Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Back to school

Last week Judge Linda Parker threw the book at Sidney Powell, literally, when she ordered the kraken lady and eight other Trump lawyers to take twelve hours of law classes, six specifically dealing with election law.  As sanctions go, I understand this is fairly unusual.  More education is usually prescribed for people who drive badly, not members of the bar.  I don't know if Judge Parker will be administering an exam; maybe she will leave that to her clerk.

In the UK Judge Timothy Spencer QC may have been inspired by this case.  He just sentenced a 21-year-old former university student named Ben John to read Austen, Dickens, Hardy and Shakespeare.  John was convicted of possessing information that could be used to perpetrate acts of terror, which carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years.  He downloaded thousands of pages of rightwing documents (including bomb-making information) and wrote letters raging about immigrants and gay people, but the judge thinks quality lit will straighten him out.  In this case there will be an exam, scheduled for January 4.  I wish I could believe Britain is safer with this bloke in the library and no First Amendment, but I'm uneasy about the whole thing.

The punitive use of literature is new.  The punitive use of music goes back to 2008, when Colorado Judge Paul Sacco sentenced a group of teens hauled in for playing loud music to sit in a room for one hour listening to Joni Mitchell and Barry Manilow.  Let me say I too would find that punishing, nor do I have any information about repeat offenders, but this is just wrong.  And how do we know a  neighbor's top-volume Freddie Mercury didn't drive Ben John into the arms of the Lincolnshire Fascist Underground?  Everyone has a breaking point.

It's not just the weaponization of literature and music.  All education is under assault.  History teachers in backward states are threatened with punishment if they venture into "critical race theory," which is usually defined as "talking about racism."  (Even the word "racism" was recently forbidden in the Texas legislature because words have magical powers to the ignorant, like Speaker Dade Phelan.)  There seems to be a widening gap between science ("systematic knowledge of the physical world gained through observation and experimentation") and SCIENCE ("I researched it on the internet and I demand my worm medicine!  And wind turbines cause cancer!").  Six years ago officials of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ordered employees not to use the terms "global warming," "climate change" or "sustainability," which is why those phenomena ceased to exist, like racism in Texas.  It's too bad they didn't forbid "collapsing high-rise" and "red tide."

America has school boards, and school boards by law meet publicly, and they have become the focus of arguments, threats and physical violence by the citizenry who consider the sacking of the Capitol to be a free-speech exercise by friendly patriots.  In the last interview of his life Ezra Pound famously uttered just one phrase:  "Words no good."  Words, broadcast on Italian radio in 1943, had brought him a good deal of trouble.  The thugs who threaten superintendents over masks and vaccine never had many words at their disposal to begin with, so they go straight to throwing punches.  Words and votes are the fragile underpinnings of democratic society, and they're both in the path of something terrible. 


Blogger MarkS said...

Bravissima! As usual.

2:04 PM  

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