Free Speech: A Magic Shield That Lets You Be An Asshole?

“The strategy of a lot of the people on the far right is to get us to attack our own institutions and not think that they’re valuable anymore.

By waving free speech around as if it was a magic shield that lets you be an asshole, they’ve convinced a significant percentage of the rest of us that the problem is free speech, as opposed to the problem is you people. I think that there’s a real risk going on here that people fall for it.”

—John Battelle, “A Magic Shield That Let’s You Be An Assh*le?NewCo Shift. May 18, 2018.

Can we at least agree that if you are going to use the word asshole, you should do so without any cute modifications or simply choose another, non-cuss, word?

Inbox Zero and the Search for the Perfect Email Client | Ars Technica

“Are you the sort of person who needs to read and file every email they get? Or do you delight in seeing an email client icon proudly warning of hundreds or even thousands of unread items? For some, keeping one’s email inbox with no unread items is more than just a good idea: it’s a way of life, indicating control over the 21st century and its notion of productivity. For others, it’s a manifestation of an obsessively compulsive mind. The two camps, and the mindsets behind them, have been a frequent topic of conversation here in the Ars Orbiting HQ. And rather than just argue with each other on Slack, we decided to collate our thoughts about the whole ‘inbox zero’ idea and how, for those who adhere to it, that happens.”

—”Inbox zero and the search for the perfect email client.” arstechnica.com. May 13, 2018.

There is no perfect email client. You have two choices.

1. Let things sit in your inbox and deal with new email as it comes in.

2. Configure filters, file and delete email, so you don’t have email collecting in your inbox.

There is a right answer. The ability to manage email is a basic 21st century skill. Maybe artificial intelligence and your email client will one day do it for you, but currently, it is a skill you just need to learn.

Rudy Giuliani & Carnival Politics

The interesting feature of John Oliver’s piece on Rudy Guiliani is it exhibits why so much of the political discourse in the United States is so incredibly stupid.

Politics has become indistinguishable from the pitch of the carnival barker. Grab the mark’s attention, and sell, Sell, SELL. You won’t believe your eyes!

Freak shows? Politics attracts everyone with an agenda. The relatively normal ones do it for the money. Horrible in its way, but less so than the zealot who wants an aggressive foreign policy to hasten the Rapture, thinks vaccines cause autism, or wants to square the circle of global war fighting capability and “small government”. Or, on the other “side”, there are the true believers in government as the solution to every problem, from guns to sugar consumption.

Rigged games? What could be more rigged than a right/left, conservative/liberal dichotomy. It’s bunkum. These mental models might be a way to talk about the true believers with an agenda. People love the freak show. It brings dramatic tension to the spectacle. But, even at its most engaging, it is still only a side show.

Where’s the dichotomy on non-interventionalism, which used to be the one of the hallmarks of Rockefeller Republicanism? How is it that neither party is interested in criminal justice reform, serving the interests of both small government conservatives and liberals concerned about institutional racism in our justice system?

When there is universal agreement of this sort, it’s always instructive to ask: who loses their lunch with these changes? Time and time again, money trumps ideology.

Most carnies have no philosophy or policy positions beyond: Does it sell? Does it get people through the gates or asses in seats? Or, more crucially, is there money to be made?

Politicians are the same. It’s comes down to money and clout. Get them, or get out. Did you contribute to their reelection fund, represent a sizable voting block that can get voters to the polls or have a measure of fame and can influence people? Then, step up and play.

When the game is done, they close up their booth and move on — whether as professor, lobbyist, consultant, executive vice president, or a new shingle with their name on it — just like a carnival rolling into a new town. Living with consequences of what they have done while in office rarely is a game they have to play.

But, there are consequences. We are all left holding an empty bag at the end in a park littered with garbage and debris. Fine, and not uncommon, for a night’s entertainment. But, for a life, or for a state or a country? Well, that’s another matter altogether.

John Oliver shows the outline of this problem, how Guiliani will say anything — the more controversial, the more unbelievable, the better. It sets the agenda, where the marks argue about whether it is “real” or “true” or not.

But Oliver treats it all as carnival fare, placing Guiliani in the freak show, when he is much more emblematic of the business as usual politics of corruption that is at the heart of the political carnival at all levels of government in the United States. The political system is filled with incentives that serve powerful interests over those of the populations they supposedly represent. Guiliani is typical, not some strange outlier.

Open, Closed, and Privacy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

“That gets at the more important way that the relationship between open/closed and encryption is relevant to data and privacy: just as encryption at scale is only possible with a closed service, so it is with privacy. That is, to the extent we as a society demand privacy, the more we are by implication demanding ever more closed gardens, with ever higher walls. Just as a closed garden makes the user experience challenge of encryption manageable, so does the centralization of data make privacy — of a certain sort — a viable business model.”

—Ben Thompson. “Open, Closed, and Privacy.” Statechery.com. April 25, 2018.

It’s an interesting comment. However, there are a number of technologies being developed that solve the problem of identity and seamless public key transfer in different ways, e.g., Autocrypt (email), Conversations with OMEMO (chat), Keybase (chat), etc. It is possible to have user-friendly, decentralized and private communications. But, it’s hard to do without state or corporate funding, and increased privacy doesn’t serve those interests. Still, it’s possible. We just might have to wait for it.

Echo Chamber Test

“[D]oes a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber…

…An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions.

And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.”

—C Thi Nguyen, “Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult.” Aeon. April 9, 2018.

The central idea isn’t that we all need “epistemological reboots”, although it’s often not a bad idea. The central idea is of intellectual humility, such as the possibility that you could be wrong. Philosophical skepticism, like that of Descartes, is taking it to the logical extreme, that not only can you be wrong, you might be wrong about everything. For example, everything we believe is real could be a Matrix-style simulation. We cannot exclude that possibility, even if it isn’t terribly useful in our day to day existence.

Facebook’s Surveillance Machine

“Should we all just leave Facebook? That may sound attractive but it is not a viable solution. In many countries, Facebook and its products simply are the internet. Some employers and landlords demand to see Facebook profiles, and there are increasingly vast swaths of public and civic life — from volunteer groups to political campaigns to marches and protests — that are accessible or organized only via Facebook.”

—Zeynep Tufekci, “Facebook’s Surveillance Machine.” The New York Times. March 19, 2018.

It’s a Catch-22. You have to be willing to tell Facebook, as well as the employers and landlords that demand access to your social media accounts should you choose to have them, to fuck off in order to get “vast swaths of public and civic life” off of the Facebook platform. Regulation isn’t going to solve the problem of Facebook and the feudal Internet. Thinking that regulation can solve every problem is one of the central contradictions of U.S. liberal political thought. But then, U.S. conservatives have similar notions of deregulation. You can’t have small government and a global war on Communism, terrorism and drugs.

Sometimes there is no reform that will square the circle, and you have to make a choice. It’s perfectly reasonable to choose not to use Facebook. It takes two to four weeks to shake off the desire to check it, and then, most likely, you’ll spend more time with those closest to you rather than cultivating all the weak ties out beyond your Dunbar number of acquaintances that Facebook facilitates. Not everyone can do it, but many people could (and should).

5k Math

Over the last several years, I’ve taken my weight before a 5K race and logged the time. After 12 measurements, it looks like I can get a good, conservative prediction of my time from my weight: weight x 7.5 = seconds to complete 5k. To put it another way, for every 8 pounds lost, there is a corresponding decrease of ~1 minute of time to run the 5k. Once a sub-10% body fat weight is achieved, it may be possible to bring down the 7.5 number to ~7, but prior to that I think the best way to get faster is to lose weight.