URLs du Jour

2022-02-08

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  • Well, no, that's not actually true. I've never been in Facebook Jail. And ever since I learned that Facebook is a toxic place to debate politics, I've never even gotten close. I unfollow friends who use Facebook to debate politics, … and it's fine.

    But that doesn't mean all is well. Will Duffield writes About Those Facebook Ads Calling for More Internet Regulation. As the song says, it's a tale as old as time:

    Facebook recently began running a series of advertisements calling for increased Internet regulation. In the videos, featured employees argue that because Facebook’s content moderation can’t please everyone, the government should set standardized speech rules for all platforms. This unsatisfying argument treats the market for speech governance as a problem. It endorses a solution that would benefit Facebook at the expense of its competitors and runs afoul of the First Amendment.

    In one of the advertisements, a Facebook employee named Aaron explains the current situation. “There’s very little agreement whether we should be leaving more content up, taking more content down, with any particular rule or issue that we’re looking at,” he says. “We’re not going to make everybody happy. Without regulation, we’re really navigating that space as best we can.”

    All of this is true. No one set of rules can ever satisfy everyone. Peoples’ preferences are varied and diverse. However, Facebook sees this as a problem. It wants government regulation to supplant platforms’ varied rules with a single, standardized set of speech guidelines.

    As Duffield says, big firms are all for government regulation, the more complex the better, because it ties up their smaller competitors in expensive compliance knots.

    We'll see how that works out for Facebook.


  • Asking why he does this is pointless. Why do his friends and family let him do it? J.D. Tuccille makes the point that should be obvious: Biden’s False Gun Claims Are a Lousy Basis for Law

    President Joe Biden so frequently and willfully tells lies about firearms that, if he were a podcaster talking about anything other than guns, aging rockers would trip over their walkers in a rush to sever even the most tenuous ties to him. Of course, we live in an age of misinformation and disinformation and probably should expect nothing better from the White House. But Biden proposes to impose ever-tougher rules based on his repetitive malarkey, illustrating the problem of governments wielding their vast regulatory apparatus based on misunderstandings and malice.

    "Congress needs to do its part too: pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, close loopholes, and keep out of the hands of domestic abusers — weapons, repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers," Biden huffed last week in New York. "Imagine had we had a liability — they're the only industry in America that is exempted from being able to be sued by the public. The only one."

    Big, if true! But it's not. As it turns out, gun manufacturers are not immune from lawsuits for flaws in their products. The law that Biden seemingly references and to which others making similar claims point to is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed in 2005 after a spate of lawsuits accusing gun makers and dealers of creating a public nuisance. It immunizes the industry against lawsuits when some end user engages in "the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm."

    Biden also propounded on his previously debunked claim that Americans couldn't buy cannons in the era in which the Second Amendment was ratified. Doesn't anyone tell him that he's making a fool out of himself?


  • Warning: numeracy required. John Tierney urges us toward Understanding the Covid Odds.

    It’s obviously not easy to give up fear of Covid-19, to judge from a recent survey showing that the vaccinated are actually more frightened than the unvaccinated. Another survey found that most Democratic voters are so worried that they want to make it illegal for the unvaccinated to leave home. But before you don another mask or disinfect another surface, before you cheer on politicians and school officials enforcing mandates, consider your odds of a fatal Covid case once you’ve been vaccinated.

    Those odds can be gauged from a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, published by the Centers for Disease Control. They tracked more than 1 million vaccinated adults in America over most of last year, including the period when the Delta variant was surging, and classified victims of Covid according to risk factors such as being over 65, being immunosuppressed, or suffering from diabetes or chronic diseases of the heart, kidney, lungs, liver or brain.

    The researchers report that none of the healthy people under 65 had a severe case of Covid that required treatment in an intensive-care unit. Not a single one of these nearly 700,000 people died, and the risk was miniscule for most older people, too. Among vaccinated people over 65 without an underlying medical condition, only one person died. In all, there were 36 deaths, mostly among a small minority of older people with a multitude of comorbidities: the 3 percent of the sample that had at least four risk factors. Among everyone else, a group that included elderly people with one or two chronic conditions, there were just eight deaths among more than 1.2 million people, so their risk of dying was about 1 in 150,000.

    How does that compare to other risks we deal with? Click through to find out! Well, here's a snippet: "Going anywhere near automobiles is a bigger risk".


  • The metaphorical reference to 18th-century technology is appropriate. Chris Edwards describes the IRS Train Wreck.

    Americans don’t expect to get great service from government agencies, but the current performance of the Internal Revenue Service is a train wreck. The pandemic slowed IRS operations and exacerbated the agency’s existing deficiencies. At the same time, Congress has been loading up the tax code with new and expanded benefits and tasking the IRS with handing out hundreds of millions of aid checks.

    The IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) recently documented the operational mess at the IRS:

    • IRS telephone service is “the worst it has ever been,” with the IRS answering just 11 percent of incoming calls in FY 2021. [p. 3]
    • The IRS mails tens of millions of notices each year, often requiring responses. It used to take the IRS about 45 days to turn around correspondence, but now the “processing time for some categories of correspondence has been running six months or longer.” [p. 3]
    • The number of disputes the TAS handles between taxpayers and the IRS soared from 167,000 in 2017 to 264,000 in 2021. [p. 4]
    • Mountains of unopened mail have piled up at IRS facilities leaving millions of taxpayers in financial limbo. The IRS ended the 2021 season with a backlog of more than 35 million returns, and today “millions of returns and amended returns still remain unprocessed.” [p. 20]
    • Last year, “tens of millions of taxpayers were forced to wait extraordinarily long periods of time for the IRS to process their tax returns, issue their refunds, and address their correspondence,” and this year IRS service “could be as bad, and potentially worse.” [p. 33]

    Why is this happening?

    I use TurboTax and file online, but it's very tempting to toss my monkeywrench into the IRS machinery by submitting my taxes on paper.

    It's been 46 years since Jimmy Carter called the US tax system "a disgrace to the human race". Still true.


  • Burning question du jour. Slashdot asks: Should Audiobooks Be Narrated by AI? And points to this Publisher's Weekly article: AI Influence on Audiobooks Grows—As Does Controversy.

    Oooh, controversy!

    Proponents of AI audiobook narration tout its much lower production costs (compared to a traditional recording of a human narrator) as a way to improve profitability of audiobooks as well as allowing publishers to publish more audiobooks that have limited audiences. But according to actor and narrator Emily Lawrence, cofounder of PANA and president of its board of directors, “It’s very easy to reduce this issue to dollars and cents, but it’s very complicated and nuanced.” If AI narration proliferates, “it’s not just narrators who will lose their jobs,” Lawrence said. “There’s an entire ecosystem of people who rely on audiobooks for their livelihood. People who direct audiobooks, people who edit audiobooks, people who check audiobook narration for word-for-word perfection against the manuscript.”

    I was just about to leave a comment on Slashdot, but a number of fast-fingered weisenheimers beat me to it. For example: "Automobiles shouldn't be allowed, there's a whole buggy whip industry which will be killed off."

    A number of commenters disdained the machine-read versions of books they'd experienced. Fine. But as time goes by, AI is only going to get better and cheaper at reading. Until the Butlerian Jihad, I wouldn't recommend book-narration as a promising career path.