URLs du Jour

2021-08-21

  • Sure. Next question? Ben Carson takes to the Federalist to ask the musical question: Does The Definition Of 'Fascism' Apply To The Biden Administration?.

    Here is a challenge: Define fascism without reference to a historical event or proper noun.

    It’s harder than it seems. Most people associate fascism with European dictatorships of the 1920s and ’30s. That is with good reason: those were the first fascist regimes.

    The term itself originated in Italy to describe the political philosophy of Benito Mussolini, who borrowed from the Italian word fascio, literally meaning “bundle” (usually of rods or sticks). Mussolini used the term to mean a group of people who are stronger together than individually, such as how a bundle of sticks bound together is much more difficult to snap than any individual stick.

    While most fascist regimes had racial or nationalist elements, it was not racism or nationalism that defined them; there have been plenty of racist or nationalist governing structures that do not merit the label “fascism.” Rather, the necessary ingredient for fascism is the state’s total domination of all aspects of life, including economic life.

    Dr. Carson makes a pretty good summary of the concept. Our Getty Image du Jour is the good old Mercury Dime, minted in the USA with the fasces on the tailside. It was first minted in 1916, back when "progressives" like Woodrow Wilson thought the destiny of the country was “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

    The country switched to the Roosevelt dime in 1945, when that sort of thinking had public relations issues.


  • Much less deserving than cops, for example. Greg Lukianoff and Adam Goldstein advocate a policy that I've mentioned favorably in the past. (I might have stolen the idea from Greg.) Administrators who violate the 1st Amendment rights do not deserve protection of qualified immunity.

    Have you ever wondered why, despite strong First Amendment protections, students and professors still get punished for exercising their free speech on American campuses? The answer is the doctrine of qualified immunity, and it is time for courts to restrain that doctrine.

    Qualified immunity was invented to protect public employees from being unfairly sued for doing their job in good faith. It was intended to be applied in situations where a government employee such as a police officer has to make a split-second decision and couldn’t be expected to know they were violating the law when they acted. In a sense, qualified immunity is the name we’ve chosen for the grace we grant public officials for unintentionally wrong decisions that otherwise would merit discipline, termination or damages paid to victims of violations of constitutional rights.

    Greg and Adam underline that "split-second decision" factor. Obviously that's often a valid point in defense of QI for policemen. It's difficult to see how it applies to (say) university employees, who generally have plenty of time to ask themselves "Am I about to violate the civil rights of this faculty member or student?" And consult with lawyers if necessary.

    If they go ahead with their rights-violation, they shouldn't be immune from legal consequences.


  • If at first you don't succeed … Mike Masnick of Techdirt gets techdirty by reading the FTC's do-over: FTC Tries Tries Again With An Antitrust Case Against Facebook. He's not impressed. RTWT, but here's a bit I liked:

    I mean, this just feels totally arbitrary. They're not establishing the actual competitive market here. They're basically defining the market as "exactly what Facebook does, and only if someone else does all Facebook does." But that's not how competition works. Competition often looks like just one feature of an existing provider, and then leverages that to grow bigger and to expand. And the FTC complaint just doesn't deal with that at all. Indeed, if you look at the way Facebook has been responding to TikTok, the idea that it's not competitive is simply laughable. I can't imagine that Facebook execs are breathing easy about TikTok's success now that the FTC insists that it's a totally different market.

    It's kind of damning (but unfortunately unsurprising) when the Federal Trade Commission is weak on the concept of "competition".


  • Can you stand another FTC-bashing? If not, you'll want to skip Ryan Bourne's look at The FTC's Absurd Attempts At Defining Facebook's Product Market. Asking the relevant question: what is Facebook's actual business?

    The meaningful market (with prices!) that Facebook competes in is for advertising revenue. But even here, the FTC has been rather arbitrary in defining the relevant market. In order to claim Facebook is overwhelmingly dominant, the FTC says "social advertising" is distinct from "display advertising," "search advertising," or "offline advertising." How convenient.

    Our new trustbusters talk a lot about major companies manipulating markets. Under new leadership, the FTC are proving masters in manipulating market definitions.

    I hope the courts treat the FTC's argument with the scorn it deserves.

    (Read the whole thing, because Ryan uses the word "daft", one of my favorites.)


  • Also a Pun Salad favorite word: "scant". Liberty Unyielding quotes a Reuters story that may stick a sharp pin in the hot-air balloon of"insurrection" rhetoric. FBI finds 'scant evidence' 1/6 riot was planned for procedural disruption of Congress.

    The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials.

    Though federal officials have arrested more than 570 alleged participants, the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump, according to the sources, who have been either directly involved in or briefed regularly on the wide-ranging investigations.

    It was pretty obvious to most unbiased observers that the January 6 rioters would have nad problems organizing a backyard block party.

All Systems Red

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Back in May, Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward recommended Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells as her weekly recommendation on the magazine's podcast. It was the sixth entry in the author's "Murderbot Diaries" series.

I decided, sensibly enough, to start with book one. The Kindle version was (and, as I type, still is) cheap at Amazon. (It's relatively short, print version slightly over 150 pages, but I'm still counting it as a book.) Bottom line: it wasn't bad, but I wasn't sufficiently in love with it to adopt a new "Murderbot" reading project.

Here's the story, as far as I understood it: in the future, planets are examined for possible exploitation by survey teams under control of The Company. As this is a dangerous task, they are accompanied by "SecUnits", unholy cyborg-like melds of heavily-armed robot and human. The book is narrated by one of those, and he's dubbed himself "Murderbot", due to an unpleasant past incident that involved numerous human fatalities. He's self-hacked his operating system, evading the software updates the Company pushes down to him, and overriding his "governor module", which is supposed to prevent him from doing that multiple-homicide thing. He uses his cyber-freedom mostly to download and watch episodes of Sanctuary Moon, a future soap opera.

He (nevertheless) is reluctantly brave, and becomes attached to his survey team, throwing himself into gory peril when they are being threatened by hostile planetary fauna, or (worse) targeted for extermination by shadowy human forces. It's a near thing, but (as noted) this is book one of six, so you're pretty much assured he lives to murder another day.

Some Amazon reviewers are relatively furious about the marketing, getting readers hooked on this cheap first installment, then charging a lot more for the next books. If you're the kind of person who gets upset about such things, maybe you should avoid.