A historic ruling with implications far and wide:

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down parliament in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful, a humiliating rebuke that thrusts Britain’s exit from the European Union into deeper turmoil. 

The unanimous and stinging judgment by the court’s 11 judges undermines Johnson’s already fragile grip on power and gives legislators more scope to oppose his promise to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31. 

Parliament, where Johnson has lost his majority and he suffered repeated defeats since taking office in July, is now set to be reconvened three weeks early, giving opponents more time to challenge, amend, or block his Brexit plans or even bring down his government. 

“The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said. 

In its historic ruling, the court said Johnson had not given any reason – “let alone a good reason” – for suspending the legislature for five weeks.

(Via (Reuters)[feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/topNews/~3/N7eU9gCl3XY/brexit-crisis-deepens-as-court-rules-johnson-unlawfully-suspended-uk-parliament-idUSKBN1W9124])

I have no horse in this race but I think Brexit is a mistake. I also think the UK should have either gone all-in on Europe or stayed out completely, but a wishy-washy middle ground is what they chose.

I do not care for BoJo. He brings nothing new to the table, one could argue that he brings less, and he failed repeatedly. Were I British and especially if I were a Tory, I would be demanding his resignation. I’m surprised there aren’t more pictures of Theresa May sitting in Parliament smiling.

I don’t often go political, but in the wake of retroactively creating airports to take over for the US War of Independence this is worth more a mere note:

UK’s top envoy in US says Trump executive ‘inept’: report:

Britain’s ambassador in the United States has described President Donald Trump and his administration as “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional”, according to leaked diplomatic memos published by the Mail on Sunday.

Ambassador Kim Darroch reportedly said Trump’s presidency could “crash and burn” and “end in disgrace”, in the cache of secret cables and briefing notes sent back to Britain seen by the newspaper.

“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” Darroch allegedly wrote in one dispatch.

© 2019 AFP

(Via Japan Today)

The ambassador’s memo is unfortunate in that it is accurate.

A leaked cable from the British ambassador to the US, sent home to the
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the ambassador calling Trump
“insecure,” “incompetent” and “inept.” In the ambassador’s defense,
it’s completely true. Trump has not yet commented on the news.

(Via Boing Boing)

And this isn’t even the most egregious thing of which to be aware of with this administration, sadly.

The Coming Victory of Democracy: Thomas Mann on Justice, Human Dignity, and the Need to Continually Renew Our Ideals by Maria Popova:

“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith wrote in her stirring essay on optimism and despair. But what does the reinvention, reassertion, and survival of progress look like when the basic fabric of democracy is under claw?
That is what Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875-August 12, 1955) examined on the cusp of World War II with a prescience that bellows across the decades to speak to our own epoch and to every epoch that will succeed us.
Thomas Mann at his desk (Thomas Mann Archive)
When Hitler seized power in 1933, the 58-year-old Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature five years earlier, went into exile in Switzerland. The following year, he visited America for the first time. He returned each year thereafter, until he finally emigrated permanently in 1938 and became one of a handful of German expatriates in the United States to vocally oppose Nazism and fascism. Between February and May 1938, just before the outbreak of the war, Mann gave a series of poignant and rousing lectures across America, published later that year as **_The Coming Victory of Democracy_** (_public library_) — a spirited insistence that “we must not be afraid to attempt a reform of freedom,” and a clarion call for the urgent work of continually renewing and reasserting democracy as menacing ideologies rise and fall against it.
In a testament to the great Serbian-American physicist, chemist, and inventor Michael Pupin’s assertion that “an immigrant can see things which escape the attention of the native,” Mann opens with an incisive reflection on democracy, its original ideals, and the necessity of its continual recalibration to the pressures pushing against it:
> America needs no instruction in the things that concern democracy. But instruction is one thing — and another is memory, reflection, re-examination, the recall to consciousness of a spiritual and moral possession of which it would be dangerous to feel too secure and too confident. No worth-while possession can be neglected. Even physical things die off, disappear, are lost, if they are not cared for, if they do not feel the eye and hand of the owner and are lost to sight because their possession is taken for granted. Throughout the world it has become precarious to take democracy for granted — even in America& Even America feels today that democracy is not an assured possession, that it has enemies, that it is threatened from within and from without, that it has once more become a problem. America is aware that the time has come for democracy to take stock of itself, for recollection and restatement and conscious consideration, in a word, for its renewal in thought and feeling.
In a sentiment that calls to mind Martha Graham’s notion of “divine dissatisfaction” as the motive force of all creative work, Mann notes that a certain restlessness about the state of the world and our place in it is inherent to the human animal:
> It is the fate of man in no condition and under no circumstances ever to be entirely at ease upon this earth; no form of life is wholly suitable nor wholly satisfactory to him. Why this should be so, why there should always remain upon earth for this creature a modicum of insufficiency, of dissatisfaction and suffering, is a mystery — a mystery that may be a very honourable one for man, but also a very painful one; in any case it has this consequence: that humanity, in small things as in great, strives for variety, change, for the new, because it promises him an amelioration and an alleviation of his eternally semi-painful condition.
Art by Salvador Dali from a rare 1969 edition of Alice in Wonderland
The greatest threat to democracy, Mann argues, comes from demagogues who prey on this restlessness with dangerous ideologies whose chief appeal is “the charm of novelty” — the exploitive promise of a new world order that allays some degree of dissatisfaction for some number of people, at a gruesome cost to the rest of humanity. To counter this perilous tendency, democracy must continually regenerate itself. Mann writes:
> Daring and clever as fascism is in exploiting human weakness, it succeeds in meeting to some extent humanity’s painful eagerness for novelty& And what seems to me necessary is that democracy should answer this fascist strategy with a rediscovery of itself, which can give it the same charm of novelty — yes, a much higher one than that which fascism seeks to exert. It should put aside the habit of taking itself for granted, of self-forgetfulness. It should use this wholly unexpected situation — the fact, namely, that it has again become problematical — to renew and rejuvenate itself by again becoming aware of itself. For democracy’s resources of vitality and youthfulness cannot be overestimated& Fascism is a child of the times — a very offensive child — and draws whatever youth it possesses out of the times. But democracy is timelessly human, and timelessness always implies a certain amount of potential youthfulness, which need only be realized in thought and feeling in order to excel, by far, all merely transitory youthfulness in charms of every sort, in the charm of life and in the charm of beauty.
That particular strain of fascism was endemic to Mann’s time, but it has manifested in myriad guises countless times before and since. In a letter penned at the peak of the war Mann was hoping to prevent with this humanistic shift in consciousness, John Steinbeck would capture these cycles chillingly: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.”
Art by Tomi Ungerer from his visionary book
Mann considers the idea of justice as elemental to our humanity, locating in it the wellspring of our dignity:
> It is a singular thing, this human nature, and distinguished from the rest of nature by the very fact that it has been endowed with the idea, is dominated by the idea, and cannot exist without it, since human nature is what it is because of the idea. The idea is a specific and essential attribute of man, that which makes him human. It is within him a real and natural fact, so impossible of neglect that those who do not respect human nature’s participation in the ideal — as force certainly does not — commit the clumsiest and, in the long run, the most disastrous mistakes. But the word ” justice ” is only one name for the idea — only one; there are other names which can be substituted that are equally strong, by no means lacking in vitality; on the contrary, even rather terrifying — for example, freedom and truth. It is impossible to decide which one should take precedence, which is the greatest. For each one expresses the idea in its totality, and one stands for the others. If we say truth, we also say freedom and justice-, if we speak of freedom and justice, we mean truth. It is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force. We call it the absolute. To man has been given the absolute — be it a curse or a blessing, it is a fact. He is pledged to it, his inner being is conditioned by it, and in the human sphere a force which is opposed to truth, hostile to freedom, and lacking in justice, acts in so low and contemptible a manner because it is devoid of feeling and understanding for the relationship between man and the absolute and without comprehension of the inviolable human dignity which grows out of this relationship.
Art by Isol from _Daytime Visions_.
A quarter century before the pioneering social scientist John Gardner penned his influential treatise on self-renewal, Mann calls for a reinvention of democracy that places human dignity at the heart of its political and civic ideals:
> We must reach higher and envisage the whole. We must define democracy as that form of government and of society which is inspired above every other with the feeling and consciousness of the dignity of man.
Echoing Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition against the cowardice of cynicism as one of the greatest obstacles to a flourishing society, Mann calls for relinquishing our reflexive cynicism about human nature:
> The dignity of man — do we not feel alarmed and somewhat ridiculous at the mention of these words? Do they not savour of optimism grown feeble and stuffy — of after-dinner oratory, which scarcely harmonizes with the bitter, harsh, everyday truth about human beings? We know it — this truth. We are well aware of the nature of man, or, to be more accurate, the nature of men — and we are far from entertaining any illusions on the subject& Yes, yes, humanity — its injustice, malice, cruelty, its average stupidity and blindness are amply demonstrated, its egoism is crass, its deceitfulness, cowardice, its antisocial instincts, constitute our everyday experience; the iron pressure of disciplinary constraint is necessary to keep it under any reasonable control. Who cannot embroider upon the depravity of this strange creature called man, who does not often despair over his future& And yet it is a fact — more true today than ever — that we cannot allow ourselves, because of so much all too well-founded skepticism, to despise humanity. Despite so much ridiculous depravity, we cannot forget the great and the honourable in man, which manifest themselves as art and science, as passion for truth, creation of beauty and the idea of justice; and it is also true that insensitiveness to the great mystery which we touch upon when we say “man” or “humanity” signifies spiritual death. That is not a truth of yesterday or the day before yesterday, antiquated, unattractive, and feeble. It is the new and necessary truth of today and tomorrow, the truth which has life and youth on its side in opposition to the false and withering youthfulness of certain theories and truths of the moment.
It is only a difference of degree, not of kind, between this ordinary cynical contempt for human goodness and the most extreme acts of evil. Mann writes:
> Terror destroys people, that is clear. It corrupts character, releases every evil impulse, turns them into cowardly hypocrites and shameless informers. It makes them contemptible — that is the reason why these contemners of humanity love terrorism.
Thomas Mann with Albert Einstein at Princeton, 1938.
Twenty years before Aldous Huxley asserted that “generalized intelligence and mental alertness are the most powerful enemies of dictatorship and at the same time the basic conditions of effective democracy,” Mann places education and critical thinking at the center of a robust democracy:
> Democracy wishes to elevate mankind, to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people — in a word, it aims at education. Education is an optimistic and humane concept; and respect for humanity is inseparable from it. Hostile to mankind and contemptuous of it is the opposing concept called propaganda, which tries to stultify, stupefy, level, or regiment men for the purpose of military efficiency and, above all, to keep the dictatorial system in power.
>
> [&]
>
> Democracy being a fertile ground for intellect and literature, for the perception of psychological truth and the search for it, contradicts itself inasmuch as it has an acute appreciation and makes a critical analysis of the absurd wickedness of man, but nevertheless insists resolutely upon the dignity of man and the possibility of educating him.
In consonance with Iris Murdoch’s assertion that “tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify,” Mann considers art as a pillar of democracy:
> To come close to art means to come close to life, and if an appreciation of the dignity of man is the moral definition of democracy, then its psychological definition arises out of its determination to reconcile and combine knowledge and art, mind and life, thought and deed.
Complement **_The Coming Victory of Democracy_** with Leonard Cohen on democracy’s breakages and redemptions, Jill Lepore on the improbable birth of American democracy, Robert Penn Warren on democracy and poetry, and Walt Whitman’s indispensable _Democratic Vistas_, then revisit Mann on time and our search for meaning.

Sen. Tester pushes new VA CIO James Gfrerer for priorities by Billy Mitchell:

James Gfrerer hasn’t been CIO of the Department of Veteran Affairs long, but he’s already under the close watch of Congress.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., penned a letter Jan. 11 asking Gfrerer to “provide a comprehensive and prioritized list of VA IT projects” along with any “metrics or explanations of processes that are used to prioritize these projects.”
“There is no doubt that insufficient resources, a chronic lack of transparency, and an inability to effectively prioritize countless competing objectives have led to serious questions about VA’s ability to meet the standard of technology necessary to serve our nation’s veterans,” Tester wrote.
Within that letter, Tester lists the myriad problems VA’s Office of Information and Technology has struggled recently: the ongoing work to modernize the department’s electronic health record and make it interoperable with the Pentagon’s; the recent debacle surrounding a software issue that has left many veterans without housing stipends under the GI Bill; and others.
“I am eager to work with you to solve the litany of problems we have seen from OI&T, and I genuinely believe that we can do so,” wrote Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “However, any progress towards achieving this goal is dependent on transparency from VA about the Department’s true IT needs and the challenges you face in funding and execution.”
Tester is likely relieved there’s finally a permanent CIO in place at the VA, as so are many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill. The department has been without an official IT chief since the change in administration in Jan. 2017, when LaVerne Council resigned. She was followed, on an acting basis by Rob Foster and then Scott Blackburn, who resigned in April. At that point, Camilo Sandoval, who had been a controversial staffer on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, stepped in to fill the spot.
The president appointed Gfrerer to the CIO position in July. He was confirmed Jan. 3 on the final day of the 115th Congress.

I’ve long opined that real support of the U.S. military isn’t in displays, kneeling or standing, or words. It is in what we as a Nation do. First and foremost has to be the VA and health care.

The Pentagon and the VA still have incompatible systems AFAIK. There is still a massive amount of paperwork that is still on actual paper AFAIK. And there is still a woeful budget for military and veteran health care including PTSD support.

IT should be in front of fixing some of these major problems, but without adequate funding there is only so much that can be done.

Teaching Cybersecurity Law and Policy: My Revised 62-Page Syllabus/Primer by Robert Chesney:

Cybersecurity law and policy is a fun subject to teach. There is vast room for creativity in selecting topics, readings and learning objectives. But that same quality makes it difficult to decide what to cover, what learning objectives to set, and which reading assignments to use.
With support from the Hewlett Foundation, I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years wrestling with this challenge, and last spring I posted the initial fruits of that effort in the form of a massive “syllabus” document. Now, I’m back with version 2.0.
At 62 pages (including a great deal of original substantive content, links to readings, and endless discussion prompts), it is probably most accurate to describe it as a hybrid between a syllabus and a textbook. Though definitely intended in the first instance to benefit colleagues who teach in this area or might want to do so, I think it also will be handy as a primer for anyone–practitioner, lawyer, engineer, student, etc.–who wants to think deeply about the various substrands of this emergent field and how they relate to one another.
Feel free to make use of this any way you wish. Share it with others who might enjoy it (or at least benefit from it), and definitely send me feedback if you are so inclined ([email protected] or @bobbychesney on Twitter).

I’ve been pouring over this for about a week and am loving the detail. I asked for a better pdf with the diagrams fixed and working html links.

Even if you’re a security professional operating outside the U.S. like me, still get this and read through it. It will trigger local conversations and research.

FP’s Guide to the Bolsonaro Presidency:

On Oct. 28, Brazil’s dramatic campaign season came to an equally dramatic end: Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, won the runoff election to become the country’s next president. Although polling over the summer had indicated that more than half of Brazilians would never vote for him, in the end, 55 percent of voters did. Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party also made huge gains. In the lower house of the National Congress, it went from eight representative to 52 (out of 513 total). And in the upper house, where the party has never held a seat, it won four. Bolsonaro will interpret this showing as a strong mandate to pursue his campaign promises, which include giving the military more say in government, ending restrictions on gun ownership, rolling back environmental protections, reining in the media, and draining the swamp in Brasília.

Wondering what all this means for Brazil’s democracy? We’ve collected Foreign Policy’s best articles on Bolsonaro’s victory and where he’ll go from here.

As a quick refresher, Bolsonaro’s lightning-speed rise from obscure far-right congressman to president was the result of many factors. His inflammatory rhetoric—he spoke of executing his political foes, called a congresswoman unworthy of rape, and accused the left of persecuting his party and supporters—earned him comparisons to the Nazis but whipped up his base. His hard line on crime and corruption, his scaremongering about fake news, and his appeals to traditional religious values drew in voters who would normally have opted for a more centrist candidate. Meanwhile, his economic program, which includes privatization, pension reform, and lowering taxes, helped win him supporters from the business world. And his ties to the military gave credibility to his promises to restore law and order, which were popular with a public fed up with high levels of violence.

Bolsonaro won’t take office until Jan. 1. But his priorities for his administration are already clear. Michael Albertus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, expects the new president to pack his cabinet with former military officials and give the armed forces a greater say in domestic policing. The military, which has long viewed the Amazon as both a security risk (it makes Brazil’s northwestern border nearly impossible to monitor) and a resource to be exploited, will also want a hand in economic development. Finally, in alliance with the pro-gun caucus in Brazil’s Congress, the armed services will work to expand gun rights and to boost international arms sales.

As worrying as the rise of the military may seem for Brazilian politics, the Brazilian professor Eduardo Mello counters, it isn’t the armed forces that are the problem. Instead, it is all of the factors that pushed Brazilians away from traditional political parties to begin with. In the coming years, he argues, democracy will thus depend on whether civilians can exploit rifts between Bolsonaro and his base while regaining voter trust.

Beyond his appreciation for the military, Bolsonaro has also been very clear about his intentions when it comes to the environment. Throughout the campaign season, he promised to dismantle existing environmental agencies and cancel current regulations, which he claims are bad for development. “On their own, Bolsonaro’s proposals might not have amounted to much,” argues Kathryn Hochstetler, a professor at the London School of Economics, since they’ll still have to go through Congress, which his party doesn’t control outright. But a shift to the right in some regional elections “means that he’ll likely get his way: Whatever happens at the top of government, Bolsonaro’s agenda will be advanced at the state level.” In turn, one of Brazil’s proudest achievements—reducing deforestation—may soon be undone.

(Via Foreign Policy)

 I hope this administration is as inefficient as all are. I hope this administration will listen to its better angels.

[David Post] Hail to the Chief!:

We really should, as Chief Justice Roberts suggests, be thankful for the “independent judiciary” on this Thanksgiving Day.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, 11/21/18.

Amen. I didn’t want this Thanksgiving to pass without someone here on the Volokh Conspiracy giving a shout out to the Chief Justice for his statement yesterday, responding to President Trump’s criticism of “Obama judges” in the 9th Circuit.

Nothing about the Trump presidency has been as disturbing as his unrelenting attack on the federal judiciary – starting all the way back at least as far as his comments during the campaign about the “Mexican judge” who was presiding over the Trump University lawsuit, up to his recent tirades against the 9th Circuit’s “Obama judges.” He is not the first President to get publicly angry at actions taken by the federal courts. But he is the first President to so relentlessly characterize judicial decision-making as an overtly partisan political act, where “Obama judges” issue their (politically-motivated) rulings – Boo-o-o! – and “Trump judges” issue their (politically-motivated) rulings – Ya-a-ay!. It’s all just politics, played out in a courtroom.

His words have real consequences, and the consequences here are very serious and very troubling, even frightening. If Americans come to believe that federal judges are nothing more than partisan politicians wearing robes, that there are Democratic judges issuing Democratic decisions and Republican judges issuing Republican decisions, we are one step away from a very frightening precipice, one where Democrats believe they are entitled to disregard Republican decisions and Republicans believe they are entitled to disregard Democratic decisions.

Judicial systems can crumble, leaving nothing but power and might, force and terror, as ruling principles; they have done so, repeatedly, throughout human history. We should perhaps accept Chief Justice Roberts’ invitation on this Thanksgiving day to be thankful that ours has not done so, and to speak out against, and resist, efforts to make it do so.

And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

***************

And PS [added 11-22 @ 930AM]: In case you were wondering, as I was, where the rather curious phrase “do equal right” in Roberts’ statement comes from, it is from the judicial oath that all federal judges must take. See 28 USC 453:

“Each justice or judge of the United States shall take the following oath or affirmation before performing the duties of his office: “I, ——, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”

(Via The Volokh Conspiracy)

Mr. Post articulated my thoughts much better than I have been able to do so far. And I appreciate the flood of people with similar thoughts from across the political spectrum. I hope there are voices in the West Wing that also disagree with Trump’s judicial rants and are doing something about it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Information Attacks on Democracies:

Democracy is an information system.

That’s the starting place of our new paper: “Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy.” In it, we look at democracy through the lens of information security, trying to understand the current waves of Internet disinformation attacks. Specifically, we wanted to explain why the same disinformation campaigns that act as a stabilizing influence in Russia are destabilizing in the United States.

(Via Lawfare – Hard National Security Choices)

Footnotes to Plato is creating essays and podcasts on general philosophy & practical Stoicism | Patreon:

People who ended up voting for Donald Trump were famously characterized by Hillary Clinton as the “basket of deplorables.” And I must admit that I wonder in stupor at the foolishness of US politics, the recent Italian elections, Brexit, or the re-election of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Not to mention what seem to be genuinely adoring crowds in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

How is any of this possible? It’s always a complex combination of factors, of course, ranging from people’s socio-economic situation to their ideological or religious commitments, to deficient education, to the pure and simple human herd instinct that so annoyed Nietzsche. But surely one thing that contributes to the current insane state of affairs is the reach that pernicious ideologues have in the modern era, a reach made far more efficient by the existence of the internet and social media. And by the fact that these people are often offered platforms to address audiences by institutions such as universities, newspapers, television stations and the like.

My colleague Bryan Van Norden, a professor of philosophy at Wuhan University, as well as the author of “Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto,” has published a thought provoking op-ed about institutional platforms in the New York Times. It is well worth considering in some detail, as I see where Bryan is coming from, but I consider his proposed path dangerous, and his argument self-contradictory.

He begins with a couple of examples. Ultra right-wing commentator Ann Coulter recently appeared on Fox News to say that the crying migrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration were child actors. Van Norden comments: “Does this groundless claim deserve as much airtime as, for example, a historically informed argument from Ta-Nehisi Coates that structural racism makes the American dream possible?” University of Toronto psychologist, and darling of the alt-right, Jordan Peterson talked about how difficult it is to control “crazy women” and the fact that men naturally can muster respect only for people whom they can threat with violence. Bryan’s comments: “Does this adolescent opinion deserve as much of an audience as the nuanced thoughts of Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University, about the role of ‘himpathy’ in supporting misogyny?”

The classical liberal response to these questions is that Ann Coulter and Jordan Peterson ought to be accorded freedom of speech, on grounds famously laid out by John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty, published in 1859. The argument is based on the following considerations: (i) you may think opinion X is clearly wrong, but history is littered with people, even majorities, who were sure that something was wrong when it turned out that it wasn’t (say, that gays should have a right to marry); (ii) if X is indeed wrong, then we learn something from people who defend it, because we need to make clear to ourselves why a given notion is, in fact, wrong (otherwise, we reject it out of prejudice, not knowledge or understanding); (iii) truth is not an all or nothing matter, so we may learn even from partially or largely wrong opinions; (iv) if an opinion offends you, that’s not sufficient reason to suppress it; and (v) who, exactly, ought to be in charge of limiting the expression of unpopular or “offensive” opinions?

Van Norden calls the above line of reasoning “specious,” adding that it is rooted in “a naïve conception of rationality that [Mill] inherited from Enlightenment thinkers like René Descartes.” [Technically, Descartes influenced the Enlightenment, but was not an Enlightenment thinker, since he lived from 1596 to 1650, and the European Enlightenment was an 18th century thing.]

Bryan argues that “If you do have faith in a universal method of reasoning that everyone accepts, then the Millian defense of absolute free speech is sound,” but he very clearly states that there is no such thing as universal reason, so we should reject Mill’s argument. I think that Van Norden’s statement is ambiguous and that what he argues in the remainder of the NYT op-ed flatly contradicts his opening statement.

He writes: “I wish it were self-evident to everyone that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but the current vice president of the United States does not agree. I wish everyone agreed that it is irrational to deny the evidence that there was a mass shooting in Sandy Hook, but a syndicated radio talk show host can make a career out of arguing for the contrary.”

But the fact that Mike Pence does not agree with a given notion does not mean that the notion in question is not self-evident, it may simply be that Pence denies self-evident truths, either because he is too ignorant to see them, or because of bigotry, or political expediency. Similarly, a nutcase radio talk show host, syndicated or not, may deny empirical evidence all he wants, but that doesn’t mean that his denial is reasonable. At all.

Bryan understands why Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville, made their argument. Mill was a strong proponent of women’s rights and an opponent of slavery, and he knew too well that many people found such topics offensive, resulting in what he famously termed a tyranny of the majority.

But, argues Van Norden, we are in a very different situation from 19th century England and America. We are witnessing the worsening of a scenario already described by the philosopher Herbert Marcuse back in 1965, when he wrote: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.”

This is quite obviously true, of course (or is it?). Only a foolish society would give “equal time” to the discussion of evolutionary theory and creation “science,” or to a climate researcher and a so-called “skeptic” of global warming, or a medical researcher and Jenny McCarthy. But setting aside that a lot of other cases, especially political opinions (as distinct from scientific theories) are not quite so easy to settle, what is the alternative? Mill wasn’t naive about how difficult it is for most people to wade through public controversies. He just thought that freedom of speech was the least of possible evils.

Marcuse famously advocated the outright suppression of right-wing perspectives, a position that, thankfully, Bryan does not endorse. Instead, he makes an intriguing proposal: to distinguish between free speech and just access: “access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole.”

But that comes perilously close to begging the question against Mill: on what criteria should we apportion the merit of different opinions? How do we figure out what is just? How do we measure the benefit of an opinion for the community as a whole? Recall that Van Norden has denies that there is such thing as universal reason. It follows that all such judgments are bound to be arbitrary, and therefore simply to reflect the will of the people who happen to be wielding power by virtue of controlling the limited resources Bryan is referring to. This may not be quite a tyranny of the majority, but it is still a tyranny (of the elite, perhaps?).

Let’s take a look at some of the specific examples Van Norden brings up. In 2004 one Nathaniel Abraham was fired by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute because he admitted to his employer that he did not believe in evolution. Correctly, Bryan asserts that Abraham has a right to his wacky opinion, but that Woods Hole has a right to fire him on the grounds that he holds such opinion. But this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or institutional access: Woods Hole is a preeminent research laboratory that carries out a lot of work on evolution, so Abraham had simply admitted to his incompetence at working there. It would be like NASA firing a flat-earth believer. Or a hospital a doctor who did not “believe” in vaccines.

The next example is more pertinent, but far less clear: Van Norden claims that a number of universities, including Columbia and NYU, should not have invited Charles Murray, the co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life to speak on their campuses. Why? Because Murray’s notions are junk science. That is true, I think (for a variety of reasons, including those explained here and here), but there are two additional factors to consider. First off, “universities” don’t invite anyone; often it is specific faculty or student associations that do. And to bar invited speakers in either case amounts to an infringement of academic freedom or students’ rights. Second, I am of the opinion that a significant chunk of what goes on in a number of legitimate university departments is either questionable or downright junk (no, I will not mention names). But, again, I don’t get to decide which is which. I do get, however, to argue — in perfectly Millian fashion — in favor or against certain programs, positions, claims, and so forth.

Bryan’s third example is the recent firing by ABC of their television star, Roseanne Barr, because of her racist public remarks. But that’s yet another situation altogether. Barr did not make her remarks on television, and she was fired from ABC because the network was (rightly, I think) embarrassed by her behavior, and feared a public backlash. Of course, had the episode happened, say, in the 1950s, ABC would have likely not moved a finger about it. I assume it is a rationally objective fact that we have made (some) improvements in our thinking about race and gender since then, but of course Van Norden cannot claim so, because he does not believe in universal reason.

Bryan mentions recent research in social psychology showing that if a falsehood is repeated, even when it is in order to debunk it, people are more likely to believe it. This is both true (maybe, since there is a replication crisis ongoing in that field) and worrisome, but is it — as Van Norden claims — reason to cheer MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” decision never again to invite Kellyanne Conway because of her bizarre notion of “alternative facts”? I don’t know. It is very unfortunate that someone like Conway is currently a high profile government official, but isn’t a journalist supposed to challenge that sort of notion, rather than suppress it? Besides, by way of similar actions MSNBC has now gathered the reputation (deservedly or not) of the left’s Fox, which makes their decision about Conway come across to many as naked partisanship. Is this really helpful to public discourse? I’m not so sure.

Bryan says that “right to free speech is not the right to an audience,” and he is correct. But in philosophy we make a distinction between negative and positive rights. You may have, say, the negative right of being allowed to leave the country whenever you wish. But if things are such that you could never muster the means to actually leave, you do not have a corresponding positive right, and negative rights by themselves are largely useless. To pick a more concrete example, in the US (for now) women have a right to abortion. But such right is meaningless if local state legislatures make it so difficult for abortion clinics to practice that for all effective purposes a woman in Texas or Alabama has to drive hundreds of miles, or even go out of state, to get an abortion. Ironically, it is a typical tactic of the right that whenever they cannot eliminate a negative right (like abortion, again, for now) they go after its positive counterpart, thus making it difficult or impossible for people to enjoy that right. The same goes for speech: if I have a “right” to it, but I am then systematically denied audiences by a small number of gatekeepers, I might as well shout in the void. And, again, who gets to make such decisions, and on what grounds, given that there is no universal reason?

Van Norden concludes his op-ed by stating: “These views [that he criticizes] are specious, and those who espouse them are, at best, ignorant, at worst, sophists,” calling people who hold those views “invincibly ignorant and intellectual hucksters.” It sounds to me like Bryan thinks he has good reasons to think that these people’s opinions are, in fact, wrong. I agree with his assessment. And so should any reasonable person, because reason isn’t a matter of your personal opinion — across time and cultures. There are standards of evidence and argument that have been worked out over the past two and a half millennia of philosophy and science, way before the European Enlightenment came about. On my part, I prefer by far a society where we do our utmost so that more and more people are familiar with such standards and apply them properly, rather than one in which whoever happens to be in charge is going to decide which resources to apportion to whom. Call me an old fashioned Millian, in that sense.

(Via Massimo Pigliucci)

Columbia Journalism Review How to criticize the press—responsibly

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We live in a moment of extraordinary tension between the press and the public. Donald Trump’s knee-jerk retort of “Fake news” is now a particular favorite of dictators and authoritarians around the world. The prevailing anti-press animosity at the national level has trickled down to local reporters, the Associated Press reports. And it’s not just threats. In June, a man opened fire with a shotgun inside the offices of the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five newspaper employees and injuring two others. In October, a Bulgarian journalist was raped and murdered, a Saudi journalist was assassinated and dismembered inside his own government’s consulate, and mail bombs were sent to the New York offices of CNN.

I’ve written previously about some things journalists and news organizations can do to try strengthen audience trust at a time like this. But that’s only half the equation. It’s also a good time for a refresher for citizens on what constitutes a healthy, constructive conversation about the work we produce.

For some, what follows may be obvious; to others, it may seem laughably naive. But journalists don’t like to let important things go unsaid. And, if these points feels achingly obvious, surely you know someone who could use a reminder, or a young person who never learned them in the first place.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for how to respond to the press.

DON’T commit or condone violence against journalists.

Violence against journalists is unacceptable under any circumstances, no matter what the President tweets and says at his rallies. Sadly, we live in an era where this long-unsaid truth needs to be stated clearly, frequently, and unequivocally.

Freedom of the press not only appears at the top our nation’s Bill of Rights, it’s enshrined in Article 19 of the UN’s 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the “freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” And so if you commit an act of violence against a journalist you’re not only breaking the law, you’re committing a breach of values shared (in theory, at least) by Americans and people around the world.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,300 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1992, and a newly released CPJ report notes that impunity for killers of journalists is “entrenched in 14 nations.” Meanwhile, 40 journalists have been physically attacks in the United States so far this year, according to the US Press Freedom Tracker.

DON’T make it personal.

Nonviolence may be the lowest bar to clear when responding to a work of journalism. But it’s also not productive to personally criticize the journalist who produced it. This means refusing to comment on a journalist’s age, appearance, gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, education, outfit, or anything else about them, when responding to their work. In all cases, stick to the work, not the person.

This, of course, is Human Decency 101, but it applies especially to journalists, who conduct their work in public about sensitive subjects. And, if you’re responding with any trace of good faith (a big “if,” I know), staying focused on the work will actually help get your message across. Washington Post media columnist and former New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tells me she makes a point to respond to reader emails. “But I do not answer the ones that attack me,” she says. As soon as they get personally insulting, “I tune out.”

To that I’ll add: many journalists are perfectionists who take great pride in their work, so if your goal is to cause emotional pain, pointing to flaws in what we wrote is often more upsetting than any ad hominem jab, anyway.

DO know that feedback is essential to journalism.

Listening to our audience isn’t some optional, take-it-or-leave-it aspect of journalism; it’s a vital part of what we do. This is both ideological—you’ll find calls for audience feedback throughout the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the American Press Institute’s “What Is Journalism” digital library—but it’s also practical. While we strive for accuracy and excellence, journalists are often assigned topics cold, and trying to establish expertise quickly. Or we’re simply working on extremely tight deadlines. Slip-ups are inevitable, and we need your help spotting and correcting them.

So, if we got something factually wrong, tell us so we can fix it quickly. And if there was something wrong in the bigger sense—in the way a piece was framed or presented, or if there are subjects or stories we continue to miss—tell us so we don’t make the same mistake twice. Journalists are overworked, and it may take us a moment to respond. But an upside to our workload is that we rarely run out of opportunities to try to do better next time. As Sullivan explains, “For the most part, we’re idealistic still, and we want to be improving, growth-oriented, [and] constructive.”

DO read/watch/listen to the full article before responding.

This one is pretty self explanatory: if you didn’t complete (or even begin!) the piece, you’re really in no position to give a constructive response. At least give it a skim?

DO be as specific as possible.

The least helpful criticism simply makes sweeping claims about “the media,” a term that, as the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi has skillfully explained, is “so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning.” One notch better (but still essentially useless) are blanket statements about an entire news outlet or a particular reporter. In contrast, the best feedback zeroes in not just on a specific article, but the specific place that was incorrect or ill advised, and, when possible, backs up its claims with evidence or a detailed explanation.

Once you toss some of these specifics on the table, we can begin to have a productive conversation, which is what NPR’s Steve Inskeep was getting at when he recently tweeted to the president: “Thanks for writing. If a specific NPR story concerns you, feel free to name it and we can go to the transcript. All work is public at http://npr.org . If there is no specific story of concern, that is its own answer. I’ll continue doing my job as a citizen.”

DO remember that journalists are human beings acting in good faith.

In a world in which reporters are called “scum,” “disgusting,” “enemies” and much worse, it’s worth stating—and restating—that journalists are human beings. We are flesh-and-blood people with spouses, friends, parents, children, pets, memories, hobbies, and mortgages. We like pizza. We pay taxes. We go to the gym and take out the trash. And if you’re inclined to leave an angry voicemail or slide your thumb across your throat at us, it’s important to remember: that’s someone’s brother or sister. That’s a human being, with a heartbeat, a birthday, a favorite song. Don’t believe those who tell you otherwise.

And, beyond our basic humanity, the vast majority of us are trying to do as fair and accurate of a job as possible. Northeastern University journalism professor and longtime media reporter and critic Dan Kennedy tells me that, of the hundreds of journalists he knows or has written about, he can probably count the number of bad apples he’s encountered—people who plagiarize or fabricate—on one hand. The rest “are absolutely trying to do the best job that they can, oftentimes under very difficult circumstances,” he says.

You can take Kennedy’s word. Or you can look at what happens when people run afoul of the expectations of the industry and its employers. Listen to the This American Life episode “Retraction” exposing Mike Daisey’s narrative corner-cutting in an earlier episode of the show. Check out the 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair stories on serial fabulist Stephen Glass, or the New York Times deep-dive on Jayson Blair’s “low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” Read the lengthy report from this publication about Rolling Stone’s disastrous UVA campus rape story.

Each of these stories reflects an industry that holds accountability, accuracy, and reputation as its highest principles.

DO support us, if you appreciate our work.

I’m sure I’m far from the only journalist who, years later, can quote verbatim lines from positive reader feedback. (One email included the unforgettable phrase, “Please keep writing.”) These words fill our emotional gas tanks and remind us why we do this work. It certainly isn’t the pay.

So, if you learned something from a piece of journalism, or you were moved or challenged or entertained by it, take a moment to mention that to the person who created it. Don’t assume that someone else has said something. Somehow, thanks to the wonders of the human mind, notes like this can cancel out the memory of a thousand nasty comments.

And if you’re feeling grateful, words aren’t the only useful form of praise. Subscribe. Donate. Defend us in conversations. Support organizations like CPJ or Freedom of the Press Foundation. (Or CJR.) Journalism is hard work that, though often accessed for free, costs enormous time, labor, energy, and money to produce. If you appreciate what we do, we’ll gladly take whatever support you can offer in return. Even pizza.

Especially pizza.

ICYMI: The aggressive campaign that has extinguished 90 percent of Breitbart’s advertisers

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(Via https://www.cjr.org/analysis/how-to-criticize-the-press-responsibly.php)

Regardless of your political preferences and beliefs, a robust journalism corps in multiple respected sources is quintessential to promoting, protecting, and defending the Constitution as one party or partisan group ascends.

Remember, journalists are human and make mistakes as do publications. The measure of them is how well they do on the whole and how well the respond to such mistakes.