Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wall to Wall Denial Games

Here's how to get banned from Wonkette. Post this (a bit modified in light of later events). To an article titled "F*** you America." And it's only been two months. I'm sure they'll answer my query eventually. 

Consider the irony. In response to an article where roughly every third word was a f-bomb, I point out that Trump's opponents are hip-deep in denial games - and get banned for it. Could they possibly prove my point more vividly?


Everything I’m seeing is wall to wall denial games. Trump’s supporters are racist. They’re deplorable. Trump appealed to the worst in people. They hated a black president and the idea of a woman president. They voted against their “best interests” - look for an uptick in sales of What’s the Matter with Kansas? (Samuel L. Jackson has “snakes on a plane,” Schwartzenegger has “Hasta la vista, baby” and Frank has “voting against their best interests.” Nobody seems to be wondering what they did to cause this.Well, it’s not really hard. Go to all the right wing sites and look at posts from before the election. Read what people were angry about. Then stop doing that stuff. 

Quit the juvenile attacks on religion. If you want a religious establishment issue, look into the obstruction of observatories on Mauna Kea because some groups arbitrarily declare the mountain “sacred.” Quit speaking for terrorists (Noam Chomsky) and criminals (Making of a Murderer, anyone?) Quit solving social problems, like gun violence, by taking rights away from everyone else. 

Quit the petty bureaucratic micromanagement. Here's a local item from Seattle from just the other day. The city bought data from some demographics firm, pulled out all the information on people buying pet supplies, matched it to the dog license list, and sent people notices that they'd be fined if they didn't register their dogs. Does it get any more petty than this? First of all, why does any city even NEED to license animals? These days, with chipping, returning lost pets isn't that much of a problem. How much money is involved? It's chump change. No, it's all about enforcing petty micromanagement on everything. Tell me again why I should be so worried about the NSA when local governments pull this crap.

Another example: The tragic fire in Oakland California in December 2016 that killed 36 people. The building was almost literally connected by an extension cord (the only non-literal aspect is they probably used actual cable) and run off the meter of an adjacent building.
The building was a maze of safety hazards but hadn't been inspected in 30 years. Now, in those thirty years, how many homeowners in Oakland got citations for petty issues like peeling paint or having their garbage cans in the wrong place. Hundreds? Thousands?

Yet another example. In January, 2016, Kansas game wardens shot a deer that had become something of a family pet. "It might have had chronic wasting disease" was one excuse, though it was hardly more likely to be sick than any other deer. It's fascinating that, despite all we hear about how much Brownback's policies have devastated Kansas, Kansas still has money to keep idiots on the payroll. 

[Note to the "citations" crowd. All of these episodes got mainstream news coverage. If you're as informed as you pretend to be, you'd know about them already. And if you don't, you're unqualified to be in this discussion.]

A few years ago my street was torn up to replace sewers. I watched the work avidly. It was carefully planned and well done, and they kept obstructions to a minimum. It cost me $1500 and I think it was good value. The curb-laying machine that extrudes the curb like Play-Doh was amazing. And hitherto, sump pumps had been haphazard. Now everyone had to have a line to the storm sewers. It didn't take much to make me decide having someone dig the trench was the way to go. The trencher is like a chain saw on steroids, and the $300 was worth it.Now somebody explain what I got for the $600 for the permit. I watched the work and it was well done. Nobody from the city came by. The permit did me absolutely no good whatsoever. I didn't need it. It was purely a ripoff. They need the money to fund the inspection office? Let them hold a bake sale or take a second job if they think it's that vital.What’s driving Trump supporters more than anything else (and I voted for Clinton) is the desire for what Justice Lewis Brandeis called “the right to be let alone.” If people are not harming anyone else, they believe they have no obligation whatsoever to report or justify their activities to the government, get a permit or license, or have their rights circumscribed for the sake of the sociopathic. Oh, if you really want to drive people to the right, make voting mandatory. Get millions of people angry about government mandates, and send them to the polls.The denial games seem to come in three types:
  • We weren’t liberal enough. Need more cowbell. Sorry, I mean more Bernie Sanders.
  • Things will be okay once we enlighten the rubes. Teach them not to be racist, sexist, etc. It reminds me a bit of all the Hitler rant parodies. In the real movie, Hitler says everything will be all right once a counterattack begins. Then someone says there will be no counterattack because the general doesn’t have enough men, and Hitler loses it. (“Mein Fuehrer, the rubes are still racist and deplorable.” “DAS WAR EIN BEFEHL!!!”)
  • Denial squared. Yes, they are racist and deplorable, I don’t care what they think, screw them. Than you for proving my point.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Time to call B.S. on Private Censorship

Public and Private Censorship

The Constitution applies, for the most part, only to government. It's illegal to hold someone as a slave, but that's because there are laws specifically forbidding it, laws passed under the authority of the Constitution. It can be illegal to search someone's locker. Schools are bound by the law because they're government institutions, and employers may be bound by union contracts to observe due process. You can't be arrested or fined for just saying something, but very often you can be fired for posting something or banned from a Web site. 

Web site operators accused of censorship fall back on the idea that the Web site is their private property and they have a right to ban anyone they choose from using it. Many of them would froth at the mouth if someone else tried to defend barring gays or minorities from their business on the grounds of private property.

It's time to call B.S. Private censorship is still censorship. A public blog is a public accommodation every bit as much as a motel or gas station, and it should be subject to the same civil rights laws.

Suppression of Public Speech

This one is so obvious as to need little comment. Interfering with someone's ability to speak, or someone else's ability to hear him, by shouting the speaker down, is a violation of their civil rights, and should be punishable the same way any other violation of civil rights are punishable.

The same applies to barring someone from going where they have a right to go. Sit-ins that blocked access to buildings, so popular in the 1960's, were violations of the civil rights of people who were barred from going about their  business. Anti-abortionists who tried it at abortion clinics were slapped with RICO prosecutions. Any obstruction of people's movements is a violation of their Federal civil rights and should be punished at the Federal level.

In many cases, high profile events set up "free speech" zones where protestors can congregate. Activists object that the zones keep them out of public view. But anyone who wants to hear what they have to say (and that would be just about nobody) can easily go and hear them. If you want to object to someone, wear a T-shirt, carry a placard, but when they're talking, SHUT UP.


Content on blogs brings the free speech rights of the blog owner into conflict with those of the poster. 

A site doesn't have to invite comments. More and more sites don't, and while I may find that slightly disappointing at times, I absolutely understand why. This site doesn't, for example, and for a very simple reason. I just don't give a flying firetruck what you think. If you don't like my content, go someplace else.

And if the owner of the site decides to delete a comment as inappropriate or offensive, or simply irrelevant, they have a right to control the expression of their site. But few sites have such a small volume of traffic that they can be individually moderated.

Complete lack of moderation is not an option. There are places that go that route and they're widely regarded, except by the denizens of those sites, as the septic tank of the internet.

No, the real problem is sites that simply delegate moderation to readers and self-appointed content flaggers. And there have been myriad cases where that capability has been systematically abused. Repressive regimes have hired writers to blitz pieces by authors hostile to the regime. In some cases, those writers open dozens of dummy accounts to multiply their impact. On some sites, merely casting a large enough number of downvotes is enough to get a piece pulled or a writer banned. Recently, far rightists have gone to book sites and systematically downvoted any books by authors they find offensive.

The solution is relatively simple: due process. Any time someone is banned from a site, they must be told what specific post led to the ban, and told in detail what specific aspects of the post violated policy and why. And there must be a process of appeal. And the response must be prompt and timely.

And there need to be sanctions for people who file frivolous objections to posts. If they flag a post and their objection is overturned, they lose their flagging and voting privileges, maybe even get banned themselves. Better would be to not extend those privileges at all until the reader has a substantial  track record of responsible commentary.

Social Media

There have been tons of cases of people being fired for what they post on social media. Unless the person specifically identifies their employer (cops or other employees in uniform, the workplace clearly identifiable in the video, or whatever) this practice needs to be flatly banned. Your kid's English teacher has a lingerie ad on line, but she's not wearing school colors? Tough. Lucky kid.  None of your business. Your local dog catcher posts a politically incorrect rant, but he's off duty and wearing civilian clothes? First Amendment. Someone recognizes him as the dog catcher. So what? If the post doesn't otherwise violate any laws, like incitement to violence or treason, and the person's institutional connections aren't evident in the medium itself, social media should be absolutely immune from adverse actions. Especially, people should be absolutely immune to adverse actions for anything they posted before being hired.

Lots of people have posted approval of people getting fired for saying things on line, saying that the freedom to say things doesn't guarantee immunity from consequences. Well, ma'am, there's a new sheriff in town. See how you like it when people start getting fired for expressing sentiments you approve of.

Free Market, Free Speech?

"We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
- Thomas Jefferson writing to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820
Jefferson's vision of free speech was basically a free market of ideas where ideas lacking merit would be driven out of the intellectual marketplace. Unfortunately, "reason was free to combat" error only as long as it took someone to file a libel suit against someone who criticized him. 

Long before the internet, I had noted that crank movements tended to live in a self-contained bubble. In those days, the "information" circulated as Xeroxed pamphlets and pulp magazines. Believers in a young earth or massive UFO visitations never encountered any real counter-evidence. Nowadays, keeping track of cranks is like mopping up a tsunami with a Q-Tip. And the internet is a completely solipsistic world, where each bubble concocts its own facts.

Maybe the ultimate solution is a kind of digital Galt's Gulch, a new and restrictive internet open only to people with real credentials. Anyone can read it, but the vetting process for contributing to it is severely strict.

The Courts

As the comment below notes:
It's already been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech, see Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo, 1974.
Ignoring for the moment the near universal confusion between the Constitution and what the courts say about it, that's not exactly what the ruling says. The case challenged a Florida law that required newspapers to provide equal space for rebuttals of political editorials. The court ruled that, since newspapers are limited resources, requiring a paper to provide free space for rebuttals might discourage papers from printing editorials, the so-called "chilling effect." (The idea that the "chilling effect" is one of the stupidest legal concepts around is left for another essay. In fact, Jefferson's quote above makes it clear that free speech can only be effective in the presence of a "chilling effect.")

Interestingly, in cases involving broadcast media, the courts have used the very same scarcity argument to compel broadcasters to grant access to people who want to rebut opinion pieces. In those cases, the argument has been that the broadcast spectrum is a finite resource belonging to the public, that broadcasters are merely licensed to use part of it, and the government has the right to impose requirements on licensees. With cable and internet media, the limited resource argument isn't as critical.

The reality is that it has not been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech. The Department of Labor site on Workplace Posters ( has a long list of government-mandated posters that employers must post, whether they agree with them or not. They include posters on the Federal minimum wage, equal opportunity, OSHA rules on workplace safety, and labor relations. Not surprisingly, a number of these rules have been challenged as "compelled speech." So far none have reached the Supreme Court.

Sooner or later, anti-gay rights activists will quit using the doomed argument of "religious rights" (Which was demolished by Reynolds v. United States (1878). The Court upheld a bigamy conviction, saying that beliefs were inviolate but actions could be punished). It will be interesting to see what will happen when someone argues that being forced to provide a service for a gay wedding amounts to "forced expression."