Why Free Marketeers Want To Regulate the Internet

Like most Americans, conservatives do not know very much about Net Neutrality.

…just like every public utility.
(Image credit: DaddyChief.com)

What they do know about it makes it sound like a terrible idea: a bunch of Silicon Valley elites, backed by the Google panopticon and the Mozilla jerks who publicly executed Brendan Eich over his quiet support for traditional marriage, are demanding that the FCC impose sweeping regulations on the companies who bring the Internet to your door.  With help from their close ally President Obama, these shysters have made tremendous forward progress against the so-called “evil” corporations who (in reality) own, develop, and generally manage the series of tubes that make up the Internet – corporations who have, in short, ushered in the entire Internet Age and all the good it entails.  The only people in this drama who are holding off the regulators are the valiant heroes at the Wall Street Journal and the National Review, who are not afraid to stand athwart the regulatory agenda yelling “stop!,” demanding free markets and free peoples and not an iota less.

Given that narrative, it seems odd for a conservative – whether an old-guard big-business Bush-era conservative or a new-guard Paulite libertarian conservative – to support Net Neutrality.

Except I do Internet for a living, and I am one of the lucky ones who actually knows what Net Neutrality means and what it’s responding to.  And, folks, I’m afraid that, while L. Gordon Crovitz and Rich Lowry are great pundits with a clear understanding of how Washington and the economy work, they don’t seem to understand how the Internet works, which has led them to some wrong conclusions. Continue reading

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Re: Your Ire Is Misdirected

Hi, Gerv,

I’m sure you’re inundated, and you sure as heck don’t know me, so there’s no need to respond to this.  But I really appreciated your post the other day, and wanted to share my reaction with you.  Perhaps it will be of some use in figuring out Mozilla recovers from this catastrophe.

As I see it, there are still two big reasons why I and people like me — broadly speaking — are going to have to withhold support Mozilla for the foreseeable future, even after our current anger subsides:

(1) In your post, you give the public your assurance that Brendan really did leave of his own accord; that he really wasn’t forced out; that the Board actually fought to retain him as CEO.  The problem is that your assurance is not a very strong authority outside Mozilla’s walls, and it has to be weighed against the evidence.  This certainly looked, from the outside, like a standard corporate decapitation, where the Board decided to fire the CEO and allowed the CEO to “resign” only to retain his own dignity.

We saw Brendan promising never to resign just a couple days before he did.  We watched Robert George predict — to all appearances accurately — how this was going to play out. We heard the dead silence from the principal players.  (Why hasn’t Brendan said a word in defense of Mozilla since he left?) We noticed that all other accounts of his resignation say the Board tried to retain Brendan as CTO — but pointedly not as CEO. Above all, we read Mitchell’s (very unfortunate) blog post on Resignation Day.  In that post, she seemed to concede that Brendan never should have been hired, that “equality” trumps free speech in this case, and that Mozilla’s biggest takeaway from all this is that, given the chance to do it all again, they’d have fired Brendan even faster.

In this light, your anonymous sources are just not very convincing, even given your bona fides as Mozilla’s last public marriage traditionalist.  (Perhaps especially given those bona fides: what happened to you two years ago would seem to support the suggestion that Mozilla’s commitment to inclusion is skin-deep at best.)

(2) Even if you are absolutely right, and leaving was entirely Brendan’s idea, it still sends a terrible message to the world: “Mozilla can be bullied.  We cannot protect our leader from a bunch of petty thought police on the internet.  We will leave him on the front line, alone, to take 100% of the incoming fire, and then we’ll thrust the blame on ‘outsiders’ when the wounds take him out.”  If that’s the case, then perhaps Mozillans really do still believe in the radical inclusion the project was founded on — but it hardly matters, because Mozilla is no longer calling the shots.  The bullies have taken control, and Mozilla is impotent to resist their imperious will.

In either case, Mozilla is not something many of us feel we can be a part of — or should be — right now.

You mention forgiveness.  If Mozilla wants forgiveness (and I am not even convinced that it wants to be forgiven as forgotten right now), I think it will have to demonstrate some level of repentance and some level of autonomy.

First, repentance: Mozilla must recognize that what happened was not a causeless tragedy that mysteriously destroyed the co-founder like a bolt of lightning.  This happened because the entire community failed.  It wasn’t just the few who raised their voices in protest against Brendan.  It was also those who were publicly ambivalent and conflicted (there were so many!), and even those who supported Brendan but refused to put their foot down and demand that he be retained.  The community either openly attacked or (more often) simply failed to defend either the principles of the project or the concrete policies that give those principles life.  The community’s reluctance to close ranks around the project – not the CEO or his particular beliefs, but the whole concept of an open-source browser that everyone can be part of — was the key fact that made the subsequent media bonfire successful.  It was a sin by the entire community, and it needs to be acknowledged and addressed by the whole community, not just in individual “I feel sad we lost Brendan” posts on Planet Mozilla.

Second, autonomy: social conservatives need to know that Mozilla not only regrets what happened to Brendan, but that it has the desire and ability to make sure that nothing like it will ever happen again.  That people who have “offensive” political opinions still have a place at Mozilla, that our contributions are valued, and that we can even become leaders within the organization.  That Mozilla has not been conquered by ideological interests at Slate and Salon and OKCupid, but remains a genuinely global project that embraces literally anyone who is willing to work toward the (crucial!) goal of a free and open web.

I don’t know how Mozilla might go about doing this, and (unlike those who waged war last week) I don’t presume to dictate terms.  I only know that Mozilla has done absolutely nothing whatsoever since the resignation to restore our sense that it is a “safe space,” and I know that it cannot ever do that without positive action of some kind.  When a university administration is accused of discriminating against racial minorities, they will often establish programs and endowments to ensure that members of those minorities are hired and are able to contribute to the university project without fear of reprisal or undue discomfort.  Perhaps (perhaps) something along the same lines for ideological minorities would help restore the public trust.

For now, however, I’m afraid I won’t be on my favorite browser, and neither will my clients.  This is written from Chrome, which is gross… but at least I know I could go to Google and have a productive career there despite my private beliefs… even if they harvest all the data about my private beliefs and sell it to the NSA.

I don’t know where the open web goes from here, but, fundamentally, a web controlled by the same forces that led to Brendan’s resignation is not an open web at all — except for those privileged to have the “right” opinions.  That means Mozilla, as it currently looks from out here, as it currently operates, cannot carry forward the open-web ideal — not until this is addressed and corrected.

Maybe this all looks completely different from within the Mozilla community. I don’t know; I’m pretty much just a longtime fan and user and promoter, not a contributor.  And there are my two cents.

Posted in Culture, In Conversation | 39 Comments

Progressive Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Tote Bag

This piece is inspired entirely by Peggy McIntosh’s classic article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” to which I am immeasurably indebted.

I have noticed lately that my liberal-progressive friends have begun casually adopting the tools of gender and race studies in their daily lives, scrutinizing not just American society as a whole, but their own personal relationships through the lens of feminism and other critical disciplines.  It is more and more common for me to see discussions where an argument is not answered with a counter-argument, but with an accusation of blindness based on the arguer’s “unchecked privilege.”  (I do not deny that I find many of these accusations to be high comedy.  This spring’s anti-microaggression campaign at St. Olaf College – already a bastion of political correctness – was perhaps the silliest thing that has ever happened, ever.)

There’s much truth to be gleaned in all this talk of privilege.  In general, I think it’s easier to be white than black in today’s America.  In general, I think it is easier to be a man in the workplace, and it’s certainly easier to be a male gamer or a male citizen of the Web, given the intense, irrational, and openly evil retaliation against many females who try to occupy those spaces.  Now, I don’t think much of the responses the intersectional Left offers to these problems. Nevertheless, these unearned blessings for some are unearned difficulties for others, well worth pointing out and, where possible, leveling out as well.

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Just The Facts, Ma’am: The Vatican Embassy Closing

Fact-checking is a decadent industry.  Mainstream fact-checkers at the Washington Post and PolitiFact rate politicians’ claims on multi-point scales ranging from “Pants On Fire” to “The Geppetto Checkmark.”  To manage these multi-point scales, fact-checkers must resort to subjective measurements of “relevant information” and “context” in order to determine whether a statement is “true” or merely “mostly true” or somewhere south of true.  Unfortunately, these are fundamentally subjective judgments, and the fact-checkers’ fact-checks more often reveal their own biases than they reveal the truth.  Indeed, all too often, the fact-checkers end up clouding the truth.  Sometimes, they deliberately evade it.

I’d like to try an alternative approach, and so we at the James J Heaney Institute are rolling out a new fact-checking apparatus, which we are dubbing Just the Facts, Ma’am.  From time to time, we’ll grab a quote that is making the rounds.  Then we will tell you whether the quote is true, false, or neither true nor false, aka “debatable“.  (Things which might fall into that last category are opinions, non-assertions, vague claims, predictions, semantic arguments, and unclear assertions.)  No tricks, no context, no mercy.

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The Trouble With Snowden

I have been raising the alarm loud and long on my Facebook page over the NSA’s decision to take up the mantle of the surveillance state that the Stasi laid down twenty-five years ago.  But I haven’t said much here on the blog.

One of the NSA’s many cell phone tracking methods. CREDIT: Washington Post

Today’s Snowden revelation seems almost pedestrian: the NSA is tracking your location using your cell phone. Not “can”. Not “if it suspects you’re a terrorist.” Not “if you’re a foreigner.” Unless you’ve luckily slipped through today’s collection dragnet (you’ll be back in soon enough!), the NSA is tracking your location using your cell phone.  Awesome WaPo infographic on your right.

But this only seems pedestrian because we have lost perspective, inured to the NSA’s behaviour over a long year of revelations.  Three years ago, on the other hand, this was so implausible it was a joke on 30 Rock: there was a character who refused to own a cell phone, because he thought it was a “CIA tracking device.” This established that the character was a nut. I thought it was funny at the time, and of course I agreed that only a fringe lunatic would believe it.

The problem with the Snowden revelations is that they are proving, over and over and over again, that the fringe lunatics have been *exactly correct* about *almost everything* for the past ten years.

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No, Republicans Have Not Blocked 82 Obama Nominees

Pictured: “Fuzzy Math”

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of this article, we will reveal that Republicans have in fact blocked only 8 Obama nominees.

The golden rule of infographics: the vaguer the source cited, the falser the claim.

Today, Senate Democrats under Sen. Harry Reid nuked the filibuster.  I commend their decision, which was a tactically intelligent one. My only regret is that a handful of Republicans failed to show the same level of intelligence in 2003.  They aren’t called the Stupid Party for nothing — and Sen. McCain, who led the 2005 Committee to Save the Filibuster, has always been one of our dimmest bulbs, at least when it comes to the cutthroat politics of the ongoing Culture War. (Nice guy, though!)

Yet the Senate Democrats are not content to say, “Ha! You idiots! We still can’t believe you actually fell for that ‘compromise’!” and get on with the business of liberal court-packing.  The Democrats are searching desperately for a moral justification for their parliamentary maneuver.  This is no doubt because, when Republicans were in power, the very same Democrats who today cast the deciding votes for the nuclear option defended the filibuster in moral terms, so they would look like huge honking hypocrites if they didn’t find some moral reason for changing their position.

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The Campaign to Rename the John Roach Center

EDIT: Much as I’ve enjoyed writing this post (the quotes especially!), reading the reaction to it (discussion is good!), and digging deeper into the subject (who started this campaign?), it turns out that the subject falls within the parameters of my employer’s communications policy.  

Employers are famously persnickety about people (especially employees) talking about them with any level of excitement — even if the excitement is generally positive — because P.R. in the age of the internet is very difficult (and I get that)… so, regrettably, I’ve decided to take the post down before I get an unpleasant phone call.  I’m just going to leave this wholly inoffensive passage in place:

“‘John Roach Center’ evidently is another name for my own building, Albertus Magnus Hall. Before we moved in, Magnus was the Science Building. They did real science then, the kind of science from which we would come out of the lab with our faces blasted like Wile E. Coyote, or with identical rashes on our hands from using the same rubber gloves. Those were the days. We came to appreciate the price of discovery, as well as the relative physical safety of working in the humanities.

“~Dr. S. J. Heaney (from The Pulp, Letter to the Editor, Vol 1 Issue 2)

(Photo: Dr. Fred Slocum, U of M Mankato)


Following a long tradition of giving every local archbishop a named building on campus, St. Thomas decided to rename the renovated Albertus Magnus Hall in 2000. It was now designated the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts (JRC for short).

There was a lovely symmetry in the old name: when you walked through the Arches [the University's iconic feature, bridging Aquinas Hall and JRC], you had Aquinas, our great patron, scholastic, and philosopher, on your left, and Albertus Magnus, who was not only Aquinas’s teacher and a scholastic himself, but also a great scientist for his age, on your right.  The liberal arts and the hard sciences, faith and reason, were united permanently, separate but locked in dialogue, in that timeless symbol of our campus, the Arches. Now you have Aquinas on the left and Archbishop John Roach on your right… the asymmetry is irritating, and the symbolism of the Arches is totally lost.

The Arches are still an important fixture on campus, of course, like the Marshall Field’s clock in Chicago, but it’s out of habit now, whereas when they were built they represented everything important about the school in a few feet of concrete — a marvelous example of what architecture can do when given half a chance to do it.

I’m also leaving the picture and caption in place, because they are awesome.

Sorry to all my readers who are coming to this post looking for the original story.  It was a pretty good one!  There were jokes!  And history lessons!  And free cookies at the end!  Too bad you weren’t a subscriber to the blog — subscribers get to see everything posted here, right away, without any of this sort of editing!  Subscriptions are available in the right-hand sidebar!  I close with the following string of unnecessary exclamation points: !!!!!!!!!!

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Book Review – Liberty: The God That Failed

Ironically, the subtitle is so long you’d confuse it for an 18th-century tract by an Enlightenment philosopher.

Liberty: The God That Failed is an imposing tome, clocking in at over 600 pages of small-print, heavily footnoted text.  Christopher Ferrara had a great deal to say, and spared no effort in saying it – although he promises to find material for a sequel!  Unfortunately, because of its density, it took me quite a number of months to read my review copy all the way through. I certainly won’t be having much impact on initial sales!  Nevertheless, I agreed to write a review, so I have written a review.

At the center of Liberty is a compelling dissection of certain internal contradictions in the political philosophy of John Locke and the English Enlightenment, which Ferrara examines through the lens of American history – a history marked (or, in Ferrara’s telling, defined) by those shortcomings.  The greatest of the “Hobbeslockean” errors Ferrara recounts are (first) the belief in majority rule, for which Locke sets forth an argument that is incoherent in several respects, and (second) the belief in religious toleration, which leads inevitably to the evisceration of all religious dogma and the final replacement of public morality with mob sentimentality.  These two political dogmas are the basis of the “liberty” which has always been at the heart of the American project.  As a result, Ferrara hates America nearly as much as he hates John Locke.

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Papa Benny on Animal Rights

Matthew Scully’s opus longum on abortion and animal rights at National Review featured a brief quote from Pope Benedict XVI (among other Catholic thinkers) on Man’s relationship with beasts.  I looked up the full quote for context, and thought it was compelling enough to feature here.  It comes from a book-length interview with Peter Seewald called God and the Worldand the Ignatius Press will sell it to you for $17.00 plus S&H.

Q: Genesis shows us that creation is a process.  Everything takes place step by step.  “It is not good”, God saw in the course of this process, “that man should be alone.  I will make him a helpmate for a partner.”  So next God made from the earth all the different animals of the field and all the birds of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  A good opportunity, actually, to talk about animals, our closest companions.  Adam gave each of them a name.  Are we allowed to make use of animals, even to eat them?

A: That is a very serious question.  At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them.  Animals, too, are God’s creatures, and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are still creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation and as important elements in the creation.

As far as whether we are allowed to kill and to eat animals, there is a remarkable ordering of matters in Holy Scripture.  We can read how, at first, only plants are mentioned as providing food for man.  Only after the flood, that is to say, after a new breach has opened between God and man, are we told that man eats flesh.  That is to say, a secondary way of ordering life is introduced, and it comes in second place in the story as we are told it.  Nonetheless, and even if someone feels hurt by our using animals in this way, we should not process from this to a kind of sectarian cult of animals.

For this, too, is permitted to man. He should always maintain his respect for these creatures, but he knows at the same time that he is not forbidden to take food from them. Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.

Q: Certainly, the animal world itself presents a strikingly brutal aspect of creation.  We all know how dear little kittens may, from one moment to the next, hunt down, torment, and kill others of their own kind.  The one that survives is the one that obviously has the greatest capability of destroying others.

A: It is in fact one of the great riddles of creation that there seems to be a law of brutality. The Catholic writer Reinhold Schneider, who himself was inclined to suffer from depression, exposed all the horrific elements in nature and in the animal world with the truly microscopic vision of someone who suffers himself. He let himself be brought by this to the point of despairing of God and of creation.

In her faith the Church has always seen it in this way: that the destructive effect of the Fall works itself out in the whole of creation. Creation no longer simply reflects the will of God; the whole thing is somehow distorted. We are confronted there by riddles. The dangers to which man is exposed are already made visible in the animal world.

 

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Pope Thoughts

Today, someone, pointing with concern at a couple of pieces in the American Spectator, asked me what I thought about the Pope.  This is what I said:

I think that the majority of living Catholics have become very used to living with popes who have earned the cognomen “the Great,” and it is pretty shocking for us young’uns to realize that — except for times of great grace — the pope is pretty much just a bishop with a bigger audience.

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