Banning Infowars is Easier Said Than Done

The efforts so far by most of social media haven’t quite panned out as expected:

Silicon Valley’s coordinated purge of all things Infowars from social media has had an unexpected result; website traffic to Infowars.com has soared in the past week, according to Amazon’s website ranking service Alexa.

Well, that didn’t work, not yet at least.  And their attempt to demonetise Alex Jones’ operations isn’t going any better: by driving people to his site directly, they’ve cut out the “middleman” of social media, which only makes that elusive monetisation even better.

I’m not really a fan of Jones; even Drudge is selective in what he links to on Infowars.  But for someone who has always been leery of putting all of the eggs in the social media basket, it’s good to know that the decree of a few organisations can’t totally make or break someone on the internet.

At least they can claim that they’re not profiting off of Infowars…

“Survival of our Democracy” Depends Upon Who We Are

One can feel the panic come through the screen:

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is calling on other tech companies to ban more sites like InfoWars, and says the survival of American democracy depends on it.

“Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it,” Murphy tweeted Monday.

To be frank, I am surprised that our constitutional/Declaration structural freedoms have lasted this long.  Revolutions like the 1960’s usually take an authoritarian turn; the fact that we’ve stalled this for fifty years is amazing in many ways.

It’s easy to laugh at Murphy’s logic, but in many places in the world there are “managed democracies,” where access to candidacy–and in some cases the voting franchise itself–is limited by those who really control the process.  The best known of these is Iran, but there are others.  In such a situation democratic process is a mechanism of legitimising the ruling elite, although surprises happen.

Murphy’s phrase “our democracy” is interesting.  Who are “we?”  The people in general?  The plutocracy/kleptocracy who decry and make worse income inequality at the same time?  The Ward Three types?  Answering that question will go a long way to bring clarity to Sen. Murphy’s panicky outburst on Twitter.

My Last Facebook Post

I know this sounds a little dramatic, so an explanation is in order.

I started on social media nine years ago, all the while continuing this and (later) the other blogs and websites.  I’ve used several techniques to automatically disseminate these blog posts.  I’ve always had a problem with doing every post manually.  Keeping the online presence i have is enough work without adding to it.  It’s a question I frequently ask: is the technology working for us or are we working for the technology?

Well, Facebook, beset by woes of its own making, is going to make that harder: starting 1 August 2018, they will not permit third-party (in this case WordPress) apps to automatically post stuff like this to Facebook profiles (they will do it for Facebook pages, though.)  To continue posting like i have, I would have to do it manually for each post.

At this point, except for special cases or when I’m responding to someone else’s post, I don’t plan to do that.  The main reason is simple: based on the response I’ve been getting, I’m not convinced that Facebook is disseminating my automatically posted stuff very widely, either from this or my other blogs.  The ideological bias of Facebook is no secret, but I’m not really convinced that my Facebook audience has, on the whole, a great deal of interest in the topics I discuss.  The vast majority of the visits come from places other than social media.

I’ve always been leery of putting all my eggs in the “social media basket.”  While it’s important, the problem with any social media platform is that what you put there is basically theirs, and if they don’t like it (or you) they can kick you off at will.  (There are also copyright issues as well.)  That’s always bothered me, and it’s doubtless cost me traffic to not migrate posting to social media.  And that works both ways: any external link out of Facebook deprives them of potential revenue, and I’m inclined to think that they, struggling to maintain earnings, are doing this as a revenue preservation move.

I’ll still be sharing these posts via Twitter, which has its own problems but seems to be working at the moment.  For those on Facebook who wish to continue following this blog, Twitter is an option, and there are email notifications and WordPress following as well.  (I’m also on Google Plus, but that hasn’t amounted to much.)  But, as former Nigerian Anglican Primate Peter Akinola used to say, all things must end someday, and this part of this blog’s story is now done.

The Valuable Lesson Silicon Valley Needs to Learn from the Thai Rescue

Sometimes patience is required to solve a problem:

Instead of venting, Mr. Musk — indeed, Silicon Valley as a whole — can perhaps see the Thai operation as a lesson. This was a most improbable rescue against the longest odds. Safely navigating 12 kids and one adult, many of whom were not swimmers, through a dangerous cave relied on a model of innovation that Silicon Valley can and should learn from.

The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop.

Self-proclaimed know-it-alls–even those with some record of success–are a nuisance and a menace, but these days the “Silicon Valley model” seems to be in the ascendant in American society and thinking, such as it is.  Having been in a field and a business where a model closer to the Thais’ is the rule, it’s easy to see the Silicon Valley model, while it’s done remarkable things, leaves many “loose ends” and unintended consequences (consider Facebook’s woes as a good example) in its wake.  Who knows, we just might make progress on our political mess if we took a more thoughtful and deliberate approach…

The Boomers (or at Least Some of Them) Really Did Tank This Country

An interesting exchange between Sean Illing of Vox and Steven Brill yields this:

Sean Illing

The story of decline you tell really begins about 50 years ago, so is this basically a story of how a subset of the baby boomer generation drove the country off a cliff?

Steven Brill

That may be too much of a generalization, but I wouldn’t knock it because it’s basically right.

I have been criticised for making this claim about my contemporaries, but it’s getting hard to deny.

And this observation is interesting, too:

In many cases, the people doing the most damage aren’t breaking any laws or consciously trying to hurt anyone else. They’re simply doing what they were told to do — go to prestigious law schools, get a job at a prestigious law firm, and make lots of money.

Those of us who chose a different course swam upstream in those days, but it’s better to have never been part of the problem.

At Last, Some Good News on the (Non-)Marriage Front

A British couple has won a course case based on the obvious, which is very difficult in the United States:

A heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter into a civil partnership have won their claim at the UK’s highest court that they have suffered discrimination.

Justices at the supreme court unanimously found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in a decision that will put pressure on the government to change the law.

I have advocated the abolition of civil marriage for a long time.  However, states like to be nosy these days, so if they insist on keeping tabs on relationships, state recognised civil partnerships without civil marriage of any kind are a reasonable alternative.  In some countries (like France) opposite sex civil partnerships are available, but in the Anglophone world civil partnerships have been mostly restricted to same-sex couples.

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that civil partnerships could, in some situations, be issued to people who wouldn’t be married for consanguinity reasons.  The second–and probably the more important one in the current climate–is that widespread civil partnerships would undercut the “value” of civil marriage in general and same-sex civil marriage in particular.  That’s a purely sentimental reason, but it’s a big deal and fuelled much of the war (past and ongoing) over marriage.

The obvious, however, is the obvious; there’s no cogent justification why opposite-sex couples should be denied civil partnerships if same-sex couples can enter into them.  The Brits need to be reminded that, just because La logique, ou l’art de penser (Logic, or the Art of Thinking) was written by the French means that Brexit will let them off the hook.

Yes, Down’s Syndrome Children can Go to College

One, at least:

Confidence is not something the 22-year-old Parker lacks. She’s the only student at UTC with Down syndrome, but its limitations are simply things for her to overcome, not hold her back. Although she usually has someone with her while she’s on campus, she’s unafraid to go it alone. Friends, family and teachers say she loves to learn, studies religiously, turns her assignments in on time and has an active on-campus social life.

I doubt seriously that UTC intended this post to be a pro-life statement, but given that in some places Down’s Syndrome children have been driven to extinction due to abortion, it really is.  Many parents are looking to have brilliant children who will “change the world,” but what we really need is more who will be diligent to the task in front of them while bringing joy, skills which elude many people these days.  Down’s Syndrome people can have productive, happy lives as this one does; we just have to give them a chance and the support.

And speaking of support, I’d like to give a shout-out to something that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga does really well: its support for people with learning and other disabilities.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Disability Resource Center and their work with these people–and the faculty who teach them–is exemplary.

Muqtada al-Sadr: Not a Reinvention After All

He’s back in the saddle in Iraq, or at least working on it:

On May 12, when Iraqis voted in the country’s latest parliamentary elections 15 years after the U.S. invasion, a new image of Sadr emerged: a smiling cleric with a snowy beard, holding up his ink-stained index finger after casting his ballot in Najaf. In his left hand, he held a plastic Iraqi flag.

al-Sadr was never the demon that the Bush Administration made him out to be.  The Middle East is tough territory, and Muqtada al-Sadr is up to the task.  Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wanted to exit politics in favour of al-Sadr (or at least someone like him) as I noted in 2006, but I noted at the time a Muslim leader exiting politics is an oxymoron, and evidently he found this too: he’s still involved.

For all his faults, al-Sadr has always been a person of above average personal integrity who had the best interests of his people at heart, and his current attack on corruption is a part of that.  Most importantly for us, he has always wanted Iraq to be independent of domination from Tehran, something that the Bush administration (in its obsession to fight “terrorism” and encourage “democracy in the Middle East”) and the Obama administration (in its obsession to bury the hatchet with Iran) blithely ignored.  Now we have Iran stretching its influence across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and wonder why.  One can only conclude that serial stupidity is the American way when it comes to foreign policy, which is why I shed few tears when Rex Tillerson “gutted” the State Department.

 

Laying Out American Inequality: The View from the Top

Matthew Stewart’s account of his holidays certainly resonates with some of us:

For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette.

Getting past that, Stewart’s account of the nature of American inequality–especially benefiting those between the very top and the bottom–is probably the single best (if not perfect) description of how we got into the unequal pickle that we’re in today.  And along the way his description of how it is for people like him (and frankly like me) is an education that seldom sinks into Americans.

The way he ends his piece, however, betrays the steep climb he is looking at to solve the problem:

It’s going to take something from each of us, too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game. We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.

Like most people who come from where he does, he pooh-pooh’s the “old time religion” as part of the solution.  But that’s a mistake.  Christianity, with its affirmation of the basic God-created dignity of each person, is the only thing powerful enough to get us past our obsessive if self-concealed amour-propre and deal with the issues in front of us.

Karl Marx: Maybe too Cynical to be Demonized?

Ryan Cooper at The Week is looking for a rehabilitation:

Happy birthday to Karl Marx, who was born 200 years ago on May 5. He was the most astute and influential critic of capitalism in history — and also the most misunderstood.

It is long since time that Marx re-joined the community of ordinary intellectuals, considered as neither the terrifying harbinger of social upheaval, nor a secular pope with the eternally correct description of all human society. He was a genius, but in the end, only another human scholar with a brilliant but incomplete perspective.

But consider this gem from Fritz Raddatz’ Karl Marx: A political biography:

After a heated argument, first humorous and then serious, as to who should do the chores in the state of the future, the lady of the house asked him: “I cannot picture you in an egalitarian period since your inclinations and habits are thoroughly aristocratic.”  “Neither can I, ” Marx replied, “those times must come  but we must be gone by then.”

Marx is a complicated figure whose life was neither pleasant nor pretty, as evidenced by this and this.  I highly recommend Raddatz’ biography; it more than anything else finally closed the door on me being a socialist or communist.