Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Right to Be Let Alone

In 1972, Student Life officials at Miami University (Oxford, OH) applied the University rule against solicitation in the dorms against political campaigns. For sound political reasons, neither the McGovern nor Nixon campaigns intended to canvass the MUO dorms, but we joined together to assert what I explicitly called our right to annoy people to spread our message — propaganda in a neutral sense — and solicit votes.
The two campaigns and our First Amendment rights prevailed, which was and remains a good thing.
Since then, the means of communication have multiplied, and simultaneously we've moved toward the hyper-capitalism and rule by hucksters satirized in Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's great comic dystopia, The Space Merchants (1952/53). So nowadays we must balance a generalized First Amendment right to propagandize, sell to, and annoy against a generalized (Fourth Amendment) right that can be usefully overstated with Justice William O. Douglas's line, “The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom."
As lawyers can now chime in, it will be a complicated balancing act.

Monday, March 12, 2018


News story passed along on Twitter: 
"The NRA [National Rifle Association ...]
just sued Florida based on the astounding 
argument that 18 year olds have a constitutional
right to buy assault rifles."

On this issue, I'm kind of with the NRA, which is something that hasn't happened much since I quit high school ROTC and the rifle team (in the 1950s) and since the NRA was taken over by fanatics.

I'll get in the argument this far, with my standard comment on young adults but with a bit of a twist: As is frequent, a wide-spread problem in the US about which we must DO SOMETHING!! is shifted to the schools and to young people. Mass shootings are only a small proportion of US gun deaths; most mass shootings do not occur in schools; the great majority of shooters in mass shootings are White males between the ages of 20 and 49, not teens. 

Humans mature into our social roles at different speeds and in complex ways, some people living long lives but never making it to adulthood. "The age of majority," therefore — when one gets pretty much the full rights and responsibilities of adulthood — is always somewhat arbitrary. That is *not*, however, a good argument for adulthood by degrees, but for setting a minimally ambiguous age of majority, enforcing it, and, in a manner appropriate in a secular republic, ritualizing it with some brief ceremony/"rite of passage." 

Old enough to be conscripted to take up weapons in defense of the country, old enough to vote. Old enough to function as a sovereign citizen electing officials and voting on referendums, old enough to buy legal psychotropic drugs such as ethyl alcohol (street names: booze, "drink" ...). Old enough to buy booze, old enough to keep and bear legal firearms: which I'd have bolt or pump-action, single-shot, small caliber long-guns unless one has a really good reason for something more deadly — plus a background check, training, and a license that needs periodic renewal after testing at least as rigorous as for initial drivers' licenses.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


I've recently been thanked for what for me have been generous contributions to local political causes, and I replied something like, "Thank you ... but they really aren't all that generous."
They aren't, and I'll share with the group part of why not.
In part, it's money my heirs fortunately don't need and which, unfortunately, I won't need for my illustrious career in film production (now, let us say, on long-term hiatus).
More relevant, it's money I'm withholding from commercial ventures, politicians, and charities that are practicing "Constant Contact" — actual name of actual company — far too literally.
Some people like a lot of stimulation, some a little. Me? I find it uncomfortable just to use washrooms where the light intensity is for women applying makeup. Also, many of us old folk were raised to respond and respond politely to requests. So I find the inundation of ads, catalogs, and, importantly here, appeals in varied media to be more than just annoying but mildly painful — and a serious matter when important mail gets lost in the mass and my not-*that*-old computer functions get slowed down.
A bit of street theater that moved me to action in the Vietnam Era was on the theme, "If You Don't Like the War Machine, Don't Feed it." The moral issues are much less urgent here, but I will resist feeding "Constant Contact" as both a corporation and a fund-raising strategy. Those groups I'm supporting, I'll mostly continue to support. Newbies who've bought my contact information — unless I've heard of you some other way, and you've got a really good cause (and maybe an "UNSUBSCRIBE" function that definitively stops your appeals) — you are likely out of luck.
Local folk and groups I know and who know how to ask and then back off: Yep, now and then you'll find me looking considerably more generous than you expected. Don't thank me too much, though: part of that money has been shifted from good people taking prudent advice — and succeeding at pissing me off enough to stop complaining and act.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

If You Don't Know What First Name I Use, Should You Be Calling Me By My First Name?

When I first started teaching, forms of address were simple: my students called me "Mr. Erlich," and I called them "Miss/Mr./Mrs./later Ms. Last Name." Then my students mildly objected to formal usage for themselves, and I mildly complained about their complaint to a colleague, sniffily noting that it was a matter of indifference. And he threw back at me a line I'd used, "If it's a matter of indifference to you, and they care, do it their way."
Since I taught English, what I did was spend a few minutes first day of class on forms of address, and we had an exercise in very limited democracy where the students voted on how we addressed one another — with the restriction that we'd stay on one level of formality, and that wouldn't include calling each other by just our last names (which is for superiors to inferiors or close friends or colleagues). They almost always voted for "a first-name basis," but I had to insist that I really wanted "Rich" and not "Uhhhh." (The "Mr. Erlich" vs. "Dr." or "Professor Erlich" is another issue. When and where I was, it was "Mr." when I got my Ph.D. — after the first couple of weeks, anyway.)
Retired, I'm caring again about how I'm called, especially in medical contexts where I already feel somewhat juvenilized. When called "Richard," I'm tempted to say, "I don't go by 'Richard'" and if asked what I go by reply, "If you don't know the first name I use, maybe you should call me 'Mr. Erlich.'"
It's "Err-lick," as in "to "err is human," and either pronunciation of that "err" is fine, and if you use a German "ch," that's also okay, and I'll shudder and accept "er-lich," with an English "ch." That's two syllables of a fairly common name. People should try, but pronunciation issues aren't the main point. The point for my students was a legitimate desire to stave off adulthood (which in the US often sucks); and, more generally, the issue is good ol' semi-sincere American friendliness.
About now in life, from people half my age who don't know me, I think I prefer some stodgy formality. Especially when that first name reference is followed by, "And how are *you* today?" when they really don't care and — unless getting medical information — do *not* want you to tell them.