URLs du Jour

2021-05-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Pretty Much Everyone Except Me. And also Robby Soave, who says Both the Left and the Right Are Exaggerating the Threat Posed by Facebook.

    Charged with determining whether Facebook erred in suspending former President Trump following the January 6 Capitol riots, the Facebook Oversight Board—which exists solely for the purpose of taking difficult content moderation decisions out of Mark Zuckerberg's hands—essentially shrugged and returned the decision to Facebook. The board did rule, however, that the indefinite suspension was inconsistent with the the company's policies, and Facebook should revisit the matter in the next six months.

    A conceivable outcome of this ruling is that Facebook will eventually decide, sometime later this year, that it has little choice but to un-ban Trump. Indeed, the board criticized Facebook for "applying a vague, standardless penalty." One might have expected tech-skeptical conservatives to be somewhat pleased with this ruling, since it was ultimately a rebuke of Facebook, and one that hints at the potential return of Trump.

    Instead, the right had a meltdown.

    And of course, the lefties hate Facebook because it's big and successful.

    Neither side has a coherent description of how things will be better after they destroy Facebook.


  • But Maybe Not Everyone On The Right. The NR editors opine on The Ridiculous Facebook Affair.

    Facebook’s “oversight board” has upheld the ban that the service imposed on President Trump in January of this year, while ordering the company to reconsider whether it should be made permanent. Facebook has six months to respond to the instructions. Evidently, having tried to hand responsibility for his toughest decisions over to a faceless panel, Mark Zuckerberg now finds himself back where he began.

    Every single part of this story is ridiculous. It is ridiculous that Facebook not only has an “oversight board,” but that it expects its users to consider it a meaningful source of due process, rather than as yet another way for the company to make up the rules as it goes along. It is ridiculous that, having concluded that Facebook’s initial decision lacked justification, that “oversight board” decided to uphold it anyway, and then invited Facebook to come up with a way of making it permanent. It is ridiculous that, in response to this decision, President Trump suggested that the core takeaway is that “Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth,” rather than acknowledging that he has been constantly lying since he narrowly lost his re-election campaign last year, and that his lies risked material damage to our system of government. It is ridiculous that, in part to appease Trump’s rage, a host of conservatives have come to agree that private companies ought to have strict “oversight boards,” and that those boards ought in fact to be run by the federal government. It is ridiculous that Republican politicians such as Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, both of whom have been members of the “freedom caucus,” are openly musing about damaging corporations such as Facebook that happen to annoy them. And it is ridiculous that, in response to such musings, elements of the government-happy American Left have decided to talk like Milton Friedman about the sanctity of private business. This affair has brought the best out of nobody.

    I really should log onto "Rollinsford NH Happenings" on Facebook to see if that kitty ever came home. Maybe later.


  • No. See, I Just Willed Myself To Type That. But you might want to read the latest confirmation of Betteridge's law of headlines yourself: Is free will an illusion? After noting that one anti-free will philosopher received death threats:

    The difficulty in explaining the enigma of free will to those unfamiliar with the subject isn’t that it’s complex or obscure. It’s that the experience of possessing free will – the feeling that we are the authors of our choices – is so utterly basic to everyone’s existence that it can be hard to get enough mental distance to see what’s going on. Suppose you find yourself feeling moderately hungry one afternoon, so you walk to the fruit bowl in your kitchen, where you see one apple and one banana. As it happens, you choose the banana. But it seems absolutely obvious that you were free to choose the apple – or neither, or both – instead. That’s free will: were you to rewind the tape of world history, to the instant just before you made your decision, with everything in the universe exactly the same, you’d have been able to make a different one.

    Nothing could be more self-evident. And yet according to a growing chorus of philosophers and scientists, who have a variety of different reasons for their view, it also can’t possibly be the case. “This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics,” says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. Leading psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom agree, as apparently did the late Stephen Hawking, along with numerous prominent neuroscientists, including VS Ramachandran, who called free will “an inherently flawed and incoherent concept” in his endorsement of Sam Harris’s bestselling 2012 book Free Will, which also makes that argument. According to the public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari, free will is an anachronistic myth – useful in the past, perhaps, as a way of motivating people to fight against tyrants or oppressive ideologies, but rendered obsolete by the power of modern data science to know us better than we know ourselves, and thus to predict and manipulate our choices.

    If you find yourself to be persuaded by the anti-free will folks quoted in the article, fine. But maybe you should be a little uncomfortable with that: because they're arguing that you really had no choice other than to be persuaded. The screen pixels hit your retinas, sent just the right sequence of electrons across your nervous system, boing, boing, boing. Causing you to say: "I don't believe in free will."

    I'm OK with you saying that. I'm just not sure you should be.

    Also: I've never observed an anti-free will advocate allow their disbelief to make them act any differently from pro-free will believers. They still make decisions, both important and trivial. They guide their kids (I assume) toward good behavior, kind of implying that the kids have a choice.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Hope Not. But Maybe. Abigail Shrier wonders: Has Censorship Become Our Baseline Expectation?.

    Want proof that our norms are shifting? Look no further than our headlines: “Amazon won’t stop selling book questioning transgender youth” noted a surprised New York Daily News on Tuesday. “Amazon overrules employees’ calls to stop selling book questioning mainstream treatment for transgender youth,” declared The Seattle Times. “Amazon Refuses to Stop Selling Anti-Trans Book,” reported an apparently disappointed Edge Media. And yesterday’s NBCNews.com: “Amazon will not remove book advocates say endangers transgender youth.

    For every one of these publications, the baseline assumption is censorship. It is Amazon that “won’t stop selling,” or “overrules employees” or “refuses to stop selling” or “will not remove”—Amazon whose actions strike today’s journalists as significant and surprising.  Amazon the intransigent bookseller, stubbornly insisting on continuing to sell books. Standing up to the calls for censorship is now what surprises us. The numberless calls for book banning no longer do.

    Abigail is involved because it's her book the folks want Amazon to virtually burn. And, at least for now, Amazon link at your right. (As I type: "#1 Best Seller in LGBTQ+ Demographic Studies". Which must be driving the wannabe censors crazy.)

    I have no good explanation for Amazon's disparate treatment of Ryan T. Anderson's When Harry Became Sally. I don't think Amazon does either. But I'm (slightly) encouraged by their refusal to slide any further down that slippery slope.


  • Dubious But Not Unusual. Heather Mac Donald describes Biden’s Dubious Pick for Energy Research.

    President Joe Biden has now taken the push for “diversity” in STEM to a new level. His candidate to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the largest funder of the physical sciences in the U.S., is a soil geologist at the University of California, Merced. She has no background in physics, the science of energy, or the energy sector. She has never held a position as a scientific administrator. The typical head of DOE’s Office of Science in the past has had managerial authority in the nation’s major physics labs and has been a physicist himself, Science reports. The new nominee’s only managerial experience consists of serving since 2020 as an interim associate dean of UC Merced’s graduate division.

    Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is, however, a black female who has won “accolades for her work to promote diversity in science,” as Science puts it. Berhe would be the first black woman to head the $7 billion office, and that is reason enough, according to the diversity mantra, why she should oversee X-ray synchrotrons, the development of nuclear weapons, and ongoing research on nuclear fusion. Her nomination requires Senate confirmation; if Berhe will not commit to hiring and grantmaking on the basis of scientific expertise alone, irrespective of race and sex, senators should vote her appointment down.

    On her Wikipedia page, I was amused by the buzzword-heavy title of one of her papers: "Politicizing Indiscriminate Terror: Imagining an Inclusive Framework for the Anti-Landmines Movement".


Last Modified 2021-06-03 9:17 AM EST