Oct 262002
 

Title: Those Evil Warbloggers
Stardate: 20021026.1025
Word Count: 2,247
Impetus: Some Brit blogger who’s upset that actual conservatives use the Internet too. And that whole Little Green Footballs vs. Anil Dash MSNBC hate speech thing.
Thesis: If speech is unrestricted, truth will out.
Historical Reference: Justice Holmes’ 1919 dissent, in Abrams v. U.S.: “The best test of truth is the power to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Evaluation: I doubt it. And “the marketplace of ideas” is a lousy reason to defend free speech anyway. If said marketplace failed to disseminate truth effectively — and there can be no denying that certain false ideas, like astrology, have made considerable market headway — would that be a good reason to restrict speech? Holmes’ jurisprudence indicates that he would have answered that question yes. What would Den Beste answer?

  4 Responses to “Den Beste Digeste”

  1. Yeah, you have a right to say what you like, as long as it doesn’t mislead others in to harming themselves ("fire" in crowded theater) or indicate that you are going to harm them (threats). Speech is an intrinsic right, not an instrumental, utility-based right.

    Oddly, vague threats are legal, such as "We ought to bomb the Empire State Bldg" or "Someday I’m going to kill you". Brandeis reasoned that there is a chance to talk the person out of it, so…. I’m not so sure. I think such language ought to be illegal. Everybody hates me for thinking this. Might have prevented Oklahoma City bombing or the D.C. sniper. Plus, what do we lose by locking up such people? I foresee no chilling effect on speech. Can you argue me out of this view, Aaron?

  2. Brandeis’ reasoning is more instrumentalism, not even coherent instrumentalism. There’s a chance to talk people out of specific threats too; so what?

    But you dismiss the chilling effect too blithely. Ordinary male banter — one can hear quite specific and colorful threats at any poker table — will be made illegal under the Vague Threats Act of 2002.

    Best case: the Act is ignored, cultivating contempt for the law in general and taking another step toward a government of men, now laws. Dead letter is always merely dormant. Worst case: the Act is enforced. Everyone has to consider whether anyone he is talking to will inform on him should he slip and utter a vague threat. (And not just against his interlocutor either, if I understand you correctly — against anyone.)

    This is why I think the threat must be serious and credible, at a minimum, before it loses its First Amendment protection.

  3. Yes, serious and credible. But Brandeis said that even then, if it was not immediate there was time to talk the person out of it. The immediate threat, he thought, you couldn’t stop by reasoning with the person.

    Apparently, they got that terrorist cell in Oregon by hearing them make vague threats and watching them until they screwed up. But if most vague threats like the ones they made are empty, I guess you’d discount them as not serious or credible. I guess we just have to live with people getting blown up from time to time.

  4. I should add that I don’t object to surveillance of people who make vague threats, even if the threats themselves pass First Amendment muster. In one of the classic threat cases a man said at a public rally against the draft that "if they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J." The court, properly in my view, decided that wasn’t a criminal act. But if the police, on the basis of this remark, want to keep a particular watch on the guy, that’s OK with me.

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Oct 232002
 

Again my comparative sloth is exposed…

Stardate: 20021022.1604
Word Count: 2,138
Title: Lord Robertson, the Hapless
Impetus: NATO. And of course, France.
Thesis: The follies of multilateralism, as exemplified by poor Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of NATO, who is intelligent enough to realize he is arguing a hopeless case. Our European allies, with the exception of Britain, are useless, militarily at least.
Military History Lesson: Schwarzkopf relied only on British and American troops in the Gulf War; everyone else was for show. Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan each demonstated, in its own way, why international coalitions to fight wars do more harm than good.
Best Quote: “[The U.S. would] be glad to sell [fancy military] communications equipment to Europe if they want to buy it. But that’s not what they want. What they want is for us to give them the technology to make it possible for them to create such things themselves. Not to put too fine a point on it, what they want to do is to use this as an excuse for wholesale industrial espionage.”

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Oct 222002
 

Stardate: 20021021.2325
Word Count: 3,000
Title: Later When?
Impetus: France.
Thesis: Follow the money. Iraq owes Russia and France billions of dollars, which they may collect if Saddam stays in power but probably won’t if he doesn’t. But they can’t ally themselves with Iraq openly. Thus they dither over bureaucratic resolutions, in an effort to postpone war as long as possible.
Psychological Analogy: Parkinson’s Second Law: Delay is the deadliest form of denial. In child-rearing: “I’ll take you to the mall…later.” In politics: the Environmental Impact Statement. In engineering: “That’s a Version 2 feature.”
Best Quote: “The Environmental Impact Statement is easily the greatest achievement of the environmentalist movement. Imagine: an entire government bureaucracy was created for the sole purpose of forcing anyone who wants to build anything anywhere to spend vast amounts of money on studies and create truly awesome reports, all of which can then be used by enemies of the project to work against it.”
Bonus: There is an international agency of French-speaking countries called La Francophonie, which is just too good.

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Oct 212002
 

Stardate: 20021020.1915
Word Count: 2,979
Title: A Compulsion to Revisionism
Impetus: Irritation with benighted “Macolytes.”
Thesis: Apple, despite its small market share, acts like a monopoly because Mac users can procure most of their hardware only through Apple. For this and other reasons, the Mac’s hardware is in every way inferior to the PC’s. (Den Beste discusses mostly graphics, Apple’s pride and joy, and detours briefly into RAM.) Apple’s dishonest benchmarking, down to its very choice of Photoshop filters, is designed to hide these facts.
Best Quote: “Apple is presenting itself as a premium brand, but it’s using the cheapest components it can find.”
Word to the Non-Technical: You might enjoy Arnold Kling’s comment more than the piece itself.

(Update: Den Beste runs, or tries to run, some hard disk benchmarks.)

  One Response to “Den Beste Digeste”

  1. Eric Hoffer wrote about Macs? I didn’t know Macs had 50+ years of history behind them… you learn something new every day! :.)

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Oct 192002
 

It’s mildly embarrassing that Den Beste turns out full articles faster than I can summarize them. Today — this morning anyway — finds him in full chiphead mode.

Stardate: 20021019.0621
Word Count: 1,994
Title: We’re Gonna Be Faster
Impetus: IBM’s announcement of the PowerPC 970 chip, which won’t actually show up in any Macintoshes until the beginning of 2004 at the earliest.
Thesis: Macs are slow. Really slow. If by some faint chance they ever do get faster, they’ll be a lot more expensive.
Science/Engineering Analogy: None.
Best Quote: “…the Mac is already faster, since the Mac is invariably faster. You see, there’s this thing called the ‘Megahertz Myth’ which says that no matter how much faster the PC gets, the performance of the Mac improves enough to stay in the lead without actually changing its hardware in any way. It’s a miracle!”
Evaluation: If you don’t understand, in detail, the difference between, say, SMP and SMT, better skip. Specialists only.

  One Response to “Den Beste Digeste”

  1. Reading this summary would have saved this Luddite ten minutes of frustration and headache.It’s time I bookmark your site.

    Still, I’m glad there are people like Den Beste who try to explain modern technology.

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Oct 182002
 

Stardate: 20021018.1628
Title: A Quaker Viewpoint
Word Count: 3,227
Impetus: An apparent urge to confront a rare honest opponent of the war with Iraq. Proximately, an article in “The Quaker Economist” (which, oddly, he doesn’t link to, although he does quote a lot of it) by one Jack Powelson, making a pacifist case against the war.
Thesis: We aren’t going to war with Iraq, as opposed to, say, North Korea, because of the particular sins of Iraq, numerous and serious though they are. We’re going to war with Iraq because it best serves our long-range strategic interest of wiping out the “Arab/Islamic cultural disease.”
Science Analogy: Patent medicine. It suppressed the symptoms of tuberculosis but did nothing for the disease. Anyone like Powelson who looks at a particular attack or battle in isolation is thinking the same way.
Best quote: “Sometimes you fight in a place because your enemy is there. Sometimes you fight in a place because you need to move through it to get to somewhere else you need to go.”
Bonus: Some nice line-by-line deconstruction of Powelson’s “international law” and “declaration of war” pettifogging. (I’d call it a “fisking” but Colby Cosh says that’s twee.)

(Update: Den Beste points out that he linked to the Quaker article in “On Screen.” My mistake. I missed those links before, and I bet some of his other readers did too.)

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