Vagueness, Overbreadth and Unbridled Discretion in Law-making

Covid Positive sign in window

This crazy story about a university claiming that posters in a window “break the law” is a good example of how chaotic and inconsistent law-making can lead to a denial of liberty. Quick thread. #

I’ve been doing some reading on the ‘chilling effect’ recently. It’s usually used with regards to freedom of expression, but it’s a term imported from US legal thought, and can be applied to any kind of liberty or lawful activity. #

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan warned of how a ‘chill’ can be “generated by vagueness, overbreadth and unbridled discretion” of laws/state powers used to curb speech. (Dissent in Walker v City of Birmingham, 388 US 307 in 1967) # Continue reading “Vagueness, Overbreadth and Unbridled Discretion in Law-making”

ZOOMSHIFT

It is often said that constraints can fuel creativity. Well, the COVID-19 lockdown is a pretty big constraint.

Amid the sadness and death, it has been interesting to see the new art and culture that is already emerging. Creativity working up against the boundaries we have set for ourselves. Artists looking afresh at the technology we are using to communicate, and wondering what new modes of design and storytelling they might enable.

The most obvious example of this is video conferencing software. The grids of images that apps like Zoom use to display the other people in the chat have become part of our visual culture. I really enjoyed the Maltesers ‘Isolation Life’ series of adverts, and I love the video for ‘Phenom’ by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (intriguing song, too). Continue reading “ZOOMSHIFT”

COVID19, Free Speech and the Right to Receive Information

In 2004, the writer Orhan Pamuk gave the inaugural Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture, at the Prague Writer’s Festival. Among his remarks, he said this:

I have personally known writers who have chosen to raise forbidden topics purely because they were forbidden. I think I am no different. Because when another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free. This, indeed, is the spirit that informs the solidarity felt by PEN, by writers all over the world.

Orhan Pamuk

I would often use the highlighted bit of that quote in English PEN’s marketing communications. I thought it would appeal to the worldliness of other writers, their solidarity and empathy with fellow wordsmiths.

But occasionally I would worry that the proper meaning of that quote was properly understood. Because taken literally, it’s obviously untrue. The fact that Ahmet Altan (to pick another Turkish novelist) is currently in prison and censored does not stop me writing my derivative science fiction or my bad poetry. Continue reading “COVID19, Free Speech and the Right to Receive Information”