We start off with Robin Givhan of The Washington Post making a distinction between what a “public square” truly is, and whatever it is that Elon Musk plans to do with Twitter.
True public squares may be places where words can flow unobstructed to a vast audience, but speaking in these open-air venues means navigating unavoidable considerations and complexities. In a true public square, you face your neighbors. Whatever you might have a hankering to get off your chest has to be unloaded with the full knowledge that those standing nearby can see precisely who’s doing the talking.
Audiences in the public square are more demanding. A lone man hawking misinformation on the street corner is more easily denounced or even ignored than some unseen face behind a Twitter account that spews hearsay and make-believe. Gullibility is abundant on Twitter. In real life, skepticism thrives. We dodge census takers, petition drives and panhandlers because we doubt their spiel or we simply don’t want to be bothered.
In real life, we try to suss out the truth of people by taking note of their body language. We make eye contact. We use all our senses to assess folks and make judgments. Those judgments aren’t free of stereotypes or prejudices, but still, they’re rooted in something, in some sort of evidence, some shred of humanity. Twitter isn’t a public square as much as it’s a sensory deprivation chamber in which we’re trying to figure out who to trust, who to believe, with little more to go on than a little blue check.
A “public square,” in other words, has rules and norms which, of course, conservatives don’t seem to like to apply to themselves.
Adam Serwer of The Atlantic says that when it comes to a battle between Musk’s notion of free speech and his bottom line, you can be sure what will win out.
For those who are not terminally online, a little explanation is in order. Compared to the big social media giants, Twitter is a relatively small but influential social network because it is used by many people who are relatively important to political discourse. Although the moderation policies of a private company don’t implicate traditional questions of free speech—that is, state restriction of speech—Twitter’s policies have played a prominent role in arguments about “free speech” online, that is, how platforms decide what they want to host.
When people talk about free speech in this more colloquial context, what they mean is that certain entities may be so powerful that their coercive potential mimics or approaches that of the state. The problem is that when private actors are involved, there's no clear line between one person's free speech and another: A private platform can also decide not to host you if it wants, and that is also an exercise of speech. Right-wing demands for a political purge of Twitter employees indicate just how sincerely conservatives take this secondary understanding as a matter of principle rather than rhetoric.
The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored.
Qian Julie Wang of The New York Times writes about life on the New York subway—and how she fears losing it.
I feel more connected with myself and my community on the subway than I do anywhere else. But as the tunnels have endured several high-profile assaults recently, culminating in a shooting on the same line my mother used to take to work in Sunset Park, I feel that connection fading and a piece of me withering. The subway defines home for a city of people united — above distance, race, class and labels — in relentless pursuit of dreams. And I am more scared of losing that home now than ever before.
In hopeful reclamation, I turned to Twitter, calling for subway memories. As the many responses came in, I reeled from laughter to tears and back. In poured absurd stories of navigating the trains in impossibly elaborate costumes; of dodging urine streams, cockroaches and rats; of in-car concerts, break dancing, and a cappella. Of course there were accounts of violence, of children followed and women groped. But more than anything else, there were stories of community: good Samaritans assisting the lost, the sick, the drunk; passengers jumping to help others with luggage; readers bonding over books; dance parties sparking on platforms; and lifelong friendships forming from chance encounters. And time and again came a seemingly unanimous conclusion: The subway is the best, most cathartic public place to cry.
Is this a little too romantic of a view about life on the subway? Maybe. Maybe not.
Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe wonders just how Harvard University is going to implement its proposed reparations program.
A massive report, years in the making, was released this week detailing the institution’s ties to and enrichment from the enslavement of Black people. It’s full of gut-wrenching details, from the more than 70 human beings who were owned by faculty, staff, and even presidents of the university, to the remains of 15 Black people from the antebellum era found among the holdings of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, to the fact that a third of the university’s endowment from the first half of the 19th century came from donors whose fortunes were fueled by the slave trade.
It also comes with a major pledge: a $100 million commitment to implement a set of recommendations designed, in the words of Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, “to approach the future in ways that properly reckon with our past.”
But if the recent efforts by other colleges and universities in the Ivy League and elsewhere to atone for the ways they benefited from human enslavement are any guide, the hard part for Harvard is just beginning. These schools are learning just how difficult, 150 years after abolition, it is to figure out what reparations should look like.
Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times writes about all of the utter pettiness of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, including the sheriff’s recent threats to a reporter for the Times.
He spent most of an hourlong conversation with me last month railing against unflattering photos of him published by this paper and the supposedly excessive number of Black division chiefs in the Sheriff’s Department’s past. He then claimed in a social media post that he was refusing to meet with the L.A. Times editorial board to seek their endorsement … right around the time he was meeting with them. (The board didn’t endorse him).
None of those moves put a single criminal behind bars or improved public safety — you know, the job that a majority of L.A. County voters asked Villanueva to do when they elected him in 2018. Instead, we’ve seen an administration of tantrums unworthy of a preschooler denied their “Peppa Pig.” And he just went through his worst one yet.
On Tuesday, he held a press conference to allege that my Times colleague Alene Tchekmedyian had received “stolen property” and was now a subject in a criminal investigation by his department. The supposed contraband she possessed was courthouse video that showed a deputy kneeling on the head of an inmate for three minutes after the inmate assaulted him. Sources told Tchekmedyian that the footage was suppressed for months because of Villanueva’s concern that it might bring “negative light” on his embattled department.
Allison Hope writes for CNN about possible deadly consequences of the anti-LGBTQ backlash now underway.
Take the three people who were attacked as they were leaving a drag show in Old Town Pasadena, or the gay club in Brooklyn that was set on fire, or the deaths of two Black, transgender women in Chicago, at least one of which was ruled a murder (the other is still under investigation). This was all in the past month, and it doesn’t capture the full scope of heinous acts.
While attacks on our community are sadly nothing new, this current environment, in which public officials use dangerous rhetoric while peddling bills that discriminate against us, feels ever more fraught. It doesn’t help that some Republicans are increasingly perpetuating the harmful myth that liberals and members of the LGBTQ community are grooming children – a move that shatters any illusions that the US has become fully understanding and accepting of our LGBTQ lives and experiences.
In all, more than 250 bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year with the aim of stripping away the rights of LGBTQ Americans, including in sports, libraries, schools and other facets of civic life. There was even a recent attempt in Tennessee to define common law marriage as one between one man and one woman. Thankfully, the bill died before it made it out of the general assembly, but I fear the fight to undo marriage equality may only be beginning.
Heather Digby Parton of Digby’s Hullaballoo writes that the right is losing the culture war—at least according to multiple polls—but you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage.
I know the only people who matter in America are Real American Trump voters, but this is ridiculous. On half those questions even a majority of them don’t agree. There is some contention on the trans bathroom issues and renaming schools between the two parties but not really that much. These are new issues that people are sorting through. But overall I think these issues are way overplayed.
Americans writ large aren’t calling for the fainting couch over teaching Black history and they don’t want to ban books in school. And although it isn’t asked I highly doubt that a majority of Americans think that gay teachers are “grooming” kids to become transgender. This is yet another ginned up culture war issue that the media always try to turn into a Big national Concern because they just can’t not take the bait.
Megan Moltini of STATnews writes about President Joe Biden’s attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner at a time when COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Washington, D.C. and nationwide.
In late March, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for the virus, her second breakthrough infection. A few weeks later, an outbreak at the annual Gridiron Club dinner seeded infections among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three members of President Biden’s cabinet. And on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive at the White House and had to cancel a meeting with Biden.
Yet on Saturday, Biden is planning to step into a tuxedo and into a cavernous underground ballroom for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the first time a sitting president has attended since 2016. Despite rising coronavirus cases in the D.C. region, up to 2,600 guests are expected to attend in full pre-pandemic “Nerd Prom” regalia — satin lapels, glittering gowns, and mask-free faces — albeit with proof of vaccination and a same-day negative Covid test.
At least one other American weighing similar risks reached a different conclusion. Late Tuesday night CNN reported that Anthony Fauci, the 81-year-old infectious disease expert and Biden’s chief medical adviser, would no longer attend the dinner amid concerns for his own health and worries it could turn into another superspreading event.
David Ignatius of The Washington Post notes the escalation of the war of words between Russia and NATO, but wonders what the ultimate cost will be to both sides.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a man careful with his words, stated it plainly Monday after a trip to Kyiv to bolster Ukraine’s resistance: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” Austin repeated that message Tuesday after talks with NATO allies in Germany.
This is a high-stakes strategy — efforts to degrade another country’s power by military and economic means usually don’t end well — and I asked the White House to elaborate on the comments. “We want Ukraine to win,” a National Security Council spokesman responded. “We intend to make this invasion a strategic failure for Russia. One of our goals has been to limit Russia’s ability to do something like this again.”
The West’s assessment as it tightens the screws was bluntly stated Monday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “Russia is failing; Ukraine is succeeding.” That’s certainly true after the first two months of war, but the bloodiest days of this campaign might lie ahead. The questions going forward are whether the pressure strategy will succeed in crippling Putin, and at what cost.
Alice Tidey of Euronews thinks that Poland and Bulgaria will be okay after the shutoff of Russian gas—for now.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal supplied a little over 40% of Poland's energy mix in 2020, followed by oil (about 30%) and natural gas (about 18%), with the rest coming from biofuels and waste as well as other sources of renewables including wind and solar.
Yet, Poland generates less than half — 46% — of its energy need, producing about 80% of the coal it consumes, but just 20% of gas and 3% of oil. The rest is thus met by imports. About half of the gas and nearly two-thirds of the oil Poland imports come from Russia, according to Forum Energii, a think tank.
These figures are high but still much lower than a few years ago when about 80% of Poland's gas imports came from Russia.
When the Gazprom decision came through, Moskwa claimed the country had been preparing for just such a scenario and that "thanks to infrastructure investments, such as the Baltic Pipe or connections with other Member States, the Polish gas system, as one of the few in the European Union, is able to completely abandon supplies from Russia."
She added that gas reserves were at 76% capacity.
Rachel Ashcroft of The Article writes about some notions (primarily the United Kingdom’s) of patriotism as a concept.
Ukrainian patriotism has drawn admiration from people around the world. But for some in the UK, such outward displays of patriotism can seem alien. The majority of Britons are uncomfortable with declaring love for their country. Patriotism is largely a Right-wing sentiment: according to 2020 data, only 17% of those on the British Left are proud of Britain, compared to 58% of people on the Right.
However, patriotism is arguably a misunderstood concept. It is too often confused with nationalism, or dismissed as foolish. But patriotism has plenty of advantages. It can neutralise sinister nationalistic tendencies, as George Orwell — a lifelong man of the Left — once argued. And as we see daily on the news, drawing on a wellspring of patriotism can benefit a country in wartime, when morale needs to be at its strongest.
Historically, philosophy has shown little interest in patriotism. Instead, it’s been left to literature’s most famous names to come up with a definition. In the late 19th century, Leo Tolstoy stated that patriotism “is merely the preference of one’s own country or nation above the country or nation of anyone else”. But if everyone thinks their country is “the best”, then who is actually right? That line of reasoning led Tolstoy to dismiss patriots as fools.
Ms. Ashcroft is right about Orwell, and while she’s mostly correct that philosophy has tended to show little interest in notions of patriotism, the greatest statements ever made about what we have come to call “patriotism” are in Plato’s Apology and Crito, IMO.
Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes that despite all of the naysayers writing about an underwhelming victory for Emmanuel Macron in last week’s French presidential election, it’s notable that Macron is the first French president to win reelection in 20 years.
Successful pragmatists in power will never have the glamour of even unsuccessful ideologues. The British journalist Helen Lewis satirized the grudging reluctance to recognize the significance of Macron’s first election, in 2017, writing, “We must now confront an uncomfortable question. Why did so many French people vote for Emmanuel Macron? Was it a lack of economic anxiety, or a lack of racism?” Insisting that Le Pen’s predictably increased result since her last standoff with Macron, five years ago, was the real story misses the point. Macron is the first sitting French President to have been reëlected in twenty years. He also now becomes the first President of the Fifth Republic, which was instituted in 1958, since de Gaulle to be returned to office by a direct popular vote, while still holding a parliamentary majority. (Jacques Chirac was in “cohabitation” with a left-wing government when he was reëlected in 2002, and François Mitterrand was with a right-wing one in 1988.) Most elections in democracies are close; this one is notable for how close it wasn’t. Nor did Macron tilt right. On the easy material, for instance, of Muslim women wearing hijab, he was forthrightly protective of a religious minority in a climate in which Zemmour proposed a law that children only be given “French” first names.
It will be an ugly second term: there will be demonstrations, and the President will be called an even worse failure than he had been before. Loud declarations of the death of democracy will be shouted from the rooftops, and the next unanswerable crisis that France confronts will be once again confronted. In other words, French political life will carry on as it has since 1958—or really, since 1789. But the worst have been kept out of power, and didn’t come near winning it. There is much work to be done, and the coming legislative elections will be significant. Macron will not have an easy time, but what French President ever has?
Patrick Roger of Le Monde in English explores some of the possible reasons that Marine Le Pen won the French non-Pacific overseas territories.
"Of course, the Le Pen vote shocks me," said the president of the executive council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy (Parti Progressiste Martiniquais). "This is not what Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon and Edouard Glissant taught us. However, it is also a sign, an indicator of deep discontent, which the crises experienced during this last five-year period have exacerbated, and disagreement with governmental policy that has been done this way for decades. But we must be careful to make sure that this current atmosphere of dissent does not then turn into support for unacceptable ideas."
There are several diverse reasons for this general dissent. Mayotte does not have the same reasons for anger as French Guiana, nor in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion or New Caledonia. Nevertheless, there is a lingering feeling that overseas territories, with their idiosyncrasies and their own structural difficulties, are not taken into account in all their complexity and are even "ignored," "abandoned" and "disdained" – terms that frequently come up.
"There is a general sense of unease in West Indian societies, with no vision for the future, which is not specific to the overseas territories but is particularly pronounced there," said Emmanuel Gordien, a virologist at Avicenne Hospital in Bobigny in Seine-Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. Dr. Gordien is Guadeloupean and is active in efforts to promote the remembrance of slavery. He recently went to the West Indies to advocate for the Covid-19 vaccination policy, which is rejected by a large part of the population. "It is first of all an unease linked to identity, but it is also linked to an economic, social and societal malaise," he said. "And, above all, there is no prospect of an end to this malaise. Local politicians don't do anything. Many of them have no credibility – people only see them as a kind of social worker. But on the big issues, they provide no solutions."
Finally today, Jeffrey Barg, The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer about the faulty grammar of U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in her ruling overturning mask mandates nationwide.
The word sanitation, which is what masks help do, is key. The plaintiffs, who wanted to get rid of the mask mandate, claimed that “of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated” applied to each noun that preceded it, including sanitation. In other words, according to the plaintiffs, unless a person is already “infected or contaminated” — that is, COVID positive — the CDC has no authority to enact sanitation measures: i.e., forcing them to wear a mask. That led Mizelle to conclude that, in mandating masks, the CDC was out of bounds.
The problem with this reading, as the government points out, is that for it to make grammatical sense, the word or would have to appear before destruction. If someone were to be “infected or contaminated,” then sure, the government could go to town inspecting, fumigating, disinfecting, and sanitizing them. (This week’s news that the youngest detainee at Guantánamo was cleared for release is a good reminder of how much our government likes inspecting and fumigating people.)
But that conjunction isn’t there. Without that tiny or, every word from destruction to human beings is part of one isolated noun phrase that functions the same as the nouns that precede it: inspection, fumigation, and so on. Because sanitation doesn’t rely on “infected or contaminated” for its meaning, sanitation itself should be a legitimate function of the CDC — which would mean that mandating masks is well within the agency’s purview.
Everyone have a great day!