05 August 2003

First, a minor annoyance and comment on the poor design defaults in most blogging/blawging software:

   If you really expect me to read an entry in your blawg/blog that is linked from elsewhere, it's really helpful if the link points to the top of the entry. (That's why I put the timestamp before the beginning of the first paragraph—in Blogspot terminology, that puts the "permalink" at the beginning of the paragraph.) Since the timestamp is added automatically, I don't have to worry about checking my watch when I'm done posting.

   Fortunately, Neil Gaiman doesn't have this problem. If you care at all about artistic expression, you should go read his recent entries on the Jesus Castillo matter, in which a graphic novel—merely by being misfiled in among the girlie magazines—caused a serious problem for a bookstore, because (according to the prosecutor) "everyone knows that comics are for kids." <SARCASM> Yeah, that explains why Doonesberry has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, given out by one of the most reactionary and least artistically aware juries in all of publishing. </SARCASM>

   What really saddens me the most about this matter is not the loss, or the poor grasp of First Amendment principles and law in Texas. I expect those. Any litigator who takes on high-risk matters—and First Amendment issues are practically the paradigm—must expect to lose 10-15% of the cases he or she should objectively win. What concerns me is the assumption by one of Mr. Gaiman's correspondants that Dallas is "less reactionary" (my words) than the rest of Texas. The single most controversial case decided since Earl Warren left the Supreme Court came out of Dallas: Roe v. Wade.

   On another point: Mr. Gaiman understates, if anything, just how good we have it in the US. There are indeed significant flaws in First Amendment doctrine, let alone practice. Mr. Gaiman rightly shudders when comparing it (I presume, based on his country of birth) to the UK, which does not have such a provision, and yet is unusually enlightened compared to the rest of the world. For example, during the last decade under the Shah and the first decade thereafter, there was essentially no culture of reproducible art in Iran. Anything that could be reproduced—musical recordings, books, paintings, film—either originated in the 1960s or earlier or was brought in from outside. It was simply too dangerous to practice art in a way that left behind a record…and all too dangerous in any event.

   To again mangle Winston Churchill only slightly, and in a way of which he would definitely disapprove: Censorship by the marketplace is the worst possible form of controlling expression—except for all the others. (Note that I didn't limit it to controlling "harmful" expression, which was the purported issue in the Castillo matter.)