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Surviving the stupid

With thanks to Charles Pierce, it’s good to be reminded that the Republic was as stupid in the past and did survive. Now isn’t then, of course, but still. Here’s his Morning Dooley:

“An’ so it goes. Ivry day a rayporther comes to th’ house with a list iv questions. ‘What are ye’er views on th’ issue iv eatin’ custard pie with a sponge? Do ye believe in side-combs? If called upon to veto a bill f’r all mimbers iv th’ Supreme Coort to wear hoop-skirts, wud ye veto it or wudden’t ye? If so, why? If not, why not? If a batted ball goes out iv th’ line afther strikin’ th’ player’s hands, is it fair or who? Have ye that tired feelin’? What is your opinion iv a hereafther? Where did you get that hat? If a man has eight dollars an’ spends twelve iv it, what will th’ poor man do? An’ why an’ where an’ how much?’ “Thin, if he don’t answer, ivry wan says he’s a thrimmer, an’ ought to be runnin’ a sthreet-car an’ not thryin’ to poke his ondecided face into th’ White House.”

— Finley Peter Dunne, 1899.

(By the way, “thrimmer.” What a perfect word!)

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Ann Romney and her horses

You know what? LEAVE ANN ALONE. She will not be running the country. What she does with her time is not relevant to the election. How about — I know this is a weird idea — telling us about Mitt’s record as Governor of Massachusetts?

I’m talking about this sort of thing from the NYTimes, which is all over the place right now.

…a glimpse into dressage, the chosen sport of Mitt Romney’s wife, and into the rarefied world of horses that cost up to seven figures….

We get it. She’s rich. The Mitt is rich. They’re rich.

That is also irrelevant to being President, just as it would be if the candidate was poor.

FDR was rich. That didn’t make him a bad President.

Reporters are needed to cut through the candidates’ speeches and tell us what they have actually done as leaders. That’s the part that’s hard for a mere amateur to find out. That’s relevant to being President.

So, O great Paper of Record, how about getting on task? And that goes for everyone else too. Including me, I guess.

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Rights are for real people

The two headlines below appeared in Memeorandum (May 23rd, 2012, at 10:23 AM).

Gallup poll shows pro-choice support down to 41%, support for gay marriage equality up at 54%

On one side is the most basic right of all, control over your own self, over what can be done to your body. Without it, there’s no freedom, no rights, nothing. Without it, you could, for instance, be compelled to donate a lobe of your liver because somebody else would die without it.

On the other side is giving more people the legal benefits associated with marriage. That is a good thing. But it amounts to nothing in a world where anyone could be violated whenever it served someone’s purposes. Marriage would be worth as much as it was for black slaves in the old South.

So which one do people see as more worthy? Why, marriage equality, of course.

This is what happens after thirty years of hearing politicians say women have no rights compared to a fetus.

This is what happens after a few years of leaders and voters saying that marriage rights are for all, not just for some.

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What is wrong with this picture?

I’ll admit it. I have an axe to grind with search engines, and there’s a rant coming about them Real Soon Now. But the following just cries out for immediate carping. Via Groklaw – Digging for Truth, Volokh and Falk (pdf) on the topic of free speech protections for search engines:

…search engines are speakers. First, they sometimes convey information that the search engine company has itself prepared or compiled …. Second, they direct users to material created by others, …. Such reporting about others’ speech is itself constitutionally protected speech.

Third, and most valuably, search engines select and sort the results in a way that is aimed at giving users what the search engine companies see as the most helpful and useful information.

My beef isn’t (at least not here) about whether or not a private company making money through speech has the same protections as an individual expressing a political opinion. I want to draw attention to the framing. “[S]earch engines select and sort the results in a way that [aims to give] users what the search engine companies see as the most helpful and useful information.”

That’s what the search engines say they do. That is accepting their version of their actions without question.

The most elementary detective principles suggest it’s dumb not to at least ask, “Who benefits?” Pretending it’s a given that the user benefits is either foolish, lazy, or propaganda, or all three.

Search engines are private companies. Their first loyalty is to their own profit. They have to put effort into service to the users; it’s a cost. If other businesses are anything to go by, it will be minimized to the extent compatible with retaining enough users to make a profit. The profits come from ads. The first priority of search engines will be getting clicks on ads.

There. That’s not even difficult or tedious to figure out. It’s about three steps in all.

More important, it’s vitally relevant to how many free speech rights must be granted to search engines. If they’re in this to push the boundaries of human knowledge, why, then, give them every right there is. That would mean the least regulation for the search companies, which would suit them just fine. If they’re in this to push ads, then maybe we shouldn’t be quite so laissez-faire about allowing them to rank results however they please. They’d make less money. Is it any wonder they’re so publicly convinced they have only the interests of the users at heart? Is it stranger that very intelligent people swallow the bait, hook, line, and sinker, and then create erudite reasoning about constitutional law out of it?

Sorry, folks. GIGO.

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