URLs du Jour

2021-05-08

[Amazon Link]

  • Pessimism Is Warranted. A print-Reason article out from behind the paywall will be kind of a downer for many readers. Eric Boehm says The Era of Small Government Is Over.

    It was a full quarter-century ago when President Bill Clinton delivered one of the few quotable State of the Union addresses in American history.

    "The era of big government is over," he proclaimed on January 23, 1996. It was more of a political statement than a policy goal—indeed, Clinton proceeded to spend the next hour outlining a long list of things the federal government ought to do. But it wasn't just a bumper sticker catchphrase. "We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there's not a program for every problem," he explained. "And we have to give the American people [a government] that lives within its means."

    That succinct conception of limited government likely would, if expressed today, make any Democrat effectively unelectable—at least on the national stage. For that matter, the idea that Americans would be able to help themselves best if government got out of the way would place Clinton, circa 1996, outside the emerging mainstream consensus of today's Republican Party. Acknowledging the limits of government power to improve people's lives and worrying about the cost of a large and growing government is, it seems, so last century.

    I hope the lesson will be learned, eventually. I also hope the lesson won't be too painful, but I think the probability of that is getting pretty small.


  • Also Warranted: Skepticism. Science writer Nicholas Wade casts doubt on the Official Story about the Origin of Covid. He presents the two "plausible" theories: the official "Wuhan wet market" story, and the "Wuhan research lab leak" theory.

    Wade presents a lot of information about the molecular biology of viruses. Check it out. Here's the bit that jumped out at me,

    From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.

    “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.

    Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: they were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.

    It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Dr. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Dr. Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the Lancet’s readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”

    Wade notes that there's "no direct evidence" for either scenario. So it's a question of which is a better fit to the available facts. The lab leak looks pretty good on that score.


  • Also Warranted: Disbelief Of WIRED. And probably every other publication in the Condé Nast stable. TechDirt has a reliably left tilt, but Cathy Gellis doesn't let that stop her from zapping WIRED's recent misrepresentation of her views. Because Thanks To Section 230, I Can Correct Wired's Portrayal Of My Section 230 Advocacy.

    I always thought it would be a great honor to be referenced in the hallowed pages of WIRED magazine. Like Mike, I've been reading it since its beginning, as a then student studying information technology and watching the Internet take hold in the world.

    This week it finally happened, and ugh... My work was referenced in support of a terrible take on Section 230, which not only argued that Section 230 should be repealed (something that I spend a great deal of personal and professional energy trying to push back against) but masqueraded as a factual explanation of how there was no possible reasonable defense of the law and that therefore all its defenders (including me) are, essentially, pulling a fast one on the public by insisting it is important to hold onto. After all, as the title says, "Everything you've heard about Section 230 is wrong," including, it would seem, everything we've been saying about it all along.

    Such an assertion is, of course, ridiculous. But this isn't the first bad Section 230 take and unfortunately is unlikely to be the last, so if that were all it was it might be much easier to simply let it fade into history. But that wasn't all it was, because the piece didn't just make that general statement; it used my own work to do it, and in the most disingenuous way.

    I subscribe to print-WIRED, but I'm on the bubble as far as renewal goes. Probably due to Covid, they've been publishing a lot of navel-gazing articles of late. (I just plowed through "I Called Off My Wedding. The Internet Will Never Forget", a tragic tale of how the Internet is still sending Lauren reminders of her long-cancelled wedding. Eesh, talk about First World Problems.)


  • [Amazon Link]
    Facebook Gives Us Another Reason Why We Won't Be Sad If It's Destroyed. The Wall Street Journal committed the grievous sin of reviewing a book. (Link at right.) The results were Orwellian: Facebook’s Book-Banning Blueprint.

    Amazon this year started its foray into politicized book-banning, pulling a three-year-old book on transgender policy by a conservative think-tanker from its web store. Facebook doesn’t sell books, but it can suppress their distribution when they conflict with a political agenda. The social-media giant now appears to be throttling a Wall Street Journal review of a book on climate science by physicist Steven Koonin, the former top scientist at the Obama Energy Department and provost of the California Institute of Technology.

    Facebook uses so-called fact-checkers to tell it which news articles to suppress. The project has gone far beyond curbing viral hoaxes or dangerous misinformation and aims to limit scientific debate. In March Facebook flagged a Journal op-ed by Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary on the pace at which Americans would develop herd immunity to Covid-19.

    The company now targets the Journal’s book review based on a gazillion-word post on a site called Climate Feedback with the headline, “Wall Street Journal article repeats multiple incorrect and misleading claims made in Steven Koonin’s new book ‘Unsettled.’”

    Amazon hasn't yanked the book yet, so click and buy while you can. (I get a cut.)


  • A Heads-Up For Us (Relative) Youngsters. George F. Will provides (I hope) a sneak preview, spoilers galore: What turning 80 teaches me.

    As Damon Runyon said, “All of life is 6 to 5 against.” So, it is a momentous social achievement that those who turn 80 this month — they are only 18 months older than the president, who is only eight months older than Mick Jagger — must wait five more years to get the satisfaction of joining a decreasingly exclusive club: By percentage, this nation’s most rapidly growing age cohort consists of those 85 and older.

    To be 80 years old in this republic is to have lived through almost exactly one-third of its life. And to have seen so many ephemeral excitements come and go that one knows how few events are memorable beyond their day. (Try to remember the things that had you in a lather during, say, the George H.W. Bush administration.) This makes an American 80-year-old’s finishing sprint especially fun, because it can be focused on this fact: To live a long life braided with the life of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to an imperishable proposition is simply delightful.

    Not that it matters, but it was nice hearing the Red Sox NESN broadcast team talking about their memories of Willie Mays, who turned 90 the day before yesterday. Say Hey!


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