The Times That Try Men’s Souls

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Thomas Paine, The Crisis No. I – December 1776

 Frankly, it’s a time which try women’s souls, as well – not just being disenfranchised en masse, but having the Establishment News Presstitutes and the Tech Oligarchs gag all mention of conservative simmering unhappiness and discontent in the major media, and chopping off access to social media for designated so-called ‘thought criminals’ in response to a relatively benign – that is, relatively benign in comparison to what has been going on all year in cities that are prog strongholds – a massive protest at the US Capitol. I’m fairly certain that the ruling political oligarchs had the snot scared out of them last Wednesday, when protestors overran the Capitol building. Here’s my tiny violin to play “My Heart Bleeds For You”, and my dainty Victorian lace-trimmed linen handkerchief to sop up the tears. (And BTW, one of those protesters was shot, fatally, by … well, er, someone, whose’ identity is yet unknown, prompting the observation that if he were a regular policeman and shot a protester of color in a prog-run city he would have his identity instantly spread all over the Presstitute Media, along with his home address, his spouses’ employer and the name of the school that his kids attended. But never mind…)

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Worthwhile Reading

A long but interesting essay about Peter Thiel, who is IMO one of the more thoughtful and creative among the Silicon Valley set.

The politicization of everything…including websites like nextdoor.com, “designed for people to share useful information within a neighborhood like dates of bulky trash-pick, locations of road closings, and postings of lawn equipment for sale”…as seen by a woman who is a music historian, with a particular concentration on Russia.

Dispatches from the front lines of the knitting wars.  Can these people be trusted with knitting needles? Those things can be dangerous, you know.

A post by a police officer’s wife.

Violent protest and the intelligentsia.  Disturbing parallels between pre-revolutionary Russia and contemporary America.

A walk across a beach in Normandy.  Today, June 6, marks the 76th anniversary of the Normandy invasion..I haven’t seen much remembance of this today.

Do the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop Approve?

YouTube is run by a woman named Susan Wojcicki.  She has indicated that videos peddling fake or unproven coronavirus remedies will be banned, and also suggested that video that “goes against” WHO guidance on the pandemic will be blocked.

So Ms Wojcicki has established WHO as the ultimate worldwide authority on Covid-19, the  imprimatur of said authority being required for dissemination of any relevant information or opinions within Wojcicki’s domains.  One might remind her that on January 23 of this year, WHO decided not to declare that Covid-19 was a global health emergency…hence, had Wojcicki’s present rule been in effect then, any videos asserting that C-19 was, in fact, such an emergency would have been taken down!

What is the thinking behind this sort of effort to clamp down on information flow?  One can certainly understand and sympathize with a desire to avoid the dissemination of quack cures.  But how does this morph into a justification for shutting down discussion of causes, risk levels, and public-policy responses to the epidemic?

If I try to take as sympathetic a view as possible to Ms Wojcicki and those like her, I might view their actions as being motivated by a feeling of responsibility for consumer protection.  But Americans are more that just consumers: we are also (and much more importantly) citizens, participants in the public dialog and political process.  (And an interesting argument has been made that in the American system, citizens are officers of the state.)  And citizens, in order to fulfill their public responsibilities, need unfettered access to information and discussion.

In the case of Twitter’s ‘fact checking’ of President Trump’s tweet about vote-by-mail, I’d say that the raw political bias is pretty evident.  Is vote-by-mail more susceptible to fraud than is conventional voting?  Considerable evidence can be amassed to suggest that it is indeed so susceptible, counter-evidence and arguments can also be presented. It is a legitimate topic for public discussion, yet Twitter chooses to treat is as if it is a matter of absolute black-and-white truth-versus-falsity on which they have to weigh in, as if it were a question of the spherical vs flat shape of the earth or the value of the acceleration of gravity.  (Although I see there are some flat-earth tweets up on Twitter right now.)  And I haven’t seen any Twitter fact-checking of the feed from the People’s Daily of China, or the official Twitter account of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran…or, for that matter, of the statements of Joe Biden.

We are reaching a state at which the ability to publish information and have it reach certain very large audiences is dependent on the approval of certain individuals at Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook…somewhat similar to the way in which publication of a book in England, prior to 1692, required the imprimatur of the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or one of certain other specified officials.  The analogy is not perfect, of course, and it will be argued that it isn’t very relevant at all, because today, if Twitter won’t distribute your content, you can always try Facebook, and if that doesn’t work either, there’s always Gab or other relatively-minor platforms, or you can just put up your own website or blog…or start your own social media platform.  But, still, a very small number of entities and their officials are exercising a very high degree of control over information flow in America today.

What, if anything, can/should be done about this situation?  One argument is that nothing can be or needs to be done that Twitter etc are private property, and if they discriminate excessively, other platforms will supplant them.  Another argument is that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be modified/limited…this is the provision which insulates on-line service providers such as social media companies—not only pure internet service providers or hosting companies—from certain forms of liability which are applicable to traditional publishers.  This is the direction in which President Trump’s thinking seems to be going.

There is also an interesting ‘public square’ argument which has been made, specifically by Prager University in connection with the ‘restricted’ status assigned to its videos by YouTube.  This is based on a 1945 Supreme Court decision in the case of Marsh v Alabama, in which the court ruled that Gulf Shipbuilding Company could not prohibit a Jehovah’s Witness from distributing literature in the the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, even though that town was Gulf Shipbuilding’s private property.  The argument is that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument  was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes. (The Federalist has proposed that social media companies could be required to provide specific ‘due process’ protections for content creators, in exchange for retaining their Section 230 immunities.)

So what are your thoughts on this topic?

Life Without Smartphones

A college instructor, concerned about how poorly his students were doing in the philosophy class he was teaching, tried an experiment:  for extra credit, students could give up their phones for nine days and write about living without them. Twelve students, about a third of the class, took him up on the offer.

Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, disoriented, frustrated, and even frightened. That seemed to support the industry narrative: look how disconnected and lonely you’ll be without our technology. But after just two weeks, the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people, compromising their own lives, and somehow cutting them off from the “real” world. 

See some of the student comments at the link.  Note that ten of the 12 students said their phones had been compromising their ability to have real-world relationships.  And in response to a student’s comment about safety concerns when phone-less, the instructor said:

What’s revealing is that this student and others perceived the world to be a very dangerous place. Cell phones were seen as necessary to combat that danger. The city in which these students lived has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and almost no violent crime of any kind, yet they experienced a pervasive, undefined fear.

For perspective, though, we should consider:  How would students in say, the 1950s through the 1980s have responded if they had been temporarily denied access to dorm or apartment phones and also to pay phones?  Because since smartphones became common, pay phones have largely disappeared, and I’d imagine that dorm and apartment phones are pretty rare as well.

I’d hazard a guess that 1950s-1980s students who were denied access to conventional telephony would have felt somewhat disconnected, but not nearly so much as present-day students without their smartphones.

When the telegraph was first invented, a journalist marveled that “This extraordinary discovery leaves…no elsewhere…it is all here.”

As I’ve noted before, it seems that if the wired communications reduced the sense of elsewhere, it seems that wireless communications reduces the sense of the here and now.