The problems with free speech absolutism

These days we seem to see a proliferation of hate speech, the tone being set by the petulant man-child who is currently president of the US, who lashes out at everyone he doesn’t like or who opposes him on anything, using the most incendiary rhetoric. This has given encouragement to all the bigots who see his words and actions as giving them a license to let loose too. The ghastly video below, seemingly cribbed from a scene in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service that shows Trump murdering various journalists, media organizations, and political rivals, was shown at a conference of Trump’s supporters at the Trump National Doral Miami resort and is an example of what is being supported and promoted by those at the very top. (Violence advisory.)

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George Will goes after Trump and the Republicans

The conservative columnist has been souring on Donald Trump for some time but Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds seems to have sent him over the edge and he excoriates Republicans in Congress for enabling his behavior.

Donald Trump, an ongoing eruption of self-refuting statements (“I’m a very stable genius” with “a very good brain”), is adding self-impeachment to his repertoire. Spiraling downward in a tightening gyre, his increasingly unhinged public performances (including the one with Finland’s dumbfounded president looking on) are as alarming as they are embarrassing. His decision regarding Syria and the Kurds was made so flippantly that it has stirred faint flickers of thinking among Congress’s vegetative Republicans.
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The awful coverage of Bernie Sanders by the ‘liberal’ media

I can understand why the conservative media hates Bernie Sanders. He is a democratic socialist who has scathingly castigated the oligarchy and their supporters for creating vast inequality in wealth and incomes in the US and called for a radical restructuring of the government and the economy that will serve ordinary people rather that further enriching the already wealthy. And he has been fighting for the rights of the marginalized all his life.

What his candidacy has revealed is how the so-called ‘liberal’ elements in the media also hate him, using all manner of false claims and trivialities to discredit his candidacy. They talk more about the optics than the facts of where he stands with issues. It reminds me of how in 2000, the liberal media ran with the idea that George W. Bush was a better companion to share a beer with than Al Gore, as if that were an important factor in voting for a president.

This clip, that supposedly was created by a Sanders supporter and is being distributed by the campaign, juxtaposes the ‘liberal’ false characterizations of Sanders with what he is really like.

I am fed up with these private expressions of misgivings

As Donald Trump continues to act like a deranged king, issuing orders and statements that reveal a dangerously lawless mindset, some of those around him are trying to have it both ways. They continue to serve him and are thus accomplices, while seeking absolution for their complicity by whispering to sympathetic reporters that they disapprove of what he is doing. They are no different from the enablers of celebrity sexual predators.

The media write these stories to suggest that the Trump administration is in disarray. That may well be true but at some point they have to realize that by writing such stories, they are also part of Trump’s enablers, since they are salving the consciences of those who continue to serve him and enable him to continue the actions they say they deplore. These people who do not have the courage of their convictions to publicly rebuke Trump and resign (or even be anonymous whistleblowers) are the kinds of people who, when they do leave the administration, end up using their sympathetic reporter contacts to find jobs in the media. This revolving door between anonymous sources and media punditry is a well-oiled one.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right to call out these crocodile tears and the reporters who provide the crocodiles with handkerchiefs.

The unbearable whininess of New York Times columnists

It is extraordinary how brittle are the sensibilities of people who have major media platforms. I recently highlighted the absurd over-reaction of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens to a tweet by an until-then obscure professor who called him a bedbug. This turned out to be a beautiful example of the Streisand Effect because Stephens’ ridiculous response went viral and was used as an example by many (including me) about how these who often use their platforms to denounce those whom they accuse of silencing the speech of others, have feelings that are hurt so easily that they denounce any critics of themselves, however innocuous. It reveals what sheltered lives they live, in a cocoon of like-minded people who pat each other on the back at their social gatherings.
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Shaming hospitals to do the right thing

A ProPublica report from back in June exposed the fact that a nonprofit hospital system in Memphis, Tennessee that was affiliated with the Methodist church had been aggressively suing poor people who had not been able to pay their bills. It had created its own aggressive debt-collection agency that had gone to the extent of garnishing the wages (i.e., deducting money from paychecks) of those who owed money, even though the money they were earning was barely enough for them to live.
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Kareem Abdul Jabbar weighs in on the Shane Gillis/SNL issue

The basketball star who has become one of the sharpest social analysts has an excellent take on the firing of comedian Shane Gillis from Saturday Night Live soon after his hiring was announced, when it was revealed that Gillis’s past comedy routines indulged in sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

I will excerpt just two paragraphs to whet your appetite to read the whole thing.

It’s tempting to open this column by repeating Shane Gillis’ homophobic, anti-Asian and misogynistic slurs that got him fired from Saturday Night Live to show just how desperately unfunny, derivative and dripping with flop sweat they are. But their level of funniness is not the point. Comedians have the right to be unfunny sometimes, just as athletes have the right to lose games, and actors to be in bad films. But when a comedian makes hate-based comments, as Gillis did on his podcasts, we do have an obligation to take a closer look to see whether they are insightful provocateurs of culture and the human condition, or just another middle-schooler blowing milk out their nose for a quick laugh, not caring who they spatter with milky snot in the process.

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The ‘singular they’ has arrived!

As anyone knows, referring in the third person about some one whose gender you do not know was a problem even in the days when gender was seen in purely binary terms. Repeatedly writing ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’ gets tedious very quickly. The growing recognition and acceptance that gender was not binary but fluid initially seemed to compound the problem of the third person singular pronoun.

But as often happens, it is when a problem gets acute that people start looking for new ways to address it and the suggestion that rather than inventing a third term, we use ‘they’ in singular as well as plural form was an idea brilliant in its simplicity.
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Cokie Roberts, a Villager of excellent standing, has died

Today came news that Cokie Roberts, was a major player at NPR and ABC as a political commentator, has died. I do not celebrate her death but found her to be utterly tiresome and am dreading the deluge of appreciations of her as some kind of wise and sagacious analyst. As far as I could see, her analyses consisted almost invariably of conventional wisdom or quoting poll results. I cannot recall a single original idea or compelling insight to come from her. Eric Alterman described her best: “With no discernible politics save an attachment to her class, no reporting and frequently no clue . . . a perpetual font of Beltway conventional wisdom uncomplicated by any collision with messy reality.”
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The ethics of accepting ‘anonymous’ donations from bad actors

Thanks to a comment by John Morales, I read this article by Kelsey Piper that looks at a possible justification given by MIT for why they went to such lengths to keep the money they got from sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein secret. It is an argument I had not heard before.

The obvious question: What on earth were they thinking? The MIT Media Lab — an interdisciplinary research center affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — was well regarded, well funded, had great publicity, and was attached to one of the world’s best universities. Why would they risk it all to attract donations from someone like Epstein? And how could people write emails like the ones revealed in the New Yorker piece — “jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous” — without realizing they were on the path to disaster?

On Sunday, we got a partial answer via an essay by Larry Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He knew all along that the MIT Media Lab was taking Epstein’s money, he said. He thought it was the right thing to do. So, he says, did the team at the Media Lab.

Their justification is simple: If someone is a bad person, taking their anonymous donations is actually the best thing you can do. The money gets put to a better use, and they don’t get to accumulate prestige or connections from the donation because the public wouldn’t know about it.

This argument isn’t that eccentric. Within philanthropy, it has been seriously raised as a reasonable answer to the challenging question of how organizations should deal with donations from bad actors.

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