RIP, Mike Leach
All hail the Pirate King
The passing of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach is an unexpected and sad event for the world of college football, but the real loss is to the lost art of tangent driven interviewing. Leach was the closest thing to Norm Macdonald when it came to this art, with his tendency toward meandering observations on pirates, the universe, and whether future generations will have hands that gave him a unique charm amidst a seascape of stilted interviews and limited bullet points from less interesting head coaches.
His records at colleges far from the blue blood heritage of the sport were incredibly impressive. Four of the top six passing records in the NCAA are held by his quarterbacks, and his coaching tree of pupils is full of exceptional young minds. But the real thing he leaves behind is this incredible litany of stories, anecdotes, musings about life from the mundane to the supernatural. And of course, there's this conversation with Alyssa Lang of the SEC Network, featuring the best advice anyone can ever give on why you should elope:
There are all manner of stories about Coach Leach that his players, colleagues, and members of the media scrum will share in the coming days. But this one has always been my favorite, from Lincoln Riley about a phone call:
[Leach] picked it up and said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ And then he listened for a second and asked, ‘Where ya calling from?’ He kept talking on the phone and I eventually sort of tuned out. Now, a short phone conversation for Leach is an hour. So he was talking about this and that, and I was kind of hunkered down working on my own stuff.
At some point, the call got dropped. They must have lost reception. Coach said, 'Can you hear me? Are you there?' He hung up his old flip phone, swung it back open and redialed. He said, ‘Hey, sorry I lost you.’ And then they resumed their conversation for another 30 minutes or so before coach finally hung up.
After he was done, we started talking and I said, ‘Hey Coach, who was that on the phone?’ And he said, ‘Oh, they had the wrong number.'
Is Social Media Censorship a Crime?
Amid growing revelations about government involvement in social-media censorship, it’s no longer enough to talk simply about tech censorship. The problem should be understood as gov-tech censorship. The Biden White House has threatened tech companies and federal agencies have pressed them to censor disfavored opinions and users. So it’s time to ask about accountability.
Will there be legal consequences for government officials, for the companies, or for their personnel who cooperate in the gov-tech censorship of dissent on Covid-19, election irregularities or other matters? Cooperation between government officials and private parties to suppress speech could be considered a criminal conspiracy to violate civil rights. The current administration won’t entertain such a theory, but a future one might.
Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code provides: “If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person . . . in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same, . . . they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”
This post-Civil War statute responded to the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan and similar private organizations. Then as now, government officers sometimes relied on private allies to accomplish what they couldn’t—sometimes violently, sometimes more subtly. Whether for government officers or cooperating private parties, Section 241 makes conspiracy to violate civil rights a crime.
Section 241 was long applied cautiously—for instance to protect against involuntary servitude and abuses of detained persons. But now it is being applied more expansively. Last year a federal grand jury indicted Douglass Mackey under Section 241 for allegedly interfering with the right to vote by coordinating with four unindicted co-conspirators to distribute memes claiming that voters could cast ballots for Hillary Clinton via text message or hashtag. (Mr. Mackey protests that his memes were satire and thus constitutionally protected speech.)
Because the First Amendment doesn’t bar private parties from independently suppressing speech, Section 241 would apply to tech censorship only if government officers, acting as part of a conspiracy, have violated the Constitution. Doctrine on Section 241 requires this underlying constitutional violation to be clear. But clarity isn’t elusive. The type of suppression most clearly barred by the First Amendment was the 17th-century English censorship imposed partly through cooperative private entities—universities and the Stationers’ Company, the printers trade guild.
Government remains bound by the First Amendment even when it works through private cutouts. There would be no purpose to a Bill of Rights if government could evade it by using private entities to do its dirty work. As the Supreme Court put it in Frost & Frost Trucking Co. v. Railroad Commission (1926), “It is inconceivable that guaranties embedded in the Constitution of the United States may thus be manipulated out of existence.”
Humans vs. Chatbots
It appears, in other words, that robot “writers” are now so advanced they can match or exceed an averagely competent human writer across a vast range of topics. What, then, does this mean for human toilers in the textual saltmines? There have been breathless reports on how robot writing has the potential to disrupt all manner of writing-related fields, from online search through the kind of “content marketing” I used to do for a living, to academic writing, cheating at schoolwork and news reporting.
Are writers destined to go the way of the artisan textile-makers who starved to death after the inception of the mechanical loom? Perhaps. But this is complicated by the fact that it was the industrialisation of writing that created the role of “professional writer” as we know it — along with much else besides. Now, the digital revolution is on its way to destroying that model of authorship — and with it, driving former denizens of the “world of letters” into new and strange cultural roles.
As the writer Adam Garfinkle has argued, the world of print was, to all intents and purposes, the democratic world of liberal norms. In the UK, literature, high finance, and a great many political norms we now take for granted emerged from the same heady atmosphere in the coffee-houses of 18th-century London. It was this explosion of competing voices, that eventually distilled into ideas of “high” and “low” literary culture, norms of open but (relatively) civil debate on rational terms — and, as literacy spread, the ideas of rationally-based, objective “common knowledge” and mass culture as such.
Print culture in the 19th century saw an astonishing volume of writing produced and devoured for self-improvement, entertainment and political engagement. Industrial workers self-funded and made use of travelling libraries stuffed with classics in translation, exhibitions and museums were popular, and public lectures could spill out into the street. These conditions also produced the “author”, with a capital A, in the sense that those of us over 40 still retain. This figure has two key characteristics: first, a measure of cultural cachet as a delivery mechanism for common culture, and second some means of capturing value directly from this activity.
But the digital revolution has already all but destroyed the old authorship model, even if a small subset of writers still manages to get very rich. De-materialising print served to democratise “authorship”, publishing, and journalism, but by the same token made it far more difficult to get paid. There are a great many bloggers and “content creators” out there; meanwhile very few authors make a living from writing books, and journalist salaries have been stagnant for years. Growing numbers of would-be writers simply head (as I did) straight to PR and communications where the money is somewhat better.
To Work, Or Not?
Here’s a hackneyed, half-remembered story from the former America: Teddy Kennedy was 30 years old and running for his first term in the Senate, with no qualifications other than a rich father and an older brother who happened to be president of the United States. In a debate, his opponent sneered: “This man has never worked a day in his life!” Next morning, Kennedy was shaking hands at a factory gate as the men came off their shift. As Kennedy told the story later, a worker leaned toward him and confided: “You ain’t missed a goddamn thing.”
It was cunning blarney on Teddy’s part, a nice dodge, a flash of his grandfather Honey Fitz, the former mayor. Teddy proposed an idea of work as meaningless toil— except that, as the Irish knew, the work wasn’t meaningless. It might be first-generation or second-generation immigrant work, the apprentice drudgery of people starting up the ladder: the hod-carrying, the ditch-digging, the kitchen labor. It was grindingly hard work that had the most profound meaning. Survival was the meaning. The Protestant work ethic had made an earlier landfall in America and sanctified work and turned it into vocation, linking human labor to God’s will. Later immigrants didn’t need the Puritan theology. They knew that the ladder itself was the thing—you had to get a foot on the first rung. The hardscrabble, rural, Scotch-Irish way of putting it was “Root, hog, or die!”
Teddy’s factory worker was almost certainly supporting a household—wife and children— paying the rent and the grocery bills and the doctor bills, struggling to get everyone up onto the next rung. There was a rough nobility in the struggle. There was, beneath the surface, a grim pride in saying, “You ain’t missed a goddamned thing,” because it meant, “It’s tough but I’m tough enough to do it. I’m supporting a family and meeting my responsibilities as a man.” If you looked at the Kennedys as the gleaming ideal of American evolution (as people used to do), you’d see that old Joe Kennedy worked hard, as his immigrant father had before him, in order to lift his children up into higher realms of American society and money and power—and public service.
Joe Kennedy was sometimes subtly contemptuous of his own work, which was not hod-carrying but Wall Street and Hollywood buccaneering: maybe a little sharp and a little crooked, before he took government jobs as FDR’s chairman of the SEC and ambassador to Great Britain, but it was the means of tribal ascent. That was the important thing: the ascent. How could the old man have known about the catastrophes that lay in wait to kill Joe Jr. and Kick—his second daughter, Kathleen—or the assassins who would take Jack and Bobby? If he had known the price, would he have worked so hard and wanted so much? Maybe the Kennedys are too melodramatic an example to be useful.
What, after all, does hard work have to do with happiness? If hard-work-brings-success was the old model, what do we say about the Great Resignation going on now, when people seem to be rethinking the subject of work and what it is all about—when Help Wanted signs dot every other window, when so many workers decline to go back to their pre-pandemic jobs? The entire country seems short-staffed. Waiting lines grow longer; there aren’t enough clerks or nurses or plumbers or whatever. On the phone, you wait on hold for half an hour in hope of a human voice. Along the New York State Thruway as the snow season closes in, electronic billboard messages beg for men to sign up to “help your neighbors” by driving the snowplows. What will we do when the blizzards come and the drivers don’t show up?
Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal asks, “Where did everyone go? This in an economy with 11.2 million job openings. It’s mostly men 25 to 54 who haven’t come back to work. Now a McKinsey study suggests that 40% of workers are thinking of quitting their jobs. Does anyone want to work anymore?” How come? Kessler has a guess: “Too many got a taste of not working and liked it. A lot.”
Does the Great Resignation propose a new model—an idea of work, and even of America itself, that dissents from the classic idea of work? Are we on the threshold of a post-work America, some hybrid of Polynesian indolence and Hayek’s serfdom? Or is what we see, rather, merely one of the many readjustments that the pandemic has brought upon us?
At The Spectator, I write on the lessons of the Twitter Files.
Items of Interest
The long rise and abrupt fall of Greek MEP Eva Kaili.
Qatar corruption scandal unites the right on EU.
UK MPs defend accepting massive Qatari gifts.
The government hasn’t learned a thing from baby formula shortage.
Gay marriage rights have nothing to do with drag queen story hour.
Paul: I stopped a big government power grab.
Kari Lake and Stop the Steal make final stand in Arizona.
Poll: Ron DeSantis holds early lead over Donald Trump.
A note from Grant Wuhl’s wife on his passing.
Jenkins: Hunter Biden’s laptop and the big lie.
Rubio, Gallagher introduce federal TikTok ban.
Elon Musk must take a clear stand against censorship by proxy.
FTX fraud suits offer blueprint for pursuing offshore crypto.
Media freakout over Argentina’s World Cup squad.
AOC’s “To The End” documentary flops.
Super Nintendo World opening at Universal Studios.
Ben Sixsmith’s books of the year.
“The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”
— Joan Didion