URLs du Jour

2021-01-06

[Amazon Link]

  • The headline on Virginia Postrel's Bloomberg column, "Micromanagement Is Plaguing the Vaccine Rollout", might as well have the obvious addon: "… and is Killing People."

    For too many people, it’s a knee-jerk reaction: Blame the slow U.S. rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on too little central planning by the administration of President Donald Trump. Demand tighter control from the incoming administration of President Joe Biden. Limit the number of vaccination sites! Bring in the military! Put somebody in charge!

    But the problem with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines isn’t that no one is in charge. Far from the answer, tighter federal control would probably be a disaster. It would only amplify the problem.

    The tenets of statism:

    • If there's a problem, the solution is more central planning.
    • If the central planning doesn't work, it only means that we should have done more central planning.

    These tenets are not to be questioned!


  • Virginia goes on to specific examples, including the (very bad) example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and you should read the whole thing, of course. But if you'd like to drill down on New York's woes, also see Billy Binion at Reason: Andrew Cuomo’s Vaccine Distribution Rules Are a Threat to Public Health.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given hospitals a conundrum. Fail to use all of your COVID-19 vaccines within seven days of receipt? That'll be a $100,000 fine. Vaccinate someone out of the state-designated order? That'll be a $1 million fine.

    Damned if you let your vaccines expire, damned if you don't let your vaccines expire—by using them on anyone outside of the approved hierarchy.

    The state's distribution plan mandates that a slew of people receive the vaccine before the elderly, including health care workers, patient-facing employees at long-term care facilities, first responders, teachers, public health workers, grocery store workers, pharmacists, transit employees, those who uphold "critical infrastructure," and individuals with significant co-morbidities. Such a plan is common across the U.S., and it requires a robust logistical framework to execute properly.

    That hasn't been going so well.

    In my professional career, I never strove for a management position, so I was managed. A lot. But I was never really micromanaged. And—whew!—I was never micromanaged by a politician. And—thank my lucky stars—I was never micromanaged by a politician with delusions that legal threats and fines would make me do my job better.


  • Well, enough Covid, let's look at a perennial topic, as recounted by Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy: Former Time Warner CEO Calls for “Private Accountability for Hate Speech”. It's in response to a Fortune article: Now is not the time to repeal Section 230, but it should be soon. Key quote from that article:

    It is completely possible to require private accountability for hate speech and inciting violence without curtailing the First Amendment. No constitutional rights are limitless—and the repeal of Section 230 has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

    Eugene takes the Fortune writers to school:

    The bulk of the article is indeed about repealing or modifying § 230, and there are perfectly plausible arguments to be had around that. Should Internet platforms be potentially liable for defamatory material posted on them, the way newspapers are potentially liable for defamation in letters to the editor or in advertisements? Should they be liable just on a notice-and-takedown basis, much as bookstores and libraries are (i.e., they would be liable if they keep material up once they're on notice that it's allegedly defamatory)? Or should they be entirely immune, the way they are now, and the way telephone companies have long been? (See this post for more on these three options.) I think that on balance the current § 230 regime is the least bad of the alternatives, but there are reasonable arguments for at least a notice-and-takedown position (and reasonable counterarguments).

    But that debate is about platform liability for speech that fits within a First Amendment exception, such as libel, or one of a few other categories (such as solicitation of crime, true threats of crime, and the like). There is no First Amendment exception for hate speech. The government can't make people legally "accountab[le] for hate speech"—whether by imposing liability on them for their own speech, or for third parties' speech—any more than it can make people legally accountable for "[dis]respectful" speech or unpatriotic speech or rude speech or blasphemous speech or the like.

    And this is so, of course, regardless of § 230. Section 230 doesn't keep posters from being sued or prosecuted for their own speech; but the First Amendment protects them from being held "accountab[le]" for their own "hate speech." Likewise, with or without § 230, platforms can't be held accountable for their users' "hate speech" (whatever that means), either. If what's driving the calls to repeal or modify § 230 is a broader agenda to suppress people's expression of supposedly "hate[ful]" ideas, that is all the more reason to resist such calls.

    It's gonna be a bumpy couple of years. At least a couple.


  • In his Tuesday column, Kevin D. Williamson looks at Trump’s Final Insult. Based on the adage that "liars think everybody lies, that cheaters think everybody cheats, that thieves think everybody else steals, etc."

    And so it is no great surprise to find President Donald Trump and cronies complaining about election fraud even as President Donald Trump and his cronies were recorded in a telephone call attempting to suborn election fraud, threatening the Georgia secretary of state — a Republican, note — with criminal prosecution unless he should “find,” discovering by some black art, enough votes to swing the state’s election Trump’s way.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    It will be interesting to see who floats to the top of the GOP cesspool. Sorry for the metaphor, but that's the one that's dominating my brain right now.


  • I don't get the chance to say this very often: There's a good article from Wired! A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?.

    On March 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush.

    Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that, they believed, reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production. 

    Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

    Sale and Kelly made a $1000 bet on whether Sale was correct about his "certainty that civilization will collapse." And they agreed on a deadline: the far-flung future of 2020.

    Well, here we are.

    It's a long article, and (because civilization has not collapsed, at least not as I'm typing this) you can read the whole thing. But the bottom line is that Kirkpatrick Sale is welshing on the bet. Article's final paragraph:

    Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short. Sale says he is seeking some sort of appellate relief, if only by public opinion, when in fact the rules included no such reconsideration. Kelly is infuriated. “This was a gentleman’s bet, and he can only be classified as a cad,” he says. Kelly warns Sale that history will recall him as a man who doesn’t honor his word. But Sale doesn’t believe that there will be a history. For Kirkpatrick Sale, collapse is now, and all bets are off.

    Literally, I guess.

    Wired wasn't always so keen on the Kelly-Sale bet or on Kelly's optimism. See this article.


  • Writing at his Substack site, Matt Taibbi provides us with a compilation: The Wokest News Stories of 2020. There's a lot, and if you're like me you'll have mixed emotions. Specifically "amusement" and "horror". Example:

    8. The Conversation, August 16: “How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism.”

    The unwritten rule during the summer of historic anti-police protests was that commercial media analyses about racism had to invoke George Floyd by the third paragraph. This Conversation article took a bit longer, but that was only because the thesis was more ambitious, tying the killings of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, respectively, to Predator and Alien. The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).

    Hollywood obviously does play on racialized horror tropes, and though it also makes outstanding monsters out of unmarried white women (Fatal Attraction), naked German dudes (The Terminator), models (Species), Tony Shalhoub, and pretty much anyone or anything else they can think of, it does raise questions that the supposed big joke in Ghostbusters was that civilization could be threatened by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Furious dissections of film and TV content were increasingly common:

    Maybe 2021 will be even funnier. Or even scarier.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, it was a nice try, I suppose. In the sense that one of these coldly-calculated sequels to fondly-remembered movies is a "nice try" to shake some cash out of movie-fan wallets.

The original movies were in 1989 and 1991. Let's see, math… yes, thirty years ago. I watched them both. They were kind of amusing fluff. But this movie relies on me remembering plot details of three-decade-old fluff in order to make sense out of what's happening here.

Anyway: Bill and Ted are older, still married to the medieval princesses they grabbed in the first movie. They each have a daughter, who echo their fathers' blissful cluelessness. Unfortunately, they've failed as a rock band, and (more importantly) failed to fulfill their promised destiny of writing and performing a song that will bring the world together in harmony. And time's running out for that: they're notified that they have a little over an hour to accomplish the feat, else the universe will be destroyed.

It's amazing how little I cared about the universe being destroyed.

The movie gets one star, thanks to this bit of trivia

When dialing infinity Ted speaks the number sequences "2718" (pause) "1828". The natural base of logarithms "e" is 2.718281828...

I like math jokes. Too bad there weren't more of them.

[2021-01-07 update: I listened to this week's Reason interview on this morning's dog walk. Nick Gillespie interviewed Alex Winter, who plays Bill. Or maybe Ted. I forget. But anyway: Alex Winter is nothing like his character: he's intelligent, articulate, well-read. Which means he's a great actor, becuase you'd never get that from the Bill & Ted movies.]


Last Modified 2021-01-07 10:34 AM EST