URLs du Jour

2021-06-27

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  • Not My Precedent. Andrew Stuttaford makes a point in discussing recent history: Dealing with the Pandemic — An Authoritarian Precedent.

    There are many lessons, to put it mildly, to be learned (or relearned) from the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled. One of them is the willingness of supposedly free peoples to submit to — and even welcome — a form of authoritarian rule. Sadly, that’s no great surprise. The historical evidence that people yearn to breathe free is, shall we say, mixed, but happy talk about the right side of history often drowns out the inconvenient message from the past.

    Yes, there was submission. And yes, there was welcoming. But (even worse) there was demand.

    Not just the "tell those people what to do" variety. I also noticed a distressing amount of "tell me what to do."

    This is why I often despair about the country's future: you can't have a free society when lots of the citizens don't value their liberty.

    Well, let's see if there's any happier news out there…


  • "Biden Confuses" Headline Watch. I previously predicted an upswing in news headlines containing "Biden" and "Confuses". The latest: Biden Confuses Tuskegee Airmen with Syphilis Study Victims in Explaining Covid Vaccine Reluctance.

    Joe Biden is drawing criticism for comments he made that mixed up the Tuskegee Airmen – a heroic group of African American World War II pilots – with victims of an infamous Alabama syphilis study.

    Speaking on the reluctance of some people to get COVID-19 vaccines, Biden said it was “harder to get African-Americans, initially…vaccinated, because it used to be that they experimented on them – the Tuskegee Airmen and others.”

    I assume this is what he learned from his Critical Race Theory training.


  • Heretics Must Be Punished. David Harsanyi notes that the modern-day witch hunters have not given up: The Crusade to Destroy Jack Phillips Continues.

    I’ve been writing about Colorado cakemaker Jack Phillips’ fight against cultural authoritarians for a long time. This past March, I noted that Phillips would probably be badgered into the grave. And this week, Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones again found that the state could compel speech, claiming that Phillips had acted unlawfully when refusing to create a cake that celebrated the alleged gender transition of a Colorado activist.

    When Phillips declined to participate in the wedding of David Mullins and Charlie Craig back in the summer of 2012—this was before Obergefell v. Hodges and before gay marriage was even legalized in Colorado—he made himself the target of harassment by activists and “civil rights” commissions that set out to destroy his business over a thought crime; by courts that set out to corrode religious liberty and free-speech protections; and by media that either don’t understand or don’t value free expression anymore.

    Journalists have been misleading their audiences about this case for nearly a decade. So, it needs to be repeated that Phillips never turned a gay couple away from his shop. He never “refused” to sell a gay couple his products. Mullins and Craig were free to buy anything they desired from Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    Harsanyi is (rightly) irked that the Supreme Court didn't make a clear defense of Phillips' rights to not submit to the wannabe inquisitors in his previous case.


  • Unfortunately Not an Aretha Franklin Song. Jonah Goldberg asks the musical question anyway: Who’s Oppressing Whom?.

    I want to talk to you about everything going on right now. 

    Unfortunately, according to Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center’s “Oppressive Language List,” I just oppressed you. 

    See if you can figure out why. I’ll wait. Give up?

    I’ll forgive you for not knowing this, but apparently the phrase “everything going on right now”—damn, I did it to you again—is oppressive. Why? Because, I defecate you negatory, “Being vague about important issues risks miscommunication and can also avoid accountability.” So, if I say, “everything going on right now” in reference to police brutality, or the pandemic, I might be letting our oppressors off the hook.  

    So let me be more specific. When I say “everything going on right now,” I’m referring to garbage like this. And the last thing I want to do is let the people responsible for this linguistic oppression off the hook.  

    "I defecate you negatory." Ha! I'd buy a mug or t-shirt with that on it.

    Jonah proceeds to take on other examples. And makes the obvious point: people who crave the power to dictate your language are actually oppressive.

    Fortunately, they're nearly always easy to lampoon.

    I should add that the Brandeis folks at least pretend to be liberal about their "Oppressive Language List":

    This list is meant to be a tool to share information and suggestions about potentially oppressive language. Use of the suggested alternatives is not a university expectation, requirement or reflection of policy. As shared in Brandeis's Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression, the language you choose to use or not use is entirely up to you.

    On the other hand, they also say:

    Oppression is the foundation upon which violence is enacted […]

    So do they really mean what they say about your "oppressive" language choice being "entirely up to you"?


  • Rauch Rules. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Jonathan Rauch, that is, and you can read an excerpt from his new book (Amazon link at right) here: Why Fake News Flourishes: Emitting Mere Information is Easy, but Creating Actual Knowledge is Hard. A subtle point about Why We Can't Have Nice Things:

    The commercial internet was born with an epistemic defect: its business model was primarily advertising-driven and therefore valued attention first and foremost. Traditional media companies relied partly (often heavily) on ad revenue, to be sure, but they attracted advertisers by building audiences of regular users and paying consumers, and many were rooted in communities where they were known and trusted, and so they tended to build constituencies to whom they felt reputationally and financially accountable. The gutter press and fly-by-night media also existed, but they were the exception rather than the rule, at least in the modern era. Digital media, by contrast, had hardly any paying customers and lured advertisers with fleeting “impressions” and “engagement,” launching a no-holds-barred race to attract eyeballs. Digital media companies could use granular metrics to slice and sort their audiences, but those statistics were very different from accountable relationships with users and communities and sponsors.

    The whole system was thus optimized to assemble a responsive audience for whatever information someone wanted to put in front of people, with only incidental regard (if any) for that information’s accuracy. The metrics and algorithms and optimization tools were sensitive to popularity but indifferent to truth. The computational engines were indifferent even to meaning, since they had no understanding of the content they were disseminating. They were exclusively, but relentlessly, aware of clicks and page views. A search or browsing session might turn up information or misinformation, depending on what people were clicking on. How-to videos about repairing your toilet were usually pretty reliable; information about vaccines and claims about controversial political issues, not so much. But whatever; the user would sort it out.

    In other words: despair. Again, sorry.