Symbols and the First Amendment

In the wake of the the crap that went down in Charlottesville over the weekend, my brother shared a post that went as follows:

“If Germany has outlawed the swastika for it being a symbol of hate and murder, why have KKK symbols not been outlawed for being an instigating symbol of murder.”

This was actually similar in vein to a tweet by comedian Chelsea Handler. For context, on August 6, 2017, two Chinese tourists were arrested in Germany for making the Nazi salute. Handler’s response was as follows:

“2 Chinese guys were arrested in Berlin for making nazi salutes. Wouldn’t it be nice 2 have laws here for people who think racism is funny?”

The answer to both posts is simple: Unlike Germany, America actually protects freedom of speech.

Freedom of Speech is not there to protect speech we like; quite the opposite. It is there to protect dissenting views, even vile views like those of Nazis and the KKK, from being quashed, silenced, or relegated to the shadows. If someone openly presents a view you don’t agree with, the correct response is not to silence them but rather to use your own freedom of speech to argue against them, to show the world how screwed up their ideas are. Silencing them would give the appearance that we are afraid of those views, that we are afraid to confront them openly in the light of day.

Now, the post shared by my brother was a a bit more specific than Handler’s tweet. Instead of banning something simply because “racism”, the post puts forward that the symbols somehow instigate murder. The attempt here is to equate those symbols with the very narrow caveat that inciting violence is not free speech.

However, that caveat is intentionally narrow. In the landmark decision Brandenburg v. Ohio, the The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” The keywords there are “directed” and “imminent.” It only covers speech that directly and specifically calls for lawless action (like violence), such as a group leader telling their followers to “Go punch those people!” And even then, the sentence itself is not banned, but the sentiment behind it, because of context and intent. It has to be used in the specific context of call to imminent lawless action (What other context might there be? The sentence spoken sarcastically. An actor saying the sentence in a movie. A stand-up comedian using it in a joke. The possibilities are endless).

A symbol might represent violent ideologies, but a symbol cannot directly incite imminent violence. A symbol has no agency. A symbol simply put on display does not directly call anyone to violent action. Only people can do that. By equating the symbol with incitement of violence, you are removing the agency of the people calling for and committing violence. Symbols, words, and sentences do not incite violence; people do.

Finally, letting people freely display their hateful paraphernalia allows the world to know exactly where they stand. Remember how I mentioned views being relegated to the shadows? That’s what happens when you limit speech. People with “illegal” ideas will be forced to group in secret, to continue on in their ignorance, building deeper societal roots for their hate. If they are able to ‘proudly’ display their affiliations, we know where they are. The FBI knows where they are. And we can appropriately fight back against their ideas.


Disclaimer: I hate that I have to add this, but some might think (despite my repeatedly calling the ideas surrounding these symbols ‘hateful’ or ‘vile’) that my support of the freedom of speech implies my support of the ideas being spoken. So here is what I think: The Nazis were evil; neo-Nazis are also evil. The KKK is evil. White Supremacy is evil. Racism in any form is evil. What happened in Charlottesville was disgusting. 


Me, My Grammar, and I

So I’ve noticed this trend in movies and TV shows lately. And by lately, I mean over the past few years. And it’s not a good trend.

Do you remember when you were a kid, and you would say something to your mom like, “Me and Bobby want to go to the park.” And your mom would respond, “Bobby and I, not me and Bobby.”

I remember. And it was a good thing because saying “Me and Bobby” in that case was grammatically incorrect. However, the massive emphasis on this grammar issue children often commit seems to have pushed back too far. Nowadays, people appear to be so afraid, so wary, of using “me and” or “and me” in any context, even when it would be grammatically correct.

This is the trend I am seeing in film and television, more so with television.

Consider the following sentence:

Mom drove Bobby and I to the park.

This sentence is grammatically incorrect. Yet, I constantly hear characters in shows and movies making this exact mistake. I find myself muttering at the TV “Bobby and me.” The proper version of this is, “Mom drove Bobby and me to the park.” But people (mainly writers and speakers) are so afraid of using “and me” because of the aforementioned childhood correction.

So what is the difference between these two situations? Well, ‘I’ is used as the subject of the sentence, while ‘me’ is used as an object. “I want” is a complete sentence, with the subject ‘I’ and the verb ‘want’. For “Bobby and I want,” both ‘Bobby’ and ‘I’ are the subjects. With “Mom drove me,” ‘Mom’ is the subject, ‘drove’ is the verb, and ‘me’ is the object which the verb is acting upon. For “Mom drove Bobby and me,” both ‘Bobby’ and ‘me’ are objects being driven (acted upon by the verb ‘drove’)

So how do you know when to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ in these situations?

It’s simple, really: forget the other person.

What do I mean?

Reconsider the sentence:

Mom drove Bobby and -?- to the park

Now, forget about Bobby. The sentence becomes

Mom drove -?- to the park.

How would you finish this? Would you say, ” Mom drove I to the park” or “Mom drove me to the park”?  Me, right? Well then, if you add Bobby back into the equation, it shouldn’t change.

How about

“Bobby and -?- want to go to the park.”

Forget the other person,

“-?- want to go to the park.”

Of course, the answer is ‘I’, since you would say “I want to go to the park.” Adding in Bobby shouldn’t change that.

So, writers of film and television: Follow this guide. Stop perpetuating this grammatical error.

Leaky Pipeline

You know what I hate? When things get ‘leaked’ online. Specifically, when movie trailers get leaked online and the production company has not choice but to release the trailer ahead of schedule. This pisses me off.

The most recent occurrences of this phenomenon were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel trailer on Dec. 9 and the Star Trek Beyond trailer today Dec. 14.

The first thing is this: the movie companies spend a lot of money on advertising. They spend a lot of time scheduling the releases of trailers. Sometimes, these releases are linked to special events.

The Star Trek trailer was supposed to be released as a preview with the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How cool is that? As I have tickets to see SW:TFA, this made me extra excited for the film. But the trailer was leaked 4 days early, so Paramount officially released the trailer today.

But since we don’t actually care about the company’s advertising schemes, here is a little something that most people would not have thought about. There is probably a group of people that designed the trailers and planned for the release. They probably have a party planned, with a countdown to the release and everything. They want to celebrate the work they’ve done. And an early release of their work takes this away from them.

Let’s look at the case of the TMNT2 trailer. The evening before it was set to be released, Stephen Amell (who plays Casey Jones in the film) released a teaser, announcing that the full trailer would be out at 10 AM the next morning. How exciting for him and his fans! They would have been able to celebrate the trailer together! But later that night, the trailer was leaked and Paramount (I’m beginning to think they have a security problem) released the trailer early. Not 4 days early like with Star Trek, but almost a whole day early. This seriously took away from Stephen’s announcement. While I did not actually see the trailer until after it was scheduled to be released, I felt bad for Stephen and the people at Paramount who worked on the trailer.

So this is basically me saying I am going to do my best to steer clear of leaked movie secrets and whatnot. No matter how excited I am for the Star Trek Beyond trailer, I am going to wait to watch it until I see Star Wars, like I was supposed to. I don’t care if other people watch the early-released trailers, as long as they watch the official ones. But for me, it’s a personal matter of principle.

Dear Justin

I don’t really want to write this. And in all honesty, I shouldn’t have to.

Exactly one year ago today, a friend of mine committed suicide. My second and third posts were about this tragic event.

To this day, I have no idea why or how this occurred. And I don’t want to know. I prefer to keep the image of him in my memory as I actually knew him, and not as some horrible scene of death that my overactive imagination drums up.

I guess what I really want to say in this post is what I have wanted to say to him.


Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and what happened. I have no idea what drove you to make such a drastic decision to end your own life. I only ever knew you as cheerful and determined. I knew you were focused on becoming a Naval Officer, and you would have made a great one.

I wish you were still here. I wish you had been up on that commissioning stage with me and the others, raising your right hand and reciting the Oath of Office. The CO’s address was amazing, and I wish you could have taken part in it. There will always be a part of me that aches for these things. As time goes by, that part will grow smaller, but it will never leave.

I never thought anything good could come from something so tragic. I have never considered myself suicidal, but lately I think I have become such. The remembrance of what occurred one year ago has led me to realize that I need to seek help. I wish my realization didn’t have to come in this way.

I hope and pray that you found the peace that you sought. I know you were deeply Catholic, so I hope that peace is in Heaven, with God.

Hooyah, Justin.

Very Respectfully,

Your Friend and Colleague

Science, Comics, and Racism: Do not Confuse Being Offended with Being Right

I think it is safe for anyone reading this blog to assume that I, the writer, am a nerd. In fact, it wouldn’t be an assumption because I clearly state in the page title that I am “Nerd and Proud.” It should come as no shock to you that I watch movies and TV shows about comic book characters; I have a mentioned binge-watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have written a whole post about Netflix’s Daredevil.  But I don’t limit myself to Marvel shows. I am an avid watcher of Arrow and The Flash, and I really enjoy the CW Seed’s Vixen (I hate that each ‘episode’ is only 5 minutes long).

The star of the show Arrow is Stephen Amell. For those who don’t know, he plays Oliver Queen. In comics, Oliver Queen is the alter ego of Green Arrow. The TV show is about Oliver’s journey to becoming Green Arrow. Stephen Amell does an excellent job portraying this character. But Stephen is also well-known for his social media presence. I follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and I have to say that, despite popular advice to “Never Read the Comments,” the comment sections for his posts tend to be very loving and polite.

I am also a nerd in the sense that I love science. I may have mentioned in earlier posts that I studied Physics at university. So stories about people with a passion for STEM definitely interest me.

Earlier this week, a 14-year-old boy named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for building his own alarm clock and taking it to school. His teacher mistook it for a bomb. This event occurred in Texas. If you want more details, Google it or go on social media; it’s trending.

The thing is, while plenty of high-profile people on social media have been using the #IStandWithAhmed tag to show support for the kid who was wrongly arrested, Stephen Amell did something different. He said:

“Stereotyping Texas isn’t any better than stereotyping Ahmed. Just so we’re clear.”*

This generated a lot of backlash. Yes, the people involved in Ahmed’s arrest may have acted wrongly. Yes, his arrest appeared to be steeped with racism. No, it is not okay to stereotype anyone. What Amell said seems fair. Is it detracting from the main story, as some people accuse? Perhaps. But is he wrong? No.

I am honestly shocked that something so small could generate so much hate. The problem with getting offended on the internet, of generating such backlash, is that very little investigation occurs. I have always been taught to never take something at face value, to always seek out the truth. The people offended by his Tweet did not do this. Amell later added a series of tweets to clarify his intentions:

“1. I can’t believe I broke my rule and tweeted about an actual event. Staggering to remember that debates in 140 characters don’t work.” This is generally why Amell’s pages are so positive.

“2. What happened to Ahmed was terrible. Obviously.” Most people agree with this.

“3. I happened to read a series of tweets pronouncing that this is a systemic problem in Texas, which is also profiling.” Aha – motive! He wasn’t just tweeting off the cuff. He was responding to some very real hate against Texas. He later clarified in a video on Facebook that his intent was “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” a sentiment most good people would agree with. This sentiment is evident for anyone willing to do the research.

“4. It’s profiling in a much less hurtful / destructive way… but it is profiling.” Truth. After moving to Canada from California, people made general statements about Americans that I found hurtful. When I moved back to California, people made general statements about Canada, which I also found hurtful. When I moved to Iowa, people made general statements about California that I found hurtful. It happens everywhere.

“5. Anywho, I’m not apologizing or deleting the tweets. If you’re outraged at an opinion it’s because you’re bored.” Good on him for calling out bored, lazy trolls.

“6. My wife is from Texas, I have extended family in Texas, and I’ve met thousands of Texans that are wonderful, polite individuals.” More motive: he has a connection to Texas and doesn’t want its reputation as a whole broken because of some individuals.

“7. This gave me an excellent opportunity to block several employees of a couple companies I don’t like. That’s exciting.” Always a silver lining, Mr. Amell.

“8. Last thing: Ahmed’s White House visit will be an awesome, awesome moment.” Support for Ahmed!

“Didn’t mean to offend anyone. Truthfully. Was simply suggesting that two wrongs don’t make a right. I’ll go away for a bit now. SA” I certainly hope Mr. Amell wasn’t simply “scared” away from social media, but was rather stepping away to get on with his real life until the people jumped to the next big thing.

But enough about that non-issue. Yes, what happened in Texas to Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim teenager with an interest in science and engineering, is tragic. But it is not isolated and not strictly about racism or “Islamaphobia.” While racism was definitely present in this situation, it was not the whole story. I urge anyone reading this to go to the following:

Also, I am really irritated by people comparing Ahmed’s situation with that of Taylor Wilson, who is white. In 2006, 14-year-old Wilson built a nuclear reactor and was commended for it. People who compare the two situations simply because of race are oversimplifying things. There are many variables at play here.

Wilson’s intention of building this reactor was known from the get-go. He was mentored by professors and was allowed to “set up shop in the subbasement of the university’s physics department” and brought his project to science fairs. There is no telling what would have happened if Wilson had simply built the reactor on his own without anyone’s knowledge and then brought it to school. Would he have been arrested in that case? Maybe, maybe not. There are more than enough examples of racism in our country, so why drum up false anger over this white kid with his reactor?

What apparently happened to Ahmed Mohamed was terrible. But I stand with Amell. And Wilson. I guess it is more accurate to say that I stand with Human Decency and Common Sense. Instead of constantly searching for someone (like Texans or Amell) or something (like racism) to blame, we should be searching for the truth.

*Stephen Amell’s Twitter is public, so anyone (not just followers) can view the tweets.

Subscription Prescription

I am going to analyze a Netflix subscription like it was a pharmaceutical prescription.

Purpose: To prevent serious cases of boredom; to prevent the need to rent or purchase on DVD/Blu-ray any range of TV Shows and Movies

How it does this: It provides the subscriber access to millions (don’t quote me on that) of TV shows and movies at any time of day

Directions for Use: go to Sign up – you will need some sort of credit card or other online payment (for instance, PayPal) to do so. Begin using in any manner you see fit.

Possible side effects: Uninterrupted long-term use may cause cabin fever or media oversaturation; High probability of binge watching, which in turn may cause impaired ability to keep track of time, post-finale depression, consistently quoting show dialogue in everyday conversation, the development of romantic attachments to one (or more) fictional characters, repeated acts of “shipping,” and if the show you binged on was “Arrested Development,” you may hear Ron Howard’s voice in your head narrating your day-to-day activities.

Okay, okay, I just wanted to say that I binged on Arrested Development and have experienced many of those side-effects. Particularly the one about hear Ron Howard’s voice narrate the mundane activities of my life. Specific example: “Lichenut didn’t feel like eating chips, so she made popcorn instead.” Yes, that is a real example. I did eat popcorn instead of chips as a snack today.

Anyway, I really wanted to talk about this, and I didn’t feel like sharing it on Facebook. So I figured, “Hey, this is my blog, I can write about what I want. To heck with anyone who thinks my posts are boring or useless!” Which is why this post is here.

So that’s it. I don’t feel like I’ve made a huge mistake with this post, especially since the tequila incident definitely trumps it (see post “Official Drink of Hell“). So if you feel like this post wasted your time, you can always take a “forget-me-now” and just move along.

On Popular Opinion and the First Amendment

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that same-sex marriage be a national right. But I’m not going to talk about that. I am going to talk about people’s responses to this.

See, I like this one Facebook page that celebrates Geek-dom. It is not a political page. The Admin of the page has a separate picture album labeled “Admin Pics.” Things he posts here are about the Admin himself and not necessarily the page. In this album, he posted a pic of himself with the pride rainbow overlaying it, along with a statement about how the SCOTUS ruling was a good thing. In his statement, he said, “I accept other people’s opinions, but not hatred,” which was a nice, tolerant touch so as not to alienate people of differing opinions.

Naturally, as popular opinion is in favor of the SCOTUS decision, most comments on this post were in agreement. However, there was one commenter who simply said he did not support anything LGBT+. Nothing more, nothing less. He simply stated a dissenting and unpopular opinion. What truly saddened me was the replies to this comment. People called him a bigot, demanded he explain why he believes what he does, and straight up told him to “unlike this page as we do not appreciate bigoted fools here.” The guy tried his best to explain his position without being hateful and even apologized if anything he said came across as rude and bigoted (it didn’t; he was merely stating his beliefs). People began challenging his beliefs, and after he mentioned the Bible, they tried to convince him he was wrong and turn the whole thread into an argument. It was very disheartening to read.

The Page Admin eventually commented in the thread, telling the original poster that he was entitled to his opinion, and that even though he [the Admin] disagreed with the OP’s opinion, he would respect it as long as the OP respected his, and as long as the OP was not hateful to any other members of the page, he [the Admin] didn’t mind his posting his opinion. It was a very diplomatic and open-minded response.

However, even after the Admin made his comment, people were still posting awful and judgmental comments on this guy’s thread.

My point here is that just because someone has an opinion that differs from the popular one, it doesn’t mean you are allowed to demand their silence. The Page Admin set an excellent example, but very few people noticed it. Many people forget that the 1st Amendment gives people both the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom to Exercise Religion.

The KKK and Westboro “Baptist” group (I refuse to associate them with churches) are both legal organizations, albeit terrible ones. Why is this? Because they have the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. By telling someone who has a differing opinion than the popular one to shut-up and leave, you are demanding an infringement of their rights. And that is not okay. You can say you disagree with them. You can say you think they are stupid. But you cannot argue with the fact that they have just as much right to state their opinions as you do.

People need to be reminded of this particular quote from Voltaire: “Think for yourselves, and allow others the privilege to do so, too.” They also need to keep this quote in mind: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” (Bunny Trail: Voltaire usually is credited with this quote. While the sentiments of this quote are definitely Voltairian, the exact statement is not. [source])

Alas, I have but one final thing to say: No two people think exactly the same way.  If you were to surround yourself only with people who agree with everything you believe, then one of two things would occur: a) you would find yourself completely alone, or b) you would find yourself surrounded by a crowd of insincere flatterers, mindless mimics, and compulsive liars. The diversity of opinion is truly something to be celebrated!