E-letter: A valentine to free speech


The New York Daily News last week reported that a Wisconsin high school teacher has been placed on leave for tweeting he hopes conservative icon and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh suffers greatly and dies from cancer. According to the News, Milwaukee High School of the Arts English teacher Travis Sarandos wrote upon hearing of Limbaugh’s stage-four lung cancer diagnosis, “Limbaugh absolutely should have to suffer from cancer. It’s awesome that he’s dying, and hopefully it is as quick as it is painful.”

Kerry Knudsen

I recall in 1988, when I was a young, holder of a graduate degree in magazine business and PR, that I heard of a new voice on AM radio – Rush Limbaugh. The guy was a radical, I was assured, a racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe. I don’t like racist/sexist/bigot/homophobes. I also have an ingrained discipline to learn my enemies, so I listened. I did not hear what was alleged. He was opinionated, for sure. And he committed a felony against liberal thought, that being that he did not take them seriously. In fact, he made fun of them, created parodies, attacked their sacred cows and cast them as fools. I haven’t kept up with Limbaugh over the decades, but I have checked in from time to time. His parodies have fallen by the way, and his irreverence has moved more toward proselytizing to my mind, but he is not a racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe.

Back to Sarando, what he said is cold. tacky. In my mind, only a fool would say such things.

But should he lose his job? As a died-in-the-wood free-speech/free thought advocate, I say no. Not for free speech.


On the other hand, we seem to have an abundance of fools teaching our kids, and that might come into play if the school board takes its responsibility seriously.

Another thought is that Sarandos is likely going to invoke his First Amendment right to say what he likes, and I think that’s fair. It is not, however, fair that he seems willing to assert capital punishment for another citizen that is also known for invoking his own right to free speech and free thought. What’s good for the goose, they used to say, is good for the gander. Of course, we cannot say or think that any longer, as it is offensive, discriminatory, divisive, insensitive and abusive. Just ask any high-school teacher.

It is worth repeating that the history of free thought and free speech is bathed in blood, and men (maybe women?) have fought and died for the right to say and think what they believe, even if they are idiots.

My favourite speech on speech is by Paradise Lost author and 17th Century genius John Milton. The piece is entitled Areopagitica, Areopagus being the hill in ancient Athens where the Council of Justice met to decide cases. In Areopagitica, Milton wrote:

And again if it be true, that a wise man like a good refiner can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book, there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool, that which being restrained will be no hindrance to his folly. For if there should be so much exactness always used to keep that from him which is unfit for his reading, we should in the judgement of Aristotle not only, but of Salomon, and of our Saviour, not vouchsafe him good precepts, and by consequence not willingly admit him to good books; as being certain that a wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet, than a fool will do of sacred Scripture.

According to Milton, we should let Sarandos speak as he will, but we should also be understanding of a school board’s concerns for the mental competence of its teachers. Milton was no supporter of fools.

I have lost jobs because of my ideas and positions, and I have found that all parties are better off for it. Fifty years later, I am still proud to have been fired by a rent-to-own company that caught me reporting their actions to law enforcement.

Essentially, the world remains in conflict. Conflict between right and wrong/good and evil, same as throughout time. Same as when the Council of Justice was empaneled.

The best of the best humans in history are sometimes immortalized as “saints.” One such saint, Saint Valentine, will see his name, if not his ideas, brought into prominence on Friday.

I am not a racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe, either, but ladies, you should stop reading here. Those of you gentlemen that have read this before, you can stop, as well. I am going to run over some stuff men need to know about St. Valentine’s Day, and, men, it can change your life. I published the main part of this idea several years ago, but it bears repeating.

Actually, it’s not about Valentine’s Day, but flowers.


I beat the Valentine’s Day Guilt Month 30 years ago with what I consider to be divine inspiration. I decided, rather than show up late with wilted flowers, to pre-arrange flowers delivered to Lee Ann’s office. This is a good idea, because it not only presents the flowers, but does so in front of witnesses.

Then the idea hit me to automate. I told the florist to send flowers every Thursday from the end of November until the end of April. I said not to go big, just a little array every Thursday. Sometimes I start the year with a few new vases, but basically the cost is under $20 a week, or $400 a year. This is the cheapest insurance you will ever buy.

The reason for the stop and start is the same reason as for fishing season. Going fishing is one thing, but having an Opening Day is an event — one that people look forward to, schedule promotions around and create dialogue about. It’s the reason suppliers launch new products during a trade show. In the case of office flowers, there is no promotion or scheduling among employees, but when the end of November rolls around and the flowers arrive, it is always a show-stopper.

There may be a new person in the office that wonders what’s the deal? And when she’s told, the response usually moves from “isn’t that nice?,” to “my husband even forgets anniversaries and Valentine’s Day.”

There was even the March day about 25 years back when we attended a “spring picnic” in a community centre. All the spouses were there, and when we arrived, I gravitated toward a knot of husbands over in front of the stage. I could see something was odd, but I didn’t figure it out until the first one asked, “are you the son-of-a-bitch that keeps sending your wife flowers?”

Yup. That would be me.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s calculated or automated, because the thought is always behind it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not expensive or expansive, because something happens between a woman and a flower that I do not understand, but most of us have learned to exploit. It may not be chivalry, but it works.

Let me add something else. Lee Ann is an executive with a major Canadian association, Landscape Ontario, where she oversees publications in another trade that, much like ours, is populated with family ownership, and burdened by governmental compliance issues and labour scarcity. She was not born an executive, and I often wonder if sending flowers, in addition to just being plain fun, made others stop and look. At minimum, they saw a competent, cheerful, productive person that had a stable, loving and supportive home life. In these days, that’s a skill set companies need.

To top off the list of benefits, guys, if you manage to forget Valentine’s Day or your anniversary, you’re covered. From my perspective, any husband that misses this trick is losing.


So the world remains in conflict. Wisconsin teachers are losing their free-speech rights for wishing death to others for their free-speech rights. The U.S. Democrats are impeaching for what they think they heard him say, or somebody else did, and they are death on people that think they heard otherwise. And so it goes.

Friday is Valentine’s Day. He was a saint, and not for chocolates, kisses or flowers. The rest of us won’t make sainthood, least of all me. But give the flowers idea some thought. It’s worth the risk.

  • Some very good points Kerry. And, sorry, but I did read past the point you told me to stop. (You had to know I would.)

    I think it would be a big help to all of us if folk would stop hiding behind the anonymity of social media and went back to just being – nice. Saves a lot of useless grief.