The Whatever Digest, 9/7/18

Like this neighbor cat cautiously peering onto our deck, let’s pop our head up to see what’s going on, shall we?


Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing: Well, this has been a mess so far, if an entertaining one, if you’re the sort of person to be entertained by a car wreck. And of course it didn’t have to be a mess, but then the GOP and Trump administration decided not to release a lot of documents, which prompted an open rebellion by the Democrats, who released documents and dared the Republicans to do something about it, and then there Kavanaugh himself, who seems annoyed he has to pretend to answer questions at all.

And now of course there’s the question of whether the documents released show Kavanaugh perjured himself in front of Congress back in the day, the responses of which range from “probably not, if you allow for context” to “yes, and let’s impeach him from the DC Appeals bench right now.” What do I think? Well, I think I have no idea how to judge this particular thing, so I’m going to let other people fight about it.

But I do think the polite fiction of “Roe v Wade is settled law” that Kavanaugh tried to pass off to Susan Collins a bit ago is a bunch of bullshit, and given he also referred to contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs,” it’s probable he’s not a huge fan of that either, and otherwise as someone else just said on Twitter, he’s your basic Federalist Society bubble boy. So I’d be happy not to have him on the court, and to have him skitter back sour-faced to the DC court of appeals.

The thing is, if Kavanaugh is punted — which is actually possible, albeit deeply unlikely — the choices for any other Supreme Court candidate don’t get any better while Trump is in office. Clearly the Democrats are hoping they’ll get the senate in November, which will put a new wrinkle on things, but that might be optimistic. In the meantime, it’s not like Trump won’t pick someone who isn’t hostile to women’s right to control their bodies, or voting rights, or gay rights, or doesn’t think climate change is at best an interesting theoretical puzzle. So if Kavanaugh gets chopped, we’ll be back here again, one way or another.

Which is one reason I mentioned to a friend yesterday that in 2020, should Democrats get the presidency and both houses, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see the Supreme Court expand to 11 members. Look, if the GOP is going to stack the court by denying a Democratic president their court pick and then rushing through two other picks, including one who have may have perjured himself in front of Congress, I’m not sure the Democrats are going to be inclined to let that sort of packing stand. Adding two more justices may be easier than trying to impeach Kavanaugh.


Alex Jones removed From Twitter: Jones, a performatively unhinged purveyor of questionable health supplements, was finally booted from Twitter, along with his business site, after similar puntings from Facebook, YouTube and other online services. There was an ostensible direct reason for this (Jones was a harassing boor to a reporter and used a Twitter service to record the moment), but as I noted, on Twitter of all places, “Alex Jones being punted off Twitter for this one specific thing is sort of the flip side of Al Pacino getting the Oscar for Scent of a Woman: Sure, okay, but everyone knows it was for career achievement and it should have happened sooner.”

And yes, Jones definitely should have been punted from Twitter before now — a man who makes his money by harassing the parents of school shooting victims is not someone I’ll be shedding a lot of tears for. Jones’ own site is still up and running so he’s got his printing press, as it were; people who want to find his particular brand of bullshit can still do so. But now he’s harder to find! Well, I mean, okay, but if so, it’s not Twitter or Facebook or YouTube’s fault Jones’ followers are not smart enough to enter a URL into their browsers, now, is it?

I’ve essayed the issue of free speech online before, and in detail, so I don’t need to do it again now, but I will say that I do find Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s recent assertion that he sees Twitter as a “public square” a bit of meretricious nonsense. It’s emphatically not a public square — Twitter is a for-profit corporation that makes money selling advertising to its customers, and has made Dorsey a billionaire (currently) six times over. Dorsey’s allegiance isn’t to the public weal, it’s to his company making a profit. The “public square” bit is just marketing, and Dorsey’s excuse for letting certain bad actors stay on the service as long as he felt he could extract value from their presence.

Alex Jones and his hijinks are past their sell date now, and Twitter was getting bad press for being the last service that tolerated his supplement-selling assholery, so out he goes. And sure, there are a bunch of dimwits who are grousing about “shadow banning” or whatever, but I have to tell you, enough of those “I’m shadowbanned!” dumbasses show up in my Twitter comments that I know that’s bullshit. And as for them being punted/blocked/banned/whatever, well, I understand it’s difficult for people who are assholes to understand they are being removed from polite society because they are assholes, and not for any other reason. But it doesn’t mean their being an asshole needs to be tolerated by others, or that it has a constitutional right to exist on a privately-run service.


On the subject of Twitter, people have noted that friends of mine have quit the service, some in part to protest the continued presence of Alex Jones and his nasty bit of business and/or because they’re tired of dealing with the other assholes there and/or because it’s just not fun anymore. These folks were wondering if I also plan to be leaving the service anytime soon.

My answer: Probably not. One, I have 150k followers there, mostly fans, so it’s a really good way of letting lots of people who are affirmatively interested in me know what I’m up to. Two, while some friends have dropped, many many others are still there, and it’s how we chat and stay in touch and in each other’s lives on a daily basis. I live in rural Ohio, folks. My writer/creator community is far-flung from me and from each other, and hangs out online. I’d miss them.

Three, I’m very clear on why I’m there and how I use the service, and I’m clear about it to everyone else, too. Four, after 30 years in the public eye one way or another, I’ve gotten a pretty thick skin and no qualms about removing assholes from my sight. 99+% of what I see on Twitter at this point is friendly people, and the unfriendly people I usually only ever see once.

And finally — and this part should not be read as a criticism of anyone dealing with online services — I don’t really expect Twitter or any other online service to be other than wildly flawed. Twitter was built by people who wanted to make shitloads of money monetizing other people’s trivia, and on that score it’s succeeded very well, as has Facebook, Google and a few others. Tech billionaires are basically callow dudes in hoodies who never learned how to deal with humans except for one specific slice of their needs/wants that they could extract value from, so honestly I don’t expect their creations to reflect anything other than that. Change comes only at the last possible minute and only when it threatens that extraction of value. If you know that going in, it makes dealing with the things they create much easier.

This is not to excuse tech billionaires from being truculent, vaguely libertarian shitlords, or to suggest that people should just accept the awfulness of the services they’re being offered. Tech billionaires should make an effort to be self-actualized humans with some goal other than sitting on a massive pile of ducats and thinking it’s deserved; we should all work to make the services they provide humane as well as narrowly useful. And if neither are happening on a schedule that suits you, you should bail on the service. No one owes a tech billionaire their value. I am saying that for me, my tolerance both of tech billionaires and their flawed services is reasonably high, as long as I’m getting something useful out of it too, on my terms.

Which I am in regards to Twitter, so I’m likely to stay on it for a while.


And thus we come to the end of the first week of the Whatever Digests for September. I hope you’re enjoying them. If you have thoughts so far on the format, drop them into the comments. I’m curious what you think. In the meantime, and to close, enjoy this picture of a Smudge on my monitor. The Digest will see you again on Monday. Have a good weekend.

66 Comments on “The Whatever Digest, 9/7/18”

  1. As far as “public square” goes, that’s actually similar to the language that was used back in May when the federal judge ruled Trump’s blocking followers on Twitter to be unconstitutional. Whether Dorsey believes it or is just using it to his own ends is another matter, of course. But this bit isn’t something he just imagined up.

  2. I like this digest format.
    Also, just a general “thanks” for your continued informative entertainment delivered to my eyeballs via your books, this site, and Twitter.

  3. I don’t know how I got on your email list but I have enjoyed your posts, since we seem to be like minded on most issues and you manage to wax poetic much more poetically than I ever could! The cats and daughter are great too.

  4. “….I will say that I do find Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s recent assertion that he sees Twitter as a “public square” a bit of meretricious nonsense. It’s emphatically not a public square — Twitter is a for-profit corporation….”

    A for-profit entity can be a public forum. The classic example were the Ford “company towns.” The context was reversed: Ford argued that since the town was built and owned and operated as an adjunct to the for-profit activities of the company it did not have to allow free speech or other constitutional guarantees to the employees that lived there. In a Supreme Court case that has since been affirmed several times (i.e., is not an outlier) it was decided that if a for-profit venue takes on the trappings of a public (i.e., citizen-owned, government operated) forum it must afford those constitutional guarantees to the persons using it. This has subsequently been applied to private parks, universities and many other bricks-and-mortar sites. The principle has not, as far as I know, been extended to electronic fora. This would make an interesting test case.

    What Dorsey either does not realize or assumes will not arise is that once a venue is a public forum it is subject to greater government scrutiny and regulation. Few, if any, for-profit corporations want the government poking around in how they operate their businesses and imposing requirements on their business and strategic objectives.

  5. I am glad for your twitter and your blog. I don’t have social media accounts myself, but I do look up certain ones online because those particular people tend contribute to a better world in some way. You are one of them. Thank you for your positive presence, Mr. Scalzi.

  6. I am enjoying the digests even more than I expected to. They bring me back to the days of my youth reading Herb Caen’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Three dots and all.

  7. If Kavanaugh’s nomination somehow sinks, and the Democrats manage to take the Senate and hold off another nomination until January when they swear in, they damn well better spend the rest of the shitgibbon’s regime citing the “McConnell Rule” which is “We don’t allow SCOTUS nominations a hearing when it’s not our guy doing the nominating.”

  8. Just popping in to say I’m really loving the digests. I’ve enjoyed your blog the past couple of years, but have missed the more regular, long form postings of your take on the events of the day. Sorely missed, really, since the Trump era. Usually I could tell from your tweets, but 140/280 characters just wasn’t quite the same.

    Hopefully this digest version will be the happy medium that sticks around.

  9. I’m definitely liking the digests. I enjoy your long-form comments on issues of the day, which have been fewer and farther between in the last year or so–for excellent reasons. So your short-form comments on issues of the day are very welcome.

  10. I also wanted to note that I’m enjoying the digests. While I limitedly enjoy twitter, I catch up every few days, which is less appealing for me. This seems to hit the sweet spot of enough news and opinion to be interesting, not entangled in other conversations, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

  11. I think expanding to the Supreme Court would be a bad idea, because Republicans have shown no qualms in titting any tat Democrats have used to try overcome their obstructionism. Dems nuked the filibuster for judges other than Supreme Court justices. Republicans nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. If Dems added two seats, Republicans would add four the next time they were in power.

    That said, I wonder what the constitutionality of SHRINKING the court would be? Reduce it from nine to seven, with the enabling legislation mandating that the last-appointed justices lose their seats.

    Just a thought.

  12. I like the digests a lot, but they seem like a lot of work.

    I thought any expansion or contraction of the SC would have to amend the Constitution, which seems (intentionally) difficult. It’d be hard to impeach Kavanaugh, but if the evidence that he perjured is strong, then it seems like the most reasonable way to go. I’m aware reasonable doesn’t work for Republicans now, and rarely with Congress, but…

  13. “Tech billionaires are basically callow dudes in hoodies who never learned how to deal with humans except for one specific slice of their needs/wants that they could extract value from, so honestly I don’t expect their creations to reflect anything other than that.”

    That’s a polite way to phrase it, but it’s true.

    A Democratic congressional staffer (Senate side) not affiliated with Spartacus from Newark told me last night that Kavanaugh is likely to take Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court despite obviously intense Senate Dem opposition. The reason: Senate Republican cohesion is strong enough to make this happen despite the narrow margin of Republican control.

    The staffer didn’t say much more than that, but did say thatSenators Murkowski and Collins are unlikely to break ranks.

  14. I don’t understand why people who hate and complain about these corporations and the people who run them then demand that these very same entities control what people are allowed to say online. There cannot possibly be moderation that satisfies hundreds of millions of people simultaneously. As Mike Masnick (of Techdirt) always points out, the proper approach is for the platforms to provide users with tools to do their own curation. Then people can select who they see and hear based on their own beliefs and preferences, and communities can form online that only admit people who adhere to their standards, without those preferences stopping other people who disagree with them from doing the same. As you describe, this is in fact what you are already doing, and it’s working out well for you. Similarly, no matter what you think of Alex Jones, people who like him should be able to hear him and discuss him without your interference or permission.

  15. So, I’ve missed your posts on things in the world at large and while I definitely understand why you slowed down on them it still made the site less compelling for me. Rather obviously you don’t owe me or anyone else reading the site anything, but I like these and hope you’ll continue them on whatever schedule works for you,

  16. I do like the digest! Sometimes you don’t feel like going in-depth on a subject, and sometimes I don’t feel like READING a long, well-thought-out piece. These are still (imo) well-thought-out, just shorter. I do like the longer pieces, but if I’m whipping through my email and see “Digest”, I know I can get some quick reading done before I run off to do other stuff, and I like that. Thanks!

  17. @Hap: The Constitution says nothing about the size of the Supreme Court, just that we have one.

  18. The picture of Smudge looking over a monitor is quite cute on it’s own and probably even more to you, since Athena is a person of personal significance. Good pick!

    Which makes me wonder: how does the quantity of cat fur in the house affect the survival ratio of fans in PCs in your house?

  19. “Which is one reason I mentioned to a friend yesterday that in 2020, should Democrats get the presidency and both houses, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see the Supreme Court expand to 11 members.”

    And people think the Republicans will just go “yep, okay, we both got our court packing done and so now it’s time to actually pay attention to what the Constitution says from now on.”

    No, they will just do something as overtly partisan and court-undermining right back. I don’t know how to get out of the deep hole we’ve dug for ourselves, but I damn sure know that digging deeper isn’t it.

  20. @Andrew Hackard: yes. The last time the size of the Court changed was in 1869. FDR tried to change it in 1937, but Congress said no.

    Hmm. While we’re talking about Supreme Court nominations, perhaps the Democrats could quote former Arizona Senator Henry F. Ashurst in an attempt to slow down the rush to confirm Kavanaugh: “No haste, no hurry, no waste, no worry — that is the motto of this [Judiciary] committee.”

  21. > Which is one reason I mentioned to a friend yesterday that in 2020, should Democrats get the
    > presidency and both houses, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see the Supreme Court expand
    > to 11 members.

    I agree that the Democrats should push to expand the Supreme Court, but they might use that as leverage to compromise on term limits for each justice such that any President would get two nominees each 4-year term.

    The down side to expanding the court via legislation is that each side could expand or contract the size of the court according to political expediency. This would further de- legitimize it. Putting in place a ten-year single term limit might de-escalate the situation and make the Supreme Court more of a true interpreter of the law.

    Finally, if the Democrats take back the Senate and the SCOTUS seat is still empty, I hope they would take the position that the only person they would approve for the empty seat would be Merrick Garland. In the Iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma, the best strategy for dealing with a non-cooperating person (i.e. the Republicans) is tit-for-tat. (1)

    Once the Democrats have responded to the Republican’s “tat,” they can try returning to a policy of cooperation or “forgiveness.”


  22. Liking the format lots.

    Kavanaugh is a done deal, Supreme Court will be up to 15 by the end of 2024. Which is stupid but there you go. Time for the Democrats to stop playing nice and stick in left wing judicial activists – if the Republicans object to Merrick Garland, they’ll object to anyone to the left of Kavanaugh – which basically means anyone with an ounce of compassion.

  23. I’m really enjoying the digest; I am assuming that it isn’t biting too much into your time for other writing, and you are certainly reflecting your journalist roots. I very much hope you continue with it.

  24. I’m pro-Digest. It helps me to think on the topics you’ve written about rather than going on “The Rant of The Day” in my head.

  25. I’ve enjoyed the digests, personally. It feels like more from you, and feels like it’s less stressful for you to produce. And it’s fun to have several bite-sized things to noodle on.

  26. Pretty clear that Clarence Thomas perjured himself in his nomination hearings as well. Not only about Anita Hill, but also about whether he had a position on Roe v. Wade (he said he had never thought about it).

  27. John, thank you for the digest, it’s been one of the highlights of the day for me this week. Thoughts of yours like these are why I subscribed to Whatever in the first place. I do hope you’ll continue this whenever possible.

  28. I quite enjoy the digest format. The wider range of subjects is interesting. You might consider keeping it ongoing, once or twice a week, especially in busy news weeks. (when are they not busy, lately?) On the other hand, a deeper dive into a subject is nice too.

  29. Love the format. If you like it too, I hope you keep it up. And since you’re taking feedback, I’ll admit that I still miss the old Indie Crit site. Which gives you some idea how long I’ve been silently stalking you, ha.

    Re: Dems taking over and expanding the court. I’m down with that. Why not go to 17 Justices? And make the six news ones all healthy young constitutional scholars. They’re not that hard to find. I promise.

    If some think that the GOP might expand further, thus delegitimizing the court at some point in the future, well, I’m okay with that risk. Perhaps it would be better, long term, for legislatures to legislate, rather than letting any petty shithole with a grievance take their petty beef to SCOTUS for resolution.

  30. Just stopping by to say I like the digests… in fact, I like the digests very much. I enjoy reading your take on recent topics because I find they help me refine my thoughts/opinions a bit more clearly. I hope you are enjoying writing them and will continue for a while.

  31. I’m enjoying the digest format very much.

    “I’ve essayed the issue of free speech online before…”

    I especially enjoyed the use of language in this phrase. One of the delights of reading your work is the gems like this.

  32. Digests get a thumbs up from me. I enjoy hearing your thoughts on things even if they aren’t full essays in APA Style.

  33. @JohnPNeedham Get some defense attorneys onto it too, someone from the Innocence Project or something. An expert on interfaith discussions too. Maybe an expert on Indigenous People’s Rights.

  34. Chiming in with another vote in favor of the digest format. I really like it, and I hope it has the not-insignificant side benefit of being easier for you to write as well.

  35. I also am enjoying the digests. They give me another place to read (and occasionally contribute to) interesting conversations about a range of topics.

  36. Adding in my enjoyment of the digest format. I appreciate the thoughts, the links, and the comments that accompany them, too.

  37. I liked the old format, but I like the digest format too.
    Tech bros having feelings other than greed, envy, anger and such? No way. And we even have one that fancies himself as the Emperor of Mars.

  38. I am really enjoying the digest format. It’s nice getting several topics in one column. Of course, the added cat pictures are nice too!

  39. Really enjoying the digests. Getting your thoughts on a couple of things, along with a cute cat picture – what’s not to love?

  40. I’m okay with the digests. I’m great with coming to Whatever and finding stuff to read and think about. If digests make that easier for you to provide that, then I’m sold.

  41. Very fine format, looking forward to next one Monday. John and everybody have a great weekend until then.

  42. “Which is one reason I mentioned to a friend yesterday that in 2020, should Democrats get the presidency and both houses, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see the Supreme Court expand to 11 members. ”

    Fight for 15 is already a slogan. I think it can serve another purpose. Time for Dems to play some offense, too.

  43. A point to clarify about packing the court. FDR tried it when he was being thwarted by the court to implement certain aspects of the New Deal and failed. Too much outcry (among other things), and I think the same thing would happen should the Dems get that magic trifecta (which I don’t think will happen in 2020). Also, attempting to pack the court just because some things might GASP! change is like a spoiled child attempting taking his ball home if he doesn’t get to do what he wants to do.

    Re Twitter: I don’t do Twitter simply because I still value my job (guv’t employee). The second I don’t I’ll join Twitter and do the things that I can only do if I wasn’t gainfully employed.

  44. Definitely enjoying the Digests. But basically I’m here for Whatever you write. I’d rather read your entertaining writing on some subject I care nothing about, than read not so entertaining writings from other people on subjects I love.
    (Well, except maybe honey bees–I’ll slog through some dry and difficult writings about honey bees before I come here. Hey, maybe you could write about bees!)

  45. Per Supreme Court term limits;
    Pro: It gets the conservative justices out sooner.
    Con: It gets the liberal justices out sooner.

    Per Supreme Court packing (meaning seat expansion, because a lot of blogs take it to mean getting more liberal judges seated);
    Pro: More liberal justices seated.
    Con: More conservative justices seated.

    Conservatives dragging their heels to even consider ABA-qualified jurists when the President has a D after their name and rushing to confirm non-ABA-qualified people when the President has a R after his name is a thing.

  46. I too like the digest format. For as long as you enjoy writing it, reading it will be a welcome addition to my day.

  47. I do enjoy the digests, a longer form post is the kind of thing I enjoy and have been happy to see some more in depth thoughts on subjects. Sometimes, it’s even a conversation starter here at home. So thanks for these.

  48. In the 19th-century the supreme court ranged I think from 5 to 10 justices at various times, and usually the reason the number was varied was because Congress was busily manipulating the appointment numbers for political reasons (sound familiar?). Probably the most famous example was in 1866 when Congress deliberately cut the number of Supreme Court Justices from 10 to 7 (they didn’t kick anyone off the court, they just said no one could be replaced until the number was under 7). They did this so that Andrew Johnson would not be able to appoint a new justice. In 1869 the number of SC judges was at 8 and Johnson was no longer president — that’s when Congress set the SC numbers at 9, where they have remained since.

    Roosevelt’s attempt to change the SC didn’t fail because it was unprecedented or illegal, it failed because he couldn’t convince Congress to pass his SC legislation — and that was in part because Congress thought it would give the executive branch too much power over the judicial branch (and in part because Congress, like the SC of the time, wasn’t fully on board with Roosevelt’s new deal). But if Congress and the president were in agreement on this, it could be done. And if you set it up in way that makes the majority of Americans believe that it will make the judicial more equitable and fair, it could easily work.

    Frankly I’m for longish term-limits for SC and other federal judges (16 – 20 year terms), an increase in the number of appointments (and an insistence on diversity in educational background [stop with the Yale/Harvard pipeline!], experience, expertise, gender, race, etc.). And to satisfy both political parties, allowing each president the right to pick a nominate a certain number during a term (2 sounds about right). And just because there is long number of SC doesn’t mean that all of them have to sit and hear each case. You could have a court of 17 and have say 5 – 9 hear any one case (depending on the judges’ expertise, interest, importance of the case, etc.). This is good because it means that if a justice is not available (because they recused themselves or are ill or on parental leave, etc.), the court can still take up important cases without worry (and Congress can’t manipulate system).

    I’m also for having SC (and other judicial) candidates actually answering the questions at their hearings for these appointments. If they don’t answer or say that they have never thought about this or that judicial matter, they should be automatically disqualified. The whole point of being judge is that you reflect on the facts on hand in relation to the law and past precedent and issue a ruling (complete with an argument about why you made the ruling that you did). So someone who is in the running for a SC seat, definitely should have a few thoughts about whether various past SC rulings and a judicial philosophy that guides their decision making processes. If they can’t do this or are unable to defend their philosophy, then they shouldn’t be a judge.

    It is absolutely ridiculous that Kavanaugh refuses to answer any questions — it’s not like the Republicans were going to not vote for him if he suddenly expounded his very obvious judicial philosophy that favors corporation’s rights to pursue their business interests over the rights of individuals. (He could have just cleaned it up with the same libertarian slogan that anonymous op-ed “resistance” dude used “free minds, free people, and free markets”.

  49. Enjoying the daily digests. They are great because I can quickly read one or two topics at a time and come back for the rest as I have time…. or maybe that’s a bad thing… Short attention sp… *SQUIRREL*….

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