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Stop Pretending that "Free Speech" Martyrs (or Protestors) Are Heroes
Ken White layeth the smacketh down.
Every week I highlight three newsletters.
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1. Ain’t No Heroes Here
Ken White takes in the full panoply of the Stanford Law School / Judge Kyle Duncan incident and gives it a title that’s a damn work of art:
Short version: Free speech fights mostly don’t have heroes because it is rare that the good guys are the ones either getting shouted down or doing the shouting.
When people’s First Amendment rights are on the line, we don’t ask whether they sincerely support free speech before protecting them. Only fools or dupes imagined that the Nazis marching at Skokie would have instituted a society characterized by broad free speech rights if they had their way. Rights protect awful totalitarian people all the time. There are many philosophical reasons for this; one is the recognition that we can’t be trusted to decide who should or shouldn’t get rights, and that arrogating such power to ourselves will inevitably favor the powerful and popular over the powerless and unpopular.
That’s why the whole notion of “free speech heroes” is dicey. Plenty of people who stand up for their own free speech rights would cheerfully infringe on the rights of others given a chance. Professors who are fighting unjust investigations sue students on bogus defamation theories. Supposed champions of the First Amendment become eager professional censors. We all constantly struggle against the tide of the instinctual human position “speech I like should be protected and speech I hate should be punished.” But we like simple stories, and we like heroes, so when someone’s speech is wrongly suppressed, we battle a cultural inclination to make them into noble, admirable victims.
Live look at JVL:
In the particular case of Judge Kyle Duncan, he’s no martyr. Again, here’s Popehat:
No doubt Judge Duncan is smart, but he didn’t get to be a federal judge by being unusually smart, or an unusually good lawyer. President Trump appointed him because he was a young, aggressive, telegenic anti-gay and anti-progressive activist. Kyle Duncan the lawyer was a culture warrior, and appointing him was a salvo in the war. Judge Kyle Duncan is more of the same. He’s known for things like monologuing in self-congratulatory fashion about why he won't address an incarcerated litigant by their preferred pronouns. This, plus the odd attempt to overthrow the government, is what passes for courage and principle in the 21st-century Federalist Society and for judicial restraint on the Fifth Circuit. Oh, bravely done, Judge Duncan, no doubt: you put that woke trans prisoner in her place. For the Republic.
But the students acted like thugs and the administration acted like bad administrators and then the right-wing grievance industry started their fundraising machines and . . .
Everyone in this story makes me angry.
Judge Duncan is part of a culture of turning the federal judiciary into a conservative grievance LiveJournal. . . . The American right is trumpeting a purported concern for freedom of speech, based mostly on cries of “cancel culture” and gripes about how other people are using their free speech and association, while campaigning vigorously to use government force to limit speech they don’t like. The Federalist Society is complicit, off the bench and on it.
The right-wing media . . . is campaigning to make money and clicks off of that conservative victimology. . . . Meanwhile, it’s torpedoing whatever American consensus we’ve ever had in favor of free speech values, conveying to half of America’s youth that free speech is cynical bullshit and to the other half that it’s a bludgeon to own the libs.
Associate Dean Steinbach and her ilk are campaigning to undermine free speech legal and social norms, striving to make someone’s subjective reaction to speech an unquestionable justification for suppressing it. Academic freedom is under state assault and she’s busily undermining it and telling students they have a right to shut people up.
Stanford, and schools like it, are shitting the bed over controversial speakers. . . .
And students. Students think that they should be able to dictate which speakers their peers invite, who can speak, what they can say, and who can listen. They’re not satisfied with the most free-speech-exceptionalist system in the world that lets them respond to speech by assembling, protesting, and reviling people of authority like Judge Duncan. They demand the right not just to speak, but to control the speech of others. That’s straight-up thuggish, an aspiration born of a fascist soul.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Bonus: Mona Charen hosted Ken on this week’s edition of Beg to Differ!
Go give it a listen. It’s fantastic.
Mick Ryan is an Australian general who has been keeping close tabs on the war in Ukraine. Last week he wrote about the battle of Bakhmut:
For Ukraine, holding onto Bakhmut has had both political and military imperatives. . . . The operations around Bakhmut have also permitted the Ukrainian armed forces to attrit the Russian forces in the east. This has forced the Russians to continue committing resources to the battle for a town with little strategic value. The battle has absorbed Russian units . . . that might have been used elsewhere in the nascent Russian offensive against the Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine.
The battle has blooded the Russians (both Army and Wagner forces) in a way that they have not experienced since the Second World War. According to some reports, their slow, methodical and frankly, unnecessary, campaign for Bakhmut has resulted in over ten thousand Russian casualties. It has also resulted in significant casualties for the Ukrainians, who have had to balance defending here to attrit the Russians, defend in other locations while also building the quality and quantity of forces for the offensives to come in 2023.
But Ryan thinks the battle may be culminating with what he expects to be a retrograde of Ukrainian forces and he lays out the keys to success:
Creation of a rear guard
Robust command and control
Read the whole thing and subscribe. He’ll make you smarter.
3. Four Minutes
I ran a sub-5 mile. Once. I was a middling runner and in my junior year, during the spring track season, I tried to break the 5-minute mark, mostly just for giggles.
It damn near killed me.
And the thing is: It wasn’t that big a deal. Breaking the 5-minute mark wasn’t common; but it wasn’t a freak event, either. Most high school track teams had a guy (or two) running sub-5.
Since then runners have kept getting faster. On the middle school team I coach I have an 8th grader who is probably going to go sub-5 this spring.
Anyway, Joanna Thompson has thoughts about this quickening:
When Roger Bannister finished under four minutes for a mile for the first time in 1954, the feat was considered nothing short of super-human. It was indeed a feat. He and his contemporaries were limited by the technology of the period; tracks were made of cinder, running shoes were made of leather, spike implements were literal nails driven through the sole of a sneaker. On top of that, Bannister was a medical school student at the time and only able to train for an hour a day.
Since that historic event, running technology has improved dramatically, and the sport has grown in popularity; the number of athletes breaking the formerly unbreakable barrier has grown right along with it. But the sub-4 mile remained a massive challenge, the track equivalent of “summiting” Mt. Everest. In the 1960s, only 30 men in the world accomplished it; the next two decades saw 68 and 69, respectively. Track and Field News still keeps a list of every American who has run under 4:00 for a mile (I’m dating number 375).
That list is beginning to rapidly expand. The first two months of 2023 saw more than 75 athletes break the 4-minute-mile barrier, including 52 at a single Boston track meet. That event, more than any other, raised an obvious question: What happened?
Thompson’s short answer: technology.
In 2017, Nike unveiled a new shoe: the Vaporfly, otherwise known as the 4%. These (sort of) dorky-looking flats quickly took on the moniker “super shoes” . . .
After the Vaporflys hit the market, world records across distance running events started to fall. The 5k, 10k, and half marathon became a revolving door of new record holders. The women’s marathon world record, which had stood since 2003, was toppled by over a minute in 2019. That same year, Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to break 2 hours for the marathon while wearing a pair of Nike prototypes. For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s 4:34 per mile — for 26.2 miles straight.
Sorry—I have to interrupt. That pace hurts just thinking about it.
Professional swimming underwent a similar revolution in the mid-2000s when Speedo unveiled its LZR suit. The sharkskin-inspired fabric works by compressing the swimmer’s body while simultaneously trapping air, allowing athletes to glide through the water with 38% less drag compared to a conventional suit. This one innovation turned swimming upside down — 13 world records fell within a month of its release.
LZR’s reign reached its pinnacle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There, athletes wearing a full-body version of the super Speedo suits broke an astounding 25 world records. Data later revealed that 98% of swimming medalists from those Games were wearing LZR, including US legend Michael Phelps.
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