Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Great Week for Covers: Foxes and Fossils Do The Everly Brothers 'Let It Be Me'


So, this week is proving to be a great week for covers -- or at least, my finding them on YouTube.  Yesterday, it was The286 and Mr. Jack's wonderful rendition of ELO's "Can't Get It Out of My Head".  Today, it's Foxes and Fossils lush and lovely performance of "Let It Be Me," first done by The Everly Brothers in 1957 (one of the best of their many recordings, though, come to think of it, most of their songs are bests) (from the French "Je t'appartiens" in 1955), and then beautifully covered by Jerry Butler and Betty Everett in 1964.

Maggie Adams is in fine voice as lead, tender and powerful, as it always. Sammie Purcell does a perfect high harmony, and Chase Truran sings a wonderful, emotive contralto.  The instrumentation provides by the Fossils is crisp and on target.   The overall feel is bound to lift your heart.

More Foxes and Fossils here.

McLuhan, the Alphabet, and Nudity

There's a famous, true story about a lecture Marshall McLuhan gave at Louis Forsdale's seminar at Columbia University in New York City in the 1950s.  McLuhan observed, at some point, that nudity wasn't a notable thing until the alphabet -- that sensitivity about nudity was an effect of alphabetic literacy.

When McLuhan concluded the lecture, Forsdale opened up the seminar to questions.  Robert K. Merton, often known as the "dean" of American sociology, was in the audience.  He raised his hand, was called upon, and stood.  His face was almost purple with anger.  "I don't where to begin," he began, "everything you say is nonsense, where is your evidence ... what on Earth does nudity have to do with the alphabet?" And he went on like that for at least ten minutes.

McLuhan rose, a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face.  "Oh," he said, "you didn't like that idea?  Well, how about this one?"  And he proceeded to talk, much longer than Merton, about something completely different.

Now, this event is often cited, including by me, as an example of McLuhan prizing exploration and probes over explanation and proofs.  And it certainly is.

But someone asked me the other day what I thought McLuhan really meant about alphabetic literacy being the ground for interest in nudity.  This was my answer:

I never asked McLuhan about this, so I don’t know exactly what he meant about the alphabet making people more sensitive about nudity. But here’s what I would say, applying McLuhan’s thinking to this question: The alphabet is an abstract mode of communication – the letters of the alphabet have no direct resemblance to the objects they describe in written words. The word “cow” for example, looks nothing like a cow, the word “sun” looks nothing like the sun, etc. (Unlike ideographic writing, in which the written symbols look at least a little like the objects they describe.) So, people who use the alphabet are aware of the “cover” or the alphabetic word, and the reality it describes (the word “sun” and what the sun really looks like). And clothes, of course, are a cover, too – a dress or a shirt doesn’t really look like the naked body beneath. But just as we use the alphabet to write about things, so we usually see and interact with people in clothes. In such a society, we become hyper-aware, more sensitive, about someone wearing no clothes at all.

So, what did you think of my explanation?  Did you like it?  Not sure?  Ok ... let me tell you how my Prius retrieves Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach, when you leave it in the driveway for more than a month, undriven in this Covid lockdown.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Another Outstanding Cover: ELO's Can't Get It Out of My Head, by The286 and Mr. Jack


This one's a real beauty from August 2020: a combination of the U.K. group The286 and the Argentinian group Mr. Jack doing a spot-on rendition of one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my all-time favorite groups: "Can't Get It Out of My Head" by the Electric Light Orchestra.

They even get "wave chicane" right -- that is, I think so, because, just like in Jeff Lynne's voicing, it almost, very nearly sounds like "wave she came".  

My only regret is you don't see the head that goes with the fingers with the light turquoise fingernails that play that synthesizer so well.   But, hey, Spencer Hannabuss as lead sounds like he's close to getting tongue-tied in the "William Tell" sequence, just like Jeff Lynne, and Madeleine Sugden sure evokes Stevie Nicks, so enjoy.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Podcast Review of For All Mankind (Season 1 and Episode 2.1)

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 168, in which I review For All Mankind (Season 1 and Episode 2.1)

Blog post review of For All Mankind

Podcast reviews of other Ronald D. Moore TV series:

Red Moon (2000) by David S. Michaels and Daniel Brenton

The Missing Orientation -- why we've made so little progress on and beyond the Moon in our reality

The Loose Ends Saga -- another alternate space travel history

another alternate space travel history

Check out this episode!

Behind Her Eyes: Ending Pulled Out of Fantastical Hat

There's a fundamental guiding principle about mystery/science fiction hybrids that I've heard endorsed by many on science fiction convention panels over the years, including me, that you shouldn't mix protocols, because your readers and viewers won't like it.  Here's a hypothetical example: a murdered body is found in a room with the doors and windows locked from the inside and completely intact.  The world in which that body is found is ours, in 2021.  You can't solve the crime by suddenly, at the end of the story, have the murderer beaming in from the outside. 

Now I'm telling you this because, although Behind Her Eyes doesn't quite do that, it comes close, too close, and I was irritated by the ending.   It spoiled an otherwise suave, tense, stylish six-part mini-series that just showed up a few nights ago on Netflix.

The set-up is: David is unhappily married to Adele, starts an affair with Louise (whom he meets in a bar and they kiss before they both realize that Louise is working in David's new office), and Adele, not knowing about David and Louise, becomes close friends with Louise.  There's also another character, Rob, who was friends with Adele and David a decade ago, and one of the two may have murdered.  That's a pretty strong and intriguing set-up, and the story is very well played by Eve Hewson as Adele, Simona Brown as Louise, and Tom Bateman as David -- especially Hewson and Brown, who are riveting and exceptional in every scene.   The dialogue is snappy, too, with Louise tossing off lines like "you washed me away" after David takes a shower after he makes love to Louise.

But the plot is good, too, up to but not including the end.   All three major characters -- David, Louise, and Adele -- are occasional liars, and one is very likely a murderer.  It's never clear who is taking advantage of whom, until it all comes to a head and is spelled out at the very end.  

[Spoilers ahead.]

It turns out that Rob mastered the ability, at least ten years ago, to swap his consciousness with someone else.  He does this with Adele, who doesn't like her consciousness inside Rob, and when "he" says so, Rob inside Adele kills Adele inside Rob.   Something similar happens at the end, after six episodes in which the only inkling of such abilities are ephemeral whisps in air when the characters are sleeping and talk of lucid dreams.

Which to me was a rabbit out a hat, a beaming in to solve a murder, in a story that deserved a less fantastical ending.

 photo THECONSCIOUSNESSPLAGUE5_zps8e1b18e3.jpg

Saturday, February 20, 2021

For All Mankind: Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality

Ronald D. Moore is best known for his creation of the Battlestar Galactica reboot and Outlander, two very different TV series which were (BSG) and are (Outlander) justly lauded masterpieces of science fiction (maybe Outlander is science fantasy, but the point still holds).  Moore had a lot riding on For All Mankind, another, very different kind of science fiction series.  I just saw the entire first season (which began to air on Apple TV in November 2019) and the first episode of the second season (which started airing yesterday).   It's at least as good as Battlestar Galactica and a little better than Outlander.  In my never humble opinion.

The series rests on a bold premise:  had the Soviets beaten the US to the Moon by just a slight margin in 1969 -- one month -- the result would have been much better for getting humans out into space because the competition between the two superpowers would have continued and intensified.  In literary terms, it would have set in motion an alternate reality in which the two superpowers continued vying to be the lead and dominant humans beyond our planet.

As far as our reality or real history, it's entirely plausible that the Soviet Union could have pulled a fast one and beaten us to the Moon by a month.  It's not really clear, to this day, why the Soviets after the mid-1960s fell so far behind the US, after being first to get a satellite (Sputnik), then a satellite with a dog (Laika), and then a satellite with a human being (Yuri Gagarin) off of this planet into space.  Indeed, the best explanation I've read of why the Soviet Union fell behind the U.S. in the space race comes from a little-known science fiction novel published in 2000, Red Moon, which was also the title of the first episode of For All Mankind.

The alternate history and the real history in For All Mankind was handled plausibly and provocatively, no easy task to pull off smoothly, as the first season and the beginning of the second season did.  My favorite alternate history gambit in the first season is Ted Kennedy cancels his trip to Chappaquiddick, to focus on why the US space program fell behind the Soviets, and is elected President in 1972.  Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters deliver the news without being named via actors who look and sound like them.  Nixon, Teddy, and (at the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2) Reagan are presented in real footage and photographs, via voices that deliver alternate-history speech via impersonators or who knows how they got those voices, but it worked. The second season starts with a nice handful of alternate history touches, including John Lennon surviving the attempt on his life but the Pope not.

Other major changes in the history of For All Mankind include women achieving importance as astronauts and in flight control long before they did in our reality.  Permanent bases are established on the Moon by the U.S. and the Soviets in the 1970s.  By the 1980s, the science of space travel has led to electric cars on Planet Earth.   But the human success in space has by no means wiped away all the inequities we have suffered from in this reality.   Prejudice against gays warp the personal life of at least one astronaut, and immigrants are treated badly by the FBI obsessed with rooting out Soviet spies.

The personal lives of the astronauts of course play a major and tempestuous role in the narrative.   Ed Baldwin (played by Joel Kinnaman who never misses), Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), and Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) are my favorites, but all the characters are memorable and well acted.   And the lives portrayed are realistic.   Death always lurks near life, ready to rear its head, and this is more so when that life is in space.  Just as in our own reality, not everything goes right or as expected in the grand endeavor to get us off this planet, and you'll be on the edge of your seat for just about every episode in this remarkable series.

For All Mankind picked a good time to debut its second season, the day after the NASA Rover landed on Mars in our reality.  I'm hoping that the series continues long enough to show us astronauts arriving on Mars -- I'll be reviewing every episode from now on -- and that this alternate reality converges with our reality, in which we send people to Mars, too.

Further of why our own space program stalled after Moon landingThe Missing Orientation

And here's an alternate-history space-race novel:

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Trump Impeachment Aftermaths

Here are some of my thoughts about the Trump impeachment acquittal and where we go from here, a week after the conclusion of the Senate trial:

1. Mitch McConnell's vote and statement:  I of course was very disappointed but not surprised by McConnell's vote to acquit Trump.  I was surprised by McConnell's accompanying statement, both the content and the intensity.  In particular, that McConnell said 

There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.... Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. Unless the statute of limitations is run, still liable for everything he did while he was in office. Didn’t get away with anything, yet. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation and former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.  [See here for the transcript of McConnell's statement.]

There's no doubt that the country -- and therefore the world -- would have been better off had Trump been found guilty and thereby prohibited from ever holding public office again.  But McConnell's statement is nonetheless part of the record of the impeachment process, and is and will be of great value.  It shows that, whatever McConnell's reasons for voting for acquittal, he nonetheless thought Trump was responsible for the insurrectionist riot, and, just as important, ought to be held accountable for his actions and non-actions.  Coming from the Republican Senate Minority leader, that's significant, and will be prominently noted by historians.

2. Republican attacks on Republican Senators who voted to convict Trump:  McConnell also said that "I respect my colleagues who’ve reached either conclusion" about whether a conviction of Trump in the impeachment trial would be constitutional.  Not so some other Republicans around the country, including  local Pennsylvania  GOP Chair Dave Ball,  who said

We did not send him [Senator Pat Toomey, who voted to convict Trump] there to vote his conscience or ‘do the right thing' or whatever he said he was doing there.  We sent him there to represent us.  [Interview on KDKA-TV]

Now there's been a debate as old as our republic about whether our elected representatives should vote their conscience or ascertain what the people who elected them want.  I've always been a strong supporter of conscience, on general principle, and also given the unreliability of polling in discovering what the voters want.  But the position of finding out what the public wants and basing your vote on that at least has a logic to it, and is consistent with the democratic process.  Is that what Ball was urging?  I don't think so.  The "we" in that last sentence more likely refers to the Republican Party, who put Toomey up for general election and supported his campaign.   And if that was what Ball was saying, that Toomey should keep in line with his party's policies, that's disturbingly reminiscent of insistence on adherence to the party line in totalitarian societies like the former Soviet Union.

3. Biden Administration response to Trump acquittal:  The Biden Administration clearly wants to focus on the pandemic and other challenges it views as more urgent than what to do now about Trump.  Vice President Kamala Harris said today on the Today Show:

Right now I'm focused on what we need to do to get relief to American families and that is my highest priority, it's our administration's highest priority, it's our job, it's the job we were elected to do, and that's my focus. [See more on that here.]

I agree completely with Biden and Harris.  Not only is the pandemic an obviously immediate life and death matter -- on a massive scale -- but there are other ways to hold Trump to account.  New York and Georgia are already investigating criminal charges against Trump, and the U.S. Attorney General's office, which Biden wants to be non-political, i.e., not serving Biden's political interests as Attorney General William Barr did Trump's, can investigate Trump and seek to indict him, without instruction from Biden.

In sum, although conviction of Trump in the impeachment trial was amply merited and would have benefited the country, we who value justice and freedom and democracy are in a good position to do something about the fascist former President who did so much damage to our country.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Big Sky 1.9: Crafty Ronald

I saw but didn't have a chance to review last week's episode 1.8 of Big Sky -- I was too busy watching and talking about the impeachment trial -- but I'm back with a review of tonight's episode 1.9, and whew, it easily was one of the best episodes of the series so far.

Let me start by mentioning my favorite line.  That was from Big Rick's lawyer, who says "Bobby Orr voted for Trump".  I already forgot the context, but it's a standalone great line anyway.

And, of course, one big development in 1.9 is that Rick will no longer need an attorney.  His wife hammered him to death.  I'm pretty but not positive he was faking his amnesia, and he certainly remembered enough to convince his wife that he was evil Rick who almost killed her.  Well, for Big Rick's fans, there'll always be that lifelike cardboard stand-up figure of Rick.

The other big news is the brilliant strategizing of Ronald.  After killing his mother and the priest, and kidnapping the boy, and being recognized by Cassie, he manages to escape everyone's best efforts to nab him by employing elements of all three victims:  (1) his mother's corpse, dressed as a boy, nearly gets Jenny blown up, (2) he has the priest's body auto-drive the Tesla with the kidnapped boy next to him, which (3) leads everyone on a wild goose chase.  Well, not a goose chase, because thank goodness the boy is now safely back with his mother, but the chase was one of the wildest I've seen on television.

So Ronald's on the loose, Rick is dead, and the slate is almost clean.  And the show won't be back until April.  It certainly has had a unique narrative structure, with tonight's ending, and the winter break ending last year, which would have worked well as conclusions to a somewhat truncated and a very truncated series.  Is that what David Kelley had in mind, in case the series was cancelled?

Who knows, but I'm glad it wasn't, and I'll be back here in April with more reviews when Big Sky resumes.

See also Big Sky 1.1: A Pretty Big Deal ... Big Sky 1.2: The "Goods" and the Ruined Plan ... Big Sky 1.3: "You Kidnapped the Wrong Girl" ... Big Sky 1.4: Controls on Psychos ... Big Sky 1.5: Winter Finale Indeed! ... Big Sky 1.6: "Sweet Psycho" ... Big Sky 1.7: The Montana State Trooper


Podcast: Review of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

My review of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, on Amazon Prime Video.  If Groundhog Day is a 10, I rate The Map of Tiny Perfect Things a substantial 9.   I explain why.

further reading, blog post:  Review of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

further listing:  Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time

Check out this episode!

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Not Perfect But Close Enough

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, from the novelette by Lev Grossman (The Magicians) and screenplay by him, debuted on Amazon Prime video a few days ago.   Its ratings on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are 6-7, but I think it's much better than that, well over 9.  It's said to be a Groundhog Day (the holiday and the movie) meets Valentine's Day (just the holiday), but it's more than that, too.

The similarity with Groundhog Day, which I'd give a 10 on that scale, is Mark is reliving the same day.  He confides this to his friend Henry, who, aware of Groundhog Day, suggests that Mark might be able to break out of this time loop by getting a girlfriend.  (Note: I like movies that explicitly reference other movies.  It's not the biggest deal, but it adds a nice meta-touch.)  Mark is in the process of trying to do that at the pool, by stopping a beach ball from hitting a girlfriend candidate, but not having much luck. Until Margaret enters the picture (literally and figuratively) and everything changes.

Slowly.  Mark and Margaret are clearly having fun, and are really attracted to each other, but Margaret says no when Mark wants to kiss her.  He's a little hurt, of course, and even more so when he connects the demurral to Margaret's leaving each evening after receiving a phone call from a medical student, Jared.  The course of true love never did run smooth, especially when that course is a time loop.

And here the movie takes a crucial turn.   As Mark and Margaret pull apart, we find Margaret at the center of the story.   She's still in the time loop, but it's her time loop.  And as her story unfolds we learn that, indeed, it's more her time loop than Mark's.   Her mind or whatever created the time loop, because her mother is dying, and she didn't want to lose her mother, didn't want that day to end.  That makes perfect sense, and I actually like that raison d'etre for the time loop even better than the reason in Groundhog Day.

But the one thing Margaret didn't expect or count on was finding someone like Mark.  And, ok, I won't spill any more of the plot.   I will say that I thought the title, though well explicated in the movie, doesn't due the truest heart and soul of the movie sufficient justice.  But the acting was great, both Kyle Allen as Mark and especially Kathryn Newton as Margaret, and the music was excellent, too, especially the Bruise's closing "1992," which not only worked just right for the movie but is an apt song for the real world around us today.    (Here's another, much lesser-known song that came to mind as I was watching The Map of Tiny Perfect Things:  "I Knew You By Heart".)

Monday, February 15, 2021

Crime Scene: Calling Jung and Koestler

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, a four-episode true-crime documentary, debuted on Netflix a few days ago.  On the one hand, it's another example of an emerging sub-genre in True Crime:  the investigation of a crime, or presumed crime, by crowd-sourced Internet sleuths, which has had such notable examples as I'll Be Gone in the Dark (HBO, June-August 2020) and Don't F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer  (Netflix, 2019) (I saw both, but reviewed neither, because enough is enough already).   On the other hand, Crime Scene exposes some coincidences so vexing that they call for Karl Jung or Arthur Koestler for explication, which of course they cannot provide, if only because they are no longer with us.

Crime Scene does provide a refreshing warning about Internet sleuths, refreshing because in most of these documentaries, the amateur web detectives are right when the police are wrong.  In Crime Scene, which details and investigates the death of Elisa Lam at the hotel in 2013, the Internet sleuths are wrong in their conclusion that Lam was murdered, and admit at the end that the police explanation that Lam, suffering from bipolar disorder, jumped in the water tank on the roof of the hotel and drowned in a death by accident. Among the consequences of the pixel investigators' error, they wrongly accused "death" heavy metalist Morbid of the murder (he was at the hotel a year before Lam's death), and ruined his life in an early example of cancel culture.

But the Internet researchers also uncovered at least two amazing coincidences, apparently inexplicable by conventional logic.  1.  Los Angeles' Skid Row, where the Cecil Hotel was situated, suffered an outbreak of tuberculosis when Lam was there.  And ... the name of a major test for tuberculosis is LAM-ELISA.  2. Lam purchased some books from The Last Bookstore on her ill-fated visit to LA.  And ... the bookstore's online registrant's postal code (whatever exactly that is) is V5G 4S2 -- if you put that code into Google Maps, it points you to the place where Lam is buried, in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Canada.

Ok, coincidences do happen.  But these two do seem to be more than the average coincidences that happen in life, like the first name of your new neighbor is the same as a childhood friend, and he or she went to the same high school as you and your friend, in a different city.  Carl Jung calls the more bizarre, all-but-impossible coincidences that can crop up in life -- or death, in the case of Elisa Lam -- a "synchronicity" or "meaningful coincidences," which operate outside of causal relationships.  Arthur Koestler in his Roots of Coincidence builds upon Jung,  and argues that such coincidences are para-normal, or outside and beyond the realm of science.

Whether you're convinced by Jung and Koester or not -- I'm not sure if I am -- there's no denying that the coincidences in Elisa Lam's true crime story are worthy of both theorists, and their appearance in Crime Scene may be its most durable virtue.


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Your Honor 1.10: Finale Irony

I just saw the finale of Your Honor: read no further if you don't know the ending of this marvelously well-acted series.

I'll start by saying I didn't like the ending -- not because it wasn't 100% well-motivated, and flowed from everything in the story, but, because, well, it was so unhappy,

Michael did everything he could to save his son.  Most of it worked.  He was willing to sacrifice himself to save Adam.  But there were too many deadly pieces in play.  It was impossible for Michael to account for all of them.  He certainly could not have foreseen that Eugene, with no moves left after Michael did not let him testify, would put a bullet in Adam when Eugene shot at and missed Carlo, who had killed Eugene's brother Kofi and was getting away with it.

I guess the moral of this story is you can't control events with so many deceptions at play.   Part of Adams's fate, though, was also sealed by his falling in love with Fia.  That's why Adam was at the celebration.  Jimmy already knew that Adam not Michael had hit-and-run killed Rocco.  So even if Eugene was not at the hotel, Adam would likely have been killed.

Ironically, or just to add to the irony, Eugene would not have gotten into the hotel had not Jimmy's men not been distracted with keeping Michael out.   And that's really a thumbnail of everything in this story; just about every lie Michael told ultimately worsened the situation for himself and Adam.

Back to the acting: this was a rare series in which every character was memorable.  The lawyers, the Baxter family, each could have a spinoff series of their own.  But most of all Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiasto aka Your Honor, who gave a tour de force (too weak a phrase) performance in this Shakespearean tragedy in New Orleans.

See also Your Honor 1.1: Taut Set-Up ... Your Honor 1.2: "Today Is Yesterday" ... Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link ... Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner ... Your Honor 1.5: The Vice Tightens ... Your Honor 1.6: Exquisite Chess Game ...Your Honor 1.7: Cranston and Stuhlbarg Approaching Pacino and De Niro ... Your Honor 1.8: Nothing More Important ... Your Honor 1.9: Screeching Up to the Last Stop Before Next Week's Finale

Friday, February 12, 2021

Why the First Amendment Does and Doesn't Protect Trump from Impeachment Conviction

There's been word that Trump's attorneys in his Senate impeachment trial will say Trump's incendiary words to the crowd before they turned and savagely attacked the U. S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 were protected under the First Amendment, in particular that Congress "shall make no law abridging ... the freedom of speech".   So, Congress cannot punish Trump for the words he spoke on that morning.

Two arguments have been raised against that view.  

The first, I think, is incorrect.  I heard John Dean say on CNN (and other pundits on other channels) that the First Amendment is meant to protect citizens from the government, not the government (Trump as President) from the government (Congressional impeachment and Senatorial conviction).  But that can't be right.  If Trump as an American citizen has no First Amendment protections because he was President, how about the Vice President?  How about members of Congress?  How about Governors and Mayors and anyone who works for any part of the government?  Should First Amendment rights be waived for elected officials but not appointed officials?  How about for firefighters and sanitation workers?  Suspending any citizen's First Amendment rights because they are a government official creates an absurd slippery slope which would start with the President and extend to many millions of people -- as of 2011, the Office of Personnel Management reported 2.79 million people working for just the Federal government.  Do all of those people have no First Amendment rights?  Chances are few of those government employees knew they were surrendering their First Amendment rights when they signed up or campaigned for those jobs.

The second argument, presented by House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, is much better and, I think, completely correct.  Representative Raskin said yesterday that the First Amendment doesn't protect someone who incites others to riot.   Those words spoken by Trump on that morning to an angry and armed crowd, urged to walk down the street to the U. S. Capitol, provoked not just a riot, but a riot that killed a police officer, and wounded more than a hundred more, not to mention the severe vandalizing and threat to lives of the Vice President, Senators, and members of Congress, and their staffs.  The First Amendment has been repeatedly cited by U. S. Supreme Courts as not protecting speech that directly leads to attacks on life, limb, and property, and that's precisely what Trump's exhortations to the crowd on January 6, 2021 did.

Trump is responsible for his riot-provoking words, which in fact provoked a deadly riot, and that's why the First Amendment offers him no protection for those words.  I think it's important to get right, and not confuse the issue with unspoortable arguments that people lose their First Amendment rights when they become part of government.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review of Andrey Mir's Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers

The full title of Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers. The Media after Trump: Manufacturing Anger and Polarization by Andrey Mir says it all:  the delivery of news on Twitter and social media to an increasing majority of people has replaced the attempt to disseminate facts and truth on traditional news media, with the new goal of massive engagement via likes, retweets, and shares, with the result that an informed public, however imperfectly constructed, is being shoved aside by a polarized populace seething with anger.  I would add: this is also the best book on media theory and assessment written in forty years.

Mir brings to bear the media insight of Marshall McLuhan, the political savvy of Walter Lippmann, the radical economy of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, and much more in his detailed and probing analysis.  The 20th century began with newspapers selling news to readers and concluded with newspapers and radio and TV selling news to advertisers.  Both systems, though flawed, and for different reasons, were committed to making their utmost efforts to report the truth. Readers wouldn't tolerate too many falsities in their newspapers, and advertisers did not want to be associated with them, either.

All of that changed with the advent of social media, cheered at first, by many, including me, as uncorking the voice of the people, and pushing the haughty gatekeepers aka editors out of the way.   It was a case of Dylan's "Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall." Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring were seen by me and many others as early triumphs of these unshacklings of information.  I still feel that way about social media and their potentials.  But Mir convincingly tags and explains the darkside of this same liberation of news.

On Twitter, readers pay nothing for the news other than their time.  Viewers pay nothing for broadcast news, either, but the advertisers do.  Ads appear on social media, too, but they're barely distinguishable from the myriad bits of news, which all too often are no longer news, but opinion.  And since the posters of these news opinions seek validation via likes, shares, and retweets, a kind of natural selection winnows out the more moderate opinions.  The more controversial and extreme the fact-opinion, the more likely it is to be retweeted.

This tide of polarization engulfs the traditional media, too.  Mir explains, “Centrist experts can appear in the media, but they are not those who generate buzz, virality, and spin-off in the polarized media environment aimed at frustrating and engaging" (p. 316).   When was the last time you saw a Trumpist or even a moderate on MSNBC or CNN?   Once in a blue moon, at most. As a viewer of these two cable news stations, no more immune than any other human to the polarization and anger of our age, I can attest to being annoyed and even angry when a Trumpist or even a moderate appears unchallenged by aggressive hosts on these stations.  I don't watch much of Fox News, but from what I've seen, the same and worse is true in reverse: progressives unchallenged or not by hosts are virtually nonexistent over there.  Moreover, some hosts on Fox have no problem spouting outright lies like Trump won the 2020 election as fact.

Keep in mind that Mir made all of these observations about the intensification of angers in this, our socially mediated age, prior to Trump's mob storming the U. S. Capitol on January 6 of this year.  I just saw, today, the second day of Trump's second impeachment trial in the U. S. Senate, a video that captured the sick fascistic depravity of that mob, and how close they came to killing the Vice President of the United States, the Speaker of the House, and who knows how many Senators and Representatives -- how close that Hitlerian, Trumpist mob, who pretend to be Americans, came to dealing out mass death, were it not for the bravery and savvy of the Capitol and District of Columbia police who were so vastly outnumbered.  They were outnumbered by the physical manifestation of the online mobs that Mir describes in Postjournalsm -- physical mobs that sought to cancel democracy by cancelling the lives of its elected representatives.

I remain an optimist, and, like John Milton, a believer in human rationality, and its capacity to stand up to illogical and inchoate emotion.  But it failed before, in Nazi Germany, and it almost failed here in the United States at the end of Trump's term in office.

If you'd like to learn more about how this state of the country and world came to be, read Mir's book.  You'll likely learn more from Postjournalism -- as chocked full of extensive research as it with prescient lines like "There were no revolutions before newspapers, and there will be none after; only riots (yet, maybe, coups)"(p. 451) -- than from the past dozen books you've read or will read on the subject.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Your Honor 1.9: Screeching Up to a Last Stop Before Next Week's Finale

So as a measure of how good Your Honor 1.9 is, the least important segment in the long run, but a set little masterpiece in its own right, is the way the judge handles the unexpected witness who can testify how Carlo graphically bragged about killing Kofi.

And the rest of the episode moved to a screeching halt to whatever we may see in the finale next week.  Adam and Fia's love for each is becoming known to all the wrong necessary parties.   Jimmy knows about it, and Adam's on his way to seeing him.  Charlie knows it -- and, even more importantly, that Adam killed Rocco.  The way Charlie found that out, in the conversation he was having with Adam's teacher, to get her out of town, was a great scene, too.

All the pieces are starting to come together, but to what ending, what kind of ending, we still don't know.  Eugene knows that Kofi was taking a fall, but he doesn't yet know that, ultimately, Michael via Charlie set it up.  I have a feeling Eugene will play a crucial role in the ending.

It's hard, almost impossible, to tell how that ending will go.  A happy ideal ending would have Mr. and Mrs. Baxter killed, but that's not likely to happen.   What is likely is that someone will die, and maybe more than one.  I hope Michael and Adam and all their friends and family survive.  But that's very far from certain at this point.

Michael has been able to hold his own, often just barely, since he saw Jimmy Baxter in that police station, just as Michael was about to talk to someone there about Adam's hit and run, or the tragic events that were close to that.   I'd bet that he'll somehow manage to survive this, as will Adam.  But I'm also thinking that Michael may have a darker past than we've realized.  Could he have been involved in the murder of his wife?  Nah, I can't believe that.

But I believe I'll back here with a review of the finale next week.

See also Your Honor 1.1: Taut Set-Up ... Your Honor 1.2: "Today Is Yesterday" ... Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link ... Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner ... Your Honor 1.5: The Vice Tightens ... Your Honor 1.6: Exquisite Chess Game ...Your Honor 1.7: Cranston and Stuhlbarg Approaching Pacino and De Niro ... Your Honor 1.8: Nothing More Important

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Bliss: The Music and the Acting Not So Much the Movie

Just saw Bliss on Amazon Prime Video.  In a phrase, it's another well-acted simulation movie, with an obvious, even hackneyed story, but it's very well acted by Owen Wilson (Greg) and Salma Hayek (Isabel), with an appearance by Bill Nye the science guy, and excellent music, especially a really beautiful, captivating song under the closing credits, written by Will Bates and sung by Skye Edwards.

Just to be clear: Bliss is no Matrix, not even close, but then again, what is? Matrix, the first movie in particular, is the best simulation movie ever made, which touches almost all of the bases and invents some while it's at it.  Bliss, in contrast, asks us once again what is real and what is simulation, and likely doesn't even provide an answer in the end, unless that answer is both are real, which is something we've also seen before.

But the micro-stories are good.  Greg and Isabel make an effective, even memorable couple, with Hayek giving one of the best performances of her career.  Isabel apparently is from the simulated, drug induced, or whatever engendered world, and she's ultimately in competition with Greg's daughter, who wants him back and with her in what presumably is the real world.  [Spoiler: It seems that blood is thicker than mercurial water.]

I have a suggestion: I think what I just saw in Bliss would have worked better as the debut of a 10-episode television series, rather than a standalone hour-and-three-quarter movie.  The problem is in the three quarters -- Bliss the movie seems like three quarters at best of a possibly much better narrative.

But I'd say, see it, because, who knows, we may get a couple of sequels.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Podcast: Opinions, Lies, and Polarization

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 166, in which I discuss how opinions and lies compete with facts in today's media, and lead to increasing polarization.

Further reading:

Thanks University of Notre Dame for the image.


Check out this episode!

Big Sky 1.7: The Montana State Trooper

Another sharp episode of Big Sky tonight -- 1.7 -- in which Big Rick gets back at least a piece of his mind in the hospital.

He knows he's a Montana State Trooper, and says so, several times.  He quotes from Jaws.  But he (apparently) has no memory of being part of a kidnapping ring or killing that fisherman.  I say "apparently" because I suppose it's possible that he's faking his amnesia, though I don't think so.  He was, after all, shot in the head.

Meanwhile, Ronald has dyed his hair and killed his mother, as I knew he would (kill his mother, that is -- I had no idea he would dye his hair).  He almost kills Rick's wife Merilee, when Jenny and Cassie show up at her door with a pretty good sketch of Ronald.  The episode ends with them at the door, but it's a good bet that Rick's wife will survive, and in fact I'm pretty sure I saw her in the coming attractions.

So here's where it looks like this story may be headed.  Rick continues his recovery, but still has no memory of what he was doing with Ronald.  In fact, he could be helpful in nabbing Ronald, wherever he may go after leaving Merilee's house.  The question then will be: when will Rick recover his lost memories, and realize he wasn't just a Montana State Trooper.

I'm still liking Big Sky, mostly now because it's less predictable than most narratives like this.  I mean, yeah, it was clear that Ronald's mother's days were numbered, but Rick's trajectory, especially his being shot in the head and its aftermath, is continuously surprising.  A good thing in a crime story.

See you back here next week.

See also Big Sky 1.1: A Pretty Big Deal ... Big Sky 1.2: The "Goods" and the Ruined Plan ... Big Sky 1.3: "You Kidnapped the Wrong Girl" ... Big Sky 1.4: Controls on Psychos ... Big Sky 1.5: Winter Finale Indeed! ... Big Sky 1.6: "Sweet Psycho"


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Your Honor 1.8: Nothing More Important

Your Honor 1.8 was a relatively quiet, highly cerebral episode, in which we see the judge struggle to preside over a fair trial for the brutal murder of Kobe by Carlo.   His problem, as he states to a juror he's getting thrown off the jury, because she's a sure bet to convict Carlo, is nothing is more important than protecting his son Adam -- not conscience, not devotion to justice, not even plain decency.   Although Jimmy Baxter thinks Judge Michael Desiato killed Rocco, Michael knows that it won't be long until Baxter realizes that Adam was behind the wheel.   (Frankly, the best thing Michael can do to protect himself and Adam is to have Jimmy Baxter and his wife killed.  Surely Michael knows that Jimmy will kill him even if Michael keeps Carlo out of prison.)

Meanwhile, Adam is falling so hard for Fia Baxter that he no longer wants to go to NYU, where he's just been admitted.  This creates more potential problems for the judge.  He wants his son out of of New Orleans, as far away from the Baxter family as possible.  Fortunately, Adam's godfather Charlie is beginning to realize what's going on with Adam -- that there's a girlfriend involved -- which with any luck should help Adam and therefore Michael out of this part of the mess.

A word about the acting.  I already said how superb Bryan Cranston and Michael Stuhlbarg are.  The truth is that every single performance of every single actor is brilliant in this series.  Episode 1.8 features Maura Tierney in the courtroom as prosecutor.   What a performance!  I haven't seen her since The Affair, and she is as reliably memorable in her role as ever.

Episode 1.8 was also the first episode that acknowledged COVID-19, unless I missed it in an earlier hour.  But tonight saw some masks in the courtroom, and words about COVID from the bench.  Interestingly, though, we also saw people crowded in restaurants with no masks.  This corresponds to what we've seen in NBC's Chicago shows, and Law and Order in New York City.  The inconsistency almost suggests that the COVID-aware scenes were put in after the main action was recorded at an earlier time.

But back to the plot of Your Honor: just two episodes left, in which anything can happen, and which I'm very much awaiting.

See also Your Honor 1.1: Taut Set-Up ... Your Honor 1.2: "Today Is Yesterday" ... Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link ... Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner ... Your Honor 1.5: The Vice Tightens ... Your Honor 1.6: Exquisite Chess Game ...Your Honor 1.7: Cranston and Stuhlbarg Approaching Pacino and De Niro

The Dig: An Amazing Story

My wife and I just saw and very much enjoyed The Dig on Netflix -- an unerring recommendation of my sister-in-law Alexandra.  It's the true story, by way of John Preston's novel, of a dig in Sutton Hoo, England in 1939 that unearthed a seventh century Anglo-Saxon ship buried on Edith Pretty's property.

The novel does a fine job of depicting the civilization of archeology against the impending soul-testing savagery of World War II.  Science itself is accurately portrayed as challenged by human pettiness and foibles.  The people who apply the science are all fallible, in one way or another, and some are lovable.

My favorite was Robert, Edith's young son, about 10, who has a love of outer space, replete with a copy of Amazing Stories.  That rang a nice bell with me -- my first professional science fiction sale was to Amazing Stories in 1992, and I've even sold a few to that magazine under its new editor Ira Nayman in the past few years.  In The Dig, Robert's love of space travel leads him to lie on his back in the excavated Anglo-Saxon ship with his mother and look at the stars above and imagine they are traveling out there in the cosmos.  It's one of the most effective scenes in the movie, and makes the connection between sailing around the world on this Earth and beyond this world in space ships.

As is well known, space travel received a big boost from Werner von Braun and the rockets he built for Nazi Germany.  They did plenty of damage to England in the Second World War.  Von Braun surrendered to America at the end of the war, and played a major role building the American space program that got humans to the Moon at the end of the 1960s.   Science and war have likely been married to each other, albeit not exclusively, since the get go.   It would be good if someone day they weren't, and The Dig offers a powerful tableau of the pain, even horror, of their living together.

The acting is excellent.  Basil Brown, the self-taught archeologist, is played by Ralph Fiennes, who has never been anything other than superb in any role he's played and I've seen.  Carey Mulligan was memorable as Edith, as was Lily James as young archeologist Peggy Piggott.  And good job Archie Barnes as Robert.

Further reading:  The Missing Orientation



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Big Sky 1.6: "Sweet Psycho"

Well, Big Sky was back tonight with episode 1.6 tonight with one big reveal:

[Spoilers follow....]

Big Rick is still alive!  How is that?  Cassie shot him point blank in the head.  I guess some people can and do survive a bullet in the brain, if it lands in not some vital place, but I don't know, this move seems a little like a rabbit out of a hat or a cheap trick.

The story, meanwhile, has moved on.  The captives are free.   Cody's body has been found (as my wife pointed out, though, how did the police know exactly where to look, but ok), and Cassie and Jenny, against all odds, are growing closer.  Or, at very least, Jenny has agreed to work with Cassie on just one case: find the the kidnapping trucker.

Ronald remains by far the most interesting character.  As one of the freed captive girls says, he's sweet, but a psycho.  A "sweet psycho," her sister, also a freed captive, agrees.  That's an apt term for this guy, who usually seems on the verge of killing his mother, a not so sweet thing to do.

She's becoming increasingly important in this story, too.  She doesn't seem inclined to turn Ronald in.  To the contrary, she's trying to give him some helpful advice.  When push comes to shove, blood seems to be thicker than water with this crowd.  Same is at least a little true for Rick's wife and Rick.

So we have something of a good narrative emerging, and some good music in Big Sky, too.  See you next week with my review.

 See also Big Sky 1.1: A Pretty Big Deal ... Big Sky 1.2: The "Goods" and the Ruined Plan ... Big Sky 1.3: "You Kidnapped the Wrong Girl" ... Big Sky 1.4: Controls on Psychos ... Big Sky 1.5: Winter Finale Indeed!


Monday, January 25, 2021

Podcast: Twitter Ban of Trump Was Right, Even Though It Violates the Spirit of the First Amendment

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 165, in which Brian Standing on WORT-FM Radio (Madison, Wisconsin) interviews me about why I think Twitter's banning of Donald Trump was the right thing to do, even though that violates what I call the "spirit of the First Amendment".  We also discuss why I think government should keep its hands off social media.

Further reading:

Check out this episode!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Tommy James, Morris Levy, and Ellie Greenwich's Ring

Excellent article in The Guardian about Tommy James and Morris Levy (mobster owner of Roulette Records), and how Levy never paid James for his hit records ranging from "Hanky Panky" to "Crystal Blue Persuasion" (thanks guitarist Glenn Conway for bringing the article to my attention).

I found James receiving no or a negligible payment for "Hanky Panky" especially interesting, because it doesn't jibe with what Ellie Greenwich told me she received as co-writer of that song with her then husband Jeff Barry.  (Ellie and Mike Rashkow produced my group The Other Voices aka The New Outlook -- two singles -- on Atlantic Records in the late 1960s.  Here's the most successful of those two singles, May My Heart Be Cast into Stone -- Stu Nitekman is singing lead and I'm singing falsetto.)

Anyway, Ellie wore a big beautiful ring -- she called it her Hanky Panky ring, because she said when she received her multi-thousand dollar check as co-writer of "Hanky Panky," she went out and bought that ring.  I have no idea what the ring cost and how much she and Jeff received for that song.  But I don't think she was lying, and she gave the impression that the ring cost at least a couple of thousand dollars.  But even if it was cost just a couple of hundred bucks, that means she received much more for that song than Tommy James says he received as its recording artist.

Songwriters those days received royalties from two sources: the record company, which paid the writer a penny per record sold, and the performance rights organization, which paid the writer a sum of money based on how many times the song was played on the radio (in Ellie's case, the organization was BMI).  "Hanky Panky" was a huge #1 record, but did it receive enough airplay for Ellie to buy a big ring from her BMI payments, if Morris Levy paid her just a pittance, or nothing?

Who knows?  Maybe Jeff Barry threw in his BMI royalties.  Ellie died, sadly, in 2009, but Jeff is still alive and kicking.  Which come to think of it, a group by that name had a big hit record with a song called Tighter, Tighter, written by none other than Tommy James, and released on Morris Levy's Roulette Records in 1970.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

One Night in Miami: A Good Movie for Tonight

This seemed like a good time to review One Night in Miami, which my wife and I saw and loved on Amazon Prime Video the other night -- a good time because Joe Biden is President, a human being back in the White House, and Kamala Harris, in effect his first appointment all those months ago, is Vice President, the first woman and person of color as VP.

One Night in Miami details a long meeting between Cassius Clay (soon Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in a hotel room after Clay beat Sonny Liston to win the World Championship in 1964.  The meeting really happened.  The conversations in the movie were scripted (by Kemp Powers) and superb.  Same for the acting (Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. in those four roles), and likewise the brilliant directing by Regina King.  And the story told can be a considered a preamble or foundation of Black people in power in America in the 21st century, Barack Obama to Kamala Harris.

Back in 1964, the ways to get that power were far from clear, and highly debatable.  Malcolm wants black people to stand on their own.  His greatest conflict is with Sam Cooke, who sings all kinds of sweet, catchy romantic ballads (which, by the way, I love), leaving it to Bob Dylan, much to Malcolm's consternation, to write and sing "Blowing in the Wind".  Jim Brown knows all about racism, but is in the game (football and soon movies) for personal success, at least to some extent.  The question is how much?  Clay on the verge of becoming Ali is just 22, high on his being "the greatest," but attracted to Malcolm's philosophy.

Pursuit of fame and money back then was and still is a soul-depleting business, unless you can figure out a way to pursue those goals, and keep them if you reach them, with your inner core intact, and devoted at least in part to loftier goals for yourself, your people, and the world.  The path isn't easy, and One Night In Miami portrays four black guys, incredibly talented and bright in different ways, on the edge of that path so well and memorably, it could have been a Socratic dialogue written Plato.   See it and learn and enjoy.


"Sam's Requests" in this anthology is about Sam Cooke!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Just Published: Twitter Was Right to Ban Trump, Even Though It Violates the Spirit of the First Amendment

I'm a First Amendment scholar – and I think Big Tech should be left alone

Twitter’s ban of Trump has concerned free speech advocates across the political spectrum. 

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Paul Levinson, Fordham University

Twitter’s banning of Trump – an action also taken by other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat – has opened a fierce debate about freedom of expression and who, if anyone, should control it in the United States.

I’ve written and taught about this fundamental issue for decades. I’m a staunch proponent of the First Amendment.

Yet I’m perfectly OK with Trump’s ban, for reasons legal, philosophical and moral.

The ‘spirit’ of the First Amendment

To begin, it’s important to point out what kind of freedom of expression the First Amendment and its extension to local government via the Fourteenth Amendment protect. The Supreme Court, through various decisions, has ruled that the government cannot restrict speech, the press and other forms of communications media, whether it’s on the internet or in newspapers.

Twitter and other social media platforms are not the government. Therefore, their actions are not violations of the First Amendment.

But if we’re champions of freedom of expression, shouldn’t we nonetheless be distressed by any restriction on communication, be it via a government agency or a corporation?

I certainly am. I’ve called nongovernmental suppressions of speech to be violations of “the spirit of the First Amendment.”

Every time CBS bleeps a performance of a hip-hop artist on the Grammys, the network is, in my view, engaging in censorship that violates the spirit of the First Amendment. The same is true whenever a private university forbids a peaceful student demonstration.

These forms of censorship may be legal, but the government often lurks behind the actions of these private entities. For example, when the Grammys are involved, the censorship is taking place out of fear of governmental reprisal via the Federal Communications Commission.

When governmental suppression is sanctioned

So, why, then, am I OK with the fact that Twitter and other social media platforms took down Trump’s account? And, while we’re at it, why am I fine with Amazon Web Services removing the Trump-friendly social media outlet Parler?

First, a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment is never as serious as a violation of the First Amendment itself.

When the government gets in the way of our right to freely communicate, Americans’ only recourse is the U.S. Supreme Court, which all too often has supported the government – wrongly, in my view.

The court’s 1919 “clear and present danger” and 1978 “seven dirty words” decisions are among the most egregious examples of such flouting of the First Amendment. The 1919 decision qualified the crystal-clear language of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law” – with the vague exception that government could, in fact, ban speech in the face of a “clear and present danger.” The 1978 decision defined broadcast language meriting censorship with the even vaguer “indecency.”

And a government ban on any kind of communication, ratified by the Supreme Court, applies to any and all activity in the United States – period – until the court overturns the original decision.

In contrast, social media users can take their patronage elsewhere if they don’t approve of a decision made by a social media company. Amazon Web Services, though massive, is not the only app host available. Parler may have already found a new home on the far-right hosting service Epik, though Epik disputes this.

The point is that a corporate violation of the spirit of the First Amendment is, in principle, remediable, whereas a government violation of the First Amendment is not – at least not immediately.

Second, the First Amendment, let alone the spirit of the First Amendment, doesn’t protect communication that amounts to a conspiracy to commit a crime, and certainly not murder.

I would argue that it’s plainly apparent that Trump’s communication – whether it was suggesting the injection of disinfectant to counteract COVID-19 or urging his supporters to “fight” to overturn the election – repeatedly endangered human life.

Be careful what you wish for

Given that Trump was still president – albeit with just a few weeks left in office – when Twitter banned him, that ban was, indeed, a big deal.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, appreciated both the need and perils of such a ban, tweeting, “This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet. A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same.”

In other words, a company that violates the spirit of the First Amendment can “feel much the same” to the public as government actually violating the First Amendment.

To be sure, I think it’s concerning that a powerful cohort of social media executives can deplatform anyone they want. But the alternative could be far worse.

Back in 1998, many were worried about the seeming monopolistic power of Microsoft. Although the U.S. government won a limited antitrust suit, it declined to pursue further efforts to break up Microsoft. At the time, I argued that problems of corporate predominance tend to take care of themselves and are less powerful than the forces of a free marketplace.

Sure enough, the preeminent position of Microsoft was soon contested and replaced by the resurgence of Apple and the rise of Amazon.

Summoning the U.S. government to counter these social media behemoths is the proverbial slippery slope. Keep in mind that the U.S. government already controls a sprawling security apparatus. It’s easy to envision an administration with the ability to regulate social media not wielding that power to protect the freedoms of users but instead using it to insulate themselves from criticism and protect their own power.

We may grouse about the immense power of social media companies. But keeping them free from the far more immense power of the government may be crucial to maintaining our freedom.The Conversation

Paul Levinson, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Added 24 January 2020:  Comment and Response on LinkedIn

Comment from Will Huff:

I’m with you on the right of Twitter and Facebook, but where does this slope stop for private businesses? They are essentially denying service to those they don’t agree with. Is this discrimination based on political ideology. Is discrimination ok if it only about things agreed with or does it end up becoming ok for everything? Could Walmart say that people wearing Trump shirts can’t shop there? Or Biden shirts? Could a baker deny baking a cake?

Response from Paul Levinson:

Thanks for the comment, and a very good question. A private business cannot refuse service for illegal discriminatory reasons (such as the customer seeking service being Black). I don't know of any cases in which a customer was refused service because of a political statement on a shirt. Certainly a public service, like a Post Office or a city bus, could not do that, because such refusal of service would be from a government agency and the refusal would therefore indeed violate the First Amendment. But conceivably a private business could refuse service, because the business is not the government. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), the Supreme Court said a private bakeshop could refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, but only because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed a religious bias in siding with the gay couple. So this decision in a sense pitted freedom of religion vs. discrimination.