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Free Speech, Stalin-Style
Cathy Seipp writes in the LA Times on the hypocrisy of people who stand for (kinda-sorta) free speech:

A FRIEND OF MINE took his young daughter to visit the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, explaining to her that the place is important because years ago it sold books no other store would — even, perhaps especially, books whose ideas many people found offensive.

So, although my friend is no fan of Ward Churchill, the faux Indian and discredited professor who notoriously called 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," he didn't really mind seeing piles of Churchill's books prominently displayed on a table as he walked in.

However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, The Force of Reason, might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

Now let's just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading "banned books."

Yet his store won't carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It's particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.

Strangest of all is the scenario of such a person disliking an author for defending Western civilization against radical Islam — when one of the first things those poor, persecuted Islamists would do, if they ever (Allah forbid) came to power in the United States, is crush suspected homosexuals like him beneath walls.

Yet those most oppressed by political Islam continue to defend it, even (perhaps especially) in the wake of the Danish cartoon furor. I've heard that in Europe this phenomenon is now called the Copenhagen syndrome, and some of its arguments really are amazing.

What's stupid of these people is that by airing different points of view, you advance the public discussion of issues. Ugly doesn't go away if you sweep it under the rug. What I find most offensive is suppression of speech -- whether it's out of "respect" for those who practice some primitive religion or the sick "team spirit" exhibited by the people at City Lights books.

In the words of H.L. Mencken: "The most curious social convention is that religious opinions should be respected."

And in the words of John Morley: "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."

(both quotes from a photo on

Posted by aalkon at February 26, 2006 9:48 AM

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The clerk was so snappy in part because of the shitty pay at City Lights. The kids working at the Strand in NYC are even worse. They all need to quit their jobs, study for the GRE, and try to get somewhere in life.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Former ABC (Alienated Boho Chick) at February 26, 2006 1:59 PM

Note to Miss Seipp: I am a leftist transsexual rock star with a clitoris the size of a cocktail frank, and I HATE POLITICAL ISLAM WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL.

Posted by: Lena at February 26, 2006 2:03 PM

Nobody pays their workers worse than the commies or commie wanna-be's.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 26, 2006 5:42 PM

I'll shortly be forty-seven years old, and have socialized on three continents; I've never met a "worker".

Posted by: Crid at February 26, 2006 6:13 PM

Sad, but not surprising. I am one. Lena is one. In the sense that we, well, work. I'm doing it right now -- or was -- in between posting here. Hmm, case in point, perhaps?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 26, 2006 6:17 PM

> I am one.

Opah. Opah-goddam-leeze. You live in coastal California, in perhaps the continent's finest zipcode, the one most admired for Mediterranean similitude. When only authenticity is enough, you whimsically jet to Paris, sampling the quaint little restaurants, the chic clothing shops, and most importantly, the vibe. Here at home, you enjoy many transportation options, and your selections have included the charming but inefficient (Rambler) and the stylish but ennoblingly burdensome (hybrid). Most importantly, you have, as your thirties end, elbowed your way into this comfortable living as a (lady!) wordsmith in a ferociously competitive market.

I know you've come to this place in life through painful effort and hard-won clarity. But no matter what else you are, you are *NOT* an example of Marxist entitlement.

> Hmm, case in point, perhaps?

A sentry once said "We shall know the bullshitters by their atypical commas and short, prissy sentences."

Don't kid a kidder.

Love you. Remind me to hit your paypal.

Posted by: Crid at February 26, 2006 7:03 PM

Had she posted this somewhere else a few months ago? Because I remember reading this exact same account somewhere else a while back. I'll admit that when this happens (identical anectdotes), my suspicious mind automatically swings to "urban legend".

Posted by: deja pseu at February 26, 2006 7:04 PM

"But no matter what else you are, you are *NOT* an example of Marxist entitlement."

Sigh...thought you were making a crack about laziness, not the unfunny Marx brother. I stand corrected.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 26, 2006 7:34 PM

City Lights doesn't carry books by fascists? So, if I wanted to read "Mein Kampf" by Hitler, for the purposes of education, I couldn't get it at City Lights?

Posted by: Patrick at February 26, 2006 9:27 PM

City Lights is a curious kind of place. Downstairs, there's a entire section of books on "Commodity Aesthetics." More predictably, there's also a section on "Peoples' Histories" or something like that. Lefty sentimentality and snotty, underpaid clerks aside, I actually love the place. I've found a few gems there.

Posted by: Lena at February 28, 2006 6:39 AM

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