About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

The Rapper Defense

Should the standards of what constitutes an actionable threat of physical violence be changed in the era of the internet and social media?  Next week the Supreme Court will consider that question, which probes the tender intersection of the First Amendment, criminal law, and society’s interest in protecting people from impending harm.

For years the prevailing standard has been that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected free speech and can be punished under the criminal law.  The issue raised by the Supreme Court case is whether prosecutors should be required to prove that the speaker had a “subjective intent” to threaten, as opposed to showing that an objective person would consider the statements to be threatening.  A requirement of subjective intent obviously would be harder to prove.

In the Supreme Court case, the defendant created Facebook posts about his estranged wife, writing about “a thousand ways to kill you” and asking whether the protection from abuse order she received was “thick enough to stop a bullet.”  His lawyers contend that the statements are simply “therapeutic efforts to address traumatic events” and references to the violent, misogynistic imagery of the defendant’s favorite rappers.  The defendant also argues that other actions like the placement of an emoticon — a face with its tongue sticking out, purportedly to indicate “jest” — must be considered in assessing whether the speaker truly intends menacing behavior or is just blowing off steam.

I’m a big supporter of free speech, and exercises in line-drawing are always difficult, but I don’t see any need to revisit long-time legal standards just because the internet has been developed.  Domestic abuse is a huge problem, and we need to protect the abused.  If prosecutors are required to prove “subjective intent,” and the placement of emoticons or the couching of unambiguous threats of violence in the context of rap lyrics become viable defenses, the ability to protect the abused will be diminished.  I don’t know of any real “therapy” that encourages disturbed people to make specific threats of violence, and I don’t buy the argument that standards of lawful behavior should be reduced simply because some anonymous people treat the internet as a kind of free-for-all zone.

Standards exist for a reason, and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to lower them.  It’s not unfair to hold people whose behavior already has given rise to legitimate concern — like the defendant in the Supreme Court case who was the subject of a protection from abuse order — accountable for specific violent statements, on social media or otherwise.

Lucky Seven

I’m sure readers of our blog get sick of postings about the Cleveland Browns.  I ask for forgiveness.  The Browns have been so wretched for so long that I just can’t help myself.  And when the Browns reach 7 wins, as they did today with a lucky victory over Atlanta on the road, I feel that I need to acknowledge the occasion.

The Browns’ success this year demonstrates the wisdom of the NFL statistical gurus who take a team’s record into account and try to design schedules that will result in every team ending up 8-8.  Teams that stank last year play considerably easier schedules than the tough teams that made the playoffs.  That’s the sole reason the Browns have reached 7 wins this year.  Still, hitting 7 wins feels good — if only because the Browns have been terrible and gotten the benefit of the cupcake schedule in past years and still laid egg after colossal egg.

I don’t think the Browns are one of the best teams in the NFL by a long shot, but their defense is improving and they have some weapons on offense with the return of Josh Gordon, the development of their two young running backs, and the fact that they finally have some reliable possession receivers.  If Jordan Cameron gets healthy, the Browns could pose a challenge to opposing defenses — if they had a quarterback who didn’t make stupid decisions.  Unfortunately, Brian Hoyer is regressing in that category, and his bonehead plays today produced three interceptions that almost gave the game away.

It was lucky for the Browns that they overcame three bad interceptions and won — but the main thing is they won.  They remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, and it’s the latest in the season that they’ve been in contention for a long, long time.  It feels good to write that.

Hotel Room Horrors

Last night Kish and I went out for a nice dinner with the Cleanliness Queen and her husband, the Dessert Dude — so-called because he somehow is able to eat two large desserts at every dinner we have without putting on a frigging pound.  At the midpoint of the meal the CQ mentioned, with a grim shudder, that she had watched a disturbing hidden camera show about hotel rooms.

IMG_3452If cleanliness is next to godliness, then one day the CQ inevitably will replace St. Peter.  She’s the kind of person who takes Lysol and other cleaning supplies when she travels to wipe down her hotel room, just to be on the safe side.  I suspect she’s got a secret compartment in her luggage for a toilet brush, and it would not surprise me if she carries an ultraviolet scanner to identify any stray unclean areas.  She’s probably sufficiently fluent in other languages to grill hotel maids in every country in the world about precisely what they did in cleaning her designated room.

The CQ explained that the hidden camera show revealed that some maids were using the same dirty towel to wipe down — in this precise order — the toilet bowl, the toilet lid, the sink top, and the shower stall.  Ugh!  And, rather than running them through a scalding water device, used glasses were just put in the sink run under warm water, dried with a towel, and then the little white cap signifying germ-free status was misleadingly put back on top.  No!  This then led to a discussion about bad hotel hygiene incidents, including people on a beachfront vacation who found sand from a prior occupant in bedding that supposedly had been changed.  Arrgh!  By the end of the discussion, the CQ was profoundly troubled.

Let’s face it — if you use hotels regularly, you just have to acquire a willing suspension of concern about the fact that your room has been used only hours earlier by complete strangers, much less what they did when they were in it.  I’d like to think that the room has been completely sanitized with some powerful cleaning agents, whether that’s actually been done or not.  I’ll cling to that illusion because it helps — which means I just need the room to be clean enough that there is no visible evidence of predecessor guests, and I’ll gladly avoid any TV shows that expose an inconvenient truth to the contrary.

A Schizoid Beginning To Michigan Week

Thanks to being a fan of both the Ohio State and Cleveland football teams, I have a split gridiron personality.  The Dr. Buckeye part expects perfection and routine drubbings; the Mr. Brown side knows that disaster and doom will inevitably rear their ugly heads.

IMG_3501Today’s Ohio State win over Indiana fed both halves of my schizoid football fan persona.  The Buckeye Nation part nods approvingly at the fact that Ohio State is undefeated in the Big Ten and has clinched a spot in the conference title game.  The Browns Backer saw a sloppy game in which Ohio State had three first-half turnovers and actually trailed an overmatched team in the second half.  The Buckeyes fan saw Jalin Marshall score four second-half touchdowns and show some of the lightning-in-a-bottle capabilities of the OSU offense.  The Browns fan saw the defense gashed for more than 200 yards and two appallingly long runs by a good running back as well as a ridiculous rumbling, stumbling, fumbling run by a freshman QB that set up Indiana’s first score.

The commentators say that Ohio State needs style points if it hopes to make the college football playoffs.  Maybe, but the Browns fan in me says that I should be happy with a win that followed on the heels of two high-intensity, on-the-road wins and just be pleased that the college kids on the team finally righted the ship in the second half and prevailed.  And the Buckeyes fan says that Ohio State had better have worked all of the turnovers, penalties, and blunders out of their system, because now things begin to get really serious.

It’s Michigan Week!

A Watershed Event

At the Webner House, we’re all about supporting local businesses.  Two Columbus businesses that we enthusiastically endorse — especially after we’ve enjoyed their products — are two local distilleries, Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits.

IMG_3671Watershed Vodka is my vodka brand of choice.  Speaking on the basis of my chilly vodka-sampling visit to the Belvedere Ice Room a few years ago, I can attest that Watershed produces very high-quality, corn-based vodka that is every bit as good — and in some cases better — than the vodkas we tried.  It also fits well with the low-carb diet approach I’ve been taking the last few months.  And the Watershed event is that this year the distillery is producing its first seasonal concoction, a black walnut liqueur, made from Ohio walnuts, called Nocino.

Kish and Richard and Russell are the occasional whiskey samplers in our family, and they’ve enjoyed making Manhattans and Old Fashioneds with OYO whiskey, one of the trade names used by Middle West Spirits.  Made from 100 percent Ohio soft red winter wheat, OYO Whiskey has won a number of distilling awards, as well as a lot of fans.

Watershed’s distillery is just west of downtown in the Grandview area, and Middle West’s distillery is in the Short North.  Both are the kinds of successful local businesses that employ our neighbors, pay local taxes, care about the quality of their products, and help to keep the Columbus economy ticking — which is why we support them.

The next time you’re out on the town and in the mood for a mixed drink, give one of their products a try.  You won’t regret it.

Whiter Shade Of Pale

Let’s all take a break from the work week, decompress a bit, get a good chuckle, and get mentally ready for a nice pre-Thanksgiving weekend.  And to help us on the way, how about this vintage, poorly directed and trite video of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale?

Whiter Shade of Pale is a great song — but I’m betting you’ll get a laugh out of the video, with its clumsy cuts, out-of-sync lip-syncing, and late ’60s Nehru jackets.  It reminds me that, long ago, UJ asked for a Nehru jacket and got it.  I think he maybe wore it once.

An Issue That Captures And Frames The Worst

Immigration is a hugely important, multi-faceted issue.  In a world of many terrorist threats, border security is of paramount importance.  The influx of immigrants who don’t enter the country in an authorized way puts pressure on education, health care, and social benefits systems.  Immigrants are happy to perform physically challenging, low-paying jobs that are essential to our economy.  And what should we do with immigrants who crossed the border illegally but have worked here for years and whose children were born here?

So it is perhaps not surprising — in fact, it’s entirely predictable — that the incredibly important immigration issue manages to encompass much of what is appalling about the current sorry state of American government:  completely politicized yet frozen in place, featuring a legislative branch that is seemingly incapable of acting despite the obvious need for action and a President who can’t lead or forge a compromise and so acts unilaterally, and infused with finger-pointing, cringing political correctness and demagoguery that seems to preclude both rational discussion and reasonable compromise.

President Obama’s decision yesterday to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration issues — orders that will establish new programs that will change the legal status of millions of immigrants, change deportation practices, and end other programs — don’t help matters because they just highlight the politicization of this important issue.  President Obama has previously said, correctly I think, that changing immigration laws and policies through unilateral executive orders would be “very difficult to defend legally.”  The President also earlier had made the decision to defer any action on immigration until after the election, an approach that obviously was calculated to help Senate Democrats up for reelection.  In view of that decision, arguments that unilateral action is urgently needed now ring awfully hollow.

I’m sure that President Obama’s supporters will argue that issuing executive orders of dubious constitutionality is justified here because it will goad Congress into taking action that should have been taken long ago.  That argument is like saying that the behavior of the bully in A Christmas Story was justified because it ultimately provoked Ralphie into standing up for himself.  I’m not buying that, either.  America is supposed to be a constitutional form of government where the executive branch and legislative branch both respect and honor the limitations on their powers.  The fact that Congress has dropped the ball doesn’t excuse the President’s overstepping of his constitutional authority.

I’m not trying to excuse Congress’ leaden inactivity on developing a comprehensive set of immigration reforms or side with the anti-immigration fear-mongers, but I think President Obama’s decision to issue these executive orders is a mistake that will only make it much more difficult to address a crucial issue in the correct, constitutional way.  Brace yourself, because the shrill demagoguery on all sides is about to increase in pitch and volume.