URLs du Jour


■ I think Proverbs 17:16 might be one of my favorites:

16 Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom,
    when they are not able to understand it?

I've never seen this Proverb posted on any college faculty office door. Despite its appropriateness. That would be a bold move.

■ A desperate attempt to win the 2017 award for "Stupidest Article Published on the Website of a Broadcast News Organization" is made by Noah Berlatsky, at NBC News: Is the First Amendment too broad? The case for regulating hate speech in America.

Must we defend Nazis?

For many free speech advocates, the answer is not just "yes," but "hell, yes." Nazi ideas are, supposedly, among the most despised ideas in the United States. It's precisely because they are so loathed that Nazis must be vigorously defended, the argument goes. As the executive director of the ACLU said in a recent interview: "If we grant government the ability to deny people protest permits because of what they say or how they say it or what they stand for, that we'll find then that speech in other contexts will be regulated and suppressed."

Berlatsky starts out talking about Nazis, but his first specific example is Milo Yiannopolous. Who, whatever his numerous faults, is not a Nazi.

Eventually, it becomes clear that Berlatsky wants to do … something, it's not clear exactly what, about "hate speech against marginalized communities."

Query: Do "Nazis" make up a "marginalized community"? They certainly get hated a lot. But I think Berlatsky is OK with "hate speech" directed at them. Fine. I hate Nazis too.

Berlatsky (correctly) notes that some speech is unprotected: libel, true threats, etc. But those legal categories are well-defined, and relatively small. Berlatsky wants to open up a wide hole in the protective First Amendment fabric with very vague concepts.

It's shameful that NBC News, an organization that benefits from First Amendment protection, should be associated with degrading such protection for others.

■ An ordinary news article from the [Cedar Rapids/Iowa City IA] Gazette about financial malfeasance at the local U: University of Iowa professor Michael Flatté accused of abusing position, mismanaging funds. Except it contains this fascinating paragraph:

Among the allegations against UI physics professor Michael Flatté is that he spent more than $8,000 in UI resources on robots “to teach classes, supervise assistants, and attend meetings while he was out of the country or attending conferences.”

You can get robots—note the plural—to do all that for $8K?! I am impressed.

Clearly, the University of Iowa, currently in dire financial straits, could save a lot of money by buying more robots to replace faculty, instead of dumping on Prof Flatté!

■ It sounds like an entry in a kid's book series: Albert Einstein and the high school geometry problem.

In early May 1952, 73-year-old Albert Einstein took a break from his three-decade pursuit of a unified field theory to provide a 14-year-old some help with a geometry problem.

The problem is: What is the length of “the common external tangent of two tangent circles of radii 8 inches and 2 inches”? (The answer may surprise you!)

Einstein, cleverly, did not solve the problem for the student. Instead he set up a more general problem (removing the tangency constraint), drew a suggestive diagram, and then threw it back to the 14-year-old. Remarkable.