Facebook’s “Lord of the Rings” Defense of Free Speech

(p. B1) On Dec. 30, [2019] Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump. But citing the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and the philosopher John Rawls, Mr. Bosworth said that doing so would eventually backfire.

“I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result,” he wrote. “So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment.

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he said, misspelling the name of the character Galadriel. “As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

For the full story, see:

Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac. “Agonizing at Facebook Over Trump.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 8, 2020): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 7, 2020, and has the title “Don’t Tilt Scales Against Trump, Facebook Executive Warns.”)

Anonymous Message Apps Enable Protesters to Act at “Hyperspeed”

(p. A7) In June [2019], hundreds of thousands of young protesters connected by messaging apps took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the encroachment of China’s central authorities on life in their city.

Four months on, antigovernment demonstrations have swept more than a dozen countries. From Chile and Bolivia to Lebanon and Spain, millions have taken to the streets—sometimes peacefully, often not.

. . .

Propelling the action on the streets to a kind of hyperspeed is a new generation of encrypted-messaging software such as WhatsApp and Telegram that enable large groups of protesters who have never met each other to communicate anonymously.

Whereas platforms like Twitter and Facebook were great for broadcasting ideas, the newer technology allows any would-be activist connected to the group to build consensus for large-scale actions in real time—without fear of being identified.

Meanwhile, the internet’s global reach has helped activists learn by watching and connecting with peers in other countries.

For the full story, see:

John Lyons in Hong Kong, Nazih Osseiran in Beirut and Margherita Stancati in Barcelona. “A Wave of Protest Rattles Governments.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 23, 2019): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 22, 2019, and has the title “Global Wave of Protests Rattles Governments.” The penultimate sentence quoted above, appears in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)

Jailed Cuban Human Rights Dissident Fears for Life

(p. A1) MIAMI — The activist José Daniel Ferrer García made his desperate plea by hand.

“On hunger and thirst strike,” Mr. Ferrer, one of Cuba’s most well-known dissidents, scrawled on a piece of paper smuggled out of prison. “They have done everything to me.”

Mr. Ferrer, 49, has been jailed since Oct. 1 [2019] on what human rights activists say is a trumped-up assault and battery case. In his note, he described being dragged, cuffed by his hands and feet, and left in his underwear for two weeks to be nipped by mosquitoes and the morning chill.

“My life is in grave danger,” he warned.

Mr. Ferrer’s detention renews the spotlight on Cuba and the lengths it goes to against dissidents under President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Nineteen months after assuming the presidency amid high hopes for reform within Cuba and abroad, Mr. Díaz-Canel leads a government that bears a striking similarity to the Castro dynasty that preceded him, critics say.

For the full story, see:

Frances Robles. “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 3, 2019): A1 and A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2019, and has the title “Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “For Cubans, New Ways to Speak Out, but the Same Old Arrests.” The title of my National print edition was “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.”)

Berliners Vote to Name Baby Panda Twins “Hong” and “Kong”

(p. A4) BERLIN — When a Berlin newspaper asked its readers to help name two pandas born at the Berlin zoo last week, the contest quickly became weighted with political symbolism and risked the ire of Beijing, which has long treated the animals as surrogate envoys to friendly countries.

The most-suggested names by readers, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, were Hong and Kong, an apparent nod to solidarity with the pro-democracy protests that have been roiling Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997.

. . .

“The political symbolism is there, and it’s clear that the government and also the leadership of the Berlin Zoo would not allow it,” Prof. Eberhard Sandschneider, who studies Chinese politics at the Free University in Berlin, said of the panda contest on Friday.

“The last thing they would accept in Beijing, when the pandas are eventually brought back,” he added, “are the names Hong and Kong.”

For the full story, see:

Schuetze, Christopher F. “Clamor to Name Twin Pandas at Berlin Zoo ‘Hong’ and ‘Kong’ Could Irk Beijing.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 7, 2019): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 6, 2019, and has the title “At Berlin Zoo, a Clamor to Name Twin Pandas ‘Hong’ and ‘Kong’.”)

Johns Hopkins Fires Professor for Defending Research Computer from Occupying Student Protesters

(p. A10) Shortly after midnight on May 8, [2019] a man slipped into an administration building at Johns Hopkins University with a pair of bolt cutters. In a dark stairwell, he got to work, sweating through his shirt as he struggled to cut through the metal chains attached to a first-floor door.

The man was a professor at the university, and he was trying to wrest the building from student protesters who had occupied it for more than a month. Before long, the students ejected the professor, Daniel Povey, 43, from the building.

This week, Johns Hopkins kicked him off the faculty, too.

. . .

Mr. Povey wrote on his website that the students had scratched him as they took him out of the building. He also wrote that he faced more serious consequences than the students — who he noted had also entered the building without permission — because Johns Hopkins feared being accused of racism. He said he had tried to take the building back from the students in part because a computer server that hosted his research was inside and malfunctioning.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Professor Tried To Forcibly End Student Sit-In. Now He’s Gone.” The New York Times (Monday, August 12, 2019): A10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2019, and has the title “A Professor Tried to End a Sit-In With Bolt Cutters. Now He’s Been Fired.”)

A White Male Tired of Being “Blamed for Everything That’s Wrong in the World”

(p. A11)  You were angry when the head of BBC comedies recently said if they were doing Monty Python now it wouldn’t be “six white Oxbridge blokes.”

I wasn’t particularly angry, I just played angry. The idea is that we’re already excluded because the world has changed. I said, I’m tired of being, as a white male, blamed for everything that’s wrong in the world. So now I want you to call me Loretta. I’m a black lesbian in transition.   . . .

Could you get an irreverent film like “Life of Brian” made today?

I don’t know, but you have to try. I’m always pushing to see what we can get away with, to make people think rather than just reacting. That’s what Python was about, and we seem to be respected as the great old men of comedy. But to do what we were doing—now, yes, it would be a fight.

For the full interview, see:

Caryn James, interviewer.  “Terry Gilliam Yearns for the Old Days.”  The Wall Street Journal  (Tuesday, April 16, 2019): A11.

(Note:  ellipsis added; bold in original print version.)
(Note:  the online version of the interview has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam Wishes Comedy Hadn’t Changed.”  The bolded questions are asked by Caryn James.)

Boghossian May Be Punished for Exposing the “Faulty Epistemology” of Grievance Studies

(p. A15) A massive academic hoax has taken a surprising twist. Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy, faces disciplinary action at Oregon’s Portland State University. The accusations against him raise constitutional questions about federal regulation of academic research. They also implicitly acknowledge that the prank had a serious point.
Mr. Boghossian–along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation–set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.
“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.
. . .
A hastily formed university committee recommended that Mr. Boghossian be investigated for “research misconduct”–that is, purposely fabricating data. That case would seem to be open and shut, but the investigation has stalled.
More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.
. . .
Philip Hamburger, a law professor at Columbia, argues that the National Research Act and the HHS’s regulations violate the First Amendment, infringing on scholars’ freedom of expression. Mr. Hamburger has likened IRB vetting procedures to the Star Chamber’s licensing of publications that prevailed in 17th-century England–which the Constitution’s drafters were eager not to replicate. “Licensing . . . prohibits generally, and then selectively permits what otherwise is forbidden,” Mr. Hamburger wrote in 2007.

For the full commentary, see:
Charlotte Allen. “A Hoax and Its ‘Human Subjects’; An Institutional Review Board disciplines an academic prankster. But is it constitutional?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019): A15.
(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 28, 2019.)