Monday, April 25, 2022

Thinking About Elon Musk's Purchase of Twitter

Everyone talking about whether to leave the platform is missing the point. Everyone talking about whether this is a new era for free speech is missing the point. A child […] is about to have the largest vehicle for temper tantrums anyone ever had.” – tweet, Laura Jedeed.

The thought of Twitter led by someone devoid of empathy is terrifying.” – tweet, Brianna Wu.

A lot of people are incorrectly framing Elon Musk purchasing Twitter as being left versus right. It's about the richest man in the world wanting to be sure that powerful white men can say whatever they want - about whoever they want - without consequence.” – pull quote from podcast, Shaun King.

“Collective noun for people who misdefine ‘free speech’ on Twitter: A musk of trolls.” – tweet, Tom Levenson.

(Added on day of publication) “I’m stunned that amidst the coverage of Elon Musk buying Twitter, his very clear ties to Beijing have gotten so little attention.” – tweet, Isaac Stone Fish

All immediate reactions, all good. What do I think? Well, I think that, at least, criticism of Elon Musk will draw a swift reaction from the New Management at Twitter. Likely enough pro-union and anti-racist talk will be modded down. Musk has hinted he will bring Donald Trump back. Musk, a petulant and vindictive man-child, may personally attack critics on Twitter; he is rich enough to destroy the life of anyone of modest means.

Equally seriously, if Musk allows the worst of the haters back, we can expect to see spillover into the wider world of discourse. Without moderation, Twitter is an excellent platform for organizing mass harassment and we may expect that, especially from Donald Trump if he returns.

We need to take the regulation of social media seriously. The likes of Musk and Zuckerberg ought not have such an outsize role in shaping our public discourse.

In any event, I am now as well as @RavenOnthill on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2022

A Note on Russia's Zealous Nationalism

Russian nationalism seems to be mystical in a way which Western European nationalism is not. To Vladimir Putin, I think, the invasion of Ukraine is some sort of holy war. But this is an old element of Russian culture. I remember Solzhenitsyn talking up Russian nationalism. Ideally, such mystic nationalism serves to unify and strengthen a nation, but it slides easily into the sort of zealotry that has overtaken Russia, where all who are not members of the body mystic are heretics, to be put the flames. I don't know enough; this is what I understand from my fragmentary knowledge. But this explains much of the Russian zealotry we are seeing.

Rallying the Troops

The position for Democratic campaigners to take this year is "It's a tough fight and we have to keep on pushing," not "The Democrats are useless, let's surrender." The Ukrainians would be in death camps if Velenskyy had taken that position!

The Biden administration has, within the limits imposed by the arcane rules of the Senate and a hostile Judiciary, done quite a bit, but also far less than what was hoped for. And so, disappointment may cost the Democrats Congress the House and Senate. People under 40 are just not interested.

Biden is a consensus-builder, not a firebrand, and what he has accomplished in his long political career has been through compromise, but right now we need firebrands. Some Democrats have to step up and rally the troops.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

On Cutting Off Fossil Fuel Imports From Russia

Or, “In Russia, energy buy you.”

One of the contradictions of the Western support of Ukraine in her defense against the Russian invasion is that Western Europe is still buying fossil fuels from Russia. So, on the one hand, Europe opposes the Russian invasion. On the other hand, Europe is funding it. Without those fossil-fuel exports, Russia would probably not be able to sustain its invasion of Ukraine. And it is not clear that anything is going to persuade the Russian leadership to back down. They seem prepared to fight to the last Ukrainian.

The genocidal invasion of Ukraine continues. There is increasing support for direct NATO intervention, which would bring nuclear powers into conflict, something the world has avoided for 70 years. A massive war would be inevitable. It might escalate to nuclear war. And the fuel imports would be cut off. So, instead…

Cut them off ourselves. Immediately abandon European fossil fuel imports from Russia, restart the German nuclear power stations, and start a crash alternative energy program. The privation in Europe would be enormous, but it would still be less than a war between Russia and the NATO powers.

Perhaps, perhaps. I am not an international relations expert, so I am not sure of either the economics or the politics here. Before taking such a momentous decision, people who know more than I ought to be consulted. Still, we know that eventually Europe and the entire world is going to have to stop relying on fossil fuels. This might be the moment to start.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Constitution as Mutual Defense Pact

The US constitution, I think, is better understood as a mutual defense and cooperation pact made by the original colonies, with some rules about rights bolted on, rather than a statement of the organizing principles of a democratic republic. I don't denigrate mutual defense pacts; as recent events in Europe remind us, they are still necessary, but neither do I believe that mutual defense pacts are the whole of the needed documents to organize a democratic republic. It was intended that the states provide those elements.

This was not as unreasonable as it now seems. The original colonies were widely separated, and in 1789 when the Constitution was ratified, rail transport was only beginning to emerge, and the electric telegraph was not even dreamt of. Local governance was, for most places, the only governance. In practice, of course, what this meant was that slave states stayed slave states (and were protected by constitutional provisions) and every state had its own idiosyncratic laws, bound only by the few restrictions of the original constitution. There was Article IV, Section IV, which said that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” but the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, he of the Dred Scot decision, deferred to the deadlocked slaveholder-dominated antebellum Congress, and this precedent has stood.

Where are we now? By 1850, the United States east of the Mississippi was covered by a thin but comprehensive rail network. By 1869, the golden spike was driven and the rail network extended to the west coast of North America. In 1844, Congress funded the construction of the first electrical telegraph. By 1869 (again!) it reached San Francisco. By 1877 the Bell Telephone Company was founded. In the 21st century, the USA, indeed the world, is bound together by networks of telecommunications and fast transportation. (“For I can travel half the world / and return in half a day / And I fear that only death remains / to take me far away.” – Jordin Kare. It is not entirely a welcome change.)

The old distance is gone, and it is past time to consider national organization of a democratic republic. The first steps towards this new order were taken with the Reconstruction Amendments, but progress was then stopped by the Compromise of 1877. In desperation, the New Deal was passed, though not without strenuous objection, in the 1930s. Again, forward motion began in the 1960s, and stopped by 1980. All these steps, though, were buried in complex laws. A second part of the constitution, something short, simple, and straightforward, but more specific than the Bill of Rights, is needed. Something that addresses the organization of the republic of the United States of America, something more than the general promises of the Bill of Rights. What exactly it ought to say we are probably going to be a generation determining. But we should get started.