URLs du Jour

2020-11-19

  • At the WSJ, James P. Freeman has a longer memory than I do, and I thank him: About Those Trump Vaccine Predictions.

    Back in August, Jane C. Timm and Jane Weaver of NBC News reported on the President’s Republican convention speech:

    Fact check: No evidence for Trump’s COVID-19 vaccine claim

    “In recent months, our nation, and the entire planet, has been struck by a new and powerful invisible enemy. Like those brave Americans before us, we are meeting this challenge. We are delivering lifesaving therapies, and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner!” Trump claimed on Thursday night.

    This is largely false... The president boasts of lifesaving therapies, but critics argue there isn’t enough evidence to back up this claim... There is also no evidence that an effective vaccine will be delivered by the end of the year.

    And, gosh. Trump turned out to be more accurate than the "fact checkers".

    I know: that almost never happens. And certainly Trump made a lot of claims about the pandemic that were hot garbage.

    But maybe the media should tone down its mania for "fact checking". At least: if you're checking a prediction, maybe wait until it definitely fails to pan out.


  • Paul Ford provides fodder for our "Stupid Wired Story" category: Love the USPS? Join the Infrastructure Appreciation Society!.

    Oh, so there's a pandemic and suddenly you all want to protect the Post Office that brings you medicine and socks? Suddenly you're America's number one Census fan and think public health is really cool? Well, welcome to the Infrastructure Appreciation Society. Seriously, my God, welcome! I cannot tell you how happy I am you're here. Membership has been falling for decades. Please visit our website.

    One of the oddest outcomes of our long global disaster has been an emergent appreciation for big, shared, legacy institutions and the infrastructure they support. I see it on Twitter, I hear it in conversations, I read it in the news. People care about mail sorting. They want Stars and Stripes to keep publishing. They want people with medical degrees, not politicians, to run our pandemic response. I guess being indoors a lot while the world crumbles will make you more sensitive to the fact that you exist as a single human node within a lattice of overlapping networks.

    OK, so Ford's tongue is at least a little bit in his cheek. But what you'll notice under all the semi-cleverness is the asymmetric treatment of government and non-governmental "institutions and the infrastructures they support". The former are lionized and cheered. The latter are mostly ignored.

    You won't see a "Free Market Appreciation Society" being cheered by Wired any time soon.

    One exception: Ford declares himself a fan of, among other things, "AT&T from 1920 to '84". But is that really an exception? During that era, AT&T was (more or less) a government-granted monopoly.


  • But also in Wired is an actually half-decent article: The Senate's Section 230 Discourse Somehow Keeps Getting Dumber.

    At the risk of imposing more coherence than there really was, the main line of attack on Section 230 from Senate Republicans today was that Twitter and Facebook are no longer mere neutral platforms, but rather act as publishers, making editorial decisions about what content to allow and when to add their own content. The idea is that the law is unfairly giving platforms extra protections that ordinary publishers and news organizations don’t get. In one illustrative exchange, Senator Ted Cruz badgered Dorsey about Twitter’s decision to add labels pushing back against claims of voter fraud. “You’re a publisher when you’re doing that,” he barked. “You’re entitled to take a policy position, but you don’t get to pretend you’re not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result.”

    Cruz is simply mischaracterizing how Section 230 works. The law protects any interactive website from being sued over content posted by users, whether it’s Facebook posts or comments at the bottom of a Washington Post article. It doesn’t matter whether the company is a “publisher” or not. The reason Twitter can get away with labeling a tweet false is not Section 230; it’s the fact that even absent the law, such an action would not raise any sort of legal liability. If it did, it would be impossible to run any kind of news organization: The essence of publishing is deciding what’s true and what’s false, what is and isn’t fit to print. These judgments would be impossible if they routinely put publishers into legal jeopardy. (This is why the First Amendment makes it very hard for public figures to sue for defamation. Even without Section 230, lawmakers would have very little recourse when it comes to mean tweets.)

    Cruz is a smart guy, and you would think he'd know better.

    Bonus for Wired: they at least mention the typical Democrat demand: that the platforms "prohibit even more content".


  • [Amazon Link]
    I may be pimping Kevin D. Williamson's new book even more than he is. (One more time: Amazon link at right.) If you haven't bought your copy yet (or copies, I'm sure it would freak out the folks on your Christmas list), National Review provides a Big White Ghetto Book Excerpt.

    Owsley County, Ky.—There are lots of diversions in the Big White Ghetto, the vast moribund matrix of Wonder Bread–hued Appalachian towns and villages stretching from northern Mississippi to southern New York. It’s a slowly dissipating nebula of poverty and misery with its heart in eastern Kentucky, the last redoubt of the Scots-Irish working class that picked up where African slave labor left off, mining and cropping and sawing the raw materials for a modern American economy that would soon run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation intended, as peasants. Thinking about the future here, with its bleak prospects, is not much fun at all. So instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, the healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, The Draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short; the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than a man in Fairfax County, Va. And they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.

    It's grim and colorful. Observation: Kevin talks some about his upbringing, and some of it makes J. D. Vance's (in Hillbilly Elegy) look like Chelsea Clinton's in comparison.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for an article by one John Stoehr at a site called Religion Dispatches, with the audacious title In Order to Move Forward We Must Believe the Unbelievable: Some Choose Death Over Democracy.

    Religion asks us to believe the unbelievable all the time, so I don't see what the big deal is there. But:

    I get why some people don’t get why 72 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed nearly a quarter of a million people in this country; it’s brought the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse; and the president is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. How could so many Americans say: “Yeah, I’m good with that?”

    I get why that’s hard to believe, but the thing we have to do, if we hope to move our country forward, is get over this disbelief. It’s time to believe millions favor or tolerate organic homegrown fascism. It’s time to believe millions voted against their material self-interests. It’s time to believe they will kill themselves before admitting a mistake. America is no more exceptional than any other nation. We can and will eat ourselves. I don’t mean to sound hopeless. I mean that we can’t solve the problem till we see it clearly.

    So Stoehr's not a fan of the folks Hillary called "a basket of deplorables". But she only put half of Trump's supporters in that class. Stoehr—what the hell not—puts 'em all in that basket.

    So much for Christian charity. It only goes so far.

    But what of LFOD? Ah, here it is, and it's a symptom:

    We have to rethink our political thinking, too. It’s often presumed Americans resist wearing face masks and other pandemic precautions due to the depth of their faith in individual liberty. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gave voice to this when she said recently, “My people are happy, and they’re happy, because they’re free.” Our heritage is rife with heroes choosing death over tyranny. “Live free or die,” for instance. See also: “Don’t tread on me.” But nowhere is there a hero choosing death over democracy.

    Stoehr isn't particularly coherent. But to be fair, it's tough to be coherent when you're full of spittle-flecked rage at 73 million of uour fellow countrymen for voting for fascism.