Put 125 Candles on the Cake For…

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F. A. Hayek, born on May 8, 1899. He provides (naturually enough) Cafe Hayek's Quotation of the Day:

The conception of freedom under the law … rests on the contention that when we obey laws, in the sense of general abstract rules laid down irrespective of their application to us, we are not subject to another man’s will and are therefore free. It is because the lawgiver does not know the particular cases to which his rules will apply, and it is because the judge who applies them has no choice in drawing the conclusions that follow from the existing body of rules and the particular facts of the case, that it can be said that laws and not men rule.

Pretty good stuff, as I recall. I own the (apparently) non-definitive edition of The Constitution of Liberty, purchased for $3.95 in 1972 or thereabouts. I think it may be time to shell out for the edition you see at your right.

Also of note:

  • The best headline of the month so far. And a real candidate for best of the year: Raging Ignorantly At The Internet Fixes Nothing. It's by Mike Masnick at techdirt:

    Jann Wenner, the creator of Rolling Stone magazine, was certainly an early supporter of free speech. But he seems to have reached grumpy old man status, that allows him to whine about free speech online, mostly by not knowing shit about anything.

    Writing for Air Mail, a publication by Graydon Carter (another Grumpy Old Man of Media™), Wenner has a facts-optional screed about Section 230, which has done more for free speech than Wenner ever did.

    First off, Wenner gets the purpose and history of Section 230 backwards. Like exactly 100% backwards. This is the kind of thing any fact checker would catch, but who needs fact checkers here?

    The original conceit behind Section 230 was that tech companies were not publishers of content but merely providers of “pipes”—innocent high-tech plumbers!—and so should be treated like Con Edison or the telephone company. In reality, they are pipes, publishers, monopoly capitalists, spy networks, and a whole lot more all bundled together.

    This is literally the opposite of the “conceit behind Section 230.” The entire conceit was that they are publishers, but because they’re publishers that allow anyone to publish and (mostly) only do ex post moderation, it made no sense at all to hold them liable as traditional publishers, who review everything ex ante.

    Don't be like Jann Wenner.

  • Attention should be paid. Perhaps the polar opposite of Jann Wenner, Greg Lukianoff, has some advice on Campus Chaos: Navigating Free Speech, Unrest, and the Need for Reform in Higher Education.

    The climate is chaotic and varies from campus to campus and day to day. But the fact is that some of what we're seeing on campus is the stifling of absolutely protected free speech under the First Amendment. At the University of Texas at San Antonio, for example, peaceful demonstrators reported that they were told not to chant in Arabic or use phrases like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — one of the phrases Gov. Abbott singled out in his executive order. It’s also clearly protected expression.

    However, some of what’s going on is very much not free speech — like setting up encampments and occupying university buildings, which constitute civil disobedience (i.e., intentionally breaking the rules) and are therefore subject to punishment. As FIRE has recently outlined, students setting up camps on school grounds should expect disciplinary action from authorities. It is well within a college’s rights to shut down encampments, as long as they are doing so in a fair and content-neutral way, and not going after protected speech in the process.

    Importantly, though, authorities also have to be consistent in their enforcement. Serving Twizzlers and burritos to some students when they do a takeover of an administrative building — as occurred at Harvard last November— sends the message to everyone that some opinions are implicitly supported by the administration, whereas encampments of students espousing causes they felt less sympathetic towards would not be tolerated. As Princeton University professor of politics Keith Whittington wrote recently, “would they show the same grace toward students wearing MAGA hats engaged in the same behavior?”

    This isn't hard. Or shouldn't be.

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    Very high on the list of things unlikely to scare me: mad poets. But high on the list of things that are likely to interest me: AI bullshit. Leigh Stein links up these two in print Reason: 'AI Bullshit' Makes Poets Mad.

    When the conceptual poet Lillian-Yvonne Bertram began to experiment with large language models (LLMs) in 2018, they discovered unexpected poetry inside ChatGPT-2. "The prompt responses were quirky: prone to interesting conversations and uncanny and poetic slippages. There was a strangeness about them," they wrote in the introduction to their new AI poetry collection, A Black Story May Contain Sensitive Content.

    "The responses made you feel like someone was maybe looking over your shoulder, or the machine had read your horoscope or your diary, like it just knew things," wrote the poet, who uses they/them pronouns.

    On July 29, 2023, when Bertram announced on Twitter that they had won the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest for a poetry collection "generated" by ChatGPT-3, there was immediate backlash.

    This outcome—that a book written by AI would defeat honest books carved from the hearts and souls of living poets—is the stuff of writers' nightmares.

    Winning the contest came with a cool $1000 prize. Which, in case you're confused by "they" in the third paragraph, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is not sharing.

    And she is billed as the author of that book. Amazon link at your right. For me, I'm still sticking with Hayek.

  • Isn't "American" kinda xenophobic? James B. Meigs looks at the sad story of a once-prestigious mag: Unscientific American.

    Michael Shermer got his first clue that things were changing at Scientific American in late 2018. The author had been writing his “Skeptic” column for the magazine since 2001. His monthly essays, aimed at an audience of both scientists and laymen, championed the scientific method, defended the need for evidence-based debate, and explored how cognitive and ideological biases can derail the search for truth. Shermer’s role models included two twentieth-century thinkers who, like him, relished explaining science to the public: Carl Sagan, the ebullient astronomer and TV commentator; and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote a popular monthly column in Natural History magazine for 25 years. Shermer hoped someday to match Gould’s record of producing 300 consecutive columns. That goal would elude him.

    In continuous publication since 1845, Scientific American is the country’s leading mainstream science magazine. Authors published in its pages have included Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, Jonas Salk, and J. Robert Oppenheimer—some 200 Nobel Prize winners in all. SciAm, as many readers call it, had long encouraged its authors to challenge established viewpoints. In the mid-twentieth century, for example, the magazine published a series of articles building the case for the then-radical concept of plate tectonics. In the twenty-first century, however, American scientific media, including Scientific American, began to slip into lockstep with progressive beliefs. Suddenly, certain orthodoxies—especially concerning race, gender, or climate—couldn’t be questioned.

    “I started to see the writing on the wall toward the end of my run there,” Shermer told me. “I saw I was being slowly nudged away from certain topics.” One month, he submitted a column about the “fallacy of excluded exceptions,” a common logical error in which people perceive a pattern of causal links between factors but ignore counterexamples that don’t fit the pattern. In the story, Shermer debunked the myth of the “horror-film curse,” which asserts that bad luck tends to haunt actors who appear in scary movies. (The actors in most horror films survive unscathed, he noted, while bad luck sometimes strikes the casts of non-scary movies as well.) Shermer also wanted to include a serious example: the common belief that sexually abused children grow up to become abusers in turn. He cited evidence that “most sexually abused children do not grow up to abuse their own children” and that “most abusive parents were not abused as children.” And he observed how damaging this stereotype could be to abuse survivors; statistical clarity is all the more vital in such delicate cases, he argued. But Shermer’s editor at the magazine wasn’t having it. To the editor, Shermer’s effort to correct a common misconception might be read as downplaying the seriousness of abuse. Even raising the topic might be too traumatic for victims.

    The article focuses on Scientific American, but makes clear that the infusion of ideology into science journalism is widespread.