Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is the left really opposing free speech?

I'm having a difficult time confronting my own bias here, and I'm trying hard not to rest on sweeping conclusions that flatter my own political prejudices.

I am trying not to conclude that a large section of the modern American left is opposed to freedom of speech because I keep seeing new examples pop up. The latest includes a feminist college professor and her students stealing an anti-abortion protesters sign, then justifying it because the sign upset her; calls to arrest people who deny climate change science; and yet another audience was denied the right to listen to a men's rights speaker because of activists drowning them out with noise.

My inner skeptic is telling me to avoid reaching a conclusion here. I do not watch for right wing free speech opponents the same way and may be missing them in spades. The Gawker article on arresting climate change deniers is just some silly essay on the Internet about one single philosophy professor, and the dredging the comment sections of blogs is worse than idiot hunting, it's straight-up Kevin Drum's law.

But then I remember what Harvey Silverglate has said about free speech opposition on college campuses, and I look to the words of Fredrik deBoer, the left-wing author of the piece about the college professor who stole the protesters sign. They don't share my political world view and deBoer concluded:

I know some people will assume I’m speaking to some sad fringe here. But I have been amazed at how mainstream these anti-free speech efforts have become. I have been amazed not just because of the immorality of trying to ban free though, free expression, and free assembly, or because these efforts reverse centuries of the assumed work of the left, but because of how easily this could backfire, in a world where our movements against sexism and racism and homophobia are still so fragile and contested.

Left wing opposition to freedom of speech is not a regression to feudalism, where people could be arrested for saying things that were insulting or critical of those in power. Instead, it takes the form of sensitivity and trying to protect the downtrodden. It's not a step back, so much as a step in a foolish new direction.

It would be so much easier to conclude that the American left has abandoned free speech, or that opposition to free speech is equally bipartisan, but I can't settle on either of those points. Instead I'm stuck in an intellectual limbo, wanting to drift to a conclusion but distrusting all the clues I see before me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cancel Colbert is the perfect social justice example

Congratulations to Suey Park for creating the most easily disproved social justice crusade in recent years, and reminding us all why online social justice warriors are heavily mocked by non-bigots.

The Comedy Central television network runs a Twitter account for the Stephen Colbert show, while Colbert himself and his writers have their own Twitter account. The network account posted a purposely-racist post this week mocking the owner of the Washington Redskins by using the goofy right wing Colbert character to say:

That drew the attention of professional victim Suey Park, who used the hashtag #CancelColbert to try to squeeze some kind of groveling apology out of Colbert (Who had nothing to do with the offending remark.)

I want to give Park the benefit of the doubt here and say she doesn't actually want Colbert's show canceled. What she said on Josh Zepp's Huffington Post Live broadcast was that her demands were purposely unreasonable to get attention. In particular, she said:

Our demands aren't really met unless we have really serious asks or we generate these larger conversations. Unfortunatly, people usually don't listen to us when we're being reasonable

So Park is saying that she purposely exaggerates what she wants to get cheap attention. That's not a good way to start any conversation, or to assert oneself as a serious person to learn from.

The conversation ended pretty quickly when Park tried to use a cheap privilege shaming tactic to steamroll Zepp, and he didn't let it happen.

As Tim Molloy wrote on this kerfuffle, "I'm so non-racist I even think non-racists are racist." This is like protesting Roots for having racist characters.

Park is trying to make a living off of perpetual victimhood, and while most of the attention this is generating paints her as a fool, she's getting enough positive reinforcement to gain some clout among the people who might book her for speaking engagements or buy her writings.

I really don't know how sincere her beliefs are on this issue. I'll grant her that she cares about racism and social justice, but it's hard not to look at her responses to questions about the nature of satire and think she's playing a role for personal profit.

Thinking Park is completely sincere insults her intelligence. It's much kinder to say she's a faker willing to eat her own allies.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FBI cans left-wing busy bodies

This is a subtle, but important news story. The FBI stopped linking (and therefor, stopped endorsing) the Southern Poverty Law Center on the FBI hate crime webpage. Along with the Anti-Defamation League,

The FBI had no comment and offered no explanation for its decision to end their website's relationship with the two groups, leaving just four federal links as hate crime “resources.” The SPLC had no comment.

The SPLC does good, important work by identifying hate groups like KKK offshoots, and black nationalists. I give them props for labeling black nationalists as racists, something I've seen too many left wingers decline to do, but their recent opposition to men's rights showed how low a threshold they have for outrage.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Just as valid

Perhaps the rush to blame vaccines for autism was a cover-up to protect the real culprits.

It's just as valid an argument, which is to say, not valid at all.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Guardian is not down with the clown

The Guardian's headline for a story about Occupy Seattle protester Scott Olsen receiving enough money to buy pizza rolls for the rest of his life includes a punchy detail:

Oakland pays $4.5m to Scott Olsen, veteran injured in Occupy protest

OK, while perfectly accurate, the left-wing Guardian could have included another detail that was completely unrelated to Olsen's decision to join an angry mob that refused police orders to disperse. They could have written:

Oakland pays $4.5m to Scott Olsen, juggalo injured in Occupy protest

Seriously Guardian, why no family love for Faygo?

Friday, March 21, 2014

America leads by example

I often hear anti-gun folks say that the Founding Father's idea of enshrining gun rights is outdated because America's modern military is too advanced to be overthrown by civilians with rifles.

I reject that idea, and I think a decade in Iraq has shown us just how formidable an enemy with rifles and no tanks or jet fighters can be. I also know that the effort to fight a civil war is a problem the government wants to avoid even if it expects it would win.

But what's not up for debate is that armed civilian uprisings in another nations stand a damn good chance against their militaries. Venezuela comes to mind, assuming they can be armed.

If America really did try to ban the possession of "war weapons" like magazine-fed rifles, wouldn't that promote a universal ban of those weapons in other nations, and make justified revolutions in other nations that much harder?

Being able to possess and carry a weapon for ones own protection is a universal human right, and America needs to continue to set an example for the rest of the world by protecting that right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Always, always go with science

I really want to like EconPop, the new comedy-slash-economic education web series from EconStories; the same people who brought us the Keynes and Hayek rap videos.

I want to like it, but having seen the first episode, I don't.

The first episode combs the Dallas Buyers Club movie for economic and libertarian messages. Some of them are good points, like how capitalism promotes tolerance by getting people to trade with folks they might otherwise hate, and a good lesson on regulatory capture.

But there's a part of the episode that I found repulsive, and it wasn't the awful George Stigler segment. It was the promotion of medical pseudoscience.

The film presents the FDA as a corrupt, incompetent agency that blocks good medicine, including the life-saving supplements the film's hero sold to the public as HIV treatment. While I think that portrayal of the FDA isn't far from the truth, the magic bean cures it was trying to stop were a legitimate problem.

The film, and EconPop, portrays anecdotal "it worked for me" stories as evidence that the supplements are useful for treating HIV. They aren't, and it's well established that most of these things he sold were bad medicine.

Economics and scientific skepticism are two dimensions of scientific analysis that I value. Most of the time when I see them clash I go with the economic perspective. That's because I usually conclude that the skeptic failed to understand the economics of the situation, and their analysis would change if they understood it. In this case, the economic approach failed to understand skepticism, and produced a flawed point.

There is a second episode of EconPop out, but it's on the economics of House of Cards and I will wait until I finish season two to see it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fred Phelps Film update

It turns out "Fall from Grace: The story of Fred Phelps" will have a twist ending. The heroic Jim Crow-fighting lawyer who becomes a human slug biopic ends with the protagonist being excommunicated from his own church. Somehow.

Will Phelps change his tune before his last wheezy breath and become our generation's Anakin Skywalker? The suspense will soon end because Phelps is now near death.

As an aside, I decided to look and see if there is already a movie called "Fall from Grace," which is something I just came up with when I first wrote about Phelps non-evil past. It turned out there is, and it's also about Phelps. Oops.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Massimo Pigliucci gets a gold star

Three years ago I wrote a thank-you letter to Richard Dawkins for being a left wing atheist who made conservative/libertarian people like me feel welcome in secular circles.

Yesterday Massimo Pigliucci spoken in defense of people like me having a place at the secular table, even though he is a far leftist.

The point is: so what? What does any of the above, including abortion, fiscal conservativeness (or not), support for the military (or not), owning guns (or not), and liking or disliking Obama have to do with atheism? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

If there is a reason to criticize David Silverman, it is because he made the same mistake that a lot of progressive atheists make these days: thinking that atheism is somehow logically connected to one political position or another. It isn’t, and it can’t be, and it’s time to stop pretending it is.

Thank you Massimo, from the bottom of my godless heart.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

If you don't like being laughed at, don't be a Marxist

Boston Globe, what are you doing?

This week the Globe printed a ridiculous one-sided crybaby piece from someone who chose to become a public figure but didn't like having her own words used against her.

Wellesley College economics professor Julie Matthaei was one of 600 academic economists who signed a letter of support for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. A right wing group called the "Employment Policies Institute" printed this critical ad in the New York Times quoting Mattaei and seven other people who signed the letter of support that shows those people saying radical things that expose them as Marxists, socialists, Stalinists or 9-11 conspirators.

In Matthaei's example, they took a quotation from her Wellesley webpage where she described herself as a “Marxist-feminist-anti-racist-ecological-economist.”

In short, the Employment Policies Institute (which is not a real institute) is saying that the "600 economists" who lined up to support raising the minimum wage has some crushed drywall mixed in with its cocaine for bulk.

Matthaei didn't express any disagreement with that conclusion, but tried to play it off as persecution for her beliefs. The Boston Globe reporter and headline writer sprinkled in scare terms like "echoes of the cold war" and "This flashback to the Cold War..." It also said:

The Times ad, taken out by the nonprofit Employment Policies Institute in Washington, had a distinctly 1950s flavor, employing excerpts from quotes that used derivatives of “Marx” four times, praised Soviet-style socialism, and questioned official accounts of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Keep in mind that it was the reporter declaring the ad had a "distinctly 1950s flavor" and not Matthaei. There is no issue with the Globe quoting Matthaei as saying things like “I felt I was being red-baited” because that's a statement attributed to her, the focus of the piece. The problem is when the reporter used similar opinionated language to paint a picture, and the reporter here most definitely did.

The Employment Policies Institute did not prove that all 600 economists who signed the letter are batty. It instead said what people who lack supporting data always do and hid behind vague wording. It said "Many" of the 600 economists are radical researchers. That's not a slam dunk, and it ignores people like Kenneth Arrow, one of six Nobel Prize winning economists who signed on.

But what's completely fair game is holding people responsible for their actual words and beliefs. Matthaei really is an anti-capitalism Marxist who lives in a commune. Just like alternative medicine nonsense has infiltrated higher education despite being completely at odds with reality, so has Marxist economics. Matthaei is part of that sect of academic Marxist economics, and they should be seen as a separate group, like we see doctors and witch doctors as separate groups.

For what it's worth, economists now have a lot of debate on the minimum wage, and as Greg Mankiw said, there are hundreds on both sides of the argument.

One of the radicals quoted in the ad actually said something true about Marxist economics. That was Renee Toback, who said “Marxist analysis is as useful today as it ever was.”

I couldn't agree more.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I'm sorry, but you don't understand "mansplaining"

This post has been created to be shared with people who misuse and misunderstand the term "mansplaining." If someone shared it to you in response to your flippant use of "mainsplaining" in an online discussion, then this message is for you.

"Mansplaining" is not the act of a man explaining something to a woman. That's a normal, eventless part of human interaction. Some people claim to know or understand things, and they attempt to explain those things to others for the purpose of enlightenment. Sometimes one role will be played by a man, and sometimes the other role will be played by a woman.

The term actually has a very narrow definition. It is when a non-expert man condescendingly explains something to a woman in a subject that she is an expert it. The concept comes from a famous 2008 blog post by Rebecca Solnit. If you haven't read her story, you should. It will help you understand the concept.

The act of a man explaining something to a woman online is not a scandal. To believe that one must have a low threshold for outrage. If you are one of the people using the term as a cheap gimmicky way to avoid writing a response, shame on you and you look like a fool.

I wrote this piece to bookend my previous post about misuse of the term "privilege." In both cases, there is a legitimate concept that is being misused to short-circuit legitimate discussions for an easy "win."

By the way, I understand the irony that this post, when read by a woman, could be accused of being a case of mansplaining itself. That irony is delicious, I'm glad you like it too.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

How not to argue against privilege

Today while reading an otherwise brilliant and moving piece about the struggle of one father to see his own son, I had to forgive the author for making a common error when he closed with a shout against the concept of male privilege. Specifically, he wrote:

This is why I have a problem when people tell me I’m “privileged” just by virtue of my being a male.

As I wrote before, there are clueless social justice warriors who misuse the legitimate concept of privilege and treat it as a dumb "I win" button in discussions. Those people act as if accidents of birth dismiss the validity of someone's arguments, and only personal experience can be used to find truth in the world. Those people are wrong and should not be taken seriously.

But the actual privilege arguments are much more modest and reasonable. They do not say that men or whites have every advantage in society, but say that there are certain scenarios where some people do not have to worry about certain things. Tim Wise used the example of a cop helping jimmy open the lock on his car without checking to make sure it was actually his. If Tim has been black, the cop probably would have at least asked.

But what Tim Wise and the other social justice warriors don't include in their message is that all groups have privilege, including women. Female privilege, for example, includes not worrying about being accused of pedophilia while interacting with kids, sitting next to them on a plane or when using a public skating rink bathroom.

As Warren Farrell said, our society is sexist against men and women at the same time in different ways. That is not to say that they automatically break even, but that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Many, many times I see someone going up against an activist by pointing out some injustice men face and asking how they could possibly be "privileged." When they say that, I know they don't really understand the concept, and they are guilty of making the same simplistic assumption the social justice warriors make by assuming only one group can experience harm at a time.

Still loving capitalism

I've been swamped for the last month with some freelance blogging on the side in addition to my day job, but I'm back now and this Washington Post column reminds me of why I love capitalism so much.

H&M to offer a $99 wedding dress.