Saturday, June 11, 2005

SoonerThought Recommends: Speaking Freely, Trials of the First Amendment 

Speaking Freely, Trials of the First Amendment
by Floyd Abrams
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 7, 2005)
ISBN: 0670033758

Noted Attorney Floyd Abrams presents a balanced, mostly non-partisan look at the trials and tribulations of modern free speech in his new book, Speaking Freely. This is no arid scholarly commentary on famous cases taken from the court reporter’s minutes. Instead, Speaking Freely is straight from Abrams’ front row seat as an attorney arguing before courts across the land all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Abrams examines cases which involve everything from his first appearance before the Supreme Court, arguing in defense of the New York Times against the Nixon administration's attempt to block printing of the Pentagon Papers in its pages to defending NBC investigative reporter Brian Ross against Las Vegas icon Wayne “Las Vegas’ Most Admired Citizen” Newton.

Abrams is refreshingly candid about these experiences and several others in this intellectually weighty but still breezy page-turner about the right to free speech. It is also a caution to those who would blithely support current Bush Administration tactics to curb free speech in the name of “security.” Abrams, without a heavy hand, shows just how fragile the whole concept is when in the hands of those seeking political power or the expediency of easy answers to grievances.

The chapter on Wayne Newton is enjoyable in a “True Hollywood Story” kind of way. In it, Newton is described as having mafia ties by NBC reporter Ross in a 1980’s televised news broadcast. It is immediately evident that Abrams has no love for Newton or Las Vegas, and says so. His opening sentence in the Wayne Newton chapter quotes Otto Friedrich, who said that Vegas “is what hell might be like if it had been planned and built by New York gangsters.”

Abrams also sets the mood by describing Las Vegas’ McCarran airport:

“It is always something of a shock to land there in Las Vegas’s airport (named after Pat McCarran, a particularly repellent and reactionary senator,) filled with screaming slot machines.”

Abrams spares no evidence that Newton was involved with shady characters in a deal involving the Aladdin Hotel and Casino, and that the NBC report that Newton had perjured himself before the Nevada Gaming Commission was correct. Wayne Newton (“the embodiment of Las Vegas”) disagreed and sued for libel.

Abrams’ wry commentary on Las Vegas and the smarmy Newton are interesting on their own merits, but his play-by-play of the discovery, trial and twelve years of legal wrangling are the real meat of this true story. We learn of the dangers of trying a hometown hero before his hometown, and the importance of preserving free speech when speaking truth to power and popularity.

Speaking Freely also goes in-depth into Abrams work opposing former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s attempts to bully the Brooklyn Museum into censoring artwork; McCarthyism and Libel, Campaign Finance Reform as a possible danger to free speech and more.

The chapters are engaging, the writing sprinkled with character studies of the players and the often amusing observances of the people involved. Abrams has his biases, but he clearly loves the law first and foremost. This book is a balanced, intellectually honest and excellent introduction into how our court system works—and also how it occasionally does not.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday Blogaround 

Here's a quick look at what's making the news in The Liberal Coalition.

  • archy shares his view of his lawn.
  • Bark Bark Woof Woof on being gay in high school.
  • BlogAmY is back from the zoo.
  • bloggg welcomes summer.
  • Chris Brown saw Tim Robbins embedded.
  • Collective Sigh takes on OneMillionDads.
  • The Farmer at Corrente corrects Lynne Cheney on the truth behind history and lesbian cowboys.
  • NTodd has some choice words for meddlers with WiFi.
  • Echidne has a question.
  • First Draft channels the Beatles.
  • The Fulcrum asks who's comfortable in the middle class.
  • The Gamer's Nook hints at the next Indiana Jones adventure.
  • Happy Furry Puppy lists the cool tunes.
  • iddybud on the moral responsibility for Abu Ghraib.
  • Jesse at In Search of Telford takes on the "A-list" bloggers.
  • Left Is Right on helping to eliminate Africa's debt.
  • Byrant looks at the dark side of the Rebellion.
  • Musing's musings on the future of the economy--with caveats.
  • Pen-Elayne has something to say about women getting the attention they are entitled to, so listen.
  • Catch a star at Rick's.
  • Rook compares coffee mugs.
  • rubber hose looks for sympathy.
  • Scrutiny Hooligans tells us what "peak oil" is. (Hint: it's not a song by the Moody Blues.)
  • SoonerThought has a little list of peeves.
  • Steve Gilliard on rebuilding Iraq's army.
  • T. Rex on Father's Day Don'ts.
  • The Invisible Library on the rise of Shinto.
  • Trish Wilson has a series on Fathers4Justice.
  • Wanda covers Bush at the OAS meeting.
  • WTF Is It Now?? tells Dean hand-wringers to can it.
  • The Yellow Doggerel Democrat wants to know how well you did last year.

    Have a nice weekend!