Letter to the FIRE on Bill Maher

To Whomever This May Concern:

I would like to begin this correspondence by mentioning the fact that I greatly admire the work that FIRE does to protect the free speech rights of students and faculty on college campuses. Your organization was instrumental in helping a student organization of which I am a member beat back reactionary forces on my campus. However, I am concerned with your stated position on the push by students to disinvite Bill Maher as a commencement speaker at UC Berkeley. More generally, I am concerned with your position on the recent push by students to disinvite a number of commencement speakers at various universities across the country. This is not an issue of free speech, and by claiming that it is one you are revealing your organization to not just be a protector of free speech but also a reactionary force in your own right. Your deliberate obfuscation of the core issue here is troubling and speaks to FIRE’s ideological leanings and values. The students leading the charge to disinvite Bill Maher have made their justifications abundantly clear and not one of them has to do with free speech. In fact, in several instances, in articles and blogposts they have explicitly stated that their decision has nothing to with free speech.


“There is no question Maher has a right to speak on campus; but the question is whether commencement, a time of celebration for all students, including those victimized by Maher’s commentary, is the appropriate forum. UC Berkeley undoubtedly must remain committed to principles of free speech. But this is not a matter of free speech — Maher can iterate his beliefs on campus at a debate or club event. This is about granting Bill Maher the honor of being our commencement speaker when he clearly spreads ignorance and intolerance affecting the very people he would be addressing.

Though we strongly disagree with the substance of Bill Maher’s racist, sexist and homophobic language, we value the university’s role as a public academic institution committed to preserving the free exchange of ideas — even when those ideas are at odds with our own. If the administration worries that it is discouraging debate by revoking this invitation, the administration is welcome to invite Maher to an open forum on campus instead.”

I would encourage you to read the bold statements especially carefully. The same assertion was made in the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, and still FIRE continues to characterize this recent movement to force administrations to cancel commencement speakers as representative of an assault on free speech. The notion that a commencement ceremony can be characterized as a setting in which the free exchange of ideas is happening is patently absurd. The students are out the door. It is a celebration of their accomplishments. The speaker and whatever they are about to say are being honored and endorsed by the university. It is a choice to elevate one person’s voice above all others, and the notion that the students, the students whose accomplishments are being celebrated, should not have a say in choosing the speaker is anti-democratic. The plain fact of the matter is that they should decide who is going to speak because it is a celebration of their accomplishments. FIRE draws a false equivalence between commencement speakers and other speakers by asserting that this is an issue of free speech. University administrations do not endorse the views of other speakers, and, in fact, when calls for disinvitation erupt in response they are quick to assert that fact. The same can not be said for commencement speakers.


Ephraim Hussain


Congressman Scott Garrett Balks At The Opportunity To Go On the Record About Corruption

This is my first post for the Rootstrikers campus team blog.  Rootstrikers is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that strives to reduce the influence of dirty money in politics.  Led by the efforts of the campus teams, Rootstrikers is currently working in conjunction with the huffington post to get politicians “On the Record” about the corrupting influence of money big money in politics.  Here I discuss Congressman Scott Garrett’s (NJ-5) response to my attempts to get him “On the Record”.  FYI, Congressman Garrett, I will not cease my efforts. Continue reading

Why does ESPN Publish Jemele Hill’s columns?

I usually don’t write about sports ( actually I have not yet) but I couldn’t resist…..

Dear ESPN and Jemele Hill:

Warning!!  Warning!!  Jemele Hill has gone rogue in the world of sports journalism!….Oh wait, no…that’s just ESPN publishing another one of her useless, mindless, and least thought-provoking columns ever.  The part about her going rogue was just me daydreaming about a better world.  Although I did not quite dream it up right, or else I would have imagined her taking up any other occupation besides being a sports journalist.  Unless, of course she would clean up her columns and write about something more interesting that actually has to do with the world of sports, than…oh I dunno…Wes Welker’s very tough decision to have a hair restoration procedure at which point I am sure the many readers of ESPN would cherish her writing.

Because the fact is, if I was bald and was getting a hair restoration procedure and feeling very insecure about my appearance……. I’m not getting any national attention for it, nor would I want any because I’m not an egotistical “pick a word” who thinks anyone would or should care about my hair restoration procedure (barring my friends and family of course).

This has to be my favorite quote of the whole thing.

“So in some ways, Welker, who was almost flowery in his praise of Leonard’s handiwork, made a business decision. Not that Welker is some kind of hair martyr. His honesty does come with an agenda. He will serve as a spokesman for Leonard, which includes appearing in TV, radio and print advertisements.

Oh, Oh, Oh, so there is some payoff involved.  What a surprise.  And what’s with the “hair martyr” phrase?  As I see it, a martyr is someone who sacrifices themselves for a cause they believes in.  So he sacrificed himself to the general public’s ridicule by getting a hair restoration?  First of all, as she said, it was a business decision and he is going to be starring in advertisements, so I hardly think that he was worried about being a martyr to the public.  Second of all, the general public should be very insulted by Jemele Hill, to think that we are so mind numbingly shallow and don’t have anything better to do than to make fun of an athlete for wanting to put hair on his bald head.  I’m very confused by her thought process, to say the least.  But, this quote, I scoff at.

But there is something endearing about an athlete who isn’t afraid to acknowledge something that contradicts the stereotype that he’s impervious to imperfections.

You bash them every day.  You print things about them in the media that no one cares about, just to make big hay out of it.  You blow things out of proportion all the time.  You speculate.  You have controversial and absurd opinions about them just for the sake of it.  You make mince-meat out of their interviews for the sake of promoting mind-numbing controversy that would otherwise not have existed.  You are attention-whores more so than the athletes you write about.  You need to get over yourselves more so than the athletes you write about.  You are the sports media.  You are imperfect.  The athletes you write about are imperfect.  We are all imperfect.  I had no preconceptions that Wes Welker was a god before reading your column, and you are not a saint for writing this column, supposedly for the purpose of revealing his “human” side.  I am assuming that you wanted me to read this article and go, “WOW, Wes Welker is just a regular dude because he can get hair transplants and not be embarrassed to talk about it just like the rest of us. .  Give us a break.   How many garbage touchy-feely articles and columns, in the world of sports journalism, do we intelligent readers have to continue to see like this?    The public is not stupid.  We do not live with blinders on.

On a side note

And I know that by writing this post and linking to her article I am giving her column more attention.  But the fact is that there is no other way to draw attention to poor journalism and if she has any ounce of journalistic integrity (lacking in today’s world) and respect for the readership of ESPN, she should not take negative attention as license to write more of the same.

P.S.: Read the public’s reaction your column, do some reflective thinking, and come back with something better.  PLEASE!