This is genius.
The First Amendment does not give an absolute right to say what you want. You may not exercise your freedom of speech to the detriment of other people’s freedoms by, for example, inciting racial hatred or encouraging others to commit crimes. Freedom of speech has its limits. The question is where those limits should be.
By now most people have probably seen this video of Barney Frank comparing a woman to a dining room table, but he made a far more telling point when he remarks that it is a testament to the First Amendment that his questioner has the right to compare Obama’s health care reforms to the Holocaust. Odious? Yes. (And Frank is Jewish.) But thank heavens we live in a society where odious views may be expressed with impunity. Here’s the clip:
So, First Amendment, yea, hooray for you. But how far should these freedoms be taken? Allow to me to get hyper-parochial on you.
I, and many others, have a problem with the comments section on the Columbia Daily Tribune’s website. People may leave comments on the news stories of the day, and boy, do they. Even the most innocuous stories seem to attract a deluge of vapid, mean-spirited, opinionated, poorly-punctuated vitriol which leaves one reeling and utterly dispirited. I have read posts about people that I personally know full of sly insinuations and occasional downright falsehoods, libelous in the extreme. There is bickering and abuse between commenters which wouldn’t dignify a middle school playground.
Now, some would say this exchange represents exactly what the First Amendment is all about… and in fact I wouldn’t disagree, but for one thing: people are allowed to post comments anonymously. I have a real problem with this. By all means exercise these freedoms we have been given, but at least have the guts to stand behind your views. People should be forced to declare themselves for who they are if they want to use this forum to display their bigotry and ignorance to the world.
Here’s just one choice example from yesterday’s paper. Scroll down – it really gets cookin’ further down the page. Mandatory birth control for welfare recipients? Now why wouldn’t someone want to put their real name behind that idea? (This one is another doozy, especially towards the end, where the ad hominem attacks really get out of hand.)
There’s a disclaimer at the top of each page that says, “Readers are solely responsible for the content of their comments,” but the Tribune can’t wash its hands of the bile and lies that appear on its website with one blithe sentence, if they’re going to allow people to hide their true identities. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this sort of rubbish shouldn’t be printed; these people have as much right to express their points of view as everyone else. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. If people had to give their real names there would still be crackpots writing in, and there would doubtless still be bickering and name-calling. Fair enough. But the First Amendment’s freedoms come with responsibility. If you’re not ashamed of your views, say who you are.
OK, rant over. Tomorrow, an entertaining story about a farting duck.
For my sins, on October 24 I’ve been invited to give a talk as part of “The Write Direction”, a seminar put on at Stephen’s College in Columbia by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. I’m quite used to standing up in front of a crowd of strangers to talk about estate planning, but this is something else again. Here’s what the program says:
“Session IV: Time to Write- How to Find it and What to Do With it
Alex George wrote his first two and a half novels while working full-time as a corporate attorney in London. He has just completed his fifth novel while running his own law firm in Columbia, MO. Here he will share some tips, techniques and suggestions that will help you:
- Organize yourself and your life to give you the time you need to write
- Maximize productivity and efficiency when writing
- Make steady progress in your work
- Stay motivated
- Manage your expectations
- Develop stamina and not lose heart
- Find a way out of writer’s block
- Enjoy the process!”
People have been looking at me slightly funny all day.
I’ve had many polite enquiries about my health. When I got to soccer this evening, the manager of the facility looked at me in astonishment. “You’re playing?” he said, eyebrows raised. “After – you know.” He made a discreet snipping gesture with his fingers. OK, not that discreet actually, but that’s Chris Viers for you.
So, with apologies, I should explain: V-Day, the subject of my last post, took place over a year ago. It’s taken me all this time to marshall my thoughts and summon up the courage to write about it. I am fully recovered – hence my usual gazelle-like performance on the soccer field tonight. So please don’t worry about me. What’s done is done. I’ve even gone and done the follow-up tests to check the operation was a success. Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to blog about that.
And yes, I am reliably informed that those are seedless grapes in the photograph.
The nurse was awfully nice. She asked me what I did, how long had I been in the States for, did I like Missouri, all the usual stuff. I lay back and did my best to answer naturally, but it was a little difficult to concentrate, because further down the bed my testicles were on public display, sitting primly on a carefully positioned towel and apparently unconnected to the rest of me. They looked like those medallions of uncooked kebab meat you see in the windows of Greek restaurants. I tried not to think about them, and instead gazed anxiously at my left wrist. A small funnel had been inserted into my vein into which the anesthetic would go. The nurse told me it was like drinking four margaritas in quick succession. I have never drunk four margaritas in quick succession (I don’t think) but I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough, given what was going to happen next.
It was V-day.
I love my children. They are my life. We have a boy and a girl; la choix du roi, as the French say. They are both utterly beautiful and funny and kind. And, praise be, healthy. Every day my wife and I look at them and pinch ourselves and wonder what we’ve done to be so lucky. But we didn’t want any more, either. Best to quit while you’re ahead, and all that. Why roll those dice again? Besides, we had no wish to go back to diapers and sleepless nights again.
But when Christina suggested that I get a vasectomy I found myself resisting the idea. It was the permanence of the solution that bothered me. I would be calling it quits, and even though I didn’t want any more children, the prospect made me deeply sad. Perhaps I was struggling against some atavistic male urge to procreate, reluctant to sign off on my contribution to the human gene pool. But I think it was actually simpler than that: being a father has been, by light years, the most rewarding and wonderful thing ever to have happened to me. Rationally I knew it made sense; emotionally I just didn’t want to close off the possibility of ever doing it again.
I stalled for as long as I could. Christina waited patiently for me to work it all out, and in the end I relented. Discreet enquiries were made, an appointment scheduled. There was some delay before they could fit me in. Vasectomies were terribly in that season.
On my way to the hospital, I stopped in at a shop that sold cycling equipment. I had been warned that I would need some tight cycling shorts after the operation to keep everything neatly tucked up and out of harm’s way – without them I would be (I was assured by friends who had already gone through all this) howling with pain. I prowled the racks of spandex, wondering what on earth I was looking for. Finally a shop assistant approached me and asked whether I was looking for something in particular. I cocked what I hoped looked like an amused eyebrow and explained that I was having a “procedure” later that day and that I would need to wear something tight. He nodded at once, completely unsurprised. (I guess I didn’t look much like a serious cyclist.) Apparently they sell loads of the things every week to men like me.
I then spent a surreal few minutes popping in and out of the changing room, trying on different sizes of shorts. A new problem had presented itself: exactly how tight was tight enough? In the end I went for the tightest I could squeeze into – two pairs, actually – and drove on to the hospital with my kinky spandex pants. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
So, back to the Operating Room. The doctor was late. My conversation with the nurse was meandering along nicely, although my testicles, unused to extended exposure to the world at large, were getting slightly chilled from the air conditioning. Finally the phone rang. The doctor was on his way. The nurse plunged the syringe and the anesthetic slipped into my bloodstream, and a few moments later the doctor arrived in the room. He wished me – or rather, my testicles – a good afternoon. That’s about the last thing I remember. I don’t know where that nurse goes for her margaritas, but it sounds like my kind of place.
Some time later I woke up in a wheelchair, as high as a kite. There were so many drugs whizzing around inside me that I couldn’t feel a thing. Christina drove me home and I spent the rest of the afternoon zonked out in bed. I moved about very gingerly for the next few days, chugging painkillers and grateful for my spandex pants, which I wore 24/7. (I knew better than to complain too much about the discomfort. When it came to the whole baby thing, I knew which of us had suffered more.)
For a while there was a vague sense of regret about all the children I wasn’t going to have any more, but it didn’t last long. Time heals most things. After all, it’s not as if having two children to adore isn’t enough. And it helps that they are who they are:
Finally, an explanation about the picture at the top of this post. There is little one can use by way of tasteful photographs or illustrations to accompany a post about vasectomies. So instead, this is a photograph of the turntable that I was allowed to buy as a reward for my bravery.
Last week I got some terrible news. A friend of mine, Simone Katzenberg, has passed away.
Simone was a divorce lawyer I had known in London. She was South African by birth. We had got to know each other through our shared interest in writing. We used to meet up every so often in coffee shops early in the morning to discuss books and anything else that came to mind. She was a sharp and funny person. She loved writing and harbored ambitions to finish a novel. She was struggling with that; but with typical generosity was happy to enjoy my (relative) success in the field. She was friends with a few writers. She used to go to their readings and then, with her utterly unpretentious curiosity, ambush them afterwards with extremely direct questions that paid no heed to the supposed literary prestige of the author in question. She was a riot.
In 2002 Simone was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of leukemia. She should have died back then. After that our visits took place at the Royal Free Hospital (where she lived on and off for two years), or at her home. Against extraordinarily long odds she successfully battled the disease. She loved her three young boys more than anything else in the world and I think she was just determined not to leave them quite yet.
But by then her immune system had pretty much collapsed and she was in and out of hospital for the last years of her life and the smallest bug could lay her low. And now she has gone. She was 51 years old.
Here’s the thing, though. Simone died in February 2008. I only found out at all because I was thinking about her, and did a search on the internet. My sadness over her passing is compounded by regret that I should have discovered the news in this way, so long after the event. Because, really, what kind of friend could I have been? Of course, it’s inevitable that when you move to another country, you lose touch with people. I get that. I suppose nobody she was close to knew me or how to get hold of me, so I wasn’t notified when she died. Would I have returned for her funeral? Probably not. But having to grieve at this distance – both in terms of geography and time – just feels all wrong.
There’s no point feeling sorry for myself. (Simone would never have approved of that.) This is just a newly-discovered downside to moving away from home. Note to self: keep in touch with your friends.
Travel well, Simone.
My friend Tim sent me this excellent link:
I don’t think much more needs to be said, other than perhaps bravo. Or rather, “bravo”.