URLs du Jour

2021-05-31

[Amazon Link]

  • Just Until Amazon Notices… Our Eye Candy du Jour is an actual wall calendar you can buy at Amazon for $14.99. But for how long? Jeff Jacoby mourns the Death of a message. Specifically, the 1997 decision by R. J. Reynolds to send Joe Camel to the ash tray of history.

    Whatever you think of the product he was created to sell, Joe Camel - like all advertisements and commercial symbols — was a message. He was an exercise of free speech. He was the expression of an opinion — an opinion agreeable to some, disagreeable to others, but widely held and unmistakably real. "Joe Camel" is no less filled with meaning — and no less entitled to a stall in the marketplace of ideas — than "Look for the union label" or "Heather has Two Mommies" or "I want to build a bridge to the 21st century." The fact that it is not in people's best interest to smoke is irrelevant to the question of free speech. It is not in people's best interest — many would argue — to join labor unions, live as lesbians, or vote for Bill Clinton. Should messages promoting those choices be silenced by the government, too?

    It is anchored in the bedrock of American freedom that the state does not decide which views may be heard. The Bill of Rights does not command the government to stifle erroneous messages. It commands the government to "make no law . . . abridging freedom of speech."

    When Uncle Stupid decides there's a "public health" exception to the Bill of Rights, that's a pretty big hole to rip in the Constitution. Have things gotten better since 1997, or worse?


  • You Might Want To Bookmark This. Greg Lukianoff provides Answers to 12 Bad Anti-Free Speech Arguments: Featuring That XKCD Cartoon Everyone Likes to Quote!. Here's number one:

    Assertion: Free speech was created under the false notion that words and violence are distinct, but we now know that certain speech is more akin to violence.

    Answer: Speech equals violence isn’t a new idea. It’s a very old—and very bad—idea.

    On campus, I often run into people—not only students, but professors—who seem to think they’re the first to notice that the speech/violence distinction is a social construct. They conclude that this means it’s an arbitrary distinction—and that, since it’s arbitrary, the line can be put where they please. (Conveniently, they draw the line based on their personal views: if it’s speech that they happen to hate, then it just might be violence.)

    Ironically, the whole point of freedom of speech, from its beginning, has been to enable people to sort things out without resorting to violence.

    A quotation often attributed to Sigmund Freud (which he attributed to another writer) conveys this: “The first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.”

    Yes, a strong distinction between the expression of opinion and violence is a social construct, but it’s one of the best social constructs for peaceful coexistence, innovation and progress that’s ever been invented. Redefining the expression of opinion as violence is a formula for a chain reaction of endless violence, repression and regression.

    RTWT to find your favorite fallacy. I was one blogger (out of many) who was appalled by "that XKCD cartoon everyone likes to quote". I was happy to see that Lukianoff echoes some of the points in my rebuttals here and here. (The second one being a discussion of the mouseover text in the comic. Pun Salad leaves no shoddy argument unrebutted.)


  • I Don't Think The GOP Had A Lot Of Good Options. Dan McLaughlin wonders What Do We Need a January 6 Commission For?.

    Senate Republicans today blocked an independent, bipartisan commission to inquire into the January 6 Capitol riot. This will not prevent Congress from conducting its own investigation, but it will be an openly partisan probe rather than one that offers the appearance — and maybe the reality, depending who you ask — of fairness and balance. It’s worth thinking through what purposes a commission would serve.

    On the one hand, we do not need a commission to publicize the events of January 6. We do not need a commission to draw conclusions about public events (such as the actions of Donald Trump that were already the subject of a Senate impeachment trial) that contributed to the riot. As I discussed yesterday with regard to an investigation of the origins of COVID-19 and what exactly the U.S. government was funding at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, there is a common misperception, particularly among media liberals, that we should design investigations for the purposes of declaring authoritative “expert” conclusions rather than unearthing facts. A bipartisan commission’s opinions may carry weight, but they are still opinions, not scientific facts.

    The partisan aims of the Democrats are obvious. Dislike of Trump is how the tepid, aged Joe Biden managed 81 million votes. The entire setting of Trump’s months-long temper tantrum over the election was a huge gift to Democrats in keeping voters in their camp who may not be sold on the actual Democratic governing agenda, and was crucial to winning them control of the Senate on January 5. Ensuring that the midterm elections are about Trump is really the only path the Democrats have to avoiding the customary midterm woes that would (even with a sub-par Republican performance) hand both houses of Congress back to Republicans. In purely partisan terms, Republicans are better off taking the hit for a few days of killing a commission than they are in empowering one.

    Only problem is that what we'll get instead is a much more partisan "investigation", drawn out as long as possible, choreographed to come to a predetermined conclusion. Which the media will soberly report as if it were "news" instead of a campaign commercial.


  • It Would Be Nice If Some GOP Pols Could Tell The Difference. Jonah Goldberg argues for the former: Conservatism, Not Populism. But here's an anecdote I liked:

    Last week, Jonathan Swan—a reporter I have a great deal of respect for—interviewed Liz Cheney. “I will never understand the resistance, for example, to voter ID,” Cheney said. “There's a big difference between that and a president of the United States who loses an election after he tried to steal the election and refuses to concede.”

    This seems like an incandescently true statement.

    Cheney added, “Everybody should want a situation and a system where people who ought to be able to vote and have the right to vote can vote, and people who, you know, don't, shouldn't.”

    Swan wasn’t having it:

    Swan: You don’t see any linkage between Donald Trump saying the election is stolen and then Republicans in all of these state legislatures rushing to put in place these restrictive voter laws?

    Cheney: Well, I think you have to look at the specifics of each one of those efforts.

    Swan: What was the big problem in Georgia that needed to be solved by a new law? What was the big problem in Texas? What was the big problem in Florida? What was the… these laws are coming all around the states and like, what are they solving for?

    Cheney: I think you`ve got to look at each individual state law. But I think what we can all agree on -

    Swan: You can`t divorce them from the context. Come on.

    Judging by the reaction to this exchange, Liz Cheney should no longer believe in voter ID laws because Trump launched a mob at the Capitol. I just don’t see why the latter requires the former. I mean how far does this magic extend? Should France abandon voter ID requirements, too? How about Germany?

    I'm with Liz. Swan's plea for "context" is a transparent effort to divert the argument from its actual merits.


  • In Our 'Because Of Course They Did' Department. Drew Cline notes the effort to turn a bunch of Granite Staters into "Never Biden" voters: Biden administration argues that states can tax non-resident telecommuters.

    Siding with Massachusetts in a lawsuit brought by New Hampshire, the Biden administration on Wednesday told the U.S. Supreme Court that states could justify taxing non-resident telecommuters. 

    New Hampshire sued Massachusetts in October over the Bay State’s effort to collect income taxes from Granite Staters who used to cross the border for work but had to switch to telecommuting during the pandemic.

    Drew reviews the argument as presented by Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar which seems to justify "taxing the incomes of all people who work for a local company, regardless of where on the planet they live,"

    I'm sure most, if not all, of the Biden policy wonks think that's a great idea.


Last Modified 2021-06-03 9:19 AM EDT

Beyond

The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space

[Amazon Link]

I really enjoyed reading this book. I was a kind of a space geek as a kid. (Still am.) I wanted to be an astronaut. (Still do, although the chances of that are about 1 Å slim.) I devoured anything about the space program I could in Life, National Geographic, etc. In 1957, like Alan Shepard and his daughter (page 50), I watched with my dad as a bright Russian satellite flew over the Oakland, Iowa football field.

So Stephen Walker goes back and revisits those days of the early US/USSR space race. He reveals a lot of stuff we didn't know back then, mostly due to Russian secrecy, but some due to NASA's happy-face public relations. Much of the Russian-side stuff only became known after the USSR's breakup, and was released without fanfare. Walker culminates his story with a detailed account of Gagarin's one-orbit flight in April 1961, with a brief epilogue describing the fate of the book's principal characters.

Random things I learned:

You did not want to be a Russian dog sent on a space mission. Poor Laika, sent up on Sputnik 2, died of either overheating or asphyxiation. Self-destruct systems on the test Vostok flights blew up some pups. (The self-destructs were to ensure that Vostoks accidentally landing outside the USSR couldn't be grabbed by the capitalists.)

American chimps had it better, but still: Ham's suborbital flight veered off its expected path thanks to its booster running too hot. The cabin lost pressure, the capsule overshot the planned landing zone by 130 miles, and almost sank before ships came to rescue.

Gagarin's flight had its share of peril too. His orbit was higher than planned, which would spell doom for him if his braking rocket failed. His capsule didn't separate from its service module as planned.

In order to secure "official" world records for Gagarin's flight, the Soviets had to claim that he rode his capsule all the way to its landing. That was a lie; Vostoks were designed to eject their cosmonauts and they would parachute to earth separately.

The US manned spaceflight program was on life support in the early 60's. JFK's science advisor, Jerome Wiesner, more or less opposed it, and JFK himself seemed uninterested. But Gagarin's flight (and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion) spurred his administration to "do something" to get in front of the Russkies. So after Alan Shepard's flight, JFK made his famous "before this decade is out" speech, and … well, you know what happened.

And a bunch more stuff, but I've typed enough. Walker is a fine storyteller.


Last Modified 2021-06-03 7:39 AM EDT