URLs du Jour

2018-08-08

[Amazon Link]

  • For those keeping score: Proverbs 10:21 is the fourth consecutive Proverb that refers to some mouth part.

    21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
        but fools die for lack of sense.

    Is it me, or do you agree there's something a little weird about that?

    But anyway, our Amazon Product du Jour is all about fools dying for lack of sense. It's one of a series; there's also a website, if you enjoy that type of thing.


  • You might think that Alex Jones is an unhinged loon. You'd be right. But should he be kicked off various media platforms? Well, maybe. But it's important that such kicking, should it occur, be done for well-defined objective reasons. Writing in the prestigious New York Times, David French explains A Better Way to Ban Alex Jones.

    So on Monday, when Apple, Facebook and YouTube acted — in seemingly coordinated fashion — to remove the vast bulk of Mr. Jones’s content from their sites, there’s no cause for worry, right? After all, this was an act of necessary public hygiene. A terrible human being who has no regard for truth or decency is finally getting what he deserves.

    Would that it were that simple.

    There are reasons to be deeply concerned that the tech companies banned Alex Jones. In short, the problem isn’t exactly what they did, it’s why they did it.

    Rather than applying objective standards that resonate with American law and American traditions of respect for free speech and the marketplace of ideas, the companies applied subjective standards that are subject to considerable abuse. Apple said it “does not tolerate hate speech.” Facebook accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “glorifying violence” or using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “hate speech and harassment.”

    These policies sound good on first reading, but they are extraordinarily vague. We live in times when the slightest deviation from the latest and ever-changing social justice style guide is deemed bigoted and, yes, “dehumanizing.” We live in a world where the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly respected civil-rights organization, abuses its past trust to label a host of mainstream organizations (including my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom) and individuals as “hate groups,” “white nationalists” or “anti-Muslim extremists,” based sometimes on disagreements about theology or sexual morality or sometimes on outright misreadings and misrepresentations of an individual’s beliefs and views.

    David's idea: use the pretty well-defined legal standards of libel and slander as banning criteria instead of the legally nebulous "hate speech". It's a good idea. But it's so much harder than simply invoking the magic "hate speech" spell. So I assume this idea will go nowhere.


  • At Reason Jacob Sullum notes a different threat to free expression when Gun Control Becomes Speech Control.

    In a recent editorial demanding censorship of legal, unclassified information about firearms, The Washington Post mentioned freedom of speech in passing but immediately dismissed its relevance.

    That's par for the course among gun controllers terrified by the thought of Americans using 3D printers or computerized milling machines to make firearms with the help of software provided by Defense Distributed. People who are convinced that the Austin, Texas, company's computer code will "put carnage a click away" (as the Post put it) tend to overlook the fact that they have moved from regulating guns to regulating speech.

    Last week, when a federal judge in Seattle told Defense Distributed to stop uploading its files, his seven-page temporary restraining order did not address the First Amendment implications at all. But Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson, whom The New York Times tellingly describes as a "professed gun-rights and free-speech advocate," has emphasized the First Amendment angle from the beginning of his legal battle with the State Department over its attempt to suppress gun design files as unapproved munition exports.

    This is (indeed) a fast-breaking story. I've seen reports that Facebook is disallowing people from posting the URL to CodeIsFreeSpeech.com (claiming, falsely, that it's spam). Although there seens to be a "Code is Free Speech" Facebook page, easily accessible.

    This could all change by the time you read this. For better or worse. Probably both.


  • James Freeman uses his "Best of the Web" feature at the online (and maybe paywalled) WSJ to note: We’ll Never Know How Bad the Federal Reserve Is

    Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) still hasn’t persuaded his colleagues to audit the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy. Perhaps lawmakers could simply agree that the Fed should stop destroying documents.

    Borrowed Time,” a history of Citigroup publishing today and co-authored by your humble correspondent and Vern McKinley, finds that the bank was in many ways healthier and more stable during the century when it was independent than during the roughly 100 years it has been supported by the federal government. But the government has been working hard to prevent such stories from being told.

    Take the early 1990s, when Citi ran into trouble with bad bets on U.S. commercial real estate. To understand exactly what happened, it would be useful to go back and look at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s examination reports from 1991 and 1992. Bank examiners normally put particularly juicy details about what they find in a confidential section that is not shared with the bank, and today this might represent a gold mine for financial historians. Such reports are available going back all the way to the 1860s, and the record lasts into the 1930s. But oddly these examination reports cannot be accessed for later periods due to the Federal Records Act of 1950.

    James notes that it's easier for researchers to examine bank records from 1890 than from 1990. It's enough to make you think they've got something to hide.


  • Helen Raleigh writes at the Federalist about the company whose motto used to be … guess what? Google Refuses To Assist U.S. Military, Bends Over For China’s Communist Censors.

    Should Google change its famous motto “Don’t be evil” to something like “Don’t be evil when it’s convenient, but it’s okay to be evil when it means new markets and more profit?” The question is pertinent, because The Intercept has reported that Google plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China in the next six to eight months, pending the approval of Chinese regulators.

    China already has one of the world’s worst records on internet freedom. The Chinese government has built a large army of censors to scrub the internet to their liking in real time. Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has further tightened its control over its people’s right to free expression. Chinese censors cast a very wide net of control. Whether it’s The Wall Street Journal site or the image of Winnie the Pooh, whether it’s a serious topic or something funny — anything the government doesn’t like, or any phrase or images even remotely associated to anything the government doesn’t like, is either banned, blocked or simply disappears.

    I'm no fan of government meddling in business, but I wouldn't shed too many tears if the US decided to follow the EU lead and decide that Google owed it a few billion. Or more than a few billion.


  • Jim I. Geraghty, at NR, quotes Elizabeth Warren: Our Justice System Is ‘Racist, All the Way, Front to Back.’.

    “Racist all the way, front to back,” is a really surprising and troubling thing to hear about a system that was, until 18 months ago, effectively headed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and before her, Eric Holder, appointed and accountable to the nation’s first African-American president. A system that has 214 African-American federal judges, 125 of Latino or Hispanic heritage, 41 Asian-Americans, and three Native Americans. A system that has at least 400 black prosecutors (although far too few elected ones).  A system where 27 percent of the officers and police personnel are members of minority groups, as of 2013, the most recent year data are available. Do all of these people feel like they are cogs in the “racist all the way, front to back” machine?

    Jim also makes a pretty good comment: "It’s not like Elizabeth Warren ever said or did something cynical about race to get ahead, right?"


  • At NH Journal, Michael Graham chronicles the latest kerfuffle in the race to replace my Congresscritter/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter: Maura Sullivan Makes “State’s Rights” Case for Confederate Monuments.

    The former Obama administration official–and Virginia resident– who was reportedly considered a potential congressional candidate in the Old Dominion before settling in New Hampshire a year ago, gave a surprising answer to a question about monuments and memorials to the Confederacy: She staked out the “state’s rights” position.

    Essentially, that's: let the states and communities that have those monuments decide what to do with them.

    Maura is the Emily's List-approved candidate, guaranteeing her a firehouse of cash from around the nation. Her fundraising dwarfs that of all other candidates, and (as I type) opensecrets.org reports that 96.6% of it is coming from outside NH.

    Whoa, where was I? Unsurprisingly, desperate Democrats running against Maura "seized on" her Confederate comment. Michael quotes one Terence O’Rourke, another Toothache candidate:

    Maura Sullivan sounds like every Neo-Nazi and Southern Revivalist I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. This is the same coded language I dealt with as a Counter-Terrorism Prosecutor. As a party, we Democrats can not support her as our candidate.

    This almost makes me feel sorry for Maura. Almost.