Depp v. Heard: the role of the ACLU

June 19, 2022 • 9:30 am

I don’t want to descend into tabloid journalism here, but the case of Depp. v. Heard, which now has its own Wikipedia page, does have a few things to say about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and those things are not admirable.

We all know that that the ACLU, once a powerhouse defender of everyone’s civil rights, has gone woke, deciding that they should prioritize their activities, defending most ardently those people with a preferred ideology. Their lawyers have defended the power to censor books; the organization has secretly changed their priorities from defending free speech to defending “progressive social justice”; and, in the case of Depp. v. Heard, have apparently decided that Depp was guilty before the trial—hardly a principle of civil liberties! The organization is now almost beyond redemption.

We all know the results of the case, though I didn’t follow the trial scrupulously. It was a civil mutual defamation case, with both Heard and Depp suing the other person for defamation.  Depp claimed $50 million in damages; Heard claimed $100 million. The defamation on Heard’s part was based on an editorial in the Washington Post with her byline, but which was, by Heard’s own testimony in court, actually written by the ACLU!

Here’s the op-ed that started it all (click to read):

Here are two of the statements from the op-ed that, according to Depp’s attorneys, implicitly defamed him, likely as a form of revenge after their divorce.

“Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

“I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

Heard, on the other hand, claimed the she was the victim of both physical and sexual abuse during the relationship, often brought on by Depp’s (admitted) drug use, and that Depp tried to humiliate and ruin her by filing the lawsuit (this was in Virginia.) She also claimed in her op-ed that she lost roles and endorsements because of her speaking out, which I believe was one of the counts of defamation proposed by Depp’s lawyers.

Here’s the summary of the verdict from Wikipedia; the criteria for defamation are pretty standard:

After closing arguments were made by both Heard’s and Depp’s legal teams, jury instructions were agreed upon. Judge Penney Azcarate instructed that the jury must find all of the following to determine that Ms. Heard was liable for defamation for each statement in question (and must find similarly regarding the statements made by Mr. Depp):

  • Ms. Heard made or published the statement;
  • the statement was about Mr. Depp;
  • the statement is false;
  • the statement has a defamatory implication about Mr. Depp;
  • the defamatory implication was designed and intended by Ms. Heard;
  • due to circumstances surrounding the publication of the statement, it conveyed a defamatory implication to someone who saw it other than Mr. Depp; and,
  • as proven by clear and convincing evidence, that Ms. Heard made the statement with actual malice (i.e., with knowledge that her allegations were false, or so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard for the truth).

Jury deliberations began at around 3:00 p.m. on May 27. They closed deliberations for the day around 5:00 p.m., resuming on May 31, after Memorial Day weekend.  Deliberations concluded on June 1. The verdict was set to be announced at 3:00 p.m., but there were delays due to the jurors not filling out the damages section on the verdict.

Verdict

On June 1, 2022, the jury found that, for all three statements from Heard’s 2018 op-ed, Mr. Depp had proven all the elements of defamation, that they were false, defaming Depp with actual malice. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard. The punitive damages, however, were reduced to $350,000 due to a limit imposed by Virginia state law.

In regard to Heard’s counterclaim, the jury found the second of the three contested statements that Depp’s former lawyer Adam Waldman had published in the Daily Mail to be defamatory and false, defaming Heard with actual malice.Regarding the other two contested statements, the jurors concluded that Heard’s attorneys had not proven all the elements of defamation. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages from Depp but with no punitive damages.

In the eyes of many, and even in reality, Depp won: getting $10.4 million in damages in contrast to Heard’s $2 million. In other words, he came out with a huge financial gain and she with an $8.4 million loss.

During the trial, there was a lot of second-guessing from the sidelines by both the public and the press. The public largely idolized Depp and demonized Heard for leveling her accusations of physical violence, drug use (which Depp admitted) and so on. The press, on the other hand, largely were on Heard’s side both before and after the trial, taking the stand that a woman’s claims should be believed and that finding Heard guilty would be bad for victims, who will henceforth be disbelieved.

For my part, I didn’t much care who won, and since I didn’t follow the trial minutely, though saw bits of it and read about it, I am in no position to second-guess the jury. (Heard has said she’d appeal.)  But I am in a position to criticize the ACLU for its behavior in this case.

Here are some facts I found (correct me if I’m wrong).

The first two aren’t relevant to the defamation itself, but may bear on Depp’s accusations:

  • Heard had been arrested for physical violence in a relationship before her marriage to Depp, for striking Heard’s domestic partner Tasya van Rhee in 2009. The charges were later dropped and Heard said were “misinterpreted and over-sensationalized”.
  • Depp’s lawyers itself brought up Heard’s promise to donate her $7 million divorce settlement from Depp to both the ACLU and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. This was never done: the ACLU apparently got $350,000, with most of that coming not from Heard but from Elon Musk (who was involved with Heard) and even some from Depp himself. Since Heard had testified in a different UK trial that she made the full donation, the Depp’s lawyers in Depp v. Heard used this to question her credibility as well as to accuse her of lying under oath. (Rolling Stone could find no tax records even for the $350,000 donation.) The Children’s Hospital got exactly nothing as far as I can ascertain.
  • On to the ACLU. They not only wrote the Post’s op-ed, but according to Rolling Stone pitched it to the paper with this statement (my emphasis):

“Wondering if we might interest you in a piece by Amber Heard (who, as you may recall, was beaten up during her brief marriage to Johnny Depp), on what the incoming Congress can to do to help protect women in similar situations.”

That is a violation of the ACLU’s defense of due process, as it accuses Depp of a crime for which he had not been convicted. At this point the ACLU was already firmly on Heard’s side.

  • While the ACLU was writing Heard’s piece for her (that itself I find unethical), they made her an “ACLU  artist ambassador” specializing in opposing domestic violence.  The ACLU denies this was a tit-for-tat arrangement in return for Heard’s promised donation, and note this on their webpage about Heard:

During the current defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, some have claimed that the ACLU made Ms. Heard an ambassador for gender justice and wrote an op-ed on her behalf in exchange for her pledge to donate money to the ACLU. This is wrong. We do not write op-eds or offer ambassadorships in exchange for donations. Period. Becoming an ACLU Artist Ambassador is entirely voluntary; it is a favor to the ACLU, not vice versa.

In 2016, Ms. Heard pledged to donate $3.5 million over 10 years to the ACLU. Two years later, in 2018, the ACLU invited Ms. Heard to become an ambassador and to work with us on an op-ed to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence issues; she agreed. Through her ambassadorship, Ms. Heard supported our advocacy for gender justice issues, a cause that has long been central to our mission at least since Ruth Bader Ginsburg headed the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

I find it hard to believe that the ACLU’s appointment of Heard as an ambassador against domestic violence, or her pitching and writing the WaPo article for her (she remains in that position) had nothing to do with her earlier promise to give them $3.5 million. Since the ACLU had gotten only a fraction of that money, I suspect they were partly boosting her before the trial so that she might be awarded enough damages to pay them off. And their implicit accusation that Depp was guilty, both in their pitch and in the op-ed itself are unethical actions. In fact, appointing Heard as an artist ambassador against domestic violence with a trial in the offing was a bad move.

Note too that the ACLU’s statement above does not mention that Heard’s pledge was not redeemed.

  • In 2019, an ACLU attorney stated that the ACLU planned to file an amicus brief supporting Heard in the Virginia trial. As far as I know, such a brief was never filed.
  • NBC Channel 9 News in Denver reports that the ACLU is now suing Depp for $86,000 in legal fees to recover the costs of preparing documents that Depp had requested but that the ACLU had refused.  This can’t be anything more than a cheap attempt at revenge. Here’s a tweet about it:

  • Finally, after six years, the ACLU still has a headline on its own site that says this:

With the quote:

Actress Amber Heard announced yesterday she will give the American Civil Liberties Union half of her $7 million divorce settlement to support our work fighting violence against women. The other half of the settlement will be donated to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

This badly needs updating. The pledge to the ACLU was not met, and the Children’s Hospital got nothing.

The Upshot:  Although Depp “won” the contesting defamation suits in terms of money, I don’t much care. I’m not a fan of Depp, have no feelings about Heard, and would call out the ACLU no matter who won this suit. 

But the ACLU’s behavior remains reprehensible, marking its approach ever closer to the drain. It seems very much like the organization had an “understanding” with Heard, giving her a possible amicus brief, an op-ed (written by them), and appointing her an ambassador in return for a “donation” of millions of dollars.  Their writing an op-ed that is signed solely by Heard is itself an offense that could get a student kicked out of college It is palpably dishonest; the paper should have at least mentioned that the op-ed was written by the ACLU (Heard may have contributed a few words).

The ACLU also violated its own principles by taking sides in the case before it was heard, implying before the trial in the “pitch” and the WaPo op-ed that Depp was guilty of abusing Heard. It also seems unethical for me for the ACLU, given the financial side of things, proposed to write an amicus brief for Heard. This was not  a defense of civil liberties, but defense of a private individual in a civil case.

Now another possible motivation for the ACLU’s actions in this case—beyond money—is that by taking sides against Depp, they thought they were “on the right side of history.”  That is, they were taking the side that says “blame the man in cases like this and believe the woman.” If so, that could be a “progressive social justice side” of the case. And, in fact, in cases like this it is usually the men who perpetrate the violence and the women who tell the truth about it. But that doesn’t always hold true, and there’s no strong evidence that it did in Depp v. Heard.

Will the ACLU ever get back on the rails again? I still have hope, but given the young people in charge of the organization and my own dotage, I doubt that I’d ever see such a result before I croak.

The Atlantic: deep-sixing the word “woman” in the abortion debate for ideological reasons does not help the cause

May 17, 2022 • 11:45 am

When liberal venues such as The Atlantic start picking holes in the progressive Left’s irrational or woke tendencies, then you may find some hope that the whole insanity gripping the Left (and heartening the Right) might be coming to an end. I hold out no such hopes, but nevertheless cheer on people like staff editor Helen Lewis, who in this Atlantic article raises the possibility that getting rid of the word “woman”, as many Progressives want to do—the rationale is that the word must now include transgender women, and this, causing confusion, mandates flushing “woman” down the drain—may have deleterious consequences for the Left and, in particular for the abortion debate.

If there’s any issue that holds out hope that Democrats won’t be totally destroyed in this November’s elections, it’s the Supreme Court’s upcoming dismantling of Roe v. Wade. The current construal of that soon-to-be defunct decision is supported by 60% of Americans, and if the Dems can leverage and keep harping on a a sensible abortion position like Roe (even if it can’t be passed in Congress), their platform would have more appeal.

Unless, that is, the whole issue gets sabotaged by those who want to get rid of the word “woman” on ideological grounds. And so it is going, pushed along by the newly woke ACLU who have decided that in every relevant respect, including sports, abortion, and jailing, “transwomen are women”. Well, yes, for nearly all purposes, and I’m happy to use whatever pronoun makes someone comfortable. But I won’t pretend that biological men or women who change gender are exactly the same as cis men or women in some circumstances. And expunging “women” from the abortion debate is not going to make a lot of biological women (or people in general, including lesbians and gays) very happy.

Click to read.

A few of Lewis’s excerpt with the relevant tweets. Here’s one that got her going:

You can see the problem, of course. Abortion bans disproportionately harm biological women above all, if you take the normal meaning of “disproportional.” Lewis notes that 99.9% of those who need abortions are cis women. She dissects the tweet:

, , , on May 11, the ACLU once again caught the moment, posting a tweet that perfectly encapsulates a new taboo on the American left: a terrible aversion to using the word women.

According to the ACLU,

Abortion bans disproportionately harm:

■ Black, Indigenous & other people of color

■ the LGBTQ community

■ immigrants

■ young people

■ those working to make ends meet

■ people with disabilities

Wait. Run that second point past me again? Surely one of the many things to recommend lesbian sex is that it doesn’t risk getting you pregnant. Unsurprisingly, multiple commentators struggled to see how abortion bans “disproportionately harm the LGBTQ community”—even if those laws do indeed harm parts of it, such as queer women and trans men who have procreative sex. The ACLU’s defenders have pointed to data from 2015 showing that high-school students who self-define as lesbian but have had sex with male partners are more likely to get pregnant than their female counterparts who identify as heterosexual. But comprehensive longitudinal studies have found that lesbians across the age spectrum are about half as likely to get pregnant as straight women. Another suggestion would be that abortion bans could also affect IVF provision, which many gay and lesbian couples rely on to have a baby. To a casual reader, though, the ACLU has used phrasing that reads like an incantation—a list of disadvantaged groups that are more interesting than women. There’s something of the record-store hipster about it all: I care about groups with intersecting oppressions you haven’t even heard of.

Lewis reminds us of how the ACLU arrantly changed the words of the late Justice Ginsburg in a pro-abortion ad last year, eliminating all references to “women.” Remember this?

Why is this effacing of “women” happening? Because supposedly jettisoning the word “women” makes one’s appeal more inclusive and thus rakes in more money for organizations like the ACLU (they’ll get no dosh from me).

Lewis:

One of the most irritating facets of this debate is that anyone like me who points out that it’s possible to provide abortion services to trans people without jettisoning everyday language such as women is accused of waging a culture war. No. We are noticing a culture war. A Great Unwomening is under way because American charities and political organizations survive by fundraising—and their most vocal donors don’t want to be charged with offenses against intersectionality. Cold economic logic therefore dictates that charities should phrase their appeals in the most fashionable, novel, and bulletproof-to-Twitter-backlash way possible. Mildly peeved centrists may grumble but will donate anyway; it’s the left flank that needs to be appeased.

Pointing out that women are the ones who largely need abortions is very second wave, boring, old-school, so done. Witness those placards held by older women that read: I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit. Instead, the charities think: Can we find a way to make this fight feel a little more … now? And that’s how you end up with the National Women’s Law Center tweeting, “In case you didn’t hear it right the first time: People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions.” (No, that’s not my copy-and-paste keys getting stuck. The group really said it six times.)

Yep: see for yourself.

It’s not hard to see that this circumlocution and annoying repetition takes away the power that the Left really has on this issue: to most liberals, abortion instantiates a biological woman’s right to control her body and that right is being taken away. (And yes, it’s only biological women, who happen to include transgender men, who need abortions).

But does eliminating “woman” really help the abortion-rights campaign in America as opposed to catering to a few people who insist that men can get abortions? Lewis doesn’t think so:

In Britain, where I live, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a major abortion provider, announced that it would continue to use women and other gendered language in much of its general literature, while developing tailored materials for clients who identify otherwise. Not only has the sky not fallen as a result, but Britons continue to have access to state-funded abortions, paid for out of general taxation. While American charities congratulate themselves on the purity of their language, the communities they serve—people of all genders who could have a free abortion in Britain—struggle to access terminations. No one should be polishing their halo here.

Language battles should not distract us from the true injustice raised by the potential repeal of Roe v. Wade: the removal of the right to privacy and bodily autonomy for 51 percent of Americans. But something is lost when abortion-rights activists shy away from saying women. We lose the ability to talk about women as more than a random collection of organs, bodies that happen to menstruate or bleed or give birth. We lose the ability to connect women’s common experiences, and the discrimination they face in the course of a reproductive lifetime. By substituting people for women, we lose the ability to speak of women as a class. We dismantle them into pieces, into functions, into commodities. This happens in many ways. This week I also saw an Axios editor rebuke a New York Times reporter for writing “surrogate mothers” rather than “gestational carriers”—as if the latter phrase were not dehumanizing, a whisper away from “vessels.”

To her credit, Lewis does consider at several points reasons people adduce for eschewing the word “woman”, but in the end rejects them. Her last sentence here is eloquent:

In my view, the best argument for gender-neutral language in the abortion debate is the ACLU’s unspoken one: History suggests that society doesn’t care much about women, so maybe abortion rights will have more appeal if supporters invoke some other causes instead. And yet I can’t stomach it. Supposedly progressive groups like the ACLU are free riding on the work of centuries of feminist activism, all of it based on the implicit or explicit premise that there are two sexes, one that did the voting and property-owning and being president, and one that did the unpaid scut work and giving birth. The ACLU can afford to wipe away the word women only because everyone knows which half of the population needs abortions. Women will continue to exist, and to be disproportionately harmed by abortion bans—even if their existence becomes unspeakable.

Now that is good writing!

 

The ACLU reverses course once again in the interest of wokeness

January 30, 2022 • 11:30 am

Last September, a surprising article in the New York Times reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed to be losing its mission of defending civil liberties, moving more and more towards “progressive” politics. Part of this transformation involved suddenly prioritizing what speech to defend based on its perceived “harm.” More harmful speech (e.g., speech offending minorities or other oppressed groups) was to be given lower legal priority.

This was a complete reversal of the history of the ACLU, an organization that was one of my favorites. (They gave me pro bono legal help when I took the government to court over being illegally called up for alternative service as a conscientious objector.)  Now, it seems, they think that some people deserve more civil rights than others. This was all documented in one of my posts and in an article on Tablet that quoted secret ACLU documents. After Charlottesville, for example, Tablet reports that the ACLU made a momentous decision:

. . . the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

There are many other signs of the ACLU’s change of mission, and you can see my posts on them here. And today there’s yet another, which Zaid Jilani describes in a post on his “inquiremore” site. Click on the screenshot to read.

In brief, Jilani recounts the ACLU’s history of demanding transparency from government, and how it’s now backed off on its history of fostering transparency. The reason is because of the kerfuffle embodied in state bills that ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Parents who don’t want their children exposed to some of the more divisive or questionable aspects of CRT are now asking that curricular materials (syllabi, reading lists, assignments, etc) be made public, i.e., put online.

For the record, I don’t favor those bills. But I don’t see any reason that material involved in public-school classes shouldn’t be made public. (I’m not asking for all teachers to be filmed or recorded, but for the paper record of classroom assignments to be made public.)

The ACLU doesn’t like this, and I’m guessing because they actually want CRT to be taught to children. Do not underestimate their wokeness! If you think I’m exaggerating about the “new ACLU”, have a listen to legendary civil-liberties activist Ira Glasser, once head of the ACLU for 23 years, speaking on Bill Maher’s show. He’s appalled at what’s happened to his baby. Glasser, despite his vocation, is not a man of hot temper, and when he talks this way, you know that he’s really angry:

Back to “transparency”. Here’s the ACLU’s new stand (the ACLU is nearly as hamhanded at tweeting as was Donald Trump):

In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former. Critical Race Theory, in both its academic construal and in how it’s taught in many schools, is not just “learning and talking about race and gender.” The tweet above is dissimulation.

The ACLU has a history, as I said. of demanding transparency. From Jilani’s post:

This marks a reversal for the ACLU, which has always argued for government transparency in all arenas, including in schools.

As Tablet’s Noam Blum noted, the ACLU of Nevada argued vigorously for transparency when that state’s schools were setting their sex education curriculum and policies.

“The days of back door decision making are over. Compliance with the open meetings law is meant to secure the opportunity of parents, students, and community members to have a meaningful impact on the development of policy. We are all well served when decisions on the appointment of sex education advisory committee members is subject to public scrutiny, rather than the result of the presentation of a narrow range of interests,” Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said at the time. The organization used the state’s public records law to request materials related to sex education in each of the state’s 17 counties.

A few years later, the ACLU of Kentucky used records requests to uncover curriculum in all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, seeking to find evidence of religious instruction by reviewing both policies and curricula:

The ACLU-KY sent requests to all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts seeking policies and curriculum for “Bible Literacy” courses.  While most districts are not offering these courses, the ACLU-KY found many of the courses that are being offered do not fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.

The investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material and assignments (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and rote memorization of Biblical text (McCracken County) — practices which fall far short of academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.

If you don’t want curricula exposed that deal with race and gender, why do so many people want curricula exposed that deal with creationism being taught in public schools? It was my reading of Eric Hedin’s online syllabi at Ball State University, for example, that led me to discover that he was teaching Intelligent Design creationism in a public college—a violation of the law. The result was that he was forced to stop teaching religion in the guise of science. And, of course, parents foot the bill for their kids’ education, and surely have some rights in at least hearing what their kids are supposed to learn and do.

The ACLU also demanded transparency from schools when they were violating Title IX by segregating sexes:

The ACLU of Alabama was so bothered by government-sanctioned sex segregation in the school system that in 2008 it formally protested and sought documents from Mobile County schools outlining any policies related to the matter:

After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.

One of the things parents are worried about is racial segregation in schools, which is part of the CRT program (in this cases, segregation of graduations, dorms, and events are considered salubrious for minorities). Yet the ACLU demands transparency for sex segregation but opposes it for segregation by race or ethnicity. Why the difference? You know the answer. Jilani dosn’t speculate much about this, though the reasons are clear to all people not blinded by ideology. He finishes his piece this way:

In arguing against transparency in the public school system, the ACLU is departing from its traditional mission. As has been written about elsewhere, the ACLU is increasingly becoming more of an activist progressive organization. Among activist progressives, sensitivities about race and gender have often brought them to take positions that are in tension with classical liberal values like freedom of speech, transparency, and equal treatment under the law. Those same sensitivities appear to be trouncing the ACLU’s longstanding principles in this case.

You can argue that the times are a-changing and it’s more pressing for the ACLU to defend minorities than to defend the civil rights of everyone. You can argue that the First Amendment is outmoded, and equally outmoded is an organization that embodies Mill’s dictum that even the most offensive or contrarian speech should be heard. (Indeed, Hitchens thought such speech should be prioritized.) Yes, you can argue those things.

But if there’s nobody around to defend the civil rights of everyone, then society will become a homogenous stew of “rightspeak”, and only the rights of those who have The Proper Ideology will be protected. That’s exactly what America’s founders wanted to prevent by enacting the First Amendment, and how the courts have construed that Amendment in the last two centuries. As the ACLU becomes a political organization, all we have left is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which still protects civil liberties in a nonpartisan way. But they are limited to rights in education.

As Glasser notes above, if the ACLU goes down the drain, there will be no organization to replace it.  A slight emendation of Antony’s famous quote from Julius Caesar is appropriate:

This was the noblest organization of them all. All the rest of the organizations acted out of political self interest. Only the ACLU acted from honesty and for the general good. Its existence was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in it that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a great organization.”

Abigail Shrier speaks truth to Princeton

December 9, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’d forgotten that Abigail Shrier had a Substack column called “The Truth Fairy“, and so I would have missed this wonderful talk (in transcript) had several readers not sent me the link. It is a talk that Shrier gave to a group of students at Princeton, hosted by the Princeton Tory, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Tikvah Fund. It is well worth your time to read this, and will stiffen your resolve against wokeness.

For surely you remember Ms. Shrier, a former writer with the Wall Street Journal and then author of the book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which I’ve read. It’s an account of the exponential rise in the number of young women and girls who want to transition to becoming transmales; an attempt to explain it partly (but not by any means wholly) as a result of social pressure and mental illness; and a critique of the “affirmation therapy” in which therapists and doctors facilitate these transitions without adequate medical and psychological assessment and supervision.

It’s not a transphobic book, nor is Shrier a transphobe. She is thoughtful and deeply sympathetic to people with gender dysphoria who have given their transitions mature and rational consideration. It is a call for caution towards younger people—women in particular—who might not be getting proper guidance.

For writing this reasonable book, Shrier was demonized, widely called a transphobe (including by the ACLU, one of whose lawyers called for her book to be banned), she’s been disinvited to speak, and major chains wouldn’t carry her book. Science-Based Medicine removed a positive review written about Shrier’s book by Dr. Harriet Hall. I’ve documented much of this on posts on this website.

Here we have Shrier giving the Princeton students the equivalent of a graduation speech: imparting lessons she learned the hard way to try to emphasize the importance of independent thought in a time of liberal conformity. I wish I could reproduce the whole talk, but you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below.

There’s a bit of biography to show how Shrier went down the route to being demonized. First, though, the question she’s answering (all bolding is mine).

The question I get most often—the thing that most interviewers want to know, even when they’re pretending to care about more high-minded things—is:  What’s it like to be so hated?  I can only assume that’s what some of you rubberneckers want to know as well:  What’s it like to be on a GLAAD black list? What’s it like to have top ACLU lawyers come out in favor of banning your book? What’s it like to have prestigious institutions disavow you as an alum? What’s it like to lose the favor of the fancy people who once claimed you as their own?

And then she began writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, and the die was cast:

. . . One of those op-eds inspired a reader to contact me and tell me the story of her teen daughter who was rushing into a sudden gender transition. After trying and failing to find an investigative journalist who wanted the assignment, I took it on myself. My investigations turned into a book called Irreversible Damage.

All of which is to say: I’m not a provocateur. I don’t get a rush from making people angry. You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective, and unwilling to back down.

Why am I unwilling to back down? Why wouldn’t I prostrate myself before the petulant mobs who insist that my standard journalistic investigation into a medical mystery—specifically, why so many teen girls were suddenly identifying as transgender and clamoring to alter their bodies—makes me a hater? Why on earth would I have chosen to write this book in the first place and am I glad that I wrote it?

And she says she found it freeing to express her opinion even though it went against the grain of most trans activists. There’s a bit of a confusing discussion of “freedom,” as Shrier appears to be a determinist, and her half-page discussion might have been omitted, for, after discussing how our views are manipulated by outside sources like social media sites and Wikipedia articles, which constitutes neuronal wiring completely compatible with determinism, she says this:

If you form views based on those Wikipedia articles or reports by corrupt fact-checkers, if you act based on them, are you exercising freedom of will? Given that you’ve been spun and prodded along to a pre-determined conclusion by hidden persuaders, perhaps you aren’t. Perhaps you’re left in the same sorry state as the Moor of Venice: toyed with, subverted, manipulated. Acting out someone else’s plan, pointed in the direction that he wants you to walk.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years debating whether this kind of manipulation is at the root of our political divisions, but I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to an even more basic question: how it has interfered with freedom of conscience and ultimately free will.

But she’s strongly questioned whether we even have free will! What she objects to is not unwarranted interference with some dualistic “will,” but unwarranted interference with your brain.

But that doesn’t matter; it’s a small digression in a magnificent talk—but a digression that takes her into territory I inhabit. At any rate, the following words are what’s going to get her into trouble, and the kind of writing that makes me so admire Shrier:

When polled, nearly two out of three Americans (62%) say they are afraid to express an unpopular opinion. That doesn’t sound like a free people in a free country. We are, each day, force-fed falsehoods we are all expected to take seriously, on pain of forfeiting esteem and professional opportunity:

Some men have periods and get pregnant.” “Hard work and objectivity are hallmarks of whiteness.” “Only a child knows her own true gender.”  “Transwomen don’t have an unfair advantage when playing girls’ sports.”

On that final example of a lie, the one about transwomen in girls’ sports, I want you to think for a moment about a young woman here at Princeton. She’s a magnificent athlete named Ellie Marquardt, an all-American swimmer who set an Ivy League record in the 500-meter freestyle event as a freshman. Just before Thanksgiving, Ellie was defeated in the 500-meter, the event she held the record in, by almost 14 seconds [Shrier’s bolding] by a 22 year old biological male at Penn who was competing on the men’s team as recently as November of 2019. That male athlete now holds multiple U.S. records in women’s swimming, erasing the hard work of so many of our best female athletes, and making a mockery of the rights women fought for generations to achieve.

Ellie Marquart swam her heart out for Princeton. When will Princeton fight for her? Where are the student protests to say—enough is enough. When a biological male who has enjoyed the full benefits of male puberty—larger cardiovascular system, 40% more upper body muscle mass, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, more oxygenated blood—decides after three seasons on the men’s team to compete as a woman and smashes the records of the top female swimmers in this country, that is not valor—that’s vandalism.

Where is the outrage? Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to be a female swimmer at Princeton, knowing you must pretend that this is fair—that the NCAA competition is anything other than a joke. Imagine being told to bite your tongue as men lecture you that you just need to swim harder. “Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

Now, imagine, instead, the women’s swimmers had all walked out. Imagine they had stood together and said: We will meet any competitor head on. But we will not grant this travesty the honor of our participation. We did not spend our childhoods setting our alarm clocks for 4am every morning, training for hours before and after school, to lend our good names to this fixed fight.

Many of us agree with Shrier (I know I do), but how many of us would say this words, or write these words, publicly? Not many, I warrant.

She goes on to extol and explain the freedom she found in resisting the influences of authoritarians and trans activists (granted, she had no choice about resisting, but resisting did bring her a jolt of endorphin that one wants to experience again). And so a few more excerpts:

I didn’t write Irreversible Damage to be provocative.  In a freer world, nothing in my book would have created controversy. I wrote the book because I knew it was truthful and I believed recording what I found—that there was a social contagion leading many teenage girls to irreversible damage—was the right thing to do. I also believe if I hadn’t written it, thousands more girls would be caught up in an identity movement that was not organic to them but would nonetheless lead them to profound self-harm. But I didn’t write it specifically to stop them. I wrote it simply because it was true.

When I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in March, I started by stating that I am proud to live in an America where gay and transgender Americans live with less stigma and fear than at any point in American history. That is the glory of freedom as well—the chance for adults to live authentic lives and guide their own destinies. And allowing mature adults to make those sorts of choices for themselves is absolutely a requirement of a free society. Yes, you can reject the false, dogmatic insistences of Gender Ideology and still wish to see transgender Americans prosper and flourish and fulfill their dreams in America. I do.

I wrote the book because the story of one mom and her teen daughter compelled me, and so did that of the dozens of other parents who then spoke to me—mothers and fathers who sobbed as they described how their daughters had become caught up in a craze that seemed completely inauthentic to the child, but which they were powerless to arrest.

And a conclusion:

I’m 43, which I realize makes me very old to many of you. But not so long from now, you’ll wake up and be 43 yourselves. And when I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.

You feel that frisson when you choose a person to commit yourself to knowing full well that any marriage may fail; when you bring children into a world where there are no guarantees of their safety or success. When you summon the courage to fashion a life, something that will remain after you are gone. When you speak the truth publicly—with care and lucidity.  And when you say to the world: you cannot buy me with flattery. Purchase my colleagues or classmates at bulk rate. I am not for sale.

Yes, that frisson isn’t in everyone, but some like Shrier are wired to experience it through rebellion, and to sell that experience to others. And perhaps that itself will rewire the brains of the others. But forget the determinism. The fact is that Shrier spoke the truth as she saw it, not realizing what would happen. But when the shitstorm began, she just put up an umbrella and weathered it. And she continues to fight. Moreover, she has a lot to lose here, though it turns out that the damnation she experienced as a supposed “transphobe” actually brought her more attention and a louder microphone. I can echo her words because I have very little to lose by doing so, but I want to echo her words because they bear repeating, and may echo in other people’s brains.

In short, my message to Shrier is, “You go, girl!

ACLU condemns Rittenhouse verdict

November 22, 2021 • 11:15 am

Among the many institutions now taking irrational and woke stands as opposed to principled ones, the American Civil Liberties Union stands out. Once my favorite civil-rights organization, known for enforcing the First Amendment, fighting for racial equality but also the speech rights of Nazis, the ACLU was designed to protect every American’s constitutional rights.

Now it’s become a progressive-Left Social Justice organization. I’ve written about this transformation many times; among its activities is calling for the censoring of Abigail Shrier’s book on poorly considered “affirmative therapy” for gender dysphoric kids, changing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote on abortion so that her references to “women” were changed to “persons,” favoring legislation that allows medically and psychologically untreated biological males who identify as women to compete in women’s sports, and opposing Betsy DeVos’s changes in Title IX guidelines for sexual harassment prosecution as “inappropriately favoring the accused.” (Those changes, by the way, were one of the rare instances of the Trump administration creating a change for the better, for they mandates fairer and more just procedures.)

Speaking of “inappropriately favoring the accused,” the ACLU, letting its Wisconsin branch speak for the organization as a whole, has just issued a statement that seems to say that the Rittenhouse verdict was wrong, also inappropriately favoring the accused:

Click on the screenshot to read:

Excerpts:

Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, stated:

“Despite Kyle Rittenhouse’s conscious decision to take the lives of two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, he was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising. But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night. The events in Kenosha stem from the deep roots of white supremacy in our society’s institutions. They underscore that the police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do white people.

. . .“Rittenhouse’s trial highlights an urgent need for reform for both police and the criminal legal system. The system is broken, and it desperately needs to be fixed.”

Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, stated:

“Kyle Rittenhouse was a juvenile who traveled across state lines on a vigilante mission, was allowed by police to roam the streets of Kenosha with an assault rifle and ended up shooting three people and killing two. These are the simple, tragic facts. His acquittal comes after an ACLU investigation exposing how Kenosha law enforcement used violence against protesters and drove them toward white militia groups, in ways that escalated tensions and almost certainly led to these shootings.

“This complicity, along with the reason for the protests that Rittenhouse took it upon himself to confront — the police shooting of a Black man outside of a family function — highlights that the violence in Kenosha is not an anomaly, but rather endemic to a system built upon white supremacy.

Many of these statements are contestable, including the notion that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist who killed white demonstrators because they were supporting Black Lives Matter protests. In fact, one of the men he killed was apparently a racist, and he killed, as the jury determined, in self defense.  Rittenhouse is certainly not a saint or someone I’d want to hang around with—why would someone go to a protest with a gun, even (as Rittenhouse maintained, to guard a car dealership?—that’s asking for trouble. He seems to be troubled and confused. But from the outset Rittenhouse had a credible claim of self-defense, and the videos bore that out.

As for his “white supremacy”, this is what the NY Post says (you can check other sources if you don’t like this one):

The FBI scoured Kyle’s phone and found nothing about white supremacy or militias, the court heard. All they saw were pro-police, “Blue Lives Matter” posts from a kid who had been a police and fire department cadet, wanted to be a police officer or paramedic and once sat near the front of a Trump rally. That was enough for the media to brand him a white supremacist.

The media had a narrative it bought into early, and refused to give it up in the face of the videos, the verdict, and the facts. The ACLU statement, from an organization designed to protect the civil rights of the accused from unjust state power, is now refusing to do that for Rittenhouse. The reason they are not defending Rittenhouse despite the verdict is simply because he was white and supposedly killed white men because they were supposedly supporting a Black Lives Matter protest. The jury said he killed because he had credible threats of being killed or harmed.

As Jesse Singal wrote on the preview of his pay-for-view Substack column:

If you know anything about the ACLU’s history or reasons for existing, these are very strange — disturbing, I’d argue — statements. The ACLU of Wisconsin seems to be saying Kyle Rittenhouse should have been convicted. What else could a statement noting that he “was not held responsible for his actions,” issued the day of his full acquittal, possibly mean? If you don’t think he was guilty of the crimes he was accused of, there’s nothing for him to have been “held responsible” for. The ACLU is supposed to stand on the side of vulnerable people facing a justice system that has a chronic tendency to overcharge and to withhold from suspects and defendants their full constitutional rights. Why is the ACLU of Wisconsin siding with that system — especially without any further explanation as to why this was an unjust ruling?

And here’s another one I found, but won’t quote or dissect, on the MSNBC website. Click to access:

ACLU admits it screwed up by changing RBG’s words; Michelle Goldberg explains why the changes were misleading

September 28, 2021 • 9:15 am

A week ago I called attention to a tweet by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that quoted but redacted some words by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). The ACLU made six changes in just one short quote, including an omission. Here’s what they tweeted:

Here are her real words, which according to Michelle Goldberg’s NYT article below, were uttered during RBG’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearings. As usual, RBG didn’t pull any punches!

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I added this in my post:

There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”).  The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.

The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.

The ACLU is heavily into transsexual rights, which is fine since those are civil rights, but they’ve gone overboard on this before (one of their staff attorneys called for the censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book, and did so again by drastically changing RBG’s words. They’re also slowly but surely removing themselves from defending the First Amendment.  Here’s the tweet (now removed) by their chief attorney for transsexual issues:

I’m pretty fed up with the ACLU, though they’re still doing some good work. But back to the RBG redaction. In her op-ed, Michelle Goldberg (click on screenshot below) puts her finger on two reasons why the alteration of RBG’s words was misleading and invidious.

While Goldberg bends over backwards to approve of gender-inclusive language, she criticizes the ACLU’s changes for two reasons. The first one I raised in my post; the second is one that is more likely to be spotted and raised by a woman.

This was a mistake for two reasons, one that’s easy to talk about, and one that’s hard.

The easy one is this: It’s somewhat Orwellian to rewrite historical utterances to conform to modern sensitivities. No one that I’m aware of used gender-neutral language to talk about pregnancy and abortion in 1993; it wasn’t until 2008 that Thomas Beatie became famous as what headlines sometimes called the “First Pregnant Man.” There’s a difference between substituting the phrase “pregnant people” for “pregnant women” now, and pretending that we have always spoken of “pregnant people.”

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?

Goldberg clearly thinks “no, it’s not an embarrassing anachronism”, but for a reason that some trans-activists might oppose. (Bolding below is mine.)

A gender-inclusive understanding of reproduction is in keeping with the goal of a society free of sex hierarchies. It is one thing to insist that women shouldn’t be relegated to second-class status because they can bear children. It’s perhaps more radical to define sex and gender so that childbearing is no longer women’s exclusive domain.

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

The way I would answer this myself is that childbearing remains the domain of biological women (i.e., people who, when born, fit into the biological definition of “female”), even if they’ve become transsexual men.  This is what I think Goldberg means by saying, slyly, that “you can’t change the nature of reality through language alone.”

Her real objection, which I’ve put in bold, is that reproduction is but one of women’s “biological experiences” (I suppose menstruation is another, though I don’t see oppression as a “biological experience”) that cannot be had by biological men, and by “women” she means the term as it was used by earlier feminists. By saying that a man can become pregnant, the oppressor then gains membership in the class (“men”) that many feminists saw and still see as oppressors.

Although Goldberg doesn’t say so, the problem is the failure to distinguish between biological men and women on one hand and men and women who identify as members of the other sex on the other. Importantly, to activists, transmen are considered men in every respect, just a stranswomen are considered full woman.

But to Goldberg, “full” neglects history. What really irks her (and I can understand and sympathize with her position), is that biological women can not only be called “men”, but assumed to be men in every respect, including, thinks Goldberg, in their historical position as oppressors of women. (By the way, I don’t think that the ACLU quote “erased” gendered language, which it didn’t, but erased sexed language.)

Goldberg’s contortions to avoid seeming “transphobic”, I think, has obscured her point, which is a semantic one. (Or so I think: I may have misinterpreted her point.)

And regardless, I think that she’s still going to be demonized for writing this column.  But to her (and the ACLU’s) credit, the organization seems to go along with her. She reports:

On Monday, Anthony Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., told me he regrets the R.B.G. tweet, and that in the future the organization won’t substantively alter anyone’s quotes. Still, he said, “Having spent time with Justice Ginsburg, I would like to believe that if she were alive today, she would encourage us to evolve our language to encompass a broader vision of gender, identity and sexuality.”

This may very well be the case. It’s also the case that she spoke specifically about women for a reason.

The problem is that the activists who approve of this redaction don’t care about altering history, even “for a reason”.  They just want to make historical language conform to modern norms.