Libel, Slander, and You

What is it legal to write about other people? It varies, obviously, from country to country. US-wise, there’s a good libel and slander definition and backgrounder over at the Libel Defense Resource Center, as well as one with some international comments at the UH communications school.

The ‘Lectric Law Library has what appears to be a rather old British definition, including examples such as “denying the truth of the Christian religion” and defining it to be any insult which may provoke someone to revenge. Seems that libel law was originally designed to prevent feuds and duelling.

In the US, libel is defined as written defamation, and slander is spoken or gestured defamation. And what, pray tell, makes up defamation? For starters, the speaker or writer must know that the statement is untrue or at the very least have a “reckless disregard for the truth.” When made of public figures, defamatory statements are defined not just as knowingly false, but made with actual harmful intent, such as trying to screw someone out of a job, a raise, or an election.

What does that mean? Well, merely insulting or offending someone is not a crime. Telling the truth or stating an opinion is never a crime. In the case of a public figure, making an honest mistake or even a willing distortion is not a crime. It’s illegal to make false accusations about someone in order to get them fired. Conducting a smear campaign against a politician is a crime, provided that they are innocent and you know it. For example, it’s perfectly fine to accuse Bill Clinton of murdering dozens of people, as long as you have all the analytical skills of a pile of rocks.

My question: who’s a public figure these days?

Do Democrats Cause Cancer?

Not that I want to open the “Is Fox Biased” can of worms, but the Simpsons recently ran a really overt insult to Fox News: not just making fun of the channel, but running a news crawl with headlines like “Do Democrats Cause Cancer?” Why, asks Bill O’Reilly, is he so often labelled conservative? It’s more than Bill Moyers. He complains that he’s so often labelled, as a conservative or as a complete jerk, that it’s obvious bias. Well, maybe he’s labelled because he’s so adamant about it. Is Bill Moyers his equivalent liberal opposite? No, it’s Bill Maher (what is it with these guys named bill, anyway?). And trust me, Bill Maher is called a liberal blowhard just like Bill O’Reilly is called a right-wing blowhard. And that’s all I’m going to say about biased media.

Except that a woman who exposed lies published by Fox had her whistleblower case dismissed, becauseit’s perfectly legal to run a distorted, biased, and untruthful news agency. This is true: trust your sources. Because after all, freedom of speech means freedom to lie.

Speaking of freedom of the press, there’s a great autobiographical comic about one man’s relationship with pr0n. It begins, fittingly, when a friend finds a porno movie, and asks him, “Hey, wanna see two people doing it?” His obvious response: “Doing what?”

Great Magazine Names

Sincerity never fails to confuse and surprise me.

I’d have guessed quirky art and literature, or maybe home crafts, but Bread Pudding Update is actually about bread pudding. If you wanted to start a punk band, you could pick a worse name than Survey of White Collar Crime but it’s a genuine once-per-year scholarly journal. And while it has nothing about shamanism, the Mushroom News does have a review which notes that pest control and labor relations are two separate topics. My favorite title so far, though, is Eurofruit, which is not, as you might expect, a Wallpaper* style fashion show, but a produce news periodical targeted to European grocers.

Sunday Sunday Sunday

I’ve rarely had such a great weekend. It’s finally warming up. Today a car drove by me with the window down playing some sort of classic rock and I thought, hey, it’s cars-with-the-windows-down season! I didn’t wear a hat. I walked to Newbury. I made a new friend. And now I’m having ice cream for dinner. Perfect.

Let’s Play “Blame the Victim”

Are you a loser? Do you make lame excuses for your sorry ass? It’s your fault, you pathetic fuckup!

Hey, you got-it-together humanities majors: you will probably make a negative return on that six-figure investment. Did you think that poetry would pay off that crippling student loan debt? No, of course not. If we cared about money that much, we’d have gone into law or economics, like the rest of you greed-heads.

Exercises for the reader: Use the data from item two to make an excuse for failure as described in item one. Write an editorial claiming that anyone who majors in any humanities field, especially fine arts, is actively sabotaging themselves and the economy as a whole by reducing their earning potential. Propose laws requiring parental notification of intent to major, and mandate that every student receive counselling against humanities degrees, as though they were abortions, which they are, economically speaking. Demolish the NEA. Burn books.

In love with your disease

In the old-fashioned freudian model, the pathological behavior of a mental illness is in many cases a symptom of, or compensation for, an underlying, causative problem. Once you find the cause, you’ve done the hard part. Examples: a man who is afraid of responsibility and drinks to absolve himself of it. A woman who cannot control her surroundings or her relationships, and starves herself to control her body.

The illness isn’t purely bad: it gives you something. You need it. Like the inflammatory response, or fever, it’s an immune system compensating or repairing. Like vomiting is how your body gets rid of bad food: it’s a helpful thing at first, and you do it again, and again, and then it’s not so helpful. And by then it’s too late to just stop, the nausea perpetuates itself.

You say things like “I feel that I’m fine the way I am. Which is the problem.”

I’ve been sad for longer than I’ve been anything else, I think. It’s always there, even when I’m well, which is most of the time these days. Months and months on end I feel fine. I feel great. I am happy and I know it and sometimes I even clap my hands and sing, seriously off-key, about life and its wonders. But I know it’s there waiting for me to slip. Waiting for an illness or a death in the family or a national disaster, and then it will pounce.

You ever read A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin? That’s what it’s like. It’s always lurking. I may spend years free from it, but it will come back again, and I will have to fight it again. Eventually, I will die. Maybe it will kill me, maybe something else will. But I can never kill it. I can never truly win.

If there’s someone who would know about the relationship between the body and the mind, it’s Eliot “Follow Me Here” Gelwan. I wrote him asking about gastric bypass and mental illness, and his response was this:

In my experience, a responsible gastric bypass surgeon requires his patient to have a psychological evaluation before deciding whether to perform the procedure on a given patient. This is a little simplistic, but essentially the surgery works by reducing the volume of the stomach, producing a feeling of fullness and satiety sooner, and thereby helping the person control their eating. If someone, psychologically, eats compulsively despite feeling full, then not only will the surgery not work but it would be dangerous.

He also sent some abstracts and links to journal articles, which are included below.

Continue reading “In love with your disease”

When you have a hammer

Truism: When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Application: Gastric bypass surgery.

What gets me about gastric bypass is that it’s a surgical problem to what is most often a psychological or behavioral problem. I’m sure that there are those for whom it is necessary, but it seems, in a lot of cases, that it’s (here’s my personal vendetta again) the easy way out. The solution to the wrong problem. These people have eating disorders, not enlargement of the stomach.

For example, one man’s son says that before the surgery, “All he did was watch videos, [but] now he can do stuff.” At a last-hurrah meal for one couple undergoing the surgery together, the woman ate until she vomited. Of course, she can still do that and lose weight– she’ll be full to sickness after a few bites. There are a lot of personal experience stories out there– blogs and so forth — that suggest a lot of food issues hidden behind the surgery. Look at Basil White’s description of what he ate at his last meal before surgery– or rather, his four or five last meals. It sounds like a junkie trying to kick. Only his last fix included a dozen donuts as an appetizer for a meal of chicken-fried steak, fries, and biscuits.

This FAQ downplays the possibility of becoming malnourished or losing too much weight, but it does point out that people who eat compulsively can gain weight even after gastric bypass, by eating constantly, by bingeing until they throw up again and again, or eventually just stretching their stomachs back out to full size.

Lots of information out there, though: recipe guides and of course suggestions for meal supplement, shakes, given that a diet of normal food would leave you malnourished. Not to mention discussion of different varieties of the surgery. The NIH site on gastric bypass seems pretty informative.

I’m not knocking it– it seems to work for a lot of people. Even proponents recognize that it’s a brute-force way of dealing with obesity, and most places require psychological screening beforehand. Still, I’m concerned that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of acknowledgement of the psychological issues behind the whole thing, at least not in media coverage and celebrity stories.