Truth in a disinformation society

This Yascha Mounk interview with Jonathan Rauch is so good.  First, great stuff about our disinformation environment and a pretty strong take on Trump’s role:

Mounk: You say that this is a set of tactics which in certain ways were first pioneered by Putin, but do you think that Trump actually used them in a more effective or more subtle way? What are those tactics? 

Rauch: The first and most important is what researchers at the RAND Corporation and elsewhere call the “firehose of falsehood” tactic. You just put out masses of lies at a rate which no one can keep up with. You can’t possibly debunk it all: It would be silly even to try because it doesn’t matter if the lies are mutually contradictory. But what you do is you swamp the information system with so many lies and conspiracy theories, people become disoriented, they become cynical, they don’t know who to trust, you dumbfound and disorient mainstream media that try to check it [but] can’t possibly keep up. You do this over every channel simultaneously. We saw that with “Stop the Steal:” They were using the office of the presidency and his Twitter account, but they were also using conservative media, Republican politicians, and the courts. Dozens of lawsuits filed, all of them meritless, [were] another form of spreading disinformation. This just disorients and drowns people. It’s very effective. They don’t know which way to turn and that opens the door to demagogues. Putin is very good at this. A good example is Sergei Skripal—the poisoning of him and his daughter. Some [Russian] agents went to Britain and used Novichok, a nerve agent, to poison two people, and when they were nailed for it, [they] said, “We have an explanation for this. In fact, we have dozens of them.” And they just poured out: “Well, it was a suicide. It was a lover’s quarrel. It was an accident. It wasn’t Novichok. It wasn’t a nerve agent. It was a nerve agent, but another nerve agent.” And so forth and so on.

Mounk: It’s not saying, “Here is one countertheory, which is as plausible as the main one.” It is trying to muddy the waters by coming up with lots of different theories. 

Rauch: To coin a phrase, this is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation. […] As Steve Bannon famously put it, “Flood the zone with shit.” This is a structured attack, and it is coordinated. Trump was coordinating it. That’s why he started the campaign against mail-in voting. He was signaling to a network what the message was going to be, and he was setting up the network and testing it so that after election day it would be ready to go. 

And, also a great conversation about cancel culture:

Mounk: Let’s talk about the second half of your account, which is not disinformation but cancellation. You had a really wonderful article early in the days of Persuasion about how you distinguish cancellation from straightforward criticism. What is the nature of cancellation? 

Rauch: Cancellation is not like criticism. Criticism is about the rational exchange of ideas in hopes of finding truth; cancelling is about manipulating the environment for political gain. And it’s also important to understand that the goal here is to get people to self-chill, to self-censor. So you’re not just going after the particular idea that Yascha Mounk may have. You don’t want safe harbors. You want to make people just afraid that anything they say could get them into trouble. If it comes anywhere near a topic—it’s usually going to be race or gender, sexuality, but could be a lot of other things—you intimidate them, and they’re silent and their point of view doesn’t get represented. [emphases mine] The other part [of cancellation] is really sophisticated because it’s cognitive, which is that humans look to each other to figure out what’s true. If we’re the only one in a room of eight people who says x, even if x is demonstrably true, a lot of the time we will decide that y must be right, because all those other people can’t be wrong. So when cancelers mess with the environment to suppress one point of view, they bring in a lot of other people who say, well, maybe this point of view that seems so strange and wrong and excessive and illiberal must be right. What people are trying to do here is create an environment that’s just studded with landmines. You don’t know where they are, you don’t know where you can walk—and, remember, the ultimate goal here is to demoralize the other side because demoralization is demobilization. But you know, there’s the famous case of David Shor a year ago. A left-leaning, Democratic political analyst, he tweets out an accurate account of a solid piece of academic work and loses his job after people gang up on him. That’s not a conversation about a viewpoint. It’s not even really about David Shor. It’s about a demonstration that at any given moment, no one is safe: We can come after you, we can go after your friends and your jobs. So we’re in charge around here. That’s the real agenda. 

Mounk: Why has cancellation risen as a threat to the constitution of knowledge? Once you have someone like Donald Trump in the White House, or even as a major presidential candidate, it’s easy to see why disinformation suddenly takes a more central role. I think with the rise of cancellation campaigns, it’s a little less clear. Is the source just technological? Is it the existence of Twitter with its algorithm that favors the most controversial tweet, or is there a broader reconfiguration of our moral, political or intellectual landscape?

Rauch: I think that the technique itself is ancient. Tocqueville cited it as the biggest threat to freedom in America in the 1830s. John Stuart Mill cited it as the biggest threat to freedom in Britain in 1859. There’s nothing new about using social coercion to create “spirals of silence,” as they’re called. So what turbocharges it now is, for one, the technology. [In the past] you’d have to do it by mail, or take out an ad in the newspaper. Well, now it’s just trivially easy to dogpile. Literally, you can do it with a few clicks of a button. A second is the emergence of “emotional safetyism” as a doctrine, which is the notion that if you’re saying something I disagree with, you’re actually committing an act of violence against me, a human rights violation. This turns out to be a powerful tool for intimidating people. It’s what was used at The New York Times to fire James Bennet: A lot of staffers said, “Running an editorial we disagree with was the equivalent of violence. It made us unsafe.” A third is generational change. A fourth is a very powerful tool that people discovered recently, and it’s that employers are a very vulnerable target. They are wired to avoid controversy. They’re not there to promote free speech by their employees. So if I go after Yascha, and Yascha has an employer, the easiest way for the employer to solve that problem is to fire Yascha. That’s a major vulnerability. 

What’s being appealed to here are deeply good things. For instance, anti-racism. I’ve learned a lot from anti-racist ideas. I’ve changed as a result, and I’m grateful for that. The problem comes when people don’t just argue for the ideas, but use coercion—illiberal means to regulate how we talk about those ideas. No one wants to be accused of being a racist: We want to be on the right side of this issue. That makes it hard for us to distinguish between the ideas themselves, which may be good or may have good in them, and the tactics that are being used to promote the ideas, which can be illiberal and authoritarian.

 

Quick hits (part I)

0) Sorry to disappoint you last weekend.  Was off spending time with my non-nuclear family for the first time since the pandemic and it was wonderful.  Hooray for vaccines!! (And cheap rapid tests for my unvaccinated 10-year old).

1) Good points from Hans Noel on Joe Manchin that, as frustrating as he can be, always needs to be remembered:

Manchin has been the subject of particular ire, especially after his opinion article last weekend criticizing the voting-rights bill. But it should be possible for Democrats to hold two thoughts at once about the West Virginia politician: First, what he is doing is lamentable, damaging to the party’s goals. But second, his presence in the Senate is a gift to the Democratic Party. Having a Democratic senator in 2021 in a state like West Virginia — where neither Hillary Clinton nor Biden could crack 30 percent of the vote — is a remarkable bit of good fortune.

Had Manchin not won reelection in 2018, his seat would be held by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). This is the Morrisey who joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit that sought to overturn the results in four states where Trump lost; so probably not, to put it mildly, someone whom Democrats could persuade to back the For the People Act. More importantly, all else remaining the same, had Morrisey won, Democrats would be in the minority in the Senate, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) would be setting the body’s agenda, as majority leader…

But perhaps West Virginia needn’t have chosen between Manchin and someone like Morrisey in the first place. What if Democrats ran and nominated someone more liberal, or at least more likely to vote with Democrats, in Manchin’s next primary?

Consider, however, that Manchin beat Morrisey with 49.6 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46.3. This in a state where Biden got 29.7 percent of the presidential vote in 2020 and the Democratic challenger to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) that same year got 27 percent. There’s no evidence that another Democrat could come anywhere close to Manchin’s electoral performance. (Sinema is a slightly different story, given that Biden won her state; Arizona could plausibly elect a more mainstream Democrat than her. However, the other senator from Arizona, Mark Kelly (D), has a voting record similar to Sinema’s.)

Despite Biden’s recent remark that Manchin and Sinema “vote more with my Republican friends” than with Democrats, that’s not true (as a Washington Post Fact Checker analysis explained): Both side with their party more often than they vote against it (although by not much). More importantly, they support Democrats for leadership positions. That leadership, in turn, helps shape the agenda. They aren’t the most loyal Democrats, but they’re more Democratic — obviously — than the Republicans who could replace them…

Manchin’s position is thus tricky. He needs to distance himself from a Democratic Party that has been slowly but steadily moving left — and not just on matters of race — for his entire political career. (Manchin is opposed to abortion, pro-gun rights and has broken with his party on environmental issues, banking regulation and many other issues.) But as politics has become more nationalized, that’s harder to do.

This poses a problem for Democrats, especially party leaders. They really want Manchin to back the party’s agenda, but they have little leverage to use against him. The party needs him and the seat he fills more than he needs them.

2) Scott Alexander has had a series of user-submitted book reviews.  And like his posts, they’re long.  But I’ve learned a lot.  I really appreciated this latest on Plagues and Peoples because it is literally the first book I remember reading in college (European History) and it was super eye-opening. 

3) You know me, I haven’t been getting into all that “scariant!” stuff.  But Ashish Jha is right, “The delta variant is a rising threat in the U.S. We have to redouble vaccination efforts.”  This delta variant is definitely no joke and areas with low vaccination rates may well pay the price.  

4) This newly approved Alzheimer’s drug story is kind of crazy.  At first I thought, “yeah, let’s just get this approved if it can help with this awful disease.”  But it’s far from clear it offers meaningful help with this awful disease.  The only thing we can know for sure is that it will make a lot of people really rich, likely at the expense of you, me, and all the other taxpayers and health consumers.  

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.

Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.

The federal government will bear the brunt of the new spending. The overwhelming majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are eligible for Medicare, the federally run insurance program for elderly and disabled Americans. If even one-third of the estimated 6 million people with Alzheimer’s in the United States receives the new treatment, health-care spending could swell by $112 billion annually…

The decision to approve Aduhelm is thus likely to increase the federal deficit, squeeze state budgets, and force additional costs onto seniors—all for a drug that may not work. Yet the FDA has no authority to consider the broader fiscal consequences of its decision. It focuses not on dollars and cents, but on safety and efficacy—and even on that metric, physicians widely criticized the decision.

This situation underscores a big problem in how we pay for drugs in the United States. In theory, one regulator’s decision about whether to approve a drug for sale could be entirely separate from another regulator’s decision of whether to spend public resources on it—and if so, how much. That’s how most countries do it. Here in the United States, however, a mix of legal constraints and political obstacles leaves the government little choice about whether to cover approved drugs. FDA approval and payment policies are tightly linked.

The big question now is whether Aduhelm finally breaks that link.

The reasons for the linkage between FDA approval and government spending go back to 1965, when Congress created Medicare. To overcome political opposition, as the program’s chief architect later explained, supporters had to “promise” that “there would be no real controls over hospitals and physicians.” That kind of deal might have seemed reasonable at the time, when health-care spending amounted to about 5 percent of GDP. Today, however, that figure stands at 17.7 percent.

Formally, Medicare won’t pay for medical care that is “not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury.” In line with the original deal, however, Medicare denies only about 3 percent of claims that hospitals and physicians submit to it. The law is also ambiguous about whether Medicare can consider costs in deciding what to cover. Is a drug “not reasonable and necessary” because it’s too expensive for the clinical value it provides? Or is Medicare committed to paying for all medically necessary care, costs be damned? And is a drug “medically necessary” just because the FDA has approved it, even if a clinical benefit for the drug has not yet been demonstrated?

5) Really appreciated this feature in the NYT, “The 21 Best Comedies of the 21st Century”  Definitely pleased to see some of my very favorites like “Arrested Development” and “Bojack Horseman” on there.  And the little-appreciated, but absolutely brilliant, “The Comeback.”  I’m currently watching “Nathan for you” with my kids every other night after Jeopardy and find myself laughing out loud almost every show.

6) Meanwhile, I think this explains why I was disappointed in “Kim’s Convenience” after seeing that so many people love it.

In the second episode of the television show “Kim’s Convenience,” there’s a moment that has always stuck with Diane Paik.

Umma, the matriarch of the Kim family, arrives at the apartment of her son, Jung, carrying containers of kimbap.

It’s not a particularly pivotal scene, but it immediately brought Ms. Paik, 30, a senior social media manager for the men’s grooming company Harry’s, back to the many times her own parents drove 10 hours from their home in West Bloomfield, Mich., to her apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, always with their homemade kimchi in tow.

Bringing food is her mother’s love language, she said — an unspoken way that Korean parents show affection by ensuring that their children’s kitchens are stocked with home-cooked meals.

The scene resonated with her for another reason. “There is no explanation or embarrassment” about the food, Ms. Paik said. “It is not so much, ‘Hey, we are Korean and we are going to remind you all the time through all these ways we are Korean.’ It is just like, this is a family that happens to be Korean.”

“Kim’s Convenience,” a CBC Television sitcom based on a play of the same name about a Korean Canadian family who own a convenience store in Toronto, is not about food, per se. But the show stands apart for the way it has normalized Korean cuisine and culture throughout its five-season run. (The fifth and final season arrives on Netflix internationally on Wednesday.)

“It takes the foreignness and otherness out of Korean food,” said June Hur, 31, an author in Toronto. “It’s just food and people love it.” Seeing this on television “makes me proud of my heritage,” she added. “Before, I was not as much.”

All well and good, but not a lot in there about being funny.  In the half dozen or so episodes I watched, it was amusing, but, nothing anywhere like those shows in #5.

7) Gallup’s latest on gay marriage.  A couple of key charts:

Majority support among Republicans really tells you what you need to know.  

8) Very cool interactive feature at NYT, “How Do Animals Safely Cross a Highway? Take a Look.”

9) This interactive Washington Post photo essay on the mouse plague in Australia is stunning.  Seriously, just trust me and check it out. 

10) A couple weeks ago the twitter discourse for the day was about people who have never eaten a Big Mac.  Guilty!  I like McDonald’s plenty, but as a notoriously picky eater who accepts only ketchup on my burgers, no way am I ever getting near a Big Mac.  Yglesias disapproves of me:

As it’s a holiday, in lieu of a real post I am simply going to treat you to an extended complaint about a random New Yorker article titled “The Best Burger to Eat Right Now” about a place called Smashed NYC that sounds pretty tasty.

The lead of their story is about a menu item called the Big Schmacc which as you might imagine is designed to be a burger done in the style of a Big Mac, except upscale like you might get written up in the New Yorker. I have bolded a key sentence for effect.

A big part of what makes the Big Mac appealing in pictures,” a burger aficionado I know mused the other day, “is that the patties extend past the perimeter of the bun. But then you actually get one, and most of the time you can barely even see the patties.” We were sitting outside Smashed NYC, a new burger shop on the Lower East Side. He peeled back the black-and-white checkered wax paper folded around the Big Schmacc, a highlight of the menu. Two thin jagged-edged disks of deeply browned ground beef hung floppily over the limits of three halves of Martin’s “Big Marty’s” sesame roll; there was clear visual evidence, too, of sharp-cornered, barely melted slices of American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, crinkle-cut pickle coins, and Creamsicle-colored Smash Sauce. “This is what it’s supposed to look like,” he explained, with the authority of a biologist.

I confess that I’ve never tried a Big Mac—because I’ve seen what it looks like in real life. (It’s better not to gaze directly upon the beef, which tends to take on a gray tone.) But I imagine that the Big Schmacc is also what the Big Mac—which McDonald’s introduced in the hope of attracting adult customers, and once advertised as “a meal disguised as a sandwich”—is supposed to taste like: a sandwich carefully layered to provide a uniform, balanced medley of charred, smoky fat, mellow cream, gentle tang, crunch, salt, and just a hint of sweetness in every bite. Unlike at McDonald’s, where the burgers are precooked and reheated, at Smashed your burger is made to order, pressed flat and seared on an extremely hot griddle until it becomes a marvel of the Maillard reaction, umami sparks flying as amino acids and reducing sugars collide, coalescing into a crunchy golden crust.

I don’t understand how you write this line in this story.

For starters: Who has never tried a Big Mac? If you’re a lifelong vegetarian — fine. Or if you’re just a profoundly incurious person — also fine, I guess. But you shouldn’t be so incurious. It’s a good idea to try things.

11) The power we give the Border Patrol well inside the US border is just nuts and it’s one of those awful things that just goes on and hardly anybody seems to know or care about.  Nice piece in Persuasion:

Senator Patrick Leahy has a distinctive license plate: a single digit “1” on Vermont tags. But, as he told a 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, neither that plate nor his driving seventy-five miles from the Canadian border stopped an immigration officer from pulling him over in his home state. “I asked the Border Patrol officer by what authority he was stopping me,” Leahy recounted. “He patted his gun and said that’s all the authority he needed.”

Recent debates about immigration have, understandably, focused on the plight of arrivals at the southern border. But Senator Leahy’s story offers a dramatic insight into an under-discussed element at the intersection of law enforcement and immigration control: the broad powers that allow federal authorities to conduct stops well beyond the border. 

At dozens of internal checkpoints across the country, Border Patrol agents stop and question passing motorists on their citizenship. Elsewhere, officers engage in roving traffic stops aimed at interdicting illegal immigration inside the United States. Agents at checkpoints require neither a warrant nor individualized suspicion to stop passing motorists and inquire about the occupants’ citizenship, or to inspect private lands within twenty-five miles of the border. Taken together, these “defense in depth” measures amount to an extraordinarily expansive law enforcement effort carried deep into the U.S. interior.

These powers long precede the current debate on immigration. And, after four years of an administration that sought to weaponize cruelty in border control and against the lives caught in its web, it can be tempting to focus on the acute situation at the southern border or the prospects for the Biden administration’s ambitious immigration reform proposal to Congress. But the current administration should have another, less-discussed target in its sights: ending U.S. Border Patrol’s sweeping powers to conduct warrantless stops, on citizens and non-citizens alike, miles from the U.S. border. 

12) Don’t know how I missed this before, but I’m all for my apples being picked by laser shooting robots.  Cool!  Also, preferably, Jazz, Braeburn, Suncrisp or Crimson Crisp.

13) Given the dramatically different financial stakes of men’s and women’s sports, I think the charges of rank sexism can be overblown, but damn if Leonhardt doesn’t make a compelling and disturbing case when it comes to NCAA non-revenue sports:

The Women’s College World Series, which began yesterday, is one of the most popular events in college sports.

It is an eight-team softball tournament held every year in Oklahoma City, and the games frequently sell out. The television audience on ESPN is substantial, too. In the most recent previous tournament, 1.8 million people watched the final game, substantially more than have watched recent championship games of college soccer, hockey or lacrosse — men’s or women’s.

The popularity of softball makes it a telling study in the different ways that the N.C.A.A. treats female and male athletes. In terms of fan interest, softball ranks near the top of college sports. It is well behind football and basketball, but ahead of almost every other sport.

Yet the N.C.A.A. treats softball as a second-class sport, many athletes and coaches say.

The stadium that hosts the championship tournament has no showers; players and coaches must instead shower at their hotels. Off days between games are rare, and some teams have to play twice on the same day, increasing injury risk. The N.C.A.A. prefers the condensed schedule to hold down hotel and meal costs, coaches have told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.

The men’s version of the College World Series — an eight-team baseball tournament held each year in Omaha — treats the players better. They have off days, as well as a golf outing, a free massage day and a celebratory dinner for coaches, players and dozens of guests, Molly Hensley-Clancy of The Washington Post reported.

The Oklahoma City softball stadium is also too small to hold all the fans who would like to attend, and many games sell out quickly. It has a capacity of about 13,000 (recently expanded from 9,000), compared with 24,000 for the baseball stadium in Omaha. “I think we could easily get 20,000, just like the men,” one longtime coach told The Post. “But we won’t get that chance.”…

Equity in sports can be a complicated topic, because men’s sports often draw larger crowds and television audiences. Officials who defend the differential treatment of female and male athletes — as executives at U.S. Soccer have — cite the revenue differences.

But the softball situation shows how incomplete those explanations are. The average television audience for the most recent softball World Series (1.05 million) was similar to that of the most recent college baseball World Series (1.13 million). And yet one sport’s players get showers, off days, massages and a festive dinner, while the others get doubleheaders and sweaty bus rides back to a hotel.

Jacquie Joseph, the longtime softball coach at Michigan State, has said that softball players are treated worse than women’s basketball players, who are in turn treated worse than men’s basketball players. “They’re the chosen ones,” Joseph said, referring to women’s basketball teams, “and they’re treated like afterthoughts. What’s lower than an afterthought? That’s us.”

I asked N.C.A.A. officials for a response, and they did not address any of the specific differences between the baseball and softball tournaments. In an emailed statement, Joni Comstock, the senior vice president of championships, said the N.C.A.A. was looking forward to “another exciting championship series.”

14) This is cool, “Send in the Bugs. The Michelangelos Need Cleaning.: Last fall, with the Medici Chapel in Florence operating on reduced hours because of Covid-19, scientists and restorers completed a secret experiment: They unleashed grime-eating bacteria on the artist’s masterpiece marbles.”

15) Yeah, Bari Weiss just goes looking for the worst cases of left-wing/woke nuttiness and then pretends its representative.  But, damn, this piece (in Weiss’ substack) from Katie Herzog!

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a recording of a talk called “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” It was delivered at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center by a New York-based psychiatrist as part of Grand Rounds, an ongoing program in which clinicians and others in the field lecture students and faculty. 

When I listened to the talk I considered the fact that it might be some sort of elaborate prank. But looking at the doctor’s social media, it seems completely genuine.

Here are some of the quotes from the lecture:

  • This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil. (Time stamp: 6:45)

  • I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a fucking favor.  (Time stamp: 7:17)

  • White people are out of their minds and they have been for a long time.  (Time stamp: 17:06)

  • We are now in a psychological predicament, because white people feel that we are bullying them when we bring up race. They feel that we should be thanking them for all that they have done for us. They are confused, and so are we. We keep forgetting that directly talking about race is a waste of our breath. We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen. They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. It’s just like sort of not a good idea. (Time stamp 17:13)

  • We need to remember that directly talking about race to white people is useless, because they are at the wrong level of conversation. Addressing racism assumes that white people can see and process what we are talking about. They can’t. That’s why they sound demented. They don’t even know they have a mask on. White people think it’s their actual face. We need to get to know the mask. (Time stamp 17:54)

Here’s the poster from the event. Among the “learning objectives” listed is: “understand how white people are psychologically dependent on black rage.”

16) The ACLU used to be awesome and used to stick up for free speech no matter what.  Now it’s just about making the left happy and that sucks.  

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

 

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

Founded a century ago, the A.C.L.U. took root in the defense of conscientious objectors to World War I and Americans accused of Communist sympathies after the Russian Revolution. Its lawyers made their bones by defending the free speech rights of labor organizers and civil rights activists, the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan. Their willingness to advocate for speech no matter how offensive was central to their shared identity.

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2017 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

17) Though I’m a pretty decent musician I never really learned all that much music theory.  But I find it pretty fascinating and have just been loving David Bennett’s YouTube videos on it.  Definitely relatedly, it’s got me listening to more classical music again.  For my money, I think Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 just might be the greatest classical composition ever (the fact that I could actually play some Rachmaninoff was always something I was quite proud of and was very rewarding at the time).  And this performance is amazing.  I’m listening as I type.  

18) Omar Wasow with perhaps the best take I’ve seen on CRT and the current right-wing freakout.

19) And Drum:

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

And for the record, I think a lot of CRT genuinely goes too far and that it’s larger approach has too often bled down into K-12 classrooms, but, this is still mostly just a right-wing moral panic.  

20) Also, Vox used to be so chock full of thoughtful journalism.  And it still actually has a fair amount.  But its reputation for thoughtful journalism is largely in tatters because it keeps beclowning itself with stuff like this.

21) Great piece from Leonhardt on kids, Covid, and delta.  The key point from Jha:

 

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