URLs du Jour

2019-11-01

It's November, but that doesn't stop me from sharing this belated Halloween-referencing cartoon from Michael Ramirez:

[Trick or Treat]

The reclining nude painting behind the bar is an additional bit of genius.

  • I continue to be bugged by Richard Stengel's WaPo op-ed backing "hate speech" censorship. Do we need one? Walter Olson, writing at Cato says: No, America Does Not "Need a Hate Speech Law".

    Honestly, could Stengel's argument be any weaker? "Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. ... it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another."

    If the prospect of violence by offended groups is what causes us to censor, we are well on the way toward closing down speech at the whim of whichever mobs, here or abroad, decide to be violent. Perhaps the position the sophisticated Arab diplomats urged on him was not the last word in sophistication. And while Stengel might be expecting that persons much like himself will be in charge of defining "hate," that is not how it always works.

    "Hate speech" will be defined as "the speech hated by people in power". That will not work well.


  • Salesforce CEO made a small splash a few weeks mack with his hubristic call for a "New Capitalism". Which looks a lot like socialism. So my ears pricked up a bit at this Slashdot story: Salesforce Transit Center: San Fransisco's $2.2 Billion Cracks.

    Built at a cost of $2.2 billion, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park formed the cornerstone of the Bay Area's ambitious regional transportation plan: a vast, clean, efficient web of trains, buses, and streetcars, running through a hub acclaimed as the Grand Central Station of the West. Naming this structure -- the embodiment of a transformative idea -- could yield marketing gold for Salesforce. It also could make [Marc Benioff, founder and co-CEO of Salesforce] a household name on the level of Bezos, Gates, or Zuckerberg. Benioff took the gamble in 2017, pledging $110 million over 25 years, with $9.1 million up front and the rest committed to supporting operations when the trains started running. For now, the train box sat vacant on the bottom level, awaiting a 1.3-mile tunnel connection. [...] As he took the stage on his birthday at the Moscone Center, Marc Benioff must have been confident his gamble on naming rights had paid off. He couldn't imagine that at that moment, less than a mile away, the ambassadors trained to welcome the public to the STC were now frantically waving commuters away. Rather than Grand Central Station or the High Line, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park suddenly resembled the Titanic.

    Earlier that day, workers installing panels in the STC's ceiling beneath the rooftop park uncovered a jagged crack in a steel beam supporting the park and bus deck. "Out of an abundance of caution," officials said, they closed the transit center, rerouting buses to a temporary terminal. Inspectors were summoned. They found a similar fracture in a second beam. Structural steel is exceptionally strong, but given certain conditions -- low temperatures, defects incurred during fabrication, heavy-load stress -- it remains vulnerable to cracking. Two types of cracks occur in steel: ductile fractures, which occur after the steel has yielded and deformed, and brittle fractures, which generally happen before the steel yields. Ductile fractures develop over time, as the steel stretches during use, explains Michael Engelhardt, Ph.D., a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the peer-review committee overseeing the STC's response to the cracked-beam crisis. The cracks discovered beneath the rooftop park were classic brittle fractures. The tapered 4-inch-thick steel beams -- 2.5 feet wide and 60 feet long, with a horizontal flange on the bottom -- undergirded the 5.4-acre park on the building's fourth level, and buttressed the roof of the bus deck on the second level. By themselves, the cracks formed a point of weakness with potentially hazardous consequences. But they also suggested the possibility of a larger crisis. If two brittle fractures had appeared in the building's 23,000 tons of structural steel, couldn't there be others?

    A shining symbol of the "New Capitalism" decrepitude and incompetence, brought to you by sweetheart cronyism.


  • The other big rich-guy news is Twitter's Jack Dorsey announcing the site's ban on political ads. It's predictably tendentious, aimed at one-upping Facebook/Zuck. NR's Daniel Tenreiro asks an obvious question: Pray Tell, Mr. Dorsey, What Is ‘Political’?.

    The policy will not apply to voter-registration drives. Will it apply to Black Lives Matter or Greenpeace? Will Twitter bar Planned Parenthood from advertising its abortion services? How will Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has called for social media companies to censor political ads, react to the news that the National LGBTQ Task Force can no longer sponsor outreach to at-risk transgender youth?

    It also apparently made an exception for things like this:

    But as a laissez-faire kind of guy, I believe it's Dorsey's call to make. Just wish he wasn't so self-righteous about it.


  • Nick Gillespie at Reason also has comments on Dorsey's policy: ‘We Can Fact Check Your Ass,’ but Not When It Comes to Political Ads.

    The differing approaches to the issue of paid speech provide a good opportunity to discuss not just how political communications work in a post-broadcast world but also how the internet is falling short of its promise to radically alter the way people communicate and connect. There are many reasons to criticize Twitter's decision (which, as a private platform, it has every right to make), but the ultimate reason is this: It represents a near-complete lack of faith in users to function as critical consumers of information.

    I'm dubious about the power of online advertising generally. It's more of an irritation than anything. Political ads are even more irritating.

    Dorsey's business model (however) depends on pretending advertising works great! Because that's how he makes his money.


  • Don Boudreaux has re-evaluated Marx. And the results are not pretty:

    I am now again reading many of Marx’s ‘scientific’ economics writings (in preparation for a conference that I’ll attend next week). What a crock! Marx’s ramblings are far more ridiculous and difficult to penetrate than I’d recalled.

    I’m astonished that Marx’s lumbering, thick, repetitive, and entirely inelegant prose somehow won for him any popularity beyond a tiny handful of crazed and semi-literate followers. Reading Marx is a figurative form of grinding red-hot embers into one’s eyes and trying to make sense, through the pain, of the resulting confused and distorted scene.

    Time for me to dig out a P. J. O'Rourke quote from Modern Manners [1983]:

    Another distinctive quality of manners is that they have nothing to do with what you do, only how you do it. For example, Karl Marx was always polite in the British Museum. He was courteous to the staff, never read with his hat on, and didn't make lip farts when he came across passages in Hegel with which he disagreed. Despite the fact that his political exhortations have caused the deaths of millions, he is today more revered than not. On the other hand, John W. Hinckley, Jr., was only rude once, to a retired Hollywood movie actor, and Hinckley will be in a mental institution for the rest of his life.

    [That last bit turned out to be less than prescient.]