January 2021

One of the few things I blogged about last year was the demise of a blog… specifically, Scott Alexander’s. He had noted in (what was) his last post that he planned on returning via Substack once he sorted out his real-life job so it couldn’t be threatened by doxing, and now his actual last post at Slate Star Codex announces his new location: Astral Codex Ten (although I actually heard about it via Marginal Revolution). He’s got an introduction to the blog, as well as an overview on what happened with the old one. Reading that made me jealous of him, just as the full life of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” made mine seem pointless by comparison when I watched that film as a kid.

I do have some reservations about him using Substack rather than his own domain: a number of people have left their publications for that, and it does seem to represent the idea of unrestricted expression to many people, but it’s still a third party that has the ability to censor any pages they host. And yeah, if I was hardcore I would be using open-source wordpress.org software rather than having wordpress.com host me, but Scott already had his own domain. Sacrificing autonomy for money & support is exactly the move many of these Substackers made when they transitioned from bloggers to professional journalists. One of those old-school bloggers who never really changed (even if it was very briefly announced that he’d be contributing to the NYT before they reconsidered) is Razib Khan, who made a point of insisting on such control before Substack even existed and who continues to maintain gnxp.com even while he also has a substack. I’ve also found commenting more cumbersome on substacks than at Scott’s old site, so I hope that isn’t too affected.

UPDATE 02/13/2021: And now via Sailer I see that the NYT has finally published the article Scott shut SSC down over. Scott has updated his post at SSC announcing its end (really just striking out the portions irrelevant now and noting as much), but hasn’t posted at AC10 about it. UPDATE: Scott has now responded.

My second post ever on this blog was titled with the internet-age utopian phrase Information Wants To Be Free. Even at that time one of my blog-inspirations (which I cited there) had been shuttered, I think after the professor behind it was found and “cancelled” (before that was a common term, and before the same thing happened to the next anonymous blog he started). Another variant of that phrase was fond of was “information wants to be indestructible“, which might be true in the sense that once loose it’s hard to hunt down every copy, but isn’t quite so true in terms of easy availability.

The most citeable blog to end last year was Scott Alexander’s, and I’ve been rethinking his post Freedom on the Centralized Web. I’m less optimistic now than I used to be now that not only social media companies, but also smartphone companies and AWS hosting have banded together against a politically disfavored app (even though by magnitude the total amount of “harm” done by Facebook by those standards is far greater), well after Cloudflare dropped an even more politically disfavored site in a way even their own CEO was uncomfortable with (which, given how easily DDOS attacks can be mobilized, is equivalent to being kicked off the internet). Karl Kasarda (who had a similarly pessimistic take on the state of computer security in light of SolarWinds) gives the run down on this incident and all the ways in which a similar upstart could be restricted in his mockingly titled The Free Market Solution. He advocates there an internet version of the Bill of Rights for platforms, something I’m still not entirely comfortable with (perhaps we could have a low-rent public option, analogous to the Post Office, required not to engage in content-based discrimination).

You might note there that I linked to Kasarda’s videos on BitChute, rather than Youtube where I first watched them. That was deliberate. I was long a pro-Google anti-Apple partisan because the former didn’t try to lock down their phones as much and I found their numerous free products useful rather than overpriced conspicuous consumption. But I’ve been unable to root my most recent phone from them (meaning I couldn’t download an app they banned from their app store if I actually wanted to), and I’ve lost enough confidence in their original product that I’m now using DuckDuckGo for search instead (unless I’m disappointed in the paltry results, so I do still sometimes use it as a backup). I know some of you might think I’m still under the thumb of software megacorps because the email on my about page here is hosted by Microsoft, but they haven’t been acting like the Evil Empire nearly as much recently. It’s nice to imagine being as idealist as Richard Stallman and refusing to use anything closed-source, but I got my most recent phone because my job required a specific app (I normally try to install as few as possible, using it more like a feature phone except with email alerts), and even Stallman was cancelled recently (while Linus Torvalds had an apology extracted but continued in his same position).

I’ve resisted linking to twitter (where I unfortunately have been having more conversations than on blogs recently) up until now, but Alexey Navalny’s thread (all threads should be posts!) complaining about twitter’s ban though a dissident political lens is worth linking to. I am still refusing to automatically publish my posts here as tweets because I dislike social media and would prefer for people to use RSS. I suppose I nevertheless ought to make an exception by cross-posting this one.

On the topic of tolerating even disfavored speech, I’ve long linked to Scott Alexander’s The Spirit of the First Amendment (along with Be Nice, At Least Until You Can Coordinate Meanness). To that I should now add Vitalik Buterin’s Credible Neutrality As A Guiding Principle, which generalizes beyond the obviously “political” to the idea of good mechanism design, as does his post linked from there on “central planning” in design.