URLs du Jour

2022-03-23

[Mediokrity]

  • Probably better than the Body Snatchers, but not much. At Tablet, Jacob Siegel chronicles the Invasion of the Fact-Checkers. With the subhed: "Who are you going to believe, the Democratic Party’s new official-unofficial, public-private monopoly tech platform censorship brigade, or your misinformed, disinformed eyes?"

    It's full of great anecdotes, some you've probably heard. Sample:

    The pandemic would shine an especially harsh light on the role of fact-checkers as information cops for America’s power elite—and the dangers of that role. Far from identifying “dangerous misinformation,” fact checkers were instrumental in the multipronged effort to suppress inquiries into the origins of the global pandemic that has killed nearly 6 million people. In February 2020, The Washington Post chided Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for promoting a “debunked” “conspiracy theory” that COVID-19 had escaped from a lab. In May 2020, the Post‘s Glenn Kessler, who is a member of the IFCN advisory board, said it was “virtually impossible” for the virus to have come from a lab. Those were the facts ... until a year later, when Kessler published a new article explaining how the “lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.”

    How to understand the epistemological process that could lead a seasoned fact-checker to do a 180 on a matter of utmost public importance in less than a year? The simple answer, which has nothing to do with Kessler’s individual character or talents, is that when it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives. Kessler’s mind changed at the very moment when the Democratic Party machinery began charting a new course on an issue that was hurting the party at the polls.

    An important article, and a devastating criticism of "fact checking". I wonder if PolitiFact has already classified it as "Pants on Fire"?


  • Another example of "Should, but probably won't." Jonathan Chait, of all people, gives well-meaning advice to his party: Democrats Must Defeat the Left’s War on School Achievement.

    The recent pandemic school-closing experiment gave many American parents their first exposure to an exotic strain of thought on the American left about public schooling: that learning loss is nothing to worry about because educational outcomes are fake or unimportant. San Francisco school-board president Gabriela Lopez, before voters flocked to the polls to fire her, infamously dismissed the harm from closing schools by insisting, “They’re just having different learning experiences than the ones we currently measure.”

    But this idea was not created by the pandemic, and the return of in-person schooling has not killed it off. The progressive attack on academic achievement is a small but potent movement that has gained a foothold on the left and poses a serious threat to both American public education and the Democratic Party.

    That worldview is especially popular among education schools, teachers unions, and the network of advocates allied with and often funded by them. It is cogently expressed in a New York Times op-ed today by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education professor Jack Schneider, the authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School and the hosts of a popular education-policy podcast.

    What’s most interesting about the op-ed is its candid admission that the education backlash, which progressives have dismissed as overblown, is very real. The authors concede that “a sense that the focus on race and social justice in Virginia’s schools had gone too far, eclipsing core academic subjects” produced a “furious backlash” in that state, as well as in San Francisco and New York, where voters also rebelled against progressive efforts to deemphasize calculus in California and scale back magnet schools and tracked courses elsewhere.

    I think it's arguable that "educational achievement" and "government schools" have never been entirely compatible concepts. The incompatibility has only gotten more noticeable.


  • In comparison, the left's war on the legal system is over, with the left winning. Bari Weiss hosts Aaron Sibarium at her substack, and he writes the sad story: The Takeover of America's Legal System

    The adversarial legal system—in which both sides of a dispute are represented vigorously by attorneys with a vested interest in winning—is at the heart of the American constitutional order. Since time immemorial, law schools have tried to prepare their students to take part in that system.

    Not so much anymore. Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.

    Critics of those values are nothing new, of course, and certainly they are not new at elite law schools. Critical race theory, as it came to be called in the 1980s, began as a critique of neutral principles of justice. The argument went like this: Since the United States was systemically racist—since racism was baked into the country’s political, legal, economic and cultural institutions—neutrality, the conviction that the system should not seek to benefit any one group, camouflaged and even compounded that racism. The only way to undo it was to abandon all pretense of neutrality and to be unneutral. It was to tip the scales in favor of those who never had a fair shake to start with.

    Today's Yale Law students are tomorrow's…


  • Shortest article ever? James Freeman tells us there's Something Joe Biden Hasn’t Forgotten. Or at least his speechwriters haven't forgotton.

    Three years ago this column noted the poor decision by the Business Roundtable, led by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, to rewrite its principles. All but a handful of the CEOs of large corporations that comprise the group’s membership went along with Mr. Dimon’s proposal that a corporation should not simply focus on serving shareholders but instead commit to serving a larger universe of vaguely defined “stakeholders.” These include people who have no stake in the business and are neither employees nor customers. Some of the accommodating CEOs might have seen the new statement as a cost-free virtue signal to generate a few days of positive public relations. But three years later, politicos like President Joe Biden seem to view it as leverage.

    The Business Roundtable’s rewrite was a mistake because serving the long-term interests of shareholders necessarily requires executives to treat non-owners fairly—to attract and retain a talented workforce, to provide good value for consumers, to deal reasonably with suppliers, and to respect the laws and customs wherever a business operates. On the other hand, “stakeholders” are often activists pursuing political agendas that they couldn’t persuade voters to approve and for which they won’t have to pay. There’s no good reason to elevate their gripes above the interests of customers, workers, owners and voters. Milton Friedman, who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in economics, explained more than half a century ago the flaws in declarations like Mr. Dimon’s:

    What does it mean to say that the corporate executive has a “social responsibility” in his capacity as businessman? If this statement is not pure rhetoric, it must mean that he is to act in some way that is not in the interest of his employers.

    Unfortunately Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to want to let the Business Roundtable off with pure rhetoric. He visited the organization’s Washington office on Monday and after urging the assembled CEOs to prepare for possible Russian cyberattacks, he brought up the Dimon declaration.

    Biden, unsurprisingly, was all in for getting companies to be run according to his preferences. And the implied "or else" was pretty clear.


  • Commie Radio delenda est. Jerry Coyne is a liberal Democrat, but even he's dismayed by The slow death of NPR.

    I suspect that any number of us could have written this piece at Unherd—at least in echoing its message—but it was written by William Deresiewicz, author, critic, and former English teacher at Yale.

    What I mean by the above is that many readers have declared themself sick to death of NPR, offended by its fulminating wokeness that once wasn’t there. And if you deny that NPR is getting woker and woker, hewing to a “Progressive Leftist” line with little deviation, then you haven’t been listening. I have the local NPR station as the only one set on my car radio, and now I almost prefer silence, for what comes out of the speakers is absolutely predictable.

    Why would somebody want to listen only to news that fits your ideological bias? The radio, like a college, is an instrument for learning, and, when partly funded by the taxpayers (as NPR is), should help challenge our thinking. Taxpayers don’t fund the New York Times or Fox News, yet even in this article Deresiewicz doesn’t mention the one-sidedness of a station that’s partly funded by tax dollars. What he’s beefing about is the ideological slant of NPR. The fact that it’s publicly funded only makes its one-sidedness more objectionable. Believe me, if Fox News were funded by taxpayers, Democrats would be up in arms, and I’d be among them.

    The Deresiewicz article is here.


Last Modified 2022-05-11 7:11 AM EDT

Windfall

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Windfall]

Another Tuesday night movie during the March Madness dearth of new TV, a Netflix free-to-me streamer. I saw a review at WIRED that got me interested enough to watch it.

The IMDB raters are pretty brutal (5.8 as I type); I liked it somewhat better than they did.

The movie opens with a guy (billed as "Nobody" in the credits) wandering around a very nice house opening drawers, finding money, an expensive watch and a gun. When he's careful to wipe his fingerprints from the surfaces he's touched, we get the clue (aha!) he's up to something illegal. Unfortunately, the home's owners (billed as "CEO" and "Wife") show up unexpectedly, discovering the thief.

That's just the first complication "Nobody" encounters. "CEO" turns out to be a tech billionaire, and "Wife" is his vaguely-dissatisfied spouse. Things rapidly turn into a negotiation about how best to extricate themselves from this unstable and sticky situation. And it is really sticky, because "Nobody" is tempted by CEO's offer of more cash, enough to start a new life far away and hopefully not be arrested. But getting that much money takes time, and that lets the movie last for about 90 minutes, as all three players get seriously on each other's nerves. Eventually, another character arrives making things even more unstable, violence ensues. Who will walk away?