Thursday, December 14, 2017

How Much Free Speech


When I studied some political philosophy while majoring in English, my prof, Robert Rowan, was a civil liberties activist, prominent in the B.C. Civil Liberties Union or Association (or whatever it was then called).

He once in debate aired on CBC radio punched the philosophic lights out of Herbert Marcuse. This was the sixties and theories of guys like Marcuse and Norman O Brown got a lot of play.

Rowan was a disciple of Joseph Tussman, of Obligation And The Body Politic, a Kantian in some respects. Tussman himself was a student of Alexander Mekllejohn, who wrote Education Between Two Worlds, the worlds before and after WW 2. It had a big impact on me, as callow as I was.

A big issue we took up, and Tussman was famous on it, was what limitation, if any, should be put on the 1st Am guarantee of free expression. 

It was Tussman’s (and Rowan’s) thesis, historically based as they argued at least, that it should be limited to political speech, or, more precisely, that speech that enures to a politically informed citizenry, that being the very engine of a well functioning liberal democracy. 

Commercial speech, for instance, doesn’t make the protected cut on this conception of the width of protected free speech. 

I’m making a short story long here because I just read an accessible article by Cass Sunstein on the work of a University of Richmond law prof, Judd Campbell. 

Sunstein calls Campbell’s work on the 1st Am extraordinarily illuminating. 

The argument in a nutshell is that the original meaning of the guarantee is quite restricted and relates in big part to what custom and convention deem to be conducive to good order, with some exceptions. So speaking hard against the national interest is seditious and hence not protected and is in fact criminal. 

This conception of restrictable expression is at odds with modern case law on the wide sway given to protected expression and poses interesting challenges for originalists, who to a man and woman tend to be strongly libertarian, as in “State do your minimum functions and otherwise get out of my hair.” 

But enough of me. 

Here’s the guy who really knows what he’s talking about and is a hell of a good writer to boot.

A Contrarian Note On Wedding Cake Case, The Baker Who Wouldn’t


Does this make sense?

I’ve had some vigorous exchanges with a few people here, there and everywhere on the wedding cake case.

While I’m totally for gay marriage and the grant to gay couples and individuals of all equal rights—“grant” may not be the right verb; “recognize” is better—I’m sympathetic to the argument based on compelled speech, assuming baking a fancy, symbolic and specified wedding cake can be legally likened to the expression inherent in artistry. 

Not otherwise.

The most troubling argument to me has been the question of what if the baker for religious reasons, sincerely but perversely held, is against interracial marriage.

I struggled with it and offered a few answers that didn’t sit well with me.

But I had last night a good conversation with my younger lawyer daughter, who gives and takes good arguments equally well. And it came to me.

I think.

No dancing around the application of strict scrutiny or hiving off racial issues for special consideration: no, I think the issue has to be met head on. And the answer I think—I stress “I think” because it’s only a thought—is that compelled speech must apply to the religiously based animus against interracial marriage it that’s what is sincerely and deeply believed. 

Compelled speech, which is as strong and embracing as the 1st Amendment itself, can’t be splintered into the convictions we can live with and the ones we can’t. If Nazis can march under their rights of assembly and unbridled expression, short of incitement, then bakers oughtn’t be compelled to create against their convictions, if they come within the ambit of artists who can’t be compelled to act against their convictions.

Nobody made that argument in oral argument before SCOTUS and I doubt it was briefed. But I do believe and think that it is the principled answer to the troubling question of what to do if race is at the bottom of the refusal to provide service.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More On Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex: Halfway Through Part 2, The Acolyte


So some more on Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex, as written to some friends, one of whom did his MA thesis on Mailer.

....Just to say in my on and off reading of this book, I’m in the middle of the second part, The Acolyte, some general thoughts are running  through my mind. He’s at the point of having finished with T-Grace Atkinson et al and is about to get down to brass tacks with Kate Millett.

One realization is that I’m falling nicely into the rhythm, pace and even longueurs of Mailer’s prose. I’m reading him easily as a matter of style and no longer find his writing frustrating. The obscure references and tropes that get by me have diminished though I still scratch my head over the odd one. 

I find all his talk about himself as a revolutionary and the need for revolution given his characterization of America as Moloch with its pollution, greed and machine like cannibalism of its citizens both overwrought and silly. 

OTOH, I like that he’s self derisive in questioning his status as a revolutionary owing to his growing into his creature comforts, middle age passivity and to the waning fervor of his energies, much of them sapped by his four failed marriages. (Not for nothing does PW stand for prisoner of war as well as prize winner.) 

That self deprecation reminds me of something purposefully self parodic I read by him about a writer going over all his bills, what he owes his ex wives, all the fancy dinners out, the vacations, the cost of a place on “the Vineyard,” and then finally he gets down to writing something called AMERIKA.

When Mailer gets off the revolutionary kick, I think he points to and expands wonderfully on a great theme about women as nature has them as child bearers and nurturers, that being connected to something mysterious beyond the ken of men, and how their nature works against them in wanting, for those that do, to be the ultimate equal of men in every way. That becomes for radical feminists, what critical theory calls, a “problematic.” 

Mailer is effective, I think, in skewering their fantasies about technology transforming their natures so as to obviate their need to bear children and in skewering the proposition that when liberated, including from their natures, they won’t be looked to as essential to giving birth to sustain the population. 

Yet while he does all that skewering he aptly, I feel, harkens to, and evinces, the sense of the mystery of creation that inheres In women (and not men), the beauty, the awesome naturalness and (metaphorically) the miraculousness of which contrast so profoundly with the dystopian science fiction fantasies of radical feminism. 

I remember from reading this book a half a century ago that the evincing of this sense of mystery in contrast to the mechanizing and technologizing of sex (and maybe other things) is at part of the heart of what I remember to be the marvelous literary criticism that is yet to come.    

Matching his ambiguity and self irony about his status as a revolutionary is Mailer’s contrast of the within-the-system policy reforms of Abzug and NOW with the off the wall wishes of radical feminism that even then sought to erase all biological differences between men and women, to erase all mores, conventions and taboos about sex, envisioning a kind utopia of free love, and that sought to overthrow capitalism and the class and power divides it engenders. 

The matching arises, as best as I can make it out, from Mailer lauding the policy reforms but, too, being attracted to, not the dystopian/utopian fantasies, but, rather, the more prosaic but radical feminist calls for political and social transformation of American society. 

If I’ve got the ambiguities here right, I don’t as yet know whether or how he resolves them.

On I’ll read though and in any event.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

More On Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex


As I recall, "wordy" had been a Mailer characteristic since about the late 50's (long, elaborate sentences with a lot of adjectives, i.e). 

So was "roundabout", which he'd developed as a coy defensive tactic, a way of hedging, hinting, not quite saying what you think he's saying. 

From time to time he'll call this "dialectical", though I never thought he meant much by that -- it was really just a way of being able to take provocative stances without being pinned down by them. 

And "self-obsessed" -- well, sure, that's Mailer, from the beginning, and overtly so, obviously, since "Advertisements for Myself". 

I think maybe the oddness stems from some earlier obsessions with viscera, bowels, and smells, which he'd developed in a confused search for some Big Idea that would identify him (previously that had been Time), but it does get at some notion of bodily essence that's probably relevant to his theme here. 

Finally, though, what makes it "not not engaging", to my mind at least, is that this is Mailer at the period where he encapsulates himself as his own protagonist, the Mailer-persona, part clown, part Aging Man of Letters, whose antics, verbal and physical, both amuse and, occasionally, stimulate. Or at least they did me, once upon a time. Don probably had a more appropriate response.


Thanks L. I’ll keep on with it. At least for a while. 

But even in the first part, The Prizewinner, he talks about:

...a colloquy between the liver’s passions and the justified claims of the spleen, the spirituality of the lungs in conflict with the wage demands of the muscles, all subjected at last to the logic of intestinal morality....

And I’m thinking wtf is he talking about? Is he serious? Is he just putting us on? And now given your good comment, I’m thinking, “Does he think he’s saying something meaningful but he wants it both ways by suggesting too that he’s just farting around because he probably knows it’s fanciful bullshit?” 

There’s a part in the first part where he’s courting the support of Bella Abzug and her group in his run for mayor. And she’s so plain spoken, like “Your ideas on women stink,” with her quintessential New York City bluntness. And I really appreciated that compared to his roundabout, at times obscure, long winded loquaciousness.

He’s prolix. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

On Rereading Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex, So Far Part 1

I just finished the first part of The Prisoner Of Sex, The Prizewinner. 

I first read the book about 50 years ago.

It came up again in an article by Judith Shulevitz on Kate Millett and her book Sexual Politics, which slags Mailer and which Mailer answers in his book. Shulevitz, whom I like,  gives her the nod over Mailer.

I remember particularly thinking Mailer’s literary criticism in in his book was superb. But I knew even less then than I do now. 

I  wanted to reread Prisoner Of Sex, which I thought was great when I read it way back when, to see if I still favoured it. 

So I just started it. 

I don’t know what to make of the first part. It confuses me. It’s way wordy, way self obsessed, roundabout, with some obscure expressions the meaning of which got by me, yet playful, and not not engaging—I use a double negative because the engagement, such as it is, co-exists with mild impatience and bits of not getting what he’s saying. Overall, so far, I’m sort of liking it, but I’m wondering what’s the point of all its oddness. 

I’ll read on. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Note On Reading


With respect to books being read:

Just, finally, finally, finished, John L. Smith’s Of Rats And Men...., a biography of former and notorious mob lawyer and Las Vegas’s most beloved mayor, three terms, Oscar Goodman.

On the go, Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King, summarized as so:

.... When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty-nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, a banana hauler, a dockside hustler, and a plantation owner. He battled and conquered the United Fruit Company, becoming a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures. In Latin America, when people shouted “Yankee, go home!” it was men like Zemurray they had in mind.

            Rich Cohen’s brilliant historical profile The Fish That Ate the Whale unveils Zemurray as a hidden kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary, driven by an indomitable will to succeed. Known as El Amigo, the Gringo, or simply Z, the Banana Man lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years. Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas, he built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, mercenary soldiers, Honduran peasants, CIA agents, and American statesmen. From hustling on the docks of New Orleans to overthrowing Central American governments, from feuding with Huey Long to working with the Dulles brothers, Zemurray emerges as an unforgettable figure, connected to the birth of modern American diplomacy, public relations, business, and war—a monumental life that reads like a parable of the American dream...


James Andrew Miller’s Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency, summarized, with a lot of jazzy gloss, as so:

...A behind-the-curtain history of Hollywood's transformation over the past five decades as seen through the agency at the heart of it all.

In 1975, five young employees of a sclerotic William Morris agency left to start their own, strikingly innovative talent agency. In the years to come, Creative Artists Agency would vault from its origins in a tiny office on the last block of Beverly Hills to become the largest, most imperial, groundbreaking, and star-studded agency Hollywood has ever seen—a company whose tentacles now spread throughout the world of movies, music, television, technology, advertising, sports, and investment banking far more than previously imagined.

Powerhouse is the fascinating, no-holds-barred saga of that hot-blooded ascent. Drawing on unprecedented and exclusive access to the men and women who built and battled CAA, as well as financial information never before made public, acclaimed author James Andrew Miller spins a tale of boundless ambition, ruthless egomania, ceaseless empire building, drugs, sex, greed, and personal betrayal. Powerhouse is also a story of prophetic brilliance, magnificent artistry, singular genius, entrepreneurial courage, strategic daring, foxhole brotherhood, and how one firm utterly transformed the entertainment business. Here are the real Star Wars—complete with a Death Star—told through the voices of those who were actually there. Packed with scores of stars from movies, television, music, and sports, as well as a tremendously compelling cast of agents, studio executives, network chiefs, league commissioners, hedge fund managers, tech CEOs, and media tycoons, Powerhouse is itself a Hollywood blockbuster of the most spectacular sort....

And, at last, about to start Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex. I’m rereading it to see whether my decades old first impression of it as amazing literary criticism and a superb answer to the militant feminist he joined issue with Kate Millett—Sexual Politics—particularly in championing Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence still holds up for me.

Of Rats And Men: Biography Of Oscar Goodman By John L. Smith


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Of Rats and Men

10/20/2003Doug French

Most people know Las Vegas as the slickly packaged, corporate version that is hawked coast-to-coast by the local government's convention authority these days. But, not so long ago, Las Vegas was just a dusty, desert town where a few of the nation's wise guys, bookmakers and one defense attorney came to reinvent themselves.
Guys that were considered crooks and hoodlums somewhere else blew into Vegas with its legalized gambling and became the city fathers. Talk to any of the city's old timers and they wax eloquent about the good old days when the town was run by the Mob, when your wife or girlfriend could safely walk unattended anywhere in the city.
No one pines for the old Vegas like Nevada's best writer, John L. Smith. Smith has chronicled much of the Las Vegas story in his books about the city's famous and notorious, as well as in his columns in the Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper. His latest book, Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life From Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas is the biography of Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman. Goodman describes himself as the "happiest mayor in the country." Once happy hour starts, and Goodman commences to consume his considerable daily intake of gin martinis, no doubt, other mayors would be hard pressed to keep up in the happiness department.
Goodman only recently became a politician, winning the mayor's seat as a long shot candidate in 1999. Goodman was thought to be unelectable after years of defending the likes of Meyer Lansky, Nick Civella, Tony Spilotro, Frank Rosenthal, Nicky Scarfo, and Vinny Ferrerra, plus a host of other organized crime figures.
The bulk of Smith's book is devoted to stories of Goodman's defense of these mobsters as well as his representation of U.S. District Court Judge Harry E. Caliborne, Mustang Ranch brothel owner Joe Conforte, Jack Gordon (LaToya Jackson's ex-husband), wife-beating country star Tracy Lawrence, drug addict casino mogul Ted Binion, and even ear-biting boxer Mike Tyson. Goodman specialized in defending the undefendable.
Las Vegas is a town full of big egos, and Oscar Goodman has arguably the largest. Because of his ego, Goodman didn't take every high-profile case offered. In 1994 Goodman was approached to be on O.J. Simpson's dream defense team, but Goodman passed. He also passed up an opportunity to be on former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega's defense team. Sitting second chair is not Oscar's style.
Mr. Smith and his subject share a reverence for the mobster types that controlled old Vegas, and a healthy distain for the Federal Government that would stop at nothing in an attempt to convict these men that allegedly trafficked drugs, ran prostitution, operated gambling operations throughout the country, and skimmed profits from Nevada casinos. Although suspected of murder and other atrocious crimes, Goodman believes that his clients were men of honor, while those in government and their informants were rats of the worst kind.
The following paragraph from the book captures Goodman's essence:

The government hated to be upstaged or proved wrong and Goodman was not a congenial combatant. He gloated in victory, snarled in defeat, and never gave an inch. Prosecutors had been his clients' mortal enemies and that made them his enemies, too. Even after 35 years, he remained a one-man revolutionary whose deep distrust of government bordered on anarchy. Long-time observers of Goodman saw a man who would rather have thrown a bomb in the courtroom in order to make a statement than cut a deal for his client. Oscar Goodman would never go quietly into that good night.
Anarchist Oscar has become "hizzoner" having served as mayor for four years and counting, winning re-election this year with an extraordinary 86 per cent of the vote. Instead of going toe-to-toe with the government, he is the government, except the office of mayor has very little power plus the land controlled by the City of Las Vegas is relatively small compared to that controlled by the Clark County Commission. Essentially, all that a Las Vegas mayor can impact is downtown. The world famous strip, with its seemingly endless rows of corporate-controlled attractions, is located in Clark County. And, the fastest growing municipalities in the valley are Henderson and the city of North Las Vegas, each becoming a sea of stucco suburbia where the politically correct are trying to outlaw the growing of grass.
A decaying downtown is the only canvass for Goodman to paint his legacy on. He continually tries to attract a major league sports franchise to the city. He has proposed rounding up the city's homeless and shipping them to a prison in Jean, Nevada, south of Las Vegas. He insists on dictating what can and will be built on 61 acres of city-controlled land that he calls "the most valuable real estate in the United States." Although the real estate market dictates that tilt-up concrete office buildings are in demand and the most likely use for the 61 acres, Goodman will have none of it. He is holding out to make downtown Las Vegas a major league city worthy of his vision. The market be damned. Additionally, Goodman's city health and building inspectors are now aggressively working to bulldoze private property that the city considers blight.
Goodman has made the complete transition from government agitator to log-rolling politician. When the local office of the FBI was thinking of moving its offices outside the Las Vegas city limits, Goodman stepped in, delivering 5.3 acres to the U.S. Government at no charge. A new IRS building is also on the drawing board for downtown. It's hard to imagine the Oscar Goodman of twenty years ago handing land over to his archenemy.
Mayors throughout the city's recent history have partnered with developers hoping to create attractions to re-vitalize downtown. Goodman is no different. None of these projects have accomplished anything other than wasting taxpayer money.
Goodman is so popular that he was courted heavily to run against incumbent Republican governor Kenny Guinn in 2002. But, again his ego wouldn't let him run against Guinn. "Why didn't Goodman run for governor?" Smith asks, "Because he didn't want to work a smaller room under a smaller spotlight.
"He would have gone out of his mind in Carson City, where his nightlife activities of [sports] betting and Beefeater might not have been fully appreciated. For the consummate showman, giving up his starring role as Las Vegas mayor to run for governor would have been like leaving Broadway to pursue summer stock in Winnemucca."
Anyone who is fascinated with mobsters, that love The Sopranos or who enjoyed the movie Casino (Goodman played himself in the movie) will not be able to put down Of Rats and Men. Goodman was the mouthpiece for dozens of wise guys with funny nicknames, and John L. Smith chronicles the stories of all of them through the memories of Goodman and his wife Carolyn, plus a wide array of sources, both friends and foes.
What Oscar Goodman now does best is shill for the new Las Vegas, while continuing to relentlessly self-promote. As the book makes clear, the Oscar Goodman story is far from over. But, as the city has gone corporate, run by lawyers and CPA's, much of the charm of the old Las Vegas that Goodman was so much a part of, has been lost, no doubt making Goodman and his biographer very sad.