The Week Alex Jones Became a First Amendment Hero

Last week, conservatives, who had previously made free speech heroes out of such shady subjects as would-be lady-killer Kevin Williamson and outrage peddler Milo Yiannopoulos, outdid themselves by nominating a new wingnut John Peter Zenger: Alex Jones. Remember, Jones is the nut who is being sued for claiming the dead Sandy Hook students were just faking it and has been actively tormenting the children’s parents, and who recently talked on air about killing Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller after having also called him a pedophile. There have been many other psychotic outbursts.

Jones won conservatives’ support by getting thrown off of Facebook, YouTube, and (partially) Apple for promoting hate speech, which seems pretty fair in his case. But conservatives turned this into what we might call a First Amendment With an Explanation issue — that is, the First Amendment doesn’t really support the argument that private companies should be forced to carry Jones’s content, but conservatives seemed to think if they bitched about it awhile they’d get their way.

Jones’s public-forum slack was quickly picked up by other media players, at least to hear him tell it: He announced he’d added 5.6 million new subscribers just 48 hours after what Breitbart described as his “Big Tech Blacklisting.” NBC News reported that Jones’s move from YouTube to Real.Video “caused a surge in new users and the creation of over 350 new channels on the site in the last day, an uptick from the ‘dozens’ that [Real.Video creator Mike Adams] noted in a video three weeks ago.” Twitter, perhaps sensing a market opportunity, declined to ban Jones.

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You’d think conservatives would be happy about this free-market solution. Yet even as Jones was celebrating his windfalls, conservatives were rending their garments over the big, mean, allegedly liberal corporations who had told Jones to fuck off, thereby violating his civil rights.

Most of the brethren were careful to add that, of course, they didn’t endorse Jones’s rantings — which they sometimes didn’t bother to describe — but were just defending his right to appear on other people’s media platforms as a matter of conservative principle.

For example, National Review editor Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, called Jones a “poisonous toad” — though he mainly faulted Jones for “lunatic theories about the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg group and the Illuminati” that “have been a fringe staple for decades.” See, he’s just like the harmless nuts appearing on public access television! (Lowry only mentioned Jones’s Sandy Hook views briefly in the fourteenth paragraph.)

“But banning Jones,” Lowry wrote, “especially in the manner it was done, has significant ramifications for free speech.” Lowry admitted these corporations “can silence whomever they like,” but contended that the right to do so was not the issue (let alone the discussion-ender a normal person might think it was) because “the power of social-media platforms is enormous,” and to Lowry that power “suggests that these companies have a responsibility, in keeping with their outsize role in the public debate, to give the widest possible latitude to free speech.”

Lowry didn’t say why Facebook’s power makes the company any more responsible to accommodate Jones than, say, the Wall Street Journal or National Review, but he eventually got to his real gripe anyway: liberals. Facebook said it had dumped Jones for “hate speech,” Lowry wrote, which apparently is a liberal thing to do: “There is considerable sentiment on the left for the proposition that using disfavored pronouns for transgender people is dehumanizing.” By Lowry’s logic, it would be problematic if Facebook ejected an asshole who insisted on calling a trans woman “he.” “The possibility of a slippery slope here,” Lowry wrote, “is real and disturbing.”

David French, another National Review writer, was also given space in a better-read journal — the New York Times — to make his case for Jones’s free-speech rights. French too made the obligatory diss on Jones (“loathsome conspiracy theorist”) and about the very concept of hate speech (“ever-changing social justice style guide”), but he also offered the errant tech companies a solution: only prohibit content that meets the legal definitions of libel and slander. “It’s a high bar,” French admitted. “But it’s a bar that respects the marketplace of ideas.”

While Jones’s content is “polarizing,” and includes some unnamed “discredited claims about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,” wrote Fox News’ Brian Flood, Jones’s removal was “prompting even some of the bomb thrower’s staunch critics to voice censorship concerns.”

As it happened, the “staunch critics” Flood named were conservatives such as Mark Dice, Ben Shapiro, and veteran wingnut Brent Bozell, who claimed in Flood’s story that Jones is not even a conservative, a dubious assertion since nearly everyone Jones excoriates in his rants is a liberal. Flood quoted Bozell as saying he opposed Jones’s removal as “a dangerous cliff that these social media companies are jumping off to satisfy CNN and other liberal outlets.” Flood added, “Bozell said that tech giants caving to CNN’s push ‘is part of a disturbing trend’ that includes influential conservatives being muted on Twitter,” which is in reference to an earlier bullshit story. Attacking a fellow conservative as a nonconservative, then claiming that removing this nonconservative shows bias against conservatives, is some next-level shit.

Even that subgenus of conservatives known as “libertarians” were against Facebook et al. exercising their freedom of association rights against Jones. “Booting someone like Jones from Facebook or YouTube altogether could easily turn him into a martyr among his paranoid fans,” said Timothy B. Lee, a libertarian stalwart at Ars Technica. “Social Media Giants Shouldn’t Be Arbiters of Appropriate Speech,” groused David Harsanyi at libertarian flagship Reason. 

“Banning Alex Jones Isn’t About Free Speech — It’s About the Incoherence of ‘Hate Speech,’ ” wrote Harsanyi’s colleague Robby Soave, who added, “I’m saying this for a third time so that I’m not misunderstood: Facebook can define hate speech however it wants.” But Soave continued, social media platforms’ “broad view of what constitutes unacceptable hate speech” may “prompt yet more cries of viewpoint censorship down the road.” And, as we saw in the threats congressional Republicans hit Facebook with recently, “cries of viewpoint censorship” can get serious real fast.

This view of the Jones case soon seeped into what’s left of the mainstream. On a CNN roundtable that addressed the Jones situation, pundits kept calling what happened to Jones “censorship,” as if he’d been banned from the internet rather than from an unwilling transmitter. The most hilarious was “First Amendment attorney” Marc J. Randazza, who, honest to God, did the Martin Niemöller thing for Jones, starting with “First they came for the Nazis…” and then warning liberals, “When [censorship] comes for them, who will be left to speak up?” As if there were a single conservative in America you could name who’d say shit about it.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft told the alt-right site Gab to get rid of neo-Nazi Patrick Little’s anti-Semitic posts if it wanted to continue using Azure servers. Eventually Little “voluntarily” removed the posts, Gab announced.

Surely Microsoft’s threat was, if anything, more of a free-speech faux pas than Jones’s defenestration. After all, even offensive speech deserves protection from corporate interference, right? And Little’s posts certainly weren’t slanderous or libelous, thus passing David French’s test. Yet none of the previously mentioned conservatives, or any other conservatives I could find, leapt to Little’s defense. (Well, the Daily Stormer and the guys at 4chan did, but maybe we shouldn’t count them — at least not yet.)

Despite all the lofty talk, this isn’t about principles, but about power. Normally conservatives think corporations do no wrong. For example, they’ll never claim Monsanto has some vague “responsibility” to make sure Roundup doesn’t destroy the planet. But social media companies have something conservatives desperately want: the attention of millions of Americans. National ReviewReason, Fox News, and the rest do their best to compete with social media companies on the allegedly level playing field of free-market capitalism. But the media companies can’t compete with social media’s reach — that’s why conservatives are muscling these companies. These media companies hope to win not only points from Jones’s adoring, ignorant fan base, but also more concessions from risk-averse social media companies. As often with conservatives, it’s whine-win!


Apple iOS 7’s New Activation Lock Is Brought To You By Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

On Wednesday, Apple’s new operating system, iOS 7, was released. Among iOS 7’s bells and whistles is a new feature called Activation Lock that will make it more difficult for thieves to resell stolen iPhones–and it comes to users thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

On an April evening last year, 26-year-old Hwang Yang was walking home from his job at the Museum of Modern Art when he was shot and killed by a robber. His iPhone later surfaced on Craigslist, put up for sale for just $400.

Yang’s story is one of the examples of serious iPhone crimes invoked by Schneiderman, who has been working for over a year on a solution to stop them, with the help of George Gascón. Gascón is district attorney in San Francisco, a city that, like New York, has seen a rapid increase in smartphone-related crimes in the last two years.

The statistics for New York are actually pretty staggering–70% of cell phones stolen on New York City subways and buses are iPhones. And it’s a crime that continues to rise–during a 9-month period in 2012, 11,447 iOS devices, including iPhones, were reported stolen, which was an increase of more than 3,000 over the previous year.

The Attorney General calls it “Apple Picking,” and he hopes Activation Lock, the feature he lobbied Apple to include in this latest operating system update, will help put a stop to it.

Activation Lock, according to Apple, will make it necessary to enter an Apple ID to complete a variety of functions–the kind of functions a thief might attempt before reselling your iPhone, like turning off “Find My iPhone,” erasing the phone, reactivating it and signing out of iCloud.

In a statement to the Voice on Wednesday, Schniederman called Activation Lock, “an important step forward in the effort to stem the rise of smartphone thefts.”

“We must reduce the incentive to steal by lowering the value of stolen devices. We will find all possible solutions to eliminate instances of violent street crime targeting innocent consumers.”

Because Activation Lock part of the new operating system, it will be available on older phones as well as new ones.

The only caveat–and its a pretty big caveat–according to the Attorney General’s office, is that “the success of Activation Lock is largely dependent on the failure of hackers’ rumored exploits.”

Earlier this summer, the two offices ordered a “stress test”–inviting cyber security experts to try and hack Activation Lock. At the time, Schneiderman and Gascón said they weren’t going to take Apple at its word, instead “we will assess the solutions they are proposing and see if they stand up to the tactics commonly employed by thieves.”

But the test must not have gone very well–Schneiderman and Gascón initially said their offices would release the results, but after it was completed they backpedaled, keeping them private instead.

That might be part of the reason the two officials issued a cautious joint statement on Wednesday applauding Activation Lock, but calling on Apple to do more to deter theft, and urging the tech giant “to make Activation Lock a fully opt-out solution in order to guarantee widespread adoption.”


A Guide to Last Minute Apple Picking in Upstate New York

Apple season is just about ending and now is the time to squeeze in a last minute orchard trip before the weather gets too cold and the apples are gone for the year. And if you’re not too fond of apples, there are plenty of pumpkins as well. Over the weekend, I rented a Zipcar with a couple of friends and made a day trip out of it. It’s about a two hour drive up. An itinerary to follow after the jump.

1) Picnic at Saugerties Lighthouse: Stop by a nearby grocery stop to pick up a some picnic supplies (suggestions: a long baguette with hummus, turkey, cheese, and cucumbers). There’s a small trail to the lighthouse, but most of it is paved so don’t worry too much about getting your shoes dirty. There are picnic tables around the lighthouse and you’re surrounded by a beautiful view of the Hudson on all sides.

2) Jenkins-Lueken Orchards: Drive down roughly 45 minutes to the orchards. At this time of the year, though the fruit is getting a bit sparse, Jenkins-Lueken has one of the biggest selections available. We managed to snag some Mcintosh, Pink Lady, Gold and Delicious, and Red Delicious. It costs $10 for a bag, which can comfortably fit a little bit more than a dozen large apples. The orchards also have pumpkins and hay rides ($2 per person for every half hour). For those who just want to get straight to the eating, the store at the orchard sells warm apple cider doughnuts straight out of the oven.

3) Kevin McCurdy’s Haunted Mansion: And lastly, in the spirit of October, you can stop by a haunted mansion on the way back to the city. Kevin McCurdy’s Haunted Mansion costs $25 per person and it’s been lauded as one of the top haunted mansions in the Hudson Valley. They’ve been around for 35 years and started up when a camp counselor hung himself on a nearby tree.



Sen. Chuck Schumer Champions Push To Protect Privacy Of Smartphone Sexters

Bad news, smart phone users: those penis private pics you snapped with your iPhone aren’t as private as you’d probably hoped.

Senator Chuck Schumer to the rescue.

Schumer today announced that he’s asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into whether smart phone apps on Apple and Android platforms are able to “steal” private photos and other information from a person’s smart phone.

The senator’s request is in response to an article that appeared in the New York Times last week claiming that certain apps for iPhones and Androids can actually “gain access to a customer’s private photo collection, and in some cases share the information online.”

“When someone takes a private photo, on a private cell phone, it
should remain just that: private,” Schumer says in a press release.
“Smartphone developers have an obligation to protect the private content
of their users and not allow them to be veritable treasure troves of
private, personal information that can then be uploaded and distributed
without the consumer’s consent.”

Schumer says two “independent
technologists” found loopholes in both Android and Apple operating
systems that allow access to the private information — in Apple’s case,
if a user allows an app to use location data (GPS-based applications),
the user also is allowing the app access to photos and videos, which
could be uploaded to outside servers and blasted across the Internet.
With the Android system, if the user allows an app to use Internet
services, the app also gains access to photo albums.

Schumer made his request in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, which you can read below.

Dear Chairman Leibowitz,

I write today to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a
disturbing and potentially unfair practice in the smartphone application
market. We have seen a number of reports recently about apps that are
leaking user data without user knowledge. Specifically, there have been
reports about apps which allow a user’s photos, videos, location data,
and address books not only to be accessed by the app (and its
developers) but also copied in their entirety and used for marketing or
other purposes. These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user
understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access
data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality.

It is my understanding that many of these uses violate the terms of
service of the Apple and Android platforms through which the apps are
marketed and sold. However, it is not clear whether or how those terms
of service are being enforced and monitored. In fact, the abuses of
apps have only come to light as a result of the work of intrepid
independent researchers and technologists. As a result, it is users and
their privacy who suffer.

Under your leadership, the FTC has played a critical role in
monitoring the evolving privacy issues in the smartphone and online
market place, for example with your recent report on apps and children’s
privacy. I am confident that you will continue that great work by
bringing your resources and expertise to bear in addressing this
alarming new trend. Specifically, I hope you will consider launching a
comprehensive investigation to explicitly determine whether copying or
distributing personal information from smart phones, without a user’s
consent, constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice. In
addition, I believe smartphone makers should be required to put in place
safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to
violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that
the user did not consciously decide to make public.


Charles E. Schumer


I Hear Banjos at The Wayland

The drink: I Hear Banjos

The bar: The Wayland (700 East 9th Street, 212-777-7022) We visited this month-old spot on Avenue C a few weeks ago, tried The Barnsville, and had such a good time that we came back for more.

The price: $11

The ingredients: Midnight Moon Junior Johnson’s Apple Pie Moonshine, bourbon, homemade spice apple bitters, and applewood smoke

The buzz: This cocktail employs a lot of smoke and mirrors — literally — the bartender traps applewood smoke on top of the cocktail with another upside-down glass; the idea is to let the smoke waft up to your nose while you take that first sip. But the flavors in the drink are simple, rustic, and perfect for a cold winter’s night. I Hear Banjos is served at the Wayland, where the men are bearded and plaid-clad and the drinks match that vibe. This particular cocktail is on the sweet side, so if you’re partial to the Old-Fashioned variety of whiskey drinks, ask the bartender to make it with less moonshine and more bourbon.


Behold the Weirdness That Is the Gr?pple, the Grape-Flavored Apple

While grocery shopping over the weekend at our local Garden of Eden, we chanced upon yet another fruit we had never heard of before: the Grāpple. Yes, someone has actually created the grape-flavored apple. Surprisingly, this fruit isn’t a GMO hybrid, but rather a Washington Extra Fancy Gala or Fuji apple that’s been soaked in a concentrated grape-flavor solution, which imparts a Concord grape taste to the apple while retaining the apple’s texture. Which begs the question, Why? If you want a grape-flavored fruit, what the hell is wrong with grapes?

Wanting to learn more about this bizarre fruit, we purchased the Grāpples, which come in a four-pack clamshell because the Washington Department of Agriculture deems the product as “processed.” Thus, it may not be tampered with by consumers before purchase and must be kept separate from other loose or bulk apples. The aroma was quite grapy, actually very similar to Dimetapp, but the fruit itself was much more apple-y than expected. The apple itself was crisp, with moderate sweetness and acidity — rather boring, actually, except for the weird grape taste.

Looks like an apple, tastes like a grape
Looks like an apple, tastes like a grape

But really, why does this product exist? According to the Grāpple website: “Where kids are concerned, the selection of good fruit choices in winter can be difficult. This winter give them something they might really enjoy in their lunchbox or for an after school snack. Offer a Washington state apple that may look like others, but the taste is purely unique.” OK, so this is a product specifically created for children. Sure, apples are easier to transport in a lunch box or backpack than grapes, and Concord grapes can be hard to find in grocery stores. But what’s wrong with giving kids a handful of apple slices and a bunch of regular grapes? Do we really want our kids growing up thinking that apples should taste like grapes? What’ll be next, candy-flavored broccoli?


New York Cider Week Celebrates the Good, Hard Apple Juice

New York’s Cider Week kicked off this past weekend at the New Amsterdam Market and will go through the 23rd, celebrating the deliciousness that is fermented apple juice. Unlike beer or wine, however, cider isn’t very well known, perhaps because people think it refers to the plastic jug of the sweet stuff sold at pick-your-own apple orchards. But as an alcoholic beverage, cider is surprisingly complex with several styles ranging from sparkling to still, and dry to sweet. So what better time to pick up a bottle? One of the participating cider makers, Jason Grizzanti of Doc’s Draft Cider and Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, offers up the best reason to pick up a bottle: “John Adams drank a pint of cider every day and lived to be about 91. Hard to dispute that!”

Interestingly, most apple orchards have been developed for eating apples, whereas cider apples are more bitter and tannic, making them good for producing drinks but not for eating. Doug Fincke of Montgomery Place Orchard and Annandale Cidery uses Golden Russett, Stayman Winesap, Northern Spy, Elstar, Red Vein and Kingston Black varieties to make their semi-dry cider, using a champagne yeast to start the process. Grizzanti, meanwhile, observes that Winesap and Empire add acid to ciders while Joshua Gold is good for sweetness, and Goldrush for tannin and acidity.

One benefit of cider is that, unlike wine, it doesn’t have to be aged. “In its entirety, the whole process takes eight to 10 weeks,” explains Grizzanti. “Our process to make our non-sparkling ciders basically mimics white-wine fermentation: a close attention to yeast selection, temperature and timing,” says Dan Wilson, who owns Slyboro Cidery along with Susan Knapp.

“We found that our sparkling cider goes especially well with pork, chicken, and spicy foods, especially Thai and other Asian cuisines, and barbecue,” notes Knapp. Grizzanti seconds barbecue as a great match with cider and also suggests pairing cider with cheese-based salads.

Cider dinner pairings, tastings, and other events will be going on throughout the city all week (today’s lineup includes an ice cider tasting at Brooklyn Brainery, a home cider-making tutorial at the Brooklyn Kitchen, a cider tasting at Bierkraft, a meet-the-cider-maker at Good Beer, and a women-in-cider panel at Murray’s Cheese).