Saturday, April 21, 2018

Richard Spencer and Facebook

Last week Facebook removed Richard Spencer's pages.  The BBC reports that his personal page was removed, as were the pages for the National Policy Institute, an organization that favors a white ethnostate, and Altright.com, his online magazine.  All of these are now gone from Facebook, probably as a result of Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before 2 Congressional committees.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I don't agree with Mr. Spencer.  His white supremacist views offend me.  It's also true that his Twitter and YouTube accounts are still there, and both the National Policy Institute and Altright.com have active web sites.  He has plenty of access to free speech.  But he no longer has access to Facebook.  For some reason this bothers me.

I've posted before that if Nazis don't have free speech, I don't have free speech.  I think Mr. Spencer qualifies as a Nazi, at least in his racist views.  I suspect he was evicted from Facebook because of the bad publicity over the 2016 election, not to mention the riot in Charlottesville.  But when offensive speech is censored, it raises the question:  who decides what is offensive speech?  Also, who decides what platforms are and should be available for public speech? 

Removing these pages from Facebook reduces the size of his audience to the people who know how to find his platforms elsewhere; and there seem to be a lot of people these days who never leave Facebook.  This is a form of censorship.  Is that a good thing?

It's a hard question and I don't have an answer.  But I'm not sure I trust Mark Zuckerberg, if he was the one who made the decision, to be the guardian of free speech.
 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Numbers and the NRA

I've noticed the #BoycottNRA movement, which sprang up after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.  I've been surprised at some of the large companies which have chosen to cut ties with the NRA - to stop offering member discounts and branded credit cards, and in some cases to quit selling guns.  Not all companies are joining the boycott, of course.  But enough have done so that, according to the Economist, a backlash against the boycott is brewing among NRA supporters and conservatives.  So we face a war of boycotts.  Who will win?

To consider that, I want to look at some numbers.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau and the World Bank estimate the population of the U.S. in 2017 at 325.7 million people.
  • The NRA has 5 million members, by its own report.  That is .015% of the U.S. population. I'm sure it has non-member supporters but I haven't seen the numbers.
In February 2018, Time magazine reported on a Quinnipiac University poll on stricter gun control laws.  The article contains a link to the Quinnipiac polling site:
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they would support more stringent laws, while just 31% said they would not.
If you take that as representative of the U.S. population, and it was intended to be, that's quite a difference from the members who agree with the NRA.  Even among gun owners, "50% were in favor" of more stringent gun laws, and 44% were not.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The U.S. Post Office At Work

I want to share an experience I just had with the U.S. Post Office.

I'm a Kaiser Permanente patient with a much-too-long list of pills to take, and I happily use Kaiser's web page to order prescription renewals by mail.  I have a spreadsheet that reminds me when something needs renewing and gives me about 2 weeks lead time to order.  I rarely have to wait more than 3-4 days for my prescription to appear in my mailbox.  It's a very convenient system.

On Feb. 3, I reordered a prescription.  On Feb. 11, as I was doing my weekly pill reload, I realized that I was almost out of that pill, and that I hadn't received the refill.  Kaiser's site has a "track your order" link to usps.com, so I clicked on it to see what was going on.  This is what I found.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Sacred Duty

I didn't listen to 45's State of the Union address.  I've heard a couple of quotes from it, though, which disturbed me greatly.  Here's the first one:
All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them.  So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.
 So, he wants his department heads to be able to fire people at will.  This would take us back to the 19th century, before the Federal Civil Service was established in 1871.  At that period any government employee could be fired by the President for any reason, or no reason, at any time; and government employees were chosen for their political allegiance.  The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws slowly changed the system to what we have today, where the majority of the U.S. federal work force is appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests.