URLs du Jour


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Happy Father's Day to all you dads. I made out well, myself. But today's theme is typified by our Amazon Product du Jour, which I did not receive for Father's Day, and it's just as well.

  • Malodorous cogitation part 1. Robby Soave asserts, correctly: Kamala Harris' Online Harassment Task Force Is a Bad Idea.

    The White House created a new task force on Thursday to combat online harassment, abuse, and sexual violence. The initiative was unveiled by Vice President Kamala Harris, who gave little indication that she understands the difference between preventing violence and deterring harassment, the latter of which is outside the government's purview.

    "For far too many people, the internet is a place of fear," said Harris. "This affects all of us if it affects any one of us."

    And of course it's likely to be another instance of government demanding that private companies censor information that the government can't do itself.

    It would certainly be better if the internet—and social media, in particular—was a friendlier virtual place. But the federal government has no mandate to criminalize harassment, which constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment. While it has become trendy to refer to any sustained wave of negative online feedback as harassment, sometimes criticism is partly or wholly deserved, as was the case with Department of Homeland Security disinformation czar Nina Jankowicz, whose ouster was sympathetically covered by The Washington Post and framed as the result of such harassment.

    The article's subhed pegs Kamala's new project as "Nina Jankowicz 2.0", and that seems about right.

  • Lousy concept part 2. Joe Lancaster notes, correctly: A Bipartisan Tech Antitrust Bill May Soon Pass. It's Still a Bad Idea. It's about Amy Klobuchar's dreadful American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), aka S.2992. (If you're like me, you've seen numerous TV "call your Senator" ads both for and against.)

    But aren't "innovation" and "choice" good things, you ask? According to Lancaster, a more accurate title might be "Making Your Online Life Less Convenient, and Probably More Expensive Act (MYOLLCPMEA)".

    As drafted, AICOA is intended to prevent self-preferencing, whereby tech companies promote their own products or services to their users, on the grounds that it could "materially harm competition." For example, this would prevent Google from displaying Google Maps in search results, forcing users to take further steps if they would like directions to a particular place they had just searched for. Apple could be forbidden from pre-installing FaceTime or iMessage on its iPhones or told to open up its App Store to competitors.

    Amazon, in particular, stridently opposes the bill. Earlier this month, Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy, wrote that the company feels singled out as "the only retailer…covered by this proposed legislation." Indeed, the bill is written so narrowly that it only covers a handful of companies. Huseman writes that the bill would "degrade the value and quality of [Amazon] Prime" by forbidding the company from offering one- and two-day free shipping without allowing "other logistics providers" to fill those orders. Additionally, Huseman claims that the bill could "meaningfully jeopardize our marketplace" by subjecting Amazon to certain restrictions on usage of customer data that would not apply to "other retailers…such as Walmart, Target, and others." Per Huseman, "we believe…the real, unstated goal of the legislation" is to "hurt" Amazon.

    I assume this will give me yet another reason to vote against my incumbent members of Congress. The bill has a dismayingly bipartisan cosponsor list. Senator Grassley, did Amazon kick your dog or something?

  • Garbage scheme, part 3. Gabriella Beaumont-Smith looks at another Bad Idea recently enacted as Public Law No: 117-146: Ocean Shipping Reform Act Will Make Supply Chain Issues Worse.

    Beyond being unfounded, concerns over limited competition and high ocean shipping rates from the OSRA champions are laughably hypocritical given their support for the Jones Act, a 1920 law that has restricted competition in domestic shipping to the point that industry executives have been able to engage in price fixing—a known anti-competitive practice. The OSRA, however, makes no attempt to open up the domestic shipping market to expanded competition.

    The OSRA's gravest sin is that it buys into the mercantilist sentiment of prioritizing exports over imports. The bill prohibits "a common carrier, marine terminal operator, or ocean transportation intermediary" from retaliating against a shipper (the person or business that owns the products being transported) by "refusing, or threatening to refuse, an otherwise-available cargo space or accommodation; or resort to any other unfair or unjustly discriminatory action." The legislation requires the FMC to define "unfair or unjustly discriminatory action." But it may prove difficult to prove intent of retaliation, and businesses are (and should be) permitted to refuse service so ocean carriers should not be treated differently.

    The bill, another Amy Klobuchar special, passed 369-42 in the House, and by "voice vote" in the Senate. When supply chain woes worsen nevertheless, only a few cranky libertarians and conservatives will bother to say "told ya so".

  • A myth is as good as a mile. An interesting take from Verlan Lewis and Hyrum Lewis on The Myth of Ideological Polarization, a free link from the WSJ (you're welcome):

    The left-right model ignores that politics is about many issues. Like every other realm of life, it is multidimensional, yet we describe it using a graph with only one dimension. It’s true that many Americans hold their views in packages that we call “liberal” and “conservative”—those who currently support abortion rights, for instance, are also more likely to support vaccinations, income-tax increases, free trade and military intervention in Ukraine. But the question is why. Why is there a strong correlation between these seemingly unrelated issues, and why do we find them clustering in patterns that are predictable and binary instead of completely random and pluralistic?

    The answer is socialization. When the Democratic and Republican parties change (as they have many times), the content and meaning of their ideologies change, too, meaning that ideologues (“liberals” and “conservatives”) will change their views to stay in line with their political tribe. Social conformity, not philosophy, explains their beliefs. Those who refuse to conform and maintain their political views independent of tribe will appear to have “switched” groups—even though they stayed consistent while the ideologies changed around them.

    Certainly explains why a number of Tea Partiers, folks I liked and respected back in 2009 or so, have gone semi-wacko with Trump idolatry, and vaccine denialism.

  • Because space is a vacuum, and as everyone knows… Sabine Hossenfelder asks and answers: Why does science news suck so much?. If you like video, we got that:

    But there's a transcript at the link, but "Some of the explanations may not make sense without the animations in the video."

    This makes a lot of sense, though:

    9. Don’t forget that science is fallible

    A lot of media coverage on science policy remembers that science is fallible only when it’s convenient for them. When they’ve proclaimed something as fact that later turns out to be wrong, then they’ll blame science. Because science is fallible. Facemasks? Yeah, well, we lacked the data. Alright.

    But that’d be more convincing if science news acknowledged that their information might be wrong in the first place. The population bomb? Peak oil? The new ice age? Yeah, maybe if they’d made it clearer at the time that those stories might not pan out the way they said then we wouldn’t today have to cope with climate change deniers who think the media can’t tell fact from fiction.

    That's number nine out of ten; they're all worth your sober consideration. And that's my good idea of the day.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 9:52 AM EDT

The Quick Fix

Why Fad Psychology Can't Cure Our Social Ills

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

True confession: I went through a self-help book phase. I still have on my shelves books by Nathaniel Branden, Wayne Dyer, Paul Kurtz, Harry Browne,… What can I say?

I would have been better off just going to church regularly, I think.

In this book, journalist Jesse Singal does an impressive job of de-hyping the overblown claims of psychological "quick fixes" over the years, most of them relatively recent. In each case, these fads often have a kernel of validity. But they get stretched into easy panaceas that promise (falsely) to remedy what ails you. And also usher in a new era of social tranquility.

Up first, is "self-esteem". I got this bug at an early age, because I read Atlas Shrugged, and it's something John Galt plugged in his lengthy speech near the end. He uses the term 25 times (thanks for counting them, Google Chrome) and defines it thusly:

My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.

Doesn't sound too bad! But Singal shows how this simple concept quickly got cartoonified by hucksters and politicians, leading to wasteful and misguided policies. (Especally, of course, in California.)

In subsequent chapters, Singal looks at "superpredators" (all we need to do is lock up a small number of bad apples for a long time); "power posing" (all you need to do to get ahead is use body language to look assertive); "positive psychology" (updating Norman Vincent Peale to cure PTSD); "grit" (you can overcome lack of intelligence by sheer persistence); "implicit bias" (this one simple test shows that white people are racist); "priming" (people can be easily fooled into acting the way you want by providing subtle visual/aural hints first); and "nudging" (pre-arranging choice architectures to channel your behavior beneficially).

Singal probably doesn't share my conservative/libertarian politics; for example, in the "nudging" chapter he approvingly quotes Robert Kuttner, who disdains the nudge in favor of good old "command and control" mandated by Uncle Stupid. Why shouldn't government just make the decisions it deems best, and force everyone to conform? (E.g., Mike Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio didn't "nudge" New Yorkers to avoid "large sugary drinks", they just tried to ban them.)

That's a shame, but the debunking part of Singal's book is extremely valuable, highlighting the never-ending appeal the psychological version of the classic clickbait: "This one simple trick has been shown to solve all your problems!"

Last Modified 2024-01-17 9:52 AM EDT