Free Speech First Amendment Blocks Government from Punishing False Statements

The commentary quoted below defines “deepfakes” as “apparently real images or videos that show people doing or saying things they never did or said.” For the government to punish false statements, the government would first have to establish which statements are true and which are false. The Supreme Court has ruled that if it did so, the government would be violating free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Cass Sunstein, who wrote the commentary below, is a well-respected legal scholar who served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

(p. C3) Can deepfakes, as such, be prohibited under American law? Almost certainly not. In U.S. v. Alvarez, decided in 2012, a badly divided Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from regulating speech simply because it is a lie.   . . .   The plurality opinion declared that “permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense…would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle…. Were this law to be sustained, there could be an endless list of subjects the National Government or the States could single out.”

For the full commentary, see:

Cass R. Sunstein. “Can the Government Regulate Deepfakes?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Cass Sunstein’s commentary is adapted from his book:

Sunstein, Cass R. Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

Pocketknife on Airplane Saved Lives

Small pocketknives are still banned from flights, in spite of good reason to think that they do not pose a security risk. So if a similar emergency arose now, a Julius Schachter today would not be able to take out his pocketknife and save lives.

(p. A22) Julius Schachter, known as Julie, lived much of the year in Germany. He had flown to the Bay Area in November [2020] for Thanksgiving.

His most significant work involved the chlamydia-related disease trachoma, an eye infection that until 1990 was one of the world’s leading infectious causes of blindness. He established the effectiveness of treating it with the mass distribution of the oral antibiotic azithromycin (until then, the disease was treated topically), said Dr. Thomas M. Lietman, director of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology at U.C.S.F. and a longtime colleague of Dr. Schachter’s.

“Everyone in health care is taught that nonspecific antibiotic use is forbidden,” Dr. Lietman said. But in areas where trachoma was regularly found, he added, it was too difficult to determine who exactly was infected. “Julie’s leap was to consider treating the entire community, whether they were infected or not.”

It is expected that trachoma will be eliminated as a public health concern by 2030, thanks in large part to Dr. Schachter.

. . .

Dr. Schachter traveled constantly for work and often took his family on international trips, Sara Schachter, a veterinarian, said. She recalled a harrowing incident in 1986, when she and her brother and father were aboard a flight from Rome to Athens and a bomb exploded. Four passengers died after being sucked out of a hole created by the blast. Some oxygen masks were jammed and failed to fall; a calm Dr. Schachter used a pocketknife to pry them loose for fellow passengers.

. . .

Dr. Schachter continued to work while hospitalized with Covid-19. Dr. Lietman recounted a conversation they had on the day his friend was being moved to the intensive care unit.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Dr. Schachter said. “I’ve got to finish these four manuscripts.”

For the full obituary, see:

Katie Hafner. “Julius Schachter, 84.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 9, 2021): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 8, 2021, and has the title “Julius Schachter, Leading Expert on Chlamydia, Dies at 84.”)

New York City’s Resilient Dynamism

(p. C10) Do you worry that New York won’t fully return to what it was before the pandemic?

LEBOWITZ I have lived in New York long enough to know that it will not stay the way it is now. There is not a square foot of New York City, a square foot, that’s the same as it was when I came here in 1970. That’s what a city is, even without a plague. But I’d like to point out, there were many things wrong with it before. After the big protests in SoHo, I saw a reporter interviewing a woman who was a manager of one of the fancy stores there. The reporter said to her, “What are you going to do?” And she said, “There’s nothing we can do until the tourists come back.” I yelled at the TV and I said, “Really? You can’t think what to do with SoHo without tourists? I can! Let me give you some ideas.” Because I remember it without tourists. How about, artists could live there? How about, let’s not have rent that’s $190,000 a month? How about that? Let’s try that.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “More of Her Metropolitan Life.” The New York Times (Friday, January 8, 2021): C1 & C10.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Jan. 7, 2020, and has the title “Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese Seek a Missing New York in ‘Pretend It’s a City’.” In the online and print versions the question by Itzkoff, and Lebowitz’s name before her answer, were in bold.)

An Octopus “Is a Being With Multiple Selves”

(p. 11) What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works — and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape.

. . .

Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance and the ability of some animals, like rats and cuttlefish, to “meander, drift off and dream.” But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves. A breathtaking explanation follows, and it’s one that makes even a cephalopod fan like me swoon over the myriad possibilities for rethinking the mind as a sort of hidden realm for sentience.

Godfrey-Smith declares, “The world is fuller, more replete with experience than many people have countenanced,” . . .

For the full review, see:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 27, 2020 ): 11.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”)

The book under review is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

“When You Work Hard and Smart, You Get Lucky”

(p. A21) Frank Carney, who founded Pizza Hut with his brother Dan and helped build it into the world’s largest pizza chain, died on Wednesday [Dec. 2, 2020] at an assisted living facility in Wichita, Kan.

. . .

Frank Carney left the company in 1980 and as an investor embarked on various business ventures, including real estate, oil and gas, and other food enterprises, most of which failed. “Frank was a very driven person,” Dan Carney said. “He would pick up an idea and run with it. You just don’t win every time.”

. . .

By 1993, the millions Frank Carney had made from Pizza Hut were lost to his failed ventures. “I never thought it would turn out as disastrous as it did,” he said in a 2002 interview with Pizza Marketplace, an industry news website. “It’s very stressful when you find out that you’re not as smart as you thought you were.”

He then sought a position at Pizza Hut but was unhappy with the offer he received. Instead, in 1994, he became a franchise owner of Papa John’s, a major pizza chain competitor. His embrace of a rival displeased his brother — but, as Dan Carney said, he “did what he wanted.”

. . .

“I’m just a regular guy who worked smart and made some L.U.C.K. — L.U.C.K. means Laboring Under Correct Knowledge,” Frank Carney once said, according to the website Franchisopedia.com. “When you work hard and smart, you get lucky. To build a successful, growing business, you need all the luck you can get.”

For the full obituary, see:

Glenn Rifkin. “Frank Carney, 82, Who Turned $600 Into Pizza Hut.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 5, 2020): A21.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Dec. 10, 2020, and has the title “Frank Carney, Co-Founder of Pizza Hut, Dies at 82.”)

Abramson “Was Too Busy Surfing” to Patent Wireless Networking

I argue that patents enable funding for poor inventors or inventors who aspire to big expensive breakthroughs. If you have independent means (like a professorship in Hawaii) and mainly aspire to surf, you can afford to ignore patents.

(p. B11) Professor Abramson has been called the father of wireless networking. But it was a shared paternity. The project included graduate students and several faculty members, notably Frank Kuo, a former Bell Labs scientist who came to the University of Hawaii in 1966, the same year Professor Abramson arrived.

His deepest expertise was in communication theory, the subject of his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford University. The fundamental design ideas behind ALOHAnet were his. In a 2018 oral history interview for the Computer History Museum, Professor Kuo recalled, “Norm was the theory and I was the implementer, and so we worked together pretty well.”

. . .

That the ALOHAnet technology became so widely used was partly because Professor Abramson and his team had shared it freely and welcomed other scientists to Hawaii.

“We had done no patenting, and ALOHA was published in scientific papers,” putting their work in the public domain, Professor Abramson said in the oral history, adding: “And that was fine with me. I was too busy surfing to worry about that sort of thing.”

. . .

Some of the data-networking techniques developed by Professor Abramson and his Hawaii team proved valuable not only in wireless communications but also in wired networks. One heir to his work was Robert Metcalfe, who in 1973 was a young computer scientist working at Xerox PARC, a Silicon Valley research laboratory that had become a fount of personal computer innovations.

Mr. Metcalfe was working on how to enable personal computers to share data over wired office networks. He had read a 1970 paper, written by Professor Abramson, describing ALOHAnet’s method for transmitting and resending data over a network.

“Norm kindly invited me to spend a month with him at the University of Hawaii to study ALOHAnet,” Mr. Metcalfe recalled in an email.

Mr. Metcalfe and his colleagues at Xerox PARC adopted and tweaked the ALOHAnet technology in creating Ethernet office networking. Later, Mr. Metcalfe founded an Ethernet company, 3Com, which thrived as the personal computer industry grew.

“Norm, thank you,” Mr. Metcalfe concluded in his email. “Aloha!”

For the full obituary, see:

Steve Lohr. “Norman Abramson, a Pioneer Behind Wireless Networking, Is Dead at 88.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 12, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 11, 2020, and has the title “Norman Abramson, Pioneer Behind Wireless Networks, Dies at 88.”)

Chinese Communists Plan Years in Prison for Lawyer-Journalist Who Documented Government Failings in Covid Crisis

(p. A15) In one video, during the lockdown in Wuhan, she filmed a hospital hallway lined with rolling beds, the patients hooked up to blue oxygen tanks. In another, she panned over a community health center, noting that a man said he was charged for a coronavirus test, even though residents believed the tests would be free.

At the time, Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer turned citizen journalist, embodied the Chinese people’s hunger for unfiltered information about the epidemic. Now, she has become a symbol of the government’s efforts to deny its early failings in the crisis and promote a victorious narrative instead.

Ms. Zhang abruptly stopped posting in May [2020], after several months of dispatches. The police later revealed that she had been arrested, accused of spreading lies. On Monday [Dec. 28, 2020], she will go to court, in the first known trial of a chronicler of China’s coronavirus crisis.

Ms. Zhang has continued to challenge the authorities from jail. Soon after her arrest, Ms. Zhang began a hunger strike, according to her lawyers. She has become gaunt and drained but has refused to eat, the lawyers said, maintaining that her strike is her form of protest against her unjust detention.

“She said she refuses to participate in the trial. She says it’s an insult,” Ren Quanniu, one of the lawyers, said after visiting Ms. Zhang in mid-December in Shanghai, where she is being held.

Ms. Zhang’s prosecution is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing campaign to recast China’s handling of the outbreak as a succession of wise, triumphant moves by the government. Critics who have pointed to officials’ early missteps have been arrested, censored or threatened by police; three other citizen journalists disappeared from Wuhan before Ms. Zhang did, though none of the rest has been publicly charged.

Prosecutors accused Ms. Zhang of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — a frequent charge for government critics — and recommended between four and five years in prison.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “Wuhan Citizen Journalist Faces Trial for Posts in Pandemic.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 27, 2020): A15.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 27, 2020, and has the title “She Chronicled China’s Crisis. Now She Is Accused of Spreading Lies.”)

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Fauci Lied on Herd Immunity Until His “Gut Feeling” Told Him U.S. Was Ready for the Truth

(p. A6) In the pandemic’s early days, Dr. Fauci tended to cite the same 60 to 70 percent estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying “70, 75 percent” in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said “75, 80, 85 percent” and “75 to 80-plus percent.”

In a telephone interview the next day, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.

For the full story, see:

Donald G. McNeil Jr. “How Can We Achieve Herd Immunity? Experts Are Quietly Upping the Number.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 27, 2020): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2020, and has the title “How Much Herd Immunity Is Enough?”)

Andrew Cuomo Explains Slow New York Rollout of Vaccines: “It’s Bureaucracy”

(p. A1) ALBANY, N.Y. — New York, the onetime center of the pandemic, faced a growing crisis on Monday [Jan. 4, 2021] over the lagging pace of coronavirus vaccinations, as deaths continue to rise in the second wave and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came under mounting pressure to overhaul the process.

. . .

(p. A5) The state has had a deliberate approach in distributing the vaccine; until Monday, the vaccinations were almost exclusively given to health care workers, group home residents, and those living and working at nursing homes.

That cautious approach was also evident in the state’s initial guidance to determine which health care employees should be prioritized for vaccines; the state had advised clinics and other facilities to rank employees through a matrix that takes into account age, comorbidities, occupation and the section of the facility where the person works.

. . .

Mr. Cuomo rejected any notion that his administration was at fault for not distributing more vaccines, asserting that the problem was a local issue, and urging Mr. de Blasio and other leaders who oversee public hospital systems to take “personal responsibility” for their performance.

“They have to move the vaccine,” the governor said in Albany. “And they have to move the vaccine faster.”

. . .

“There is no one cause,” he said, noting that he had spoken to dozens of hospitals about the issue.

He did suggest, however, that management was at fault in some cases, saying that there was a lack of “urgency” in certain hospital systems.

“It’s bureaucracy,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Jesse McKinley, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Emma G. Fitzsimmons. “New York Lags In Vaccinations While Toll Rises.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 5, 2021): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 4, 2021, and has the title “New Variant Detected in New York Amid Growing Crisis Over Vaccine Rollout.”)

Communist Dictator Kim Jong-un Is “Really Sorry” for North Koreans’ Economic Suffering

(p. A10) “Our five-year economic development plan has fallen greatly short of its goals in almost all sectors,” Mr. Kim said in his opening speech to the ruling Workers’ Party’s eighth congress that began in Pyongyang, the capital, on Tuesday [Jan. 5, 2021].

. . .

. . . he had little to show on the economic front. He apologized to his people for failing to live up to their expectations. “I am really sorry for that,” he said, appearing to fight back tears. “My efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their life.”

For the full story, see:

Choe Sang-Hun. “Kim Admits That He’s Failed In His 5-Year-Plan to Rebuild North Korea’s Feeble Economy.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 7, 2021): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 15, 2021, and has the title “North Korea Party Congress Opens With Kim Jong-un Admitting Failures.”)