential loneliness. Perhaps I’m merely trying to find a silver lining here, but if there is even one person who obtains happiness courtesy of Yahoo’s pre-written Valentines, then I will be happy to disregard all of my neo-Luddite pontifications.

Either way, I wish everyone – coupled, single, and ready to mingle – a truly Happy Valentine’s Day.