USA Today’s pro-censorship reporting

Progressive hostility to free speech is turning up in more and more places. USA today has produced a piece of highly biased reporting on a new British censorship measure.

According to the article, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has issued a “ban on gender stereotypes” in broadcast ads. Broadcasters that fail to comply can have their licenses revoked. Examples of prohibited material include “commercials featuring hapless fathers struggling to look after kids and women left to do housework.” The headline refers to these as “sexist ads.”

The article declares that “British anti-discrimination laws protect citizens.” It complains that the ASA has “failed to act” against some ads. It doesn’t have a single word from anyone objecting to censorship. It doesn’t question what value there is in banning the depiction of situations people commonly encounter. If people never see fathers struggling to look after kids, will all fathers suddenly be free of the struggle?
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Pharisees and religious authority

There was a religious group in Israel around the time of Jesus. It played an important role in the contemporary theological and legal climate. Its teachings were very influential on later Christianity and Judaism. However, Jesus didn’t like that group. Knowing this and nothing else about them, most Christians proclaim that the Pharisees were hypocrites.

The logic is simple. Jesus was God. God can’t be wrong. Therefore anything Jesus says is true and requires no further investigation. Chapter 11 of Luke describes his attitude. A Pharisee invited him to dinner. He expressed surprise when his guest didn’t wash his hands before eating. Jesus proceeded to launch into a tirade against his hosts, calling them “full of greed and wickedness” and claiming they “neglect justice and the love of God.” A legal scholar pointed out to Jesus that he was tarring a bunch of people with a broad brush, and Jesus then added legal scholars to his rant. In other words, he burst into a rage like a five-year-old because he was asked to wash his hands before eating.
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Trump’s voter information grab

In a supposed attempt to uncover voter fraud, the Trump administration has demanded that states turn over vast amounts of information about voters. Its infamous letter calls on the state governments to turn over “if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” (emphasis added)

It further states: “Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public.” Yes, that’s right; the commission intends to make the last four digits of every voter’s Social Security number public, to the extent that it can!
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Aristotle’s concept of happiness

In the Nicomachaean Ethics, Aristotle writes that happiness “is not a disposition” and “we must rather class happiness as an activity.” This doubtless sounds odd to many people, but the word has many meanings, and we’re looking at a translation (in this case, by W. D. Ross) from the Greek. The original word was probably “eudaemonia,” for which “happiness” is only a rough equivalent. “Good living” might be more accurate. Further on he writes that “the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life is therefore also the happiest.”

He is careful to distinguish happiness from pleasure and amusement. “The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.” Specifically, it’s the exertion of the mind, because our reasoning capacity is the most important thing about us. It’s desirable in itself, not for the sake of some further goal.

This is an attractive thought, that the process understanding is the best thing. At the same time, there’s something passive about it. The best thing for Aristotle is the contemplative life, the life of the philosopher. He thought he had the best job in the world, and that’s not a bad thing. But it lacks something in engagement with the world. Reason may be our most distinctive characteristic, but we’re beings of both body and mind.

Aristotle lived in a time when people hadn’t fully developed the idea of reason as a means to improving the human condition. Archimedes lived about a century later and was one of the people who advanced the use of reason for practical purposes. The important point which Aristotle made is that happiness (or the good life) comes from thinking, not from pursuing physical pleasures, and that it’s active, not passive. It’s necessary to understand this much before discovering all its practical applications.

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Living like a libertarian

Over time, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the best thing I can do as a libertarian is to live like one. That is, I need to live in a way that, as much as possible, doesn’t benefit from or support coercion. This is more important, and more satisfying, than political activity.

Governments offer carrots and sticks to bring people more closely under their influence. The purpose of the carrot is to get you to come within reach of the stick. Learning not to run after the carrots is the first step.
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A creepy phone “survey”

I’ve gotten a couple of voice messages which claim to be from the Center for Disease Control. They’re very creepy, and I think they’re fake. If it’s really the CDC, that’s even creepier.

The first message wanted me to call back and give information about any children I have in a certain age range. This isn’t something I would give to any stranger on the phone. The second one lied outright, claiming to have previously spoken with an unspecified person in my household and asking me to “complete” the survey. The caller ID was 312-578-7017. The number the second voicemail wanted me to call was 877-220-4805. The first one may have given the same number, but I didn’t save the message or write down the number.
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Free speech threats, left and right

The organizers of the Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon, had to shut it down because of threats of violence. This isn’t something that should be happening in the United States.

When Trump was elected, I was afraid there would soon be rampaging mobs assaulting people for what they said. I was right, but the mobs aren’t the ones I expected. While Trump talked about leaving people to be “carried out on a stretcher” it’s the political left that’s now using brass knuckles on people. Not everyone is overtly supporting violence, but too many are, and the opposition is numerically weak.

At the same time, the Trump administration is overtly hostile to the news media, and there’s currently talk of prosecuting a foreign news organization, WikiLeaks, that doesn’t operate on U.S. soil. This would be a shot across the bow for both American and international news organizations everywhere.

Which is the greater threat? Donald Trump holds a powerful position and has support in Congress. The courts have been holding him back, but he’s making noises about changing the court system to a more compliant one. He could do serious harm by 2020. On the other hand, leftist mobs have already done concrete damage to free speech. It’s not just the people they’ve assaulted and the events they’ve forced cancellation of, but other events whose organizers know might be threatened by these thugs.
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Notes on life and mortality

To preface this, I’d like to reassure anyone reading this that my health is good and I have no expectation of dying soon. However, going by years, my life is more than half over. Barring a breakthrough in life extension, I probably don’t have more than three decades left. That means I think about death occasionally. Getting my thoughts into a public essay helps to clarify them.
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The intolerant left, then and now

The intolerant left — the ones who approve of “free speech zones,” speech codes, shouting down speakers, and in some cases violent suppression — reminds me of certain campus factions when I was a student in the late sixties and early seventies. We can learn from the similarities and the differences.

In the “sixties” (which stretched into the seventies), it was mostly hard-core socialist groups who opposed free speech and tried to silence opponents. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) loved to intimidate and shout down speakers. Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF) handed out fliers declaring that “Fascists have no right to speak!” By “fascists,” on that occasion, they meant libertarians opposing rent control.
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The strange world of “content marketing”

In my work as a freelance blogger I try to put worthwhile content into every piece I write. At least some of the readers should come away from it understanding something better than they did before. It may contain promotional material, if that’s what the customer asks for, but it has a solid core of useful information. That’s my understanding of “content.”

In the marketing world, though, it means something else entirely. The biggest market for freelance writers on the Web is “SEO writing.” That means writing whose main purpose is to provide “content” that search engines will rank high. The expertise for this isn’t knowledge about the subject matter but expertise in planting the right keywords and otherwise constructing the article to match Google’s current idea of what a relevant article is. It’s clickbait, only more sophisticated.
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