URLs du Jour

2021-07-04

  • Happy Independence Day! Michael Ramirez has a day-appropriate cartoon:

    [Never Forget, Revise, or Discount]

    I also note that Google is unabashedly patriotic with today's Doodle:

    [Fourth of July]

    Click through and enjoy their pyrotechnics. Does this mean that Google no longer hates America?


  • Fortunately, I Didn't Have to Pass a Test. And neither did David Shipley. But…

    In 1938, a month after Kristallnacht, my father’s family left Berlin for the United States. As Jews, their time as Germans had to come to an end, to put it charitably. The family went first to Washington Heights in New York City, to acclimate with relatives, and then the four of them — my 11-year-old father, his older sister and his middle-aged parents — made their way across the country to settle in Oregon, a distant corner of a foreign land.

    There, they set out to become Americans. “Schybilski” became “Shipley,” the closest approximation they could find in the Salem, Oregon, phone book. My grandfather wanted a name that would help the family fit in. The switch happened so quickly that my father couldn’t remember his new name when he showed up at school the next day.

    Their relentless desire to become Americans, to join up with the country that had saved their lives, was brought home to me recently when I stumbled on a worn sheaf of carefully typed papers, annotated and bound with string. It was my grandfather’s study guide for his citizenship exam, and it had been tucked away in a manila file in my father’s office.

    His article provides a dozen questions from the 1944 citizenship exam his grandfather took. Interactive, so you can see how you would do.

    I got 9/12, which I hope is passing, but I'm not proud of missing three. In my meager defense: if I'd thought for a few seconds longer on a couple, I think I would have gotten them.


  • A Close Call, Though. An excellent article by Jacob Sullum from print-Reason is out from behind the paywall: Why Didn’t COVID-19 Kill the Constitution?. It's an excellent summary of the legal wranglings over pandemic restrictions on liberty, some going to the Supreme Court. It's long, but interesting all the way through. I just want to excerpt one bit from the discussion on religious gathering restrictions. After Sullum discusses Chief Justice Roberts' "zigzagging" on cases apparently without "consistent principle":

    While Roberts seemed torn between respect for religious liberty and deference to elected officials, Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor showed no such ambivalence. They always were willing to accept politicians' public health judgments, even when they were scientifically dubious, changed in the midst of litigation, or resulted in policies that privileged politically influential industries or that explicitly disfavored religious gatherings. It is not clear that Kagan et al. can imagine a disease control policy that would violate the Free Exercise Clause, provided it was presented—as such policies always are—as necessary for the protection of public health.

    I don't think Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor deserve that "liberal" label that lazy court observers usually slap on them.


  • What Would We Do Without Studies? Ronald Bailey highlights the latest from "to a team of European researchers led by University of Leeds sustainability researcher Jefim Vogel": To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study.

    Vogel and his colleagues set themselves the goal of figuring out how to "provide sufficient need satisfaction at much lower, ecologically sustainable levels of energy use." Referencing earlier sustainability studies they argue that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per capita. That is about how much energy the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kWh annually per capita. With respect to transportation and physical mobility, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16–40 gallons of gasoline per year. People are assumed to take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so.

    In addition, food consumption per capita would vary depending on age and other conditions, but the average would be 2,100 calories per day. While just over 10 percent of the world's people are unfortunately still undernourished, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the daily global average food supply now stands at just under 3,000 calories per person. Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually. The good news is that everyone over age 10 is permitted a mobile phone and each household can have a laptop.

    "I'll take 'That's not gonna happen' for $1000, Alex."

    Ron's summary had me wondering: are Vogel et. al. really recommending such totalitarian measures, or are they just pointing out the absurd impossibility of "stopping climate change"?

    Well, I clicked through to the study. And yep, it's really recommending turning up government coercion to 11. E.g.: "Taken together, these analyses provide a strong case for redistributive policies that establish both minimum and maximum income and/or consumption levels."


  • If Your Side is Losing, It's Time to Change the Rules. The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon takes to the pages of National Review: How The Babylon Bee Is Fighting Back against its wannabe censors:

    Almost daily, we get an email from one of our readers informing us that they usually like satire but, this time, we’ve gone too far. They go on to explain that whatever we’d just skewered is off limits and should be left alone. They demand apologies and, in some cases, retractions. They want us to take it back.

    Such is human nature. Mockery is fun (and funny) right up until it isn’t. The moment a joke strikes too close to home, we suddenly become uncomfortable.

    But unlike the occasional disgruntled reader, the Left isn’t objecting to a one-off joke of ours. They’re objecting to our very existence as a conservative satire site. They want us not to take down an offensive piece of satire but to stop writing satire altogether.

    Dillon relates the damp-squib efforts of the New York Times, CNN, and Snopes to slander the Bee. But there's a relatively new strategy developing:

    Facebook just announced they’ll be moderating satire to make sure it doesn’t “punch down.” Anything that punches down — that is, anything that takes aim at protected targets Facebook doesn’t want you joking about — doesn’t qualify as “true satire.” In fact, they’ve made it clear they’ll consider jokes that punch down to be hatred disguised as satire. They write: “Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas.”

    Mere days after this announcement was made, Slate published a piece accusing us of having a “nasty tendency to punch down.” Shortly after it ran, that quote found its way onto our Wikipedia page, further solidifying the narrative.

    The new "punch down" rule is sufficiently vague. Here's an excerpt from Facebook's mealy-mouthed analysis:

    Considerations: […] we will add information to the Community Standards that makes it clear where we consider satire as part of our assessment of context-specific decisions. This work will include implementing a new satire framework, which our teams will use for evaluating potential satire exceptions. Regional teams will be able to provide satire assessments, as well as escalate pieces of content to specialized teams for an additional review when necessary.

    We previously began developing a framework for assessing humor and satire and are prioritizing completing it based on the board’s recommendation. This work included over 20 engagements with academic experts, journalists, comedians, representatives of satirical publications, and advocates for freedom of expression. Stakeholders noted that humor and satire are highly subjective across people and cultures, underscoring the importance of human review by individuals with cultural context. Stakeholders also told us that “intent is key,” though it can be tough to assess. Further, true satire does not “punch down”: the target of humorous or satirical content is often an indicator of intent. And if content is simply derogatory, not layered, complex, or subversive, it is not satire. Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas.

    Given the context-specific nature of satire, we are not immediately able to scale this kind of assessment or additional consultation to our content moderators. We need time to assess the potential tradeoffs between identifying and escalating more content that may qualify for our satire exception, against prioritizing escalations for the highest severity policies, increasing the amount of content that would be escalated, and potentially slower review times among our content moderators.

    Shorter: "We asked a selected group of people to come up with a justification for what we wanted to do anyway."