"… and who is this guy sniffing my hair?"

[Titanic Policies] Briefly noted:

  • Jacob Sullum finds this odd, but unfortunately not surprising: The New York Times Warns That Freedom of Speech Is a Threat.

    Are federal officials violating the First Amendment when they pressure social media companies to suppress "misinformation"? That is the question posed by a federal lawsuit that the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana filed last May.

    New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers warns that the lawsuit "could disrupt the Biden administration's already struggling efforts to combat disinformation." He worries that "the First Amendment has become, for better or worse, a barrier to virtually any government efforts to stifle a problem that, in the case of a pandemic, threatens public health and, in the case of the integrity of elections, even democracy itself." As Myers frames the issue, freedom of speech is a threat to "public health" and "even democracy itself."

    There is no denying that when people are free to express their opinions, no matter how misguided, ill-informed, or hateful, some of them will say things that are misleading, demonstrably false, or divisive. The First Amendment nevertheless guarantees their right to say those things, based on the premise that the dangers posed by unfettered speech are preferable to the dangers posed by government attempts to regulate speech in what it perceives as the public interest.

    You'd think anyone working the NYT might note that immediately after prohibiting the government from "abridging the freedom of speech", the First Amendment adds in "or of the press" almost as an afterthought.

    And said employee might wonder if arguments for erosion of free speech protections might also apply to the free press.

  • Libel has (however) been a long-standing example of unprotected speech. Kevin D. Williamson wishes that it would apply to (say) the New York Times: DeSantis Is (Almost) Right About Libel Law.

    The New York Times dodged a bullet a while back in the Sarah Palin libel matter, and its publishers and editors know it, which is why a recent story is headlined, “DeSantis, Aiming at a Favorite Foil, Wants to Roll Back Press Freedom” a claim that—ironically, in this context—isn’t quite right. Presumably, “freedom of the press” does not include the freedom to publish untrue and defamatory things about people, and DeSantis is taking up the cause of a small group of activists, including a few conservative legal scholars, who want to make it easier for people who have been misrepresented by the press to win libel judgments against newspapers and other media properties.

    This hits close to home for the Times: The landmark Supreme Court case in the matter of libel is called New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, and the most recent big-time libel suit was Sarah Palin v. New York Times Co. Palin lost—wrongly, in my view—but is appealing.

    The Times’ misrepresentation of Palin should have been, liberated from the weight of political tribalism, an open-and-shut case. For this kind of claim in print to rise to the level of libel, it must meet three conditions: The claim must be false, the claim must be defamatory (meaning that it injures the reputation of the party in question), and, in the case of a public figure, it must have been made with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard for the truth.” The Times libeled Palin by falsely claiming in an editorial that Palin’s campaign rhetoric had led to the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. “The link to political incitement was clear,” according to the Times, a claim that is—and this matters in this context!—not true. There was no connection at all between the Palin campaign and the Giffords shooting, a fact that has been reported in and confirmed by, among other reputable journalistic sources, the New York Times itself. Even if we accepted at face value the extraordinarily tendentious claim that Palin’s utterly normal campaign rhetoric constituted some sort of incitement to violence, the man who shot Giffords was not inspired by it and seems never to have even seen it before committing his crime.

    It's paywalled, sorry. You should subscribe.

  • While rewatching Justified on Hulu, I've had to dodge around sanctimonious ads for their docuseries based around the "1619 Project". Phillip Magness says I'm not missing anything besides a ball of confusion, specifically the: 1619 Project's Confusion on Capitalism.

    A pervasive sense of confusion characterizes Hulu’s new 1619 Project episode on “capitalism,” beginning with the basic definition of its titular term. Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones opens the episode by conceding that “I don’t feel like most of us actually know what capitalism means.” This should have provided her an opportunity for self-reflection on how the embattled project has, over the last three years, trudged its way through the economic dimensions of slavery.

    The original New York Times version of the project assigned the topic to Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, a novice without any scholarly expertise or methodological training in one of economic history’s most thoroughly scrutinized topics. The resulting essay blended empirical error with a basic misreading of the academic literature to almost comical ends. He casually repeated a thoroughly debunked statistical claim from a “New History of Capitalism” (NHC) scholar Ed Baptist, who erroneously attributes the growth of the antebellum cotton industry’s crop yield to the increased beating of slaves (it was actually due to improved seed technology). At one point, Desmond even asserted a lineal descent from plantation accounting books to Microsoft Excel — the result of misreading a passage in another book that explicitly disavowed this same connection.

    Magness notes the series' interweaving "between historical photographs of slaves working in the cotton fields of the antebellum South and footage of an Amazon distribution center." Subtle!

    One of the things I picked out from my readings about Marxism was that the definition of "exploitation of labor" meant, simply, paying one's employees a market wage; you had to combine it with Marx's (ridiculous) labor theory of value to get anything worth bothering about.

    But the 1619 Project jumps into that garbage bin headfirst.

  • The WSJ editorialists go to an evergreen topic: Internal Revenue Incompetence.

    Hard to believe the Internal Revenue Service’s problems could be worse than we knew, but a Government Accountability Office report released this week on its aging IT systems shows they are. Don’t expect the $80 billion that the IRS is getting from the Inflation Reduction Act to fix them.

    The IRS relies on numerous IT systems to collect taxes and distribute refunds, but many are as old as Baby Boomers. GAO reports that about 33% of applications, 23% of software and 8% of hardware are “legacy” systems, defined as 25 years or older or written in an obsolete programming language. Thirteen applications are between 55 and 64 years old.

    I assume the "obsolete programming language" is good old COBOL. Which I managed to avoid learning even as a youngster. FORTRAN for me, baby!

  • She's a wonderful singer, and a dreadful human being. Humberto Fontova looks at Grammy Winner Bonnie Raitt—Hypocrite Extraordinaire.

    “When Bonnie Raitt won the award for Song of the Year at the 2023 Grammys on Sunday night for her track Just Like That,” The Daily Mail reports this week, “some were shocked that the accolade went to the 73-year-old folk singer - over huge artists like Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Harry Styles, Beyonce and Adele, who were also nominated for the category.”

    Much less shocking, given Raitt’s social and political milieu, is this rock and roller’s propaganda ministrations for the only regime in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere to criminalize rock & roll and herd its practitioners and fans into forced-labor camps.

    You see, amigos: Back in March of 1999, Bonnie Raitt was among the top acts of a celebrity-studded propaganda extravaganza for Stalinist Cuba titled “Music Bridges Over Troubled Waters." During her visit to the Castro-Family-Fiefdom, Raitt stopped hyperventilating just long enough to compose a song in Fidel Castro's honor titled, "Cuba Is Way Too Cool!" Among the lyrics: "It's just a happy little island!" and "Big bad wolf (the U.S.) you look the FOOL!"

    My intro to Bonnie was from the bins of a Pasadena record store in 1971, where I looked at her first album cover back in 1971. On the back was the dedication to "the people of North Vietnam". You know, the nice folks who were shooting and torturing Americans at the time. In their slight defense, some of those Americans were shooting at them too. But I knew whose side I was on: not Bonnie's. I put the record back, and have not picked up another in the half-century since.

  • Amity Shlaes looks at what Ken Burns' most recent documentary was really about: Shaming Americans. Even though it was supposed to be about the Holocaust. It's OK when dealing with the Nazis, but:

    Still, the film is titled The U.S. and the Holocaust; the filmmakers put the “U.S.” first. And on this crucial U.S. component of the period, Burns lets his viewers down. For the series hammers away at an improbable narrative: the America of the 1800s was a kind of Statue of Liberty Eden, when immigrants flowed freely into our country. Then our bigotry overcame us, and we knew sin. Taking up eugenics or restricting immigration in the 1910s or 1920s—when Adolf Hitler was just a youth wandering Vienna, an insignificant corporal, or a jailbird with a Remington typewriter—was not merely wrong of us but also contributed to the rise of Nazism and to the Holocaust itself. And then, in the late 1930s and 1940s, we compounded our sins by failing to rescue Europe’s Jews. We were militaristic, not humanitarian, and so somehow the lesser.

    To mount such a morality play, the filmmakers must rearrange both time and knowledge, pretending that politicians and governments in the first third of the twentieth century had access to facts and numbers that simply were not available in organized form until well after VE-day, or even decades later, as in the case, for example, of the massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. The result is six-plus hours of such righteous and distorted history that high schoolers who view the film can be forgiven for taking away the impression that the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act caused the Holocaust. The film also discounts as risibly insufficient the 240,000 refugees from the Nazis whom the U.S. did admit. Burns and his colleagues downplay the military sacrifice that went into the effort of halting Hitler, a sacrifice made not only by the vets at Normandy or the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in World War II. Throughout, the film darkens the story with a sepia overlay of regret. Closer scrutiny reveals The U.S. and the Holocaust as disconcertingly partisan. Through omission and emphasis, the filmmakers assign responsibility for bigotry or bad policy to Republicans and exonerate Democrats.

    Shlaes does a fine job of restoring balance to the historical record, inexcusably tilted by Burns.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EDT