Open Thread and Link Farm, Plague Doctors Edition

  1. The Constitution Drafting Project – National Constitution Center
    “The National Constitution Center’s Constitution Drafting project brings together three teams of leading constitutional scholars—team libertarian, team progressive, and team conservative—to draft and present their ideal constitutions.” Interestingly, the progressive and conservative constitutions both got rid of lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices.
  2. Vaccine allocation, age, and race – Noahpinion
    If we value Black and white lives equally, then on average Black people will get the vaccine sooner.
  3. (1) LORN – ANVIL [Official Music Video] – YouTube
    Odd little science fiction three-minute animated video. A bit heavy metal like (i.e., for no particular reason the main character is a woman with large boobs in a skintight outfit), but fascinating and lovely visuals, all in black and white line drawings. ETA: Content warning for suicide.
  4. I wrote a Twitter thread on censorship in America today – not meaning “Kirkus didn’t review my book,” but meaning “government agents pounding on the door at 6:30am.” (Alternative link.)
  5. Visa and Mastercard are Trying to Dictate What You Can Watch on Pornhub | Electronic Frontier Foundation
    “The truth is, navigating speech policies in a way that won’t shut down huge swaths of legitimate and worthy speech is hard. And it’s wrong that Visa and Mastercard have the power to—however clumsily—police speech online.”
  6. Dorf on Law: Justice Alito’s Sense of Grievance Distorts His Views of Free Speech
    “Justice Alito is, not to put too fine a point on it, acting like a snowflake. Being called a bigot might be hurtful, but it is not censorship. It is counter-speech.”
  7. Why Are These Sea Urchins Sporting Cowboy and Viking Hats? There’s Science to Their Hot Looks
  8. Report Finds Bail Reform in Chicago Reduced Pretrial Incarceration Without Hurting Public Safety – The Appeal
  9. Digging Into the Messy History of “Latinx” Helped Me Embrace My Complex Identity – Mother Jones
  10. Free Speech Activists Are Trying to Get Me Fired Because They Didn’t Like a Joke I Made – The Stage Mirror
  11. A Surreal New Bookstore Has Just Opened in China | Architectural Digest
    The photos are jaw-dropping.
  12. I left a long response in the comments to Shadi Hamid’s plea for Democrats to act in a bipartisan manner. Basically, I think we need to order from the options that are actually on the menu in front of us, not the options we WISH were on the menu.
  13. The dreamlike fungi that thrive in nature’s damp cornersGorgeous photos of mushrooms from the Netherlands.
  14. No-kill, lab-grown meat to go on sale for first time | Meat industry | The Guardian
    The “chicken bites”, produced by the US company Eat Just, have passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency and the approval could open the door to a future when all meat is produced without the killing of livestock, the company said.”
  15. Should the government pay Americans to get COVID vaccine? | Miami Herald
    Yes, we should.
  16. Fat Lady Attempts to Get Health Care: An Oral History – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
    This is a harsh satire about how shitty doctors treat fat women… so please be cautious about clicking through.
  17. Freeze Peach Revisited
    “Free speech is your right to speak free of government interference. This is democratic bedrock. This is also your right to run a blog that nobody reads, print a book that nobody buys, and hold a protest that nobody cares about. Freeze peach is your ability to speak and be heard — for your testimony to be credited, your expertise accepted, for your opinions and preferences to matter in public discussion.”
  18. The photos in this post are by Kuma Kum.

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25 Responses to Open Thread and Link Farm, Plague Doctors Edition

  1. 1
    Michael says:

    #5- This is completely hypocritical. The credit card companies started cutting off payments to alt-right groups years ago:
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paypal-suspends-dozens-of-racist-groups-sites-altright-com/
    https://nypost.com/2017/08/16/credit-cards-are-clamping-down-on-payments-to-hate-groups/
    And the left basically claimed it wasn’t a free speech issue since these were private companies.
    Here’s an article on ThinkProgress criticizing Stripe for continuing to accept payments from alt-right groups:
    https://archive.thinkprogress.org/stripe-payment-platform-right-wing-extremists-richard-spencer-4540e2fe0519/
    You can’t have one standard for porn and another for the alt-right and claim it’s a free speech issue.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Michael:

    1) The left is not the Borg. For a charge of hypocrisy to hold water, you’d have to at least show that Rainey Reitman, author of the article I linked to, has ever approved of credit card companies cutting off payments to groups based on political views.

    2) There’s a real difference between “Visa is cutting off payments to YouTube because YouTube, among all its other content, carries user-uploaded videos from people who are violent racists” and “Visa is cutting off payments to Stormfront, a hate group that encourages violence.” Maybe neither is defensible; but the latter certainly seems more defensible, to me.

    If Visa had, instead of cutting off all payments to Pornhub and a bunch of general-porn websites that have user-uploaded material, narrowly cut off payments to a specific nonconsensual porn site, I think I’d approve of that.

  3. 3
    Michael says:

    I see that the Electronic Freedom Foundation- which hosted the article- indeed opposes credit card companies shutting off payments to hate groups:
    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/10/corporate-speech-police-are-not-answer-online-hate
    “Our key concern with the model policy is this: It seeks to deputize a nearly unlimited range of intermediaries—from social media platforms to PAYMENT PROCESSORS to domain name registrars to chat services—to police a huge range of speech.”
    And Reitman in particular opposed it:
    https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/10/19/237077776/credit-cards-under-pressure-to-police-online-expression
    “Credit card companies have a huge amount of discretion, Reitman says. “I have noticed a serious trend toward what we often call the weakest link of taking down free speech, which is putting pressure on payment providers to suspend the accounts of controversial websites in order to basically shut the website down,” she says.”
    I see that they are consistent in their arguments and that is a virtue. My apologies to them if my previous comment left the impression they were hypocrites.
    My argument was more directed at people like you who call out groups like FIRE for perceived hypocrisy on free speech but never criticized the credit card companies for cutting off payments to hate groups and then criticized them for cutting off payment to Pornhub.
    And as for (2), your analogy doesn’t work. People who think that porn promotes rape or sexism or whatever would argue that Pornhub is more equivalent to Parler than YouTube. YOU might disagree with that analogy but that’s the point- free speech policies have to be neutral.

  4. 4
    Celeste says:

    I think the hypocrisy of #5 really depends on the rationale. Sure, from a free speech absolutist perspective it’s hypocritical, but that’s not the only reason to be opposed to either restriction.

    It’s totally coherent, for example, to think that alt-right groups should be deplatformed for public safety’s sake, because they tend to be violent hate groups (which I think is true), while not seeing a public safety risk from online pornography.

    I’m not particularly interested in debating this specifically, just noting that many of the groups that approve of CC companies shutting down payments to hate groups like Stormfront, The Proud Boys, and the Trump Campaign aren’t free speech absolutists in the first place.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    My argument was more directed at people like you who call out groups like FIRE for perceived hypocrisy on free speech but never criticized the credit card companies for cutting off payments to hate groups and then criticized them for cutting off payment to Pornhub.

    It’s reasonable to expect FIRE to be providing fairly comprehensive coverage of free speech issues on campus. That is (part of) their stated purpose, and they have a full-time professional staff working on it.

    Suggesting I should be comprehensive in a similar way (“you didn’t write about this particular story, so you’re a hypocrite!”) is unfair and stupid. This isn’t my job, I don’t have a staff, and I don’t claim or attempt to be comprehensive. There are literally thousands of free speech cases every year I never write about.

    (Tangent: How long has it been since I called out FIRE like that? I think they’ve changed. When I first became aware of them, many years ago, they were much more biased than they are now. I think they’re mostly evenhanded now, even though I might disagree with a particular call they make.)

    And as for (2), your analogy doesn’t work. People who think that porn promotes rape or sexism or whatever would argue that Pornhub is more equivalent to Parler than YouTube. YOU might disagree with that analogy but that’s the point- free speech policies have to be neutral.

    Free speech policies are not and should not be neutral. Child porn is illegal – that’s not being neutral. Revenge porn is illegal – that’s not being neutral. Credible sounding threats of violence are illegal. All of these things are illegal because society as a whole largely agrees that they are morally intolerable – the opposite of neutrality.

    If a specific porn site can be shown to largely exist to post revenge porn, then I’m comfortable with them being shut down, and that’s a different thing than shutting down Pornhub.

    I think Pornhub (as it was two weeks ago) and Parlor are equivalent, in that they’re both broad social media platforms. (By which I mean, much or most of the content is generated by an enormous mass of unedited users, who can post without being vetted or specifically chosen.)

    I’d argue that both Pornhub and Parlor should not be legally responsible for what users post on their sites – or at least, not responsible for pre-vetting what appears on their sites. (Once they’ve been told that a specific post on their site is illegal, that changes matters, but in ways that are beyond the scope of this comment.)

    So when you say my analogy doesn’t work because people would consider Pornhub to be like Parlor, that makes no sense to me because I think they’re pretty much the same, for free speech purposes.

    Are you assuming I want Parlor banned, or would approve of Visa cutting them off? Because I don’t, and I wouldn’t.

  6. 6
    Eva says:

    I love McSweeney’s and just want to say satire in this instance made my stomach knot up. For fat women who might feel sensitive about this topic you might want to skip McSweeney’s this one time.

    Meanwhile, I am reporting in from the land of fat women with sprained ankles. I missed a step coming down a flight of stairs with my hands full last Tuesday, so couldn’t see where I was going. Twisted my left ankle pretty bad, but drove myself home from where I’d been helping someone with their home office filing and called my doctor. I told him what happened and he told me, from my description, that it was unlikely I broke anything and that it was up to me whether I wanted to get an x-ray, or not. I opted for not, and blessedly was able to take the rest of the week off from work without losing much income. Three days later I checked in with my doctor who prescribed chicken soup (all that great connective tissue) and hydrotherapy. A day at the spa in my own kitchen! A week later my foot is full of bruises, a bit stiff and sore, but healing nicely. No fat shaming occurred during either of the conversations with my doctor, or anyone else who I’ve spoken with about my ankle in the past week. I am blessed and I know it.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Sorry about that, Eva. I’ve added a content warning to the post.

    And I’m really glad your ankle is healing well, and that you’ve got good doctors!

  8. 8
    Petar says:

    Speaking of warnings, should not #3 have one? The woman commits suicide, after all, even if a digital simulacrum of her remains in the virtual reality engine.

  9. 9
    Corso says:

    Amp @ 2 “There’s a real difference between “Visa is cutting off payments to YouTube because YouTube, among all its other content, carries user-uploaded videos from people who are violent racists” and “Visa is cutting off payments to Stormfront, a hate group that encourages violence.” Maybe neither is defensible; but the latter certainly seems more defensible, to me.”

    I’m not sure that we should go there. Corporations do not have principles, they have profit margins. I don’t think we should encourage this kind of behavior, both because it’s generally a bad thing to do, and because of the slippery slope argument.

    Are we really OK with card carriers and banks not working with people or organizations that are morally objectionable? What about utilities? Phone Companies? Internet carriers? Libraries? how about Grocery stores? And who defines what is morally objectionable? Should ANTIFA or BLM have access to payment carriers? People often discount slippery slope arguments because they believe that saner heads will prevail and a natural stopping point will assert itself. What is the natural stopping point?

    And then, to head it off at the pass, it’s probably that someone will assert that right wing extremists are worse. Let’s say, for the sake of conversation, I grant that. Where’s the line? If someone wishes to point out that the organizations are different, and rank them, fair. Is the line somewhere between them then? Is there a level of property damage, intimidation, harassment, or rhetoric at which point a person or organization becomes shunnable? What’s the minimum level of bad that someone has to exhibit before we take away their credit cards?

    Should Donald Trump be able to have a credit card? Should Richard Spencer? Should Louis Farrakhan? Should I? Should you?

  10. 10
    Corso says:

    On 4…

    Despite having just written a whole lot of words defending free speech, I fail to see the case of Jose Bello as a free speech issue. While you can disagree with American immigration laws and/or the mandate of ICE (and we probably have some common ground there), the fact of the matter is that Mr. Bello is in the united States Illegally, and he announced that at a podium at a large gathering. Take a step back from the immigration angle, if instead of confessing to illegal entry, Mr. Bello had confessed to murder, would you call his arrest an infringement on his speech rights?

  11. 11
    Kate says:

    … the fact of the matter is that Mr. Bello is in the united States Illegally, and he announced that at a podium at a large gathering. Take a step back from the immigration angle, if instead of confessing to illegal entry, Mr. Bello had confessed to murder, would you call his arrest an infringement on his speech rights?

    It matters whether a law is just or unjust. Mr. Bellow was brought to the U.S. at the age of 3. The fact that there is no path for him to legally live in the only country he has ever known is a travesty of justice.

  12. 12
    Eva says:

    Thank you Amp!

  13. 13
    Corso says:

    @11

    I don’t disagree…. I have serious problems with the American immigration system, I think it needs a major, foundational, ground-up overhaul. But in the meantime, the law is the law, and if someone gets up on a podium and says “I am breaking the law in a way that is arrestable” I don’t think it’s a free speech issue if they get arrested.

    I dislike everything about this case, I think that America needs to do some serious soul searching and make a realistic plan for the millions of people in America that don’t have papers. I could write novels about my disdain of prisoner treatment in America, and for-profit prisons. Even the fact that a prison cell existed without a toilet bothers me. But not every issue is all the issues. This is an immigration issue, a justice issue, a legal issue, and a human rights issue, but it isn’t a free speech issue. You cannot insulate yourself from arrest by announcing your crimes.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Corso, there’s no parallel at all between murder and being an undocumented immigrant. Let’s not demonize immigrants with ridiculous comparisons; leave that to the right-wingers.

    The government isn’t allowed to target immigrants for deportation for their political speech. DHS settles free-speech lawsuit filed by immigration activists in Vermont – The Washington Post

    The Trump administration has settled a high-profile lawsuit with three Latino activists, who had sued the agency after being arrested for deportation because of, they say, organizing they did with other farmworkers for better working and living conditions.

    As part of the settlement, the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to pay $100,000 to the three activists and Migrant Justice, the advocacy group they were working with, and to grant them deferred action, effectively stopping their deportation cases and allowing them to obtain work permits.

    The agency must also distribute a memo about the First Amendment — which protects undocumented workers from being targeted for political speech — to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Vermont, where the workers had been arrested.

    It’s not “insulating yourself from arrest” – as if, by speaking in public, he forever made himself immune to being deported for any reason. It’s that ICE isn’t allowed to target him specifically because they don’t like his political speech. That’s an important distinction that you didn’t make.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Petar: Content note added to #3, thanks.

  16. 16
    Corso says:

    @14

    Sorry Amp, murder was the first thing that came to mind when I was thinking of something that’d get you arrested quickly if you confessed to it in public, I wasn’t trying to draw a parallel. Every crime is different, but for clarity, it’s probably more akin to something non-violent… Possession? Or maybe Solicitation? Imperfect comparisons, still, but closer (and also both things I also think ought not to be illegal).

    As to the article… There’s a little more context than that. ICE does some very shitty things, and that was one of them: The people in question were picked up in a group of citizens when their protest event was illegally broken up. Migrant Justice had a first amendment right to speak, protest, assemble, and petition the government for redress of grievances, a government agency carting up all those people was facially unconstitutional, and happening to catch a couple of undocumented people in that unconditional act did not mitigate it.

    Arresting a group of people exercising a constitutional right and finding that some of them had committed a crime is fundamentally different from a person announcing their crime to a microphone and then being arrested.

  17. 17
    Grace Annam says:

    Corso:

    But in the meantime, the law is the law, and if someone gets up on a podium and says “I am breaking the law in a way that is arrestable” I don’t think it’s a free speech issue if they get arrested.

    I take your point. However, when the issue they are speaking about is bound up in the law they are speaking about, it becomes a free speech issue. If I were, for instance, legally required to wear at least three articles of male clothing when I went out in public — an example chosen from within my lived memory — I would not be able to speak publicly without outing myself, or without misrepresenting who I really am. If it were illegal simply to be trans, as it is in some countries, I would not be able to speak as effectively to challenge the law, because I would not be able to speak from personal, lived experience. Once upon a time, in my life, I was in the closet and did not speak publicly about LGBT issues for fear that people would figure it out and the act of speech would cost me my career, cost my family my income, cost us our house, etc. I remember what that was like.

    Further, this law is particularly pernicious. Bello breaks it by virtue of having been carried into a country long before any Western legal system would recognize him as being chargeable criminally for ANYTHING. It should be as though someone picked you up while you were sleeping and deposited you inside a bank. Although you have no legal right to be there, once the facts are known you cannot be charged with trespass, because two things are lacking: your intent to do anything (mens rea) and any act whatsoever. But Bello is chargeable with a crime simply for existing within the United States, having done nothing whatsoever to attain that result.

    There are circumstances when you can insulate yourself from arrest by announcing your crime. You find a dirty needle in an area where people sometimes use heroin. You pick it up (carefully, perhaps with a napkin), and you are now in possession of an illegal substance, the residue inside the needle, a crime for which people have certainly been charged. You approach a police officer and hand it to her, saying, “Officer, hi. I found this, just now, and I didn’t to leave it lying there where kids might find it but I certainly don’t want it, so would you dispose of it for me?” You’re extremely unlikely to be arrested or charged with possession, especially if you’re a well-dressed white person with a local accent, and if you are, you are also extremely unlikely to be convicted by judge or jury.

    There are laws where the act of reporting nullifies the crime. Terminology will vary, but, for instance, in New Hampshire if you accidentally back into someone’s car, you cannot be charged with Conduct After Accident (hit-and-run, in ordinary speech) if you go immediately to the nearest police officer or police station and report it. It’s not that you won’t be charged — it’s right there in the law that you can’t be.

    Grace

  18. 18
    Corso says:

    @17

    Hey Grace, brace yourself, because I think we’ve in violent agreement.

    Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that of my two comments, this is the topic we’re talking about. I fully expected to have to defend my position that stormfront should have access to payment processing carriers, and not so much on my position that I basically agree that America’s treatment of undocumented immigrants and the processes surrounding immigration are absolute garbage, I just don’t see them as a speech issue.

    As to the cornucopia of other ways America fails people… While I’ve never heard of clothing laws (although I’d love to read something on them if you have a source you think is particularly good), I’m not surprised. America isn’t the worst offender in history; America didn’t chemically castrate Alan Turing, and gay sex was never punishable by death in America like it is in Mauritania or Saudi Arabia even today, but the last sodomy law was repealed in my lifetime, and it was only three years ago when Alabama tried to legislate where people went to pee.

  19. 19
    Jacob says:

    Paying people to self-vaccinate would be a great idea for dealing with rational self-interested economic agents, but I’m much more sceptical about its effect on humans.

    Remember the famous Israeli playgroup experiment where introducing a fine for parents who didn’t pick their children up in time resulted in more people doing it, because they felt that if they were paying for it then they didn’t have to feel guilty about doing it.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    But that example shows that people ARE (at least in the case of that Israeli playgroup) rational self-interested economic agents! :-p

  21. 21
    Douglas Scheinberg says:

    The Stage Mirror article (#10) is paywalled.

  22. 22
    Douglas Scheinberg says:

    I don’t see much commentary on this blog these days, mostly just cartoons and link posts. Has The Discourse moved off of blogs and onto Twitter?

  23. 23
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://academic.oup.com/ahr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ahr/rhaa511/6040962

    Combining research on the genetics of the black plague with the historical record.

    The article will only be available for free until 12/31.

    Podcast: https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/ahrinterview/id/17189288

    “1. The Black Death was even bigger than we thought. “It has been called the largest pandemic in human history. This essay argues that it was even larger than previously imagined.”

    2. It began in the thirteenth, not the fourteenth century, when the disease split into four separate strains and started spreading outwards from Central Asia, via grain shipments to the Mongol army. “The Black Death as documented for Europe was not itself the Big Bang but merely the aftershock.”

    3. It started in marmots and then jumped to humans. “The work of hunting, cooking, and tanning marmot hides would have put every hunter, cook, and tanner at potential risk of infection. If the advancing troops carried with them previously slaughtered carcasses or prepared skins .. then we get a scenario favoring long-distance transmission.”

    4. It probably wasn’t noticed at first. “Despite its moniker, the Big Bang may have been a quiet event, largely unnoticed by human populations amid the far more visible chaos caused by the early Mongol conquests and the repeated displacements of peoples across central Eurasia. But amid that visible chaos, much may have been happening at a microbial level.”

    5. When it spread, it spread fast. This is “not a story of the creeping spread of disease, brought by wave after wave of traveling merchants .. Least of all is it a story of “rodents on the march” across vast landscapes .. No, the evidence of genetics suggests that, at least in the thirteenth century, plague moved with sudden rapidity, only to burrow into new host populations where its novelty, virulence, and isolation allowed it to flourish anew.”

    6. We have to stop thinking of the Black Death as a purely European event. “It is time to stop taking the urban European experience of the Black Death as the model against which all manifestations of plague must conform.”

    7. It could have played a part in the decline of the Mongol Empire. “The Ilkhanate collapsed right when plague was likely reemerging in the Caucasus in the 1330s, and the Golden Horde likewise collapsed in the Volga region upon a second wave of plague in 1359.”

    8. And in Africa too? “At the very least, for both West and East Africa and for China, there are now questions on the table about major disease events, hitherto undocumented in our histories.”

  24. 24
    Celeste says:

    As long as we’re discussing The Black Death, I feel like I should link to Seanan McGuire’s excellent song about why she believes it had a droplet-based transmission.

    http://seananmcguire.com/songbook.php?id=117

  25. 25
    Corso says:

    Ahoy all! Just wanting to say a slightly belated Merry Christmas, and wishing you and yours the best in the holiday season. This was a rough year, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than to watch Avengers: Endgame starting at 9:58:37 on New Year’s Eve so that Tony snaps 2020 to dust, so that exactly what I’m going to do.

    See you next year! o/

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