Tag Archives: free speech

Censorship and the self-righteous now target restaurants

26 Nov

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On a day when at least one college president was pressured to apologize for saying something rational, a minor story appeared about angry people trying to censor a restaurant.

Within just a few days, possibly while another person was making a forced apology, a second report of restaurant censorship appeared. What this means is that the movement to shut the traps of the dumb, the smart and the mediocre has reached a new and dangerous low.

While sporadic, disarrayed and multi-headed, the censorship movement is highly effective. Its practitioners sacrifice freedom for all as a way to secure kindness for all – which ends up being not so kind. Their popularity has grown with their intolerance, but God help them if they get between a hungry person and their food.

conflict-kitchen-storefrontNot going down easily is a Pittsburgh takeout joint called Conflict Kitchen. It shutdown after death threats, but has since reopened. More than 200 people – God bless them all – rallied on its behalf, singing and twisting verse from John Lennon: “All we are saying . . . is give food a chance.”

The Conflict Kitchen – little more than a kiosk – serves food from countries in conflict with the United States. Since opening in 2011, owners Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski have prepared culinary items from nations such as Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

The food is wrapped in paper containing information about the country’s culture and politics. The restaurant claims not to take a position but wants to present the positions of countries we may be biased against. Jon and Dawn also hold public forums to facilitate discussions.

When the Conflict Kitchen began serving Palestinian food in October, there were complaints from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the B’nai B’rith and other groups. The restaurant closed after police received a letter with death threats against it, but it has since reopened. A police investigation continues.

Meanwhile, out in Colorado, a fellow named Pete Turner has vowed to keep open his Mexican-style restaurants in the face of community protests. Again, the complaint is not about food but about words, in this case a single word.

Pete has been operating restaurants for 20 years and has six in Boulder and Denver. It is only recently that his trouble began.

The trouble is about the name of his restaurants: Illegal Pete’s.

It is felt by the protesters that the “I-Word” is offensive and hurtful and should be removed.

Pete’s inspiration for the name came in several forms. It’s a literary reference, he said, to a bar in a novel he read as a college student. It also pays homage to anti-heroes and the counter-culture, honors the nonconformist streak of his father (also named Pete) and keeps his own name out there as well.

Pete recently attended a community meeting with his detractors. He listened politely. Several days later, he announced he would not change the restaurant’s name.

I admire his guts.

You can’t please everyone and it’s ridiculous to try. You also can’t guarantee a person a totally inoffensive day, unmarred by an indelicate word, picture, conversation, hint or suggestion. Life as a whole is offensive. Isn’t that abundantly clear? We are an aggressive, acquisitive, violent and murderous species. Must we use the proper words in the course of our murdering?

I don’t think Pete was trying to offend, but if people are free to offend, at least we will know where they stand. To me, this is preferable to having people hide their feelings and seem like something they are not.

Sometimes all we need to do is shake our heads and continue walking – or eat somewhere else.

Milton Guevara, the Salvadoran general manager of an Illegal Pete’s in Boulder, took what I think is the right “c’est la vie” attitude. He said, “I’m Hispanic, and I’m very proud to be. People come to us because they love our food . . . The name doesn’t mean anything.”

In the end, if someone is providing you with good food, how can you not like and appreciate them? If you’ve got to picket, I say picket those who can’t cook.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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Cloaking a bright holiday in darkness

28 Nov

The little catch phrase I use as the top of this blog is, “Speaking, because it is allowed.”

The phrase carries some irony for me because I believe society discourages uncomfortable speech and attempts to silence it.

There are two basic kinds of offensive talk. The first is false; the second true.

Regarding the first: Lies hurt, and large numbers take great offense when someone slurs a race or a people. For me, I prefer it when everyone fully expresses themselves. It reveals their hearts.

Regarding the second: The truth often hurts more than the lies, especially if it reveals us as monsters.

One such truth is the genocide by Americans of Native Americans.

Last week a University of Texas journalism professor named Robert Jensen published an opinion piece about Thanksgiving. In the Daily Texan, his university’s newspaper, he associated the holiday with this genocide and implicated our founding fathers.

Reacting quickly, UT president Larry R. Faulkner wrote the Houston Chronicle a letter in which he calls Jensen “a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy.” He was “disgusted” by Jensen’s article, he added.

In his article, Jensen quotes several U.S. presidents in a grand show of ill will toward Native Americans. He has Theodore Roosevelt saying, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Jensen later asks: “How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis?”

I hope all good and informed American know that perhaps 30 million buffalo were slaughtered by white hunting parties (some sitting in trains) in an attempt to deny food to the Plains Indians. I find that as haunting as gas chambers.

This is our heritage, uncomfortable as it is.

Professor Jensen deserves credit for bringing forth what usually is unspoken.

I suggest we all follow his example in these times when it can be done. If we do, we may develop the courage to continue when and if society tries to ensure that it can’t.

–By Lanny Morgnanesi

Tolstoy, who wrote of aristocracy, had much in common with the Occupy movement

5 Sep

My work recently brought me to the writings of a reformed rabbi named Dr. Joseph Krauskopf. He lived around the turn of the 20th century. While not well-known today, he was friends with presidents and world leaders during his day.

In today’s light it is easy to categorize him as a visionary and possibly a radical. What may be truer is that free thinking and free speech flourished more then than now, and that others at the time were expressing similar ideas – equality and dignity for all, women’s rights, the end of poverty, a government hand in the inspection of food and housing, world peace.

In 1894 Krauskopf traveled to Russia and met with Count Leo Tolstoy, known now as a great novelist; known then as an incredibly influential, larger-than-life, cultish leader of humanists. Krauskopf, in utter awe of the man, recorded every facet of the meeting. The account is fascinating and revealing. In one exchange, the Russian asks the rabbi if he had read “What to Do,” a work of non-fiction by Tolstoy calling for the liberation of the oppressed.

Krauskopf had not, but said he did read “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”

Tolstoy, according to Krauskopf, described those books as trash and said he would prefer if the world instead read his “serious writings.”

But what I really want to report here is Tolstoy’s timeless description of the United States and its faults.

“You call yourselves a republic; you are worse than an autocracy. I say worse because you are ruled by gold, and gold is more conscienceless, and therefore more tyrannical, than any human tyrant. Your intentions are good; your execution is lamentable. Were yours the free and representative government you pretend to have, you would not allow it to be controlled by the money powers and their hirelings, the bosses and machines, as you do.”

I wish someone would read this from the podium at the Democratic National Convention, or from any podium for that matter.

What are your thoughts?

— Lanny Morgnanesi

Sticks, stones and free speech

10 Feb

Hateful or merely unfunny?

I’ve noticed that more and more celebrities, politicians, broadcasters and sports figures are saying things that offend people. Reporting gaffs, if they are indeed that, has become its own news genre.

What people say rarely offends me. I’m an advocate of free speech. And I like to hear what people really think. Don’t others feel this way? It is difficult for me to believe that, say, a Jew, would prefer an anti-Semitic congressman keep quiet and never be found out, rather than speak honestly and reveal himself.

Do those who complain about people like Roland Martin think Roland Martin would be a different person if he didn’t say what he said?

I once found myself among a large group of traveling North Koreans. They didn’t say a word, didn’t crack a facial expression, didn’t show they were human. Fear encapsulated them. I’d much rather be around a bigot than an automaton. I’m hoping the current tendency to castigate offensive utterances doesn’t turn Americans into North Koreans.

Can’t we just ignore celebrity offenders? That’s severe punishment, since these are people who can’t seem to live without attention.

There once was a politician in my town who probably was a good fellow at heart. He liked to make jokes and never worried about offending people. He thought himself a scream. He held a high county office and once had to deal with a small riot in a Hispanic neighborhood.

He was unable to play it straight.

During a public meting he said this: “We could have avoided the problem if someone had just put up a taco stand.”

He was roundly criticized.

At the next meeting, he took the podium to apologize, even though he was not the kind of man to do so.

“I was completely wrong,” he told his audience. “It’s the Mexicans who like tacos. The people who rioted were Puerto Ricans.”

And he belly laughed.

Was this man a racist or simply a failed comedian?

To me he was someone who refused to hide himself. If I chose to, I could have run from him, knowing more about him than I knew about most people.

He lost the next election, retired and died. Roland Martin, on the other hand, probably has followers on social media than ever before.

Free speech and blogs

8 Jan

Author Lori Andrews

A cynic might say that blogging is something you do if you want to get fired from your day job. More and more, opinions from blogs are being used by employers to dismiss employees. And more and more, the courts are dealing with these cases, trying to determine the bounds and limits of free digital speech.

In the Currents section of today’s Sunday Inquirer, this topic is discussed by Lori Andrews, author of “I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy.” Ms. Andrews will be lecturing Thursday night at the National Constitution Center n Philadelphia (call for reservations at 215-409-6700).

Read her piece here.

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